I’m always on the lookout for short excursions to wedge into the days between weekly chemo sessions and at this time of year it can be hard to find somewhere to also escape the heat and summer rain. Following the lead from my Goomburra trip last month I went looking for another mountain top camp site and picked Bunya Mountains as the target destination.
Bunya Mountains National Park protects a rain forest area that includes the largest stand of ancient Bunya pines in the world. This throw back to the age of dinosaurs is a beautifully symmetrical tree famous for its huge pine cones containing hundreds of Bunya “nuts”, which were significant to our nation’s first people who celebrated the annual fruiting season with large gatherings in the area.
Bunya Mountain is a three hour drive west of Brisbane, however rather than head directly there I took opportunity to do some reconnaissance for places worthy of future visits by the Travelling Two when exploring together. I plotted a route starting from Helidon on the Warrego Highway that skirted Lockyer and Ravensbourne National Parks, dropped into the Cressbrook Dam camping area and checked out Crows Nest National Park. The final sweetener of the journey was a stop at the abandoned Muntapa railway tunnel before ascending Bunya Mountain.
Camping is not permitted in Lockyer or Ravensbourne National Parks however the tracks through the parks offer an easy and interesting drive through eucalypt forests. One place worth visiting on the way through is the Gus Beutel Lookout with great views back toward Brisbane.
From there it was a short drive across top of the range before reaching the long decline into Cressbrook Dam campground. Like many SEQ Water campgrounds, this one didn’t look very appealing. The sites are flat and somewhat grassed with firepits and clean amenities, but the surroundings are barren and austere with little tree cover. The campground would suit groups looking to spend most of their time on the water but the camp site itself is not somewhere you’d want to hang out, although the local kangaroos might argue against my view.
Crows Nest township was next stop to pick up a mocha and morning tea, then onward to the nearby National Park sharing that name. The camp sites there were huddled quite close together and were quite overgrown, otherwise the area had plenty of trees and there was a good stash of firewood provided by DES. A quick scout down some of the walking tracks revealed dry creeks full of granite boulders that would be spectacular when flowing after rain.
One of the main attractions for me was the next destination – along with abandoned chrome bumpered car wrecks I find old tunnels fascinating. I could only find vague directions and headed to the rural hamlet of Paranga where I turned toward the hills and found the Muntapa rail tunnel site. I was surprised to find it had a well set out park above the tunnel with information boards and picnic facilities, and remnants of the original construction camp for the railway line through the area.
The information board is really well done, highlighting history of the tunnel and claiming that Muntapa was the longest straight railway tunnel in the state at 287m – it must have been quite a feat to construct it in the early 1900s with hand tools, horses and dynamite. The tunnel closed in 1964 when the timber and agricultural industries that it served started using road transport for its convenience and flexibility. The railway lines were removed long ago and the centre third of the tunnel is gated to protect the resident bent wing bat colony.
Back in the Cruiser and the gravel road started to climb steadily as I headed toward the looming dark green Bunya mountains ahead of me, and the climb became steeper when I joined the bitumen Bunya Mountain Road that ascended to southern entry of the National Park.
My booking was for a site at the Dandabah Campground right in heart of the park and near to the Mowbullan village – it is a very civilised campground with great amenities and nearby cafes and restaurants (although these were closed due to COVID). There are no assigned sites with just a large grassed area and no fires are allowed, mainly because it would spoil the manicured lawns. Lawn trimming duties are taken care of by the resident wallabies, although I did end up with a tick on my leg that probably came from one of these marsupial gardeners.
Bunya Mountain National Park offers plenty of walking trails, from short loop walks through to half day excursions. I set out on the Barker Creek circuit, a 10km 4 hour loop that followed a ridgeline through the rainforest before emerging on the north western face of Bunya Mountain, then looping back through the forest over running streams and rocky gullies.
A perfectly clear night meant a great star show that night, and the cool air made for a comfortable sleep in the swag. After chatting with some camp neighbours in the morning I packed and exited the park to the north, driving through the National Park then dipping down to the town of Kumbia before angling across to Yarraman and a lunch stop at Blackbutt.
Another potential camp site I wanted to investigate lay at southern boundary of Benarkin State Forest, south of Blackbutt on banks of Emu Creek. The Emu Creek Campground is on the Bicentennial National Trail and the drive into the campground is mostly on a well formed gravel road, courtesy of the active pine logging area through which it passes. The last stretch of track flanks a hillside and follows the creek, making for some great views. The campground itself is large with plenty of room and basic facilities, and walking trails down to the creek. I was amazed to see the shallow creek water alive with thousands of baby cane toads and tadpoles, evidence of that great biological blunder by our forebears.
From here it should have been an easy run home, but my efforts to find a short cut out of the state forest had me running into dead ends and gated trails before I eventually pushed through scrub and emerged in a farmer’s backyard at Wallaby Creek, and from there onto the D’Aguilar Highway. The final couple of hundred kilometres saw me on the Brisbane Valley Highway via Esk and the Warrego Highway for the run into Brisbane.
Its possible to visit Bunya Mountains as a day trip but to really soak up the beauty of this National Park plan on at least an overnight stay. Its a great summer camping option with its cool mountain climate, winter campers should plan on cold nights.