Some say you need to travel thousands of kilometres to experience true wilderness and remote locations, but within a few hours of Brisbane you can experience this and more.
The rugged Sundown National Park is a relatively small area of just over 11,000 hectares and is located on a huge granite belt stretching for several hundred kilometres. The rugged ridges and gorges of Sundown National Park have taken millions of years to form from erosion, intense heat and pressure from past volcanic activity to what we see today.
There are several ways into Sundown. On the western side, Broadwater camping area is accessible by conventional car and is a great base if you want to explore Sundown by foot. But to go deep into this natural wonder you need to travel to Ballandean on the eastern side for true 4wd access into the park.
Ballandean, 250km southwest 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.
This station was settled in 1840 when pioneers travelled the tablelands looking for a better life. As you pass through, keep in mind this is a working and private station so you need to stay on the main road and adhere to any signs that are in place. One interesting place to stop lays just 2km along past the main house. Here, a large granite monument beside the road has been engraved with the names of the early pioneers, paying homage to their hard work and life.
The station road leads you 5km towards Sundown where you enter a compound gate. This gate needs to be kept shut at all times as it defines Ballandean Station and Sundown National Park. An information shelter at the gate is where you can grab a park leaflet, learn of any warnings and read more about the area. It’s also the perfect spot to lower your tyre pressures.
The rocks in the park are unforgiving as they have a high concentration of traprock, a hard sedimentary rock created by deposits of marine life. In other words, they are very sharp on all edges.
The information board here will show you that it is a good 20km down into the main campsites, and you need to allow at least 2 hours to get there as the roads are rough and narrow.
The original Sundown homestead lies 500 meters down the road and has had a chequered past, from extensive clearing for sheep grazing to when the whole area was mined for mineral deposits over many years.
A good break along the way is to head into Red Rock Falls where a short 200m walk will give you breathtaking views onto Red Rock Gorge. These extremely eroded rock gorge walls are the result of intensive weathering. An interesting note here is that the hills above the gorge were cleared pasture land some 100 years ago, catering for the fine wool that the station produced. There was also mining activity deep below for several types of minerals.
Returning back to the main trail for another 7km, it is hard not to miss the huge fence that runs beside the trail for several hundred metres and now encumbers Sundown Mine deep in the valley. This mine area is now closed off due to the amount of unstable mine shafts and the presence of several 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 has been placed over the top of the main shaft.
What’s amazing here is that on both sides of the road the drop offs are hundreds of feet to the valley below. Old diggings can be seen throughout this area and all the way down to the Severn River.
From 1880 mineral deposits such as tin, copper, gold and ore were dug from these areas with up to 100 men working at any one time, but financially these mines never paid off due to the hash conditions.
The vegetation changes as you wander along from tough old Eucalyptus forests to groves of Cyprus pine, yet occasionally you may spot the odd orchid, wattle tree or even a bottle brush giving some colour to this harsh environment. Throughout the journey down to the camping areas there are numerous unmaintained tracks that loop back onto the main trail. These tracks are extremely rough, very rocky and unforgiving, and should only be attempted by experienced 4wders.
The track opens out on several ridge tops giving unrelenting views into this remote area. In several of these cleared areas the remains of old sheep yards and structures can be seen. An interesting note is that Sundown Station produced some of the country’s finest wool back in its time and is the home of the 14 wire strand fence, a bit of an overkill to today’s standards.
Here at the top yards, you have several camping options depending on where you booked your site; Burrows to your left or Reedy to your right. Both the tracks to camp are steep but shouldn’t cause any drama if you stay in low 4wd.
Burrows camping area lays beside the Severn River with flat informal camping spots dotted along the river for several hundred meters. Swimming and fishing is allowed but check levels and any debris in the water first as after any good flood debris can be a danger.
During the day, look out for wildlife around the campgrounds such as kangaroos and wallabies, wild deer, a host of birdlife and even goannas passing through camp looking for scraps. For those keen at night, go spotlighting for possums, gliders and owls.
Just across the river at the rapids lays a lone grave of Mr Fred Burrows. Born in 1888 he eventually found his way to work in the local mines until he was found dead, an apparent suicide in 1924 shot with his own gun which was found beside him. He now watches over his waterhole, 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.
Throughout the park there are unmaintained trails that will definitely let you enhance your 4wding skills and lead you to some great points of interest, like the Rats Castle, Hell Hole and other side trails. These are trails where you need good ground clearance, aggressive tyres AND plenty of time to explore. Allow around an hour to travel around 5km on these unmaintained trails. As well as being rough, these trails are narrow and at times they are only around the one car width wide, so be vigilant.
Sundown National Park is one location where you need to be totally self sufficient, confident in your 4wd and camping skills, and aware that it is indeed a ‘remote’ location due to its access. Sometimes these remote locations are closer than we think.
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