DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
This high-altitude Queensland destination offers rainforest and gorge walks, forest camping, spectacular lookouts and an interesting 4WD loop track.
Tableland National Park preserves a major part of the Blackdown Tableland: a 900-metre-high, Triassic-age (251 to 205 million-year-old) sandstone plateau that has weathered the erosion suffered by the mudstone and coal-filled plains that surround it.
Blackdown Tableland National Park lies at the north-east edge of the central Queensland sandstone belt: 180km west of Rockhampton and 110km east of Emerald.
Over millennia, many cracks in the Tableland sandstone developed into creeks, gorges and waterfalls, of which the best known is Rainbow Falls (Gudda Gumoo), with its 40-metre drop. Most of the creeks on the Tableland are rain fed and are usually dry, but some are spring fed and flow continuously.
Blackdown Tableland National Park is sited on the traditional homeland of the Ghungalu people and access to the area was limited until a road was constructed in 1969 by the Queensland Forest Department.
Old tree stumps throughout Blackdown Tableland National Park testify to the logging era and unstrung fence posts indicate former pastoral boundaries.
The Park has diverse plant communities, including heathlands, dry eucalypt forests and moist pockets of ferns, mosses and orchids. Being elevated, the tableland is often cooler and wetter than the surrounding plains.
When OTA visited the Park in June 2016 the night-time temperature dropped to five degrees.
Relative isolation allows plants and animals that are found nowhere else to thrive here, including the Blackdown stringybark tree, red bottlebrush and a very unpretty tunnelling cricket, known as the Blackdown Monster. We spotted one emerging from its hole and wouldn’t cast it in a kid’s movie.
The drive into Blackdown Tableland National Park is on bitumen as far as the Park entrance. The road runs south from the A4, about 45km east of Blackwater, across an undulating plain, with a clear view of the Tableland ahead.
The narrow road climbs very steeply from the base of the escarpment and QNPWS literature advises against towing caravans or heavy trailers on this road.
Also, Blackdown Tableland National Park’s only camping area isn’t designed for vehicles larger than medium-sized motorhomes or crossover camper trailers. Munall campground is eight kilometres from the park entrance, on a pea-gravel road that’s very slippery, so low speed is advisable.
There are only 16 camp sites, with a maximum six people per site, so pre-bookings are advisable. In off-peak times it’s possible to use the phone at the Park entrance to pay for a site, using a credit card. A tag with your booking number must be displayed at your camp site.
The camping area has composting toilets, log seats and individual fire rings. However, there are no rubbish bins, so you need to take your rubbish out with you.
There are some taps, but all water should be boiled before drinking.
No firewood is available inside Blackdown Tableland National Park and QNPWS requests that you bring only clean, milled wood to burn. Roadside-collected wood may be home to invasive creatures.
Several walking tracks take you to the park’s important sites, through a variety of plant communities.
Lookouts are situated at stunning views on walking tracks and on the 4WD-only Loop Road, but some cliff faces are sheer and their edges are unstable.
The Loop Road is 20km in length and a recent detour track has changed the original alignment. Park advice is that it’s a 1.5-hour drive, but we spent nearly three hours on the Loop Track, getting out of the vehicle at points of interest.
The Loop Track starts off as a flat road, winding through woodland, but at about half distance enters sandier, open-woodland country, with magnificent sandstone outcrops that host basket ferns and king orchids.
Aboriginal visitation in the past is obvious at some of the larger outcrops.
Some of the rocky track sections are very rough, with sump-threatening boulders, so caution is required. The steepest, loose-rock section is near the Mitha Boongulla lookout that gives brilliant views across the surrounding plains.
Beware the birds
The birds at Munall campground are well versed in the ways of campers and they’ll ensure you don’t sleep in! A cacophony of cries from kookaburras and parrots heralds every dawn.
Don’t even think about leaving anything edible outside your vehicle or tent. The currawongs are lightning-fast, but the kookas are absolutely incorrigible.
‘Our’ kookaburra watched from afar as we loaded bacon and eggs onto our plates and sat down to enjoy a hearty pre-walk breakfast. In a heartbeat he was between the chairs, fanning us with wingbeats and aiming his formidable beak at our precious Aussie bacon. We retreated indoors to eat in peace.
Blackdown Tableland National Park is a beautiful, cool-climate upland in the Central Queensland sea of Mitchell Grass and is a worthwhile excursion on any trip to this coal-mining-dominated area.