DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
The innocuous name doesn’t exactly capture the imagination, but Lawn Hill National Park in north-west Queensland is one of the State’s most spectacular sites.
This beautiful oasis amid dry, stony savannah country sounds much more romantic when referred to by its Aboriginal name, ‘Boodjamulla’ National Park. Boodjamulla is the Waanyi people’s name for the Dreamtime Rainbow Serpent, who formed the gorge to keep his skin wet.
Dreaming legend has it that if Boodjamulla ever leaves the area the waterholes will dry up, but that would take some doing, with around four million spring-fed litres every hour bubbling up from the Georgina Basin to cascade through Lawn Hill’s upper, middle and lower gorges.
The limestone water source doses the water with chemicals that drop out of solution and help form ‘tufa’ waterfall barriers across the gorges. Also, the limestone birthstone gives the waters a grey-green tint that contrasts perfectly with the red, ironstone-coated sandstone of the gorge walls and plateaus and the deep green of the forest canopy.
Boodjamulla National Park is a welcome site at the end of a dusty trek, no matter where you’re coming from: 340km north-west of Mt Isa, 220km south-west of Burketown, or 425km north-west of Cloncurry.
The Park was once part of Lawn Hill Station, which is still prime cattle grazing breeding country.
On our most recent visit, we approached from the Savannah Way, turning south after travelling through Hell’s Gate. This roadhouse offers delicious meals, homemade cakes and real coffee. It’s also fully icensed.
Hells Gate has budget and ensuite accommodation, as well as a grassy campground. There are also limited grocery items, food, drinks and souvenirs.
The Roadhouse has diesel and unleaded petrol, and is located on the Savannah Way between Doomadgee and Borroloola and is open seven days a week from 7am to 8pm.
The dust gave way to flooding among the melaleucas at Lawn Hill Creek, just short of the privately owned camping area at Adels Grove that’s just outside the Park boundary.
A privately run campground 10km from the gorge at Boodjamulla, Adels Grove takes its name from the initials of the original owner of the property, Albert de Lestang, who took up the former miners’ lease in 1920, to begin an experimental botanical garden.
Within 20 years Albert had planted more than 1000 species of exotic and native plants, shrubs and trees, and sent seeds to botanical gardens in Australia and around the world.
In the early 1950s, while Albert was absent, a fire swept through the grove destroying everything including his dwelling and a trunk containing his research papers. He died a few years later: a broken man, according to local legend.
Albert de Lestang wouldn’t recognise his former nursery that today offers camping in his beloved sheltered grove area. There’s also a ‘tent city’ of pre-erected dwellings, each contained beds and linen, beside a shaded, gurgling creek.
Adels Grove is a victim of its own popularity, so camping was somewhat squeezy, but well worth it for the pleasure of walking the steep, rocky tracks at Lawn Hill National Park next day. The National Park campsite is a less-shady alternative, but there’s no need to drive the 10km to the gorge sites.
Facilities include a small general store, fuel pumps and a restaurant and bar. Our tip is to soak up the deck ambience over a cold drink and then head off to enjoy your own catering, because, when we last visited, the food was very ordinary and the prices were unrealistic. Bookings for the expensive camping space during the peak months of June, July and August are essential.
Exploring the Region
The site of present-day Lawn Hill National Park was once tropical wetland, but has been eroded over millions of years into rugged escarpments with sheer sandstone walls up to 60 metres high.
The permanent water and rocky hills have created a savannah-tropical micro-environment that contrasts greatly with the surrounding flat, dry country. A few hundred metres from sparse, grassy plains where wayward willy-willys roam are deep waters, fringed by palms, rainforest trees and water lilies.
A closed society of freshwater crocodiles, northern snapping turtles, wallaroos, possums, bats and countless birds and reptiles calls Boodjamulla home.
The scale of Boodjamulla is best appreciated by a combination of hiking up to the rocky plateaus and drifting on the gorge waters.
Even in winter it’s best to do a walk each morning and hire a canoe in the afternoon, because the major walks are steep and it’s hot and dry on the exposed slopes and rocky flats.
Swimming is safe enough, because the ‘freshies’ are shy if they’re left alone, but swimmers should avoid drinking the gorge water, which is calcium-salty.
Indarri Falls is a great place to stop for a swim, either from the walking tracks or from a canoe.
There is some access for guests with a disability and the paths around the campground and amenities block are accessible for wheelchairs.
For the moderately fit the ‘must-do’ hikes are the four-kilometre, Island Stack walk that kicks off with a staircase climb that eases into an easy track that loops around a large island of rock in the heart of the gorge.
From this track there’s a short Cascades walk to a pandanus-fringed pool, with mini-waterfall. If you start this walk in the wee hours – wear a head torch – the sunrise experience is well worth the loss of shut-eye.
Indarri Falls Walk is a 3.8-km return track with gradual climbs and a very steep descent. It scales the heights of the gorge and offers dizzying views of the Falls and the deep waters below the cataract.
It’s easy to spend three or four days at Boodjamulla and the best time to visit is during the cooler, dry season: April to early October. Even then daytime temperatures can be very hot and nights can be cold.
In 1992 Boodjamulla National Park was extended to include the Riversleigh World Heritage Site that has contributed significantly to the knowledge of Australia’s fauna evolution.
This animal graveyard spans a time zone from 25 million to a mere 10,000 years ago and fossils can be easily inspected by strolling along a self-guided interpretive trail.
Riversleigh is well worth the 75km drive from Boodjamulla. Camping is available at Miyumba bush camp.