Some say you need to travel thousands of kilometres to experience true wilderness, but all this and more can be found within a few hours of Brisbane, Qld. The rugged Sundown National Park (NP) is a relatively small area of just over 11,000ha, located on a huge granite belt stretching for several hundred kilometres. The park’s jagged ridges and gorges have formed over millions of years from erosion, intense heat and pressure from past volcanic activity.
There are a variety of ways into Sundown. On the western side, the Broadwater camping area is accessible by conventional car and is a great base if you want to explore Sundown by foot. But to truly go deep into this natural wonder, you need to travel to the small town of Ballandean on the eastern side for 4WD access into the park.
Ballandean, 250km south-west of Brisbane, is where you can gather some last-minute supplies and fuel. Heading west from Ballandean along Sundown Road, you meander past boutique wineries that thrive out here in the cool winters and warm summers, and it is not long before you head into Ballandean Station.
Ballandean Station was settled in 1840, when pioneers travelled the tablelands looking for a better life. This is a private, working station, so you’ll need to stay on the main road and adhere to any signs that are in place.
This is also the perfect spot to lower your tyre pressures. The rocks in the park are unforgiving, with a high concentration of traprock, a hard sedimentary rock that is sharp on all edges, created by deposits of marine life.
The information board here will show you that it is around 20km down into the main campsites; you’ll need to allow a good two hours to get there, though, as the roads are rough and narrow.
The original Sundown homestead lies 500m down the road. It has had a checkered past, from extensive clearing for sheep grazing to when it was mined for mineral deposits over many years.
Returning back to the main trail for another 7km, it is hard to miss the huge fence that runs alongside for hundreds of metres and encloses Sundown Mine deep in the valley. This mine area is closed off due to the amount of unstable shafts and the presence of dangerous materials including arsenic and molybdenum. There is an opportunity to stop and check out the old Beecroft mine that sits trackside, where a safety fence and grate have been placed over the top of the main shaft.
The track opens out on several ridgetops giving unobstructed views into this remote region; in some of these cleared areas there are the remains of old sheepyards and structures. Sundown Station produced some of the country’s finest wool in its time, and is the home of the 14-strand wire fence – a bit of overkill by today’s standards.
Here at the top yards, you have a couple of camping options: Burrows Waterhole to your left or Reedy Waterhole to your right. The tracks to both campgrounds are steep, but shouldn’t cause any drama if you stay in low 4WD. Burrows Waterhole campground lies beside the Severn River, with flat informal camping spots dotted along the river’s edge. Swimming and fishing is allowed, but check levels and any debris in the water first. During the day look out for the wildlife around the campgrounds – kangaroos and wallabies, wild deer, a host of birdlife, even goannas that pass through camp looking for scraps.
Just across the river at the rapids is the lone grave of Fred Burrows. Born in 1888, he eventually found his way here to work in the local mines, but in 1924 he was found dead, having apparently shot himself with his own gun, which was found beside him. He now watches over the waterhole that takes his name, which he lived beside for many years. It is claimed that when you camp here you need to pay your respects to him; otherwise he may visit you during the night!
Sundown National Park is a place where you need to be totally self-sufficient, confident of your 4WD and camping skills and be aware that it is a very remote location. Sometimes such remote places are closer to the big smoke than you think.
- There are several campgrounds within the park, depending on how deep you want to explore. Red Rock Gorge campground is located at the top, while Reedy Waterhole and Burrows Waterhole are located deep within the park, beside the Severn River. Basic pit toilets are at Burrows Waterhole and Red Rock Gorge.
- This is a remote area so you need to be well prepared with camping gear, food and water. There is no phone reception at the campgrounds.
- To book a campsite, download a free map or brush up on the park’s features visit www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/sundown.
- Phone the Stanthorpe Visitor Information Centre on 1800 762 665 for local tourist information.
- The Girraween Bald Rock and Sundown national parks map by Hema Maps provides detailed tracks, GPS points and other information.