(Or, A tale of Two National Parks.)
I consider the National Parks of Australia to be my second home, a place where you can’t see the air you breath, nor see the concrete for the trees. As my wife and I have aged, we’ve moved from tents to the trusty Jayco Penguin, our wind up home on wheels. Whilst I still rough it sometimes with the fellas, my wife prefers a few creature comforts, though the bar is set fairly low, as will be seen.
Now Australia’s National Parks are managed at a state level. In New South Wales you have the NPWS. (National Parks and Wildlife Service) under the Dept of Environment and Heritage, which kind of makes sense. In Queensland you have the QPWS (Queensland Parks and Wildlife service) which is run by the Dept of National Parks, Sport and Racing.because???
On the Qld/NSW border are a bunch of National Parks that straddle the state line in places. Qld has Girraween National Park which butts up against NSW’s Bald Rock National Park. Girraween was about twelve bucks a night for two people , while Bald Rock is $24 plus vehicle charge per day. Not far from Bald Rock are the twin NSW NP’s of Boonoo Boonoo and Basket Swamp. Boonoo Boonoo will set you back the same as Bald Rock but Basket Swamp is free. Of course the level of facilities drop in line with the cost.
So our journey begins in Girraween.
Girraween, the camping you do when you’re not really camping.
We arrived at Girraween National Park driving along the sealed road that winds past a chocolate shop in the middle of nowhere and becomes unsealed beyond the camping and picnic grounds. There are two camping grounds. Left leads to Bald Rock Creek and right leads to Castle Rock. We chose the Bald Rock Creek Area. As far as National Park camping goes this is about as civilised as it gets. We take the short dirt road to the camp ground, finding it about two thirds full and find a nice shady spot not far from the Amenities block. While I set up the camper, my wife goes and checks of the facilities. This place has flushing toilets and hot showers, (the latter on a four minute timer but hey, Showers!)
The beauty of the area is the sense of privacy you get. Bald Rock Creek’s sites are scattered almost randomly, in comparison with the neat rows of Castle Rock. It seems the planners partied a little after Castle Rock and their inebriation is reflected in the random placement of BRC’s individual sites. Strangely , it works, and though our nearest neighbours were about twenty feet away, it felt like we were almost alone. If I have one complaint it’s there use of the most poorly design wood barbecues ever. You can’t build a decent campfire in those things. While half the campers seemed to be families, it’s the sound of the bird life that you hear mostly, lending a magical air to the place. Friar Birds, Butcher Birds, Black Cockatoos and colourful parrots of at least three different species. If you’re a birdwatcher, this is paradise. As for me, I’m no expert, but I know what I like.
This is Granite Belt, and marble shaped monoliths dot the landscape. They give you a sense of why the Indigenous peoples of the area attributed such spiritual significance to the land.There are several great bushwalks here, of various grades, 4 the highest out of a possible 5.We stuck to the 2 &3 grades
A nice easy circuit to do when you first arrive is the Granite Arch Walk.
.All the trails are well marked, though the Junction Walk is is basically the occasional white paint on the rock in sections.
Now Girraween was so nice, we stayed for three nights. The only disturbance being the occasional giggles of children playing and the incessant call of the Woop Woop Bird, (the name as a teenager we gave to the Koel). Early on our last morning there, we drove to the other end of the park to do the Dr Roberts Waterhole Walk and Underground Creek. Both of these walks were easy, the trails wending between the twisted trees. These places left us with the indelible impression that Girraween was the perfect modern camping spot.
After the walks, I packed up the camp, wound down the camper, and by mid morning we left for our next destination, the discouragingly named Basket Swamp National Park.
Basket Swamp. What’s in a name?
Over the border in NSW is a cluster of National Parks and state forests. It’s beautiful country and well worth a look. Pass through Boonoo Boonoo State Forest and you’ll reach the relatively new National Park of Basket Swamp. While the nearby Bald Rock and Cypress Pines camp grounds have better facilities, including the best fireplace setup I’ve seen anywhere, it’s hard to pass up a free camp site. This was our first time taking the camper on a rough unsealed road. While the car is a 4×4, (a Nissan X-trail for those that want to know,) it’s not built for serious rock hopping and the Jayco even less so, but it all handled the frequent potholes and bumps with aplomb. The road in is unsealed and ungraded, but runs through some pretty heathwoods and thick bush as you pass through Boonoo State Forest and into Basket Swamp NP. After 7 dusty kilometers we reached the camp ground. This is the wild west of campgrounds, where facilities are a single pit drop toilet, and you can feel like you’ve left the land of the brown skies behind. If you want a shower, bring your own. Now this is closer to my kind of camping, but it’s also accessible enough to attract those with, shall we say less regard for the natural beauty of the Australian bush. Chainsaws really have no place in a national park unless you’re a ranger or making a horror movie. There were three other camp sites taken and we took the one that was most secluded.
After set up and obligatory beer, I did the usual explore of the area and concluded it was the perfect spot. Close enough to the toilet to be walked to in the night, and far enough away to avoid the smell a dirty great pile of excrement can produce. There were two dead fires in our area, left by previous campers who’d not bothered with troublesome things like containing it in a circle of rocks. Being the responsible camper I am, we brought our own firewood and I set about containing one of the fireplaces with stones because nothing spoils a camping trip like a bushfire.
Now it didn’t take long before some of the locals came to visit. Not the other campers, they mostly kept to themselves. No our visitors were a mother wallaby and I presume her two offspring. (I didn’t manage to get the three of them in the same photo.)
Now the mum seemed to take an interest in the cold baked potatoes left in the ashes of the other fire and seeing a wallaby daintily unwrapping a potato from foil to eat it is one of those once in a lifetime things you can only experience in a national park. As is the flutter of the micro bats that flit around the campsite just after dusk, reducing the bugs in the air more efficiently than any mossie coil can do. Wildlife is one of the many things about the aussie bush that draws me back every time.
Speaking of wildlife, the human kind, two out of the three other camps were quiet and, apart from a friendly wave as we pass, they kept mostly to themselves. Then there was the third, (there’s almost always one). Now group three was a large group, made up of work mates and their families, and they were friendly, if not a little loud. Now I’ve got nothing against noise in the bush except when that noise is produced by a chainsaw. Seriously, the government is doing a spectacular job at deforestation and they don’t need help from you at land clearing, particularly in a national park. So for you and any that might follow, here’s some tips that should negate the need to fell a tree in a protected region.
1: Trees are home to wildlife. Every tree you cut down is home to animals and/or birds. When you chop down a tree, you’re destroying the home of the very wildlife that make going bush so enjoyable. Don’t do it. Bring your own wood.
2: To make a good smokeless fire you need heat, air and fuel. Dry wood makes excellent fuel. Wet, green-wood does not. Smoke is the product of inefficient burning of the fuel. The drier the wood, the more efficiently it burns. i.e. Less smoke. So if you’re tempted to cut down a living tree for firewood, Don’t do it. Bring your own wood.
3: Finally, consider the fact it’s illegal. If you get caught, (you know, when they find a bloody great piece of the tree you cut down unburnt because it was green timber,) they WILL charge you. Rangers tend to take a dim view of people disrespecting the parks they patrol. Don’t do it. Bring your own wood.
The upshot of all of this is, if you are looking for a nice camping spot away from it all where friendly wallabies come boldly into camp, where birdlife sings and microbats flit around at dusk, Basket Swamps not bad. If you’re looking for a place devoid of wildlife and trees, try a caravan park, (or the carpark at Coles.)
Okay peeve-rant over. I think I need to head bush again to regain my calm.
(There are several landmarks in Basket Swamp and Boonoo Boonoo worth checking out. In particular, Basket Swamp Falls and Woolool Wooloolni Aboriginal Place. Pictures below.)
That’s it folks, until next time. Thanks for coming.