AUSTRALIA IS SOMETHING of a road-tripper’s dream. All you have to do is gather some friends, stock a car and set out. In addition to the wide, open paved roads, Australia has some of the best off-road driving in the world.
Queensland is famously known for being “beautiful one day, perfect the next”, but it’s more than just the weather that makes it such a remarkable place to holiday. Beyond the extraordinary beauty of Queensland – that includes of course the Great Barrier Reef – it’s the people you meet, the experiences you have and the wonders to be discovered that create the perfect next adventures, day after day.
Away from the coast, rugged routes lead to some of Queensland’s most remote pockets of wilderness where you’ll discover Indigenous rock art, vibrant waterways and, on Cape York, top angling and secluded tropical beaches. A few years ago, I explored three outstanding Queensland destinations for offroad adventures.
If you’re the type of traveler who loves to mingle with the locals, learn about the culture and immerse yourself in the rich history of a destination, here’s the perfect road trip for you. I did this trip back in 2009 not to tick off the Cape but to tick off Laura Aboriginal Festival. In 2008 I started researching my family history and being a descendant of the Bidjara Tribe I had the opportunity to meet a couple of distant descendants and talk a little about history. My great grandmother was full caste born Carnarvon Gorge, worked on cattle stations in Springsure, moved to Emerald and died at Dalby.
In December 2014, Cape York’s Olkola People were given back their land, 100 years after they were displaced by the government. Now they want travelers to learn their story. To walk the land of their ancestors and to share in one of Far North Queensland’s most remote and beautiful places: Olkola country. Unfortunately 2014 was too late to prevent the new generation of 4wders destroying the Telegraph Track and daily ripping up the vegetation making new tracks.
Cape York remains the premier 4wding destination in Australia, but you don’t necessarily have to have a fully rigged heavey-duty vehicle to enjoy the magic the cape has to offer.
In 2009 the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival included up to 1,000 performers from 20 different Aboriginal communities. The event is a cultural force that draws you in with positive energy, love and openness. By day you’ll hear Dreamtime stories, watch artists weave and create cultural masterpieces and, you’ll witness Australia’s most authentic Indigenous dance competition. By night you’ll be entertained with more traditional dancing and live contemporary music by Indigenous artists.
The festival is all about the preservation and celebration of Aboriginal culture and you’ll see this from the opening ceremony through to the closing ceremony.
From Laura to Bamaga, the rugged, red dirt route to the Tip is one of the best offroad journeys Australia has to offer. En route, secluded tropical beaches, spring-fed waterfalls and barramundi fishing spots will leave you spellbound, and more than compensate for the bumpy ride.
WW2 DC3 wreck. Both planes have fences around them and memorials to the crews who died in the plane crashes.
Breaking up the 510km between Laura and Weipa is easy with a string of top roadhouses that tempt with cold beers and shady campsites. Of the roadside free camps, we chose Morehead River, 200km north of Laura, where we found colourful flocks of galahs, great mobs of noisy flying foxes and the agile wallabies that keep this grassy camp neatly groomed.
Established as an overland telegraph repeater station, Musgrave Roadhouse is a historical spot, and don’t miss The Bend at Coen to snare a catch of cherabin and soak in deep, sandy, croc-free pools.
Across the Archer River, Weipa lures anglers with promises of barramundi and big rivers full of salmon, trevally, grunter, fingermark, jewfish and more. It’s a great resupply point and there are Indigenous heritage sites to explore, too. Some of the world’s largest cockle shell middens dominate the northern bank of the Mission River at Red Beach (Prunung).
Pushing north, Moreton Telegraph Station on the Wenlock River offers half-price camping for kids and great wildlife watching, and Captain Billy Landing is an idyllic, albeit wind-swept, camp nestled beneath towering sea cliffs by the Coral Sea.
Despite the washed-out access track, you won’t regret a stay at Eliot and Twin Falls, floating in the clear, spring-fed pools, red, dusty feet dangling in the current. There are caravan-friendly sites and good, wheelchair-accessible facilities, including drinking water, but book ahead because there’s no self-registration or mobile coverage on site.
Of the free campsites included in your Jardine River ferry ticket, our favourite is Mutee Head, signposted 27km north of Jardine River and another 20km west. It’s nothing more than a grassy clearing beneath shady she-oaks, but turtles floating in the sandy cove, great fishing and beachcombing make this a stellar spot in which to relax.
From the sea at Seisia, Frangipani Bay and the tip of Australia are only a bumpy drive and a short climb away. Enjoying that magical panorama of York and Eborac islands is a defining moment of the journey. But after the five second money shot the best part is? You get to turn around and do it all again, dirt, dust, flies, rough road, endless views of nothing, all the way back to Laura.
There is a true outback magic about Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. Here, hundreds of kilometres from any towns, is a place of beauty and peacefulness that is overpowering. We did quick trek to Lawn Hill in 2010 in our Blue Smurf (Nissan Navara). In Queensland’s rugged north-west, Boodjamulla’s emerald, spring-fed oasis blazes a palm-fringed path towards the Gulf, cascading through ancient sandstone and parched spinifex plains. Thanks to extensive grading and partial sealing of the once-bumpy access route from the east, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is even easier to reach.
The corrugations are just a little easier to endure but you’ll still need a tough offroad setup to reach the banks of Lawn Hill Creek where you can paddle a canoe, board a solar-powered cruise boat or hike upstream to Indarri Falls. It took us two hours to tackle the 6km-long canoe adventure into Upper Gorge, gliding past pandanus-fringed banks and between sheer, blazing red cliffs.
You can walk to Indarri Falls too, a top swimming spot where a limestone waterfall stalls Lawn Hill’s crystal-clear creek, sending it cascading over its two-metre-high drop.
For self-contained rigs, waterfront national park camps are a bargain at under $6 per person, while nearby Adels Grove, which we stayed, tempts with hot showers and restaurant meals. Spa pools and swimming holes are within easy reach of campsites, stretched along the scenic banks of Lawn Hill Creek.
We did an early morning stroll along the ‘Wild Dog Dreaming’ track (4.5km/1.5hrs return) to discover Indigenous rock art and a midden of mussel shells and stone artifacts. World heritage-listed Riversleigh, 50km away, showcases the fossilised remains of 25 million-year-old prehistoric megafauna on a self-guided walking trail.
Mount Moffatt is a place rich in human history. Aboriginal rock art is evidence of people’s connection with the land that stretches back for at least 19,000 years. Stockyards and fences are a reminder of the area’s history as a cattle station. To conduct and research my family history of the Bidjara Tribe I trekked to Mount Moffatt section of the Carnarvon National Park 2011. Billy Langlo was my Great, Great Grandfather and he and Langlo descendants are recognized as traditional Bidjara People whose land lies in southwest Queensland and across the southern section of the Belyando catchment above Sedgeford Station.
At Mount Moffatt, Carnarvon National Park, there’s a resounding energy at the Tombs where Indigenous rock art adorns a cliff face pocketed with sacred Bidjara burial chambers. Although now empty, these intriguing, tubular rock tunnels evoke a respectful silence from hikers exploring one of the most remote corners of Carnarvon National Park.
Located off the bitumen, 250km north-west of Roma, Mount Moffatt requires determination and a couple of spare jerry cans to reach, but it promises quiet bush camps and solitude. Clifftops provide grand vistas of chiseled pillars and imposing bluffs, there’s a good choice of short walks, and plenty of pioneering history to discover.
Memorial near Carnarvon Gorge (Qld) for 5 US and 14
Australian service men killed in a 1943 plane crash
Memorial near Carnarvon Gorge (Qld) for 5 US and 14
Australian service men killed in a 1943 plane crash
While ‘gutsy’ conventional rigs might survive the gravel roads that lead into this park, you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to tackle the sandy riverside tracks and explore rugged paths that climb through a lush pocket of mahogany forest to lookouts atop the state’s highest plateau.
I visited in winter as it’s an ideal time to explore the ‘Roof of Queensland’. Park your caravan beside the Maranoa River at West Branch camp or Dargonelly Rock Hole and take a 4WD tour of the park. At Marlong Plain, an incredible expanse of Queensland bluegrass is fringed by gum trees and buffeted by sheer sandstone cliffs. Follow the steep 4WD track up the western edge of Consuelo Tableland to Top Shelter Shed for dramatic, panoramic views, and take short walks to Lots Wife, Marlong Arch and the rock art gallery at Kookaburra Cave.
The Tombs are a must-see site where, in ancient times, the deceased were wrapped inside long cylinders cut from the bark of the budgeroo tree, wrapped in marsupial skins and twine cut from possum fur, and placed deep inside naturally occurring tunnels in the sandstone. By the 1920s the contents of most burial chambers had been robbed, but the Tombs remains a spiritual place with one of the Central Highlands’ most significant rock art galleries.
Culture and history
Home of the Bidjara, and descendants from my Father’s, Mother Side. (Langlo, recognized as Traditional Owner.
This landscape has a long human history. Evidence of thousands of years of Aboriginal life remains at sites associated with ceremonies and the stories of ancestral spirits. Aboriginal rock art sites within the park are some of the most significant in the Central Highlands—and indeed the world.
Aboriginal people of the Bidjara and Nuri groups lived in this area. In touch with their surroundings, they thrived by inventive use of the resources around them. This land continues to hold great significance for Aboriginal people today.
Flowing across the park, the Maranoa River has been central to the lives of Aboriginal people. Mundagudtha, the Rainbow Serpent, created this river during a severe drought, when water from a big spring carved the winding river bed from the land. Bidjara people believe that the people of the Maranoa area originated from this spring.