If you’ve never heard of Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park then you are not alone… we hadn’t either until our last trip to the ‘Gulf Country’ a couple of years back!
This hidden gem, once part of Lawn Hill Station, is a lush magical oasis in the midst of an inhospitable landscape, and was another delightful find on our Aussie road trip.
Better known as ‘Mumbaleeya Country’, this National Park lies on the ancient sandstone of the Constance Range, with the Barkly Tablelands to the south west and the black soil of the Gulf Savannah Plains to the east.
Once covered in wet tropical rainforest and dotted with freshwater pools, the landscape of Boodjamulla has eroded over millions of years leaving behind rugged escarpments, deep gorges and sheer sandstone walls… and the first glimpse as we drove in was certainly an amazing introduction to the area.
Boodjamulla is the Waanyi people’s name for the ‘Dreamtime Rainbow Serpent’. The story is told this serpent formed the gorge to keep its skin wet and ‘Dreaming Legend’ has it that if ‘Boodjamulla’ ever leaves the area the waterholes will dry up.
Today the park offers a large area of sandstone ranges, gorges and rivers with beautiful bush and gorge walks and waterfalls to explore… so pull on your hiking boots and let’s head off on another exciting outback adventure!
Come with us to this hidden jewel in the north west of Queensland… it truly is a magnificent part of our world!
Over 2-days we trekked, climbed and rock hopped through gorges, over plateaus and swam in waterholes.
We marvelled at the magnificent ribbon of emerald coloured water as it carved its way through the surrounding dry plains contrasting against the deep red of the cliff backdrop… the colours mixed together to create a beautiful outback palette.
Spinifex and Mitchell grass stretched across the dry plains and vegetation clung to the rugged, red sandstone cliffs that lined the gorge and towered above the emerald green waters of Lawn Hill Creek while Livingston palms, eucalypts, acacias and grevilleas provided the occasional shade from the heat of the day.
There are 7 well signposted walking trails in this park catering to a wide range of abilities and fitness levels and ranging from a short, easy 600- metre hike to a strenuous 7-kilometre trek where the reward of incredible water holes, cliff faces and beautiful follage make the effort of trekking and climbing the mighty ranges all the more worthwhile!
Of course walking isn’t the only way to explore this National Park. Canoes are available for hire and you can paddle your way to Middle Gorge, Indarri Falls, or Upper Gorge and capture what makes this gorge so… gorge-ous!
We started our hike along a pathway, which led to informative displays and maps of the area before heading off on the long trek towards the Upper Gorge. This track incorporated Duwadarri Lookout, Indarri Falls, Middle Gorge and the Upper Gorge Lookout.
Heading off on the loop track we tackled one of the steepest of the tracks first.
Following an almost verticle, unfenced cliff edge for around 1-kilometre we came to Duwadarri Lookout where we were rewarded for our effort with a spectacular vista out over the gorge.
From there we made our way over Middle Gorge stopping constantly to take photos and savour the postcard worthy views.
The Upper Gorge towered metres above as we followed the Indarri Falls track.
After scaling the heights of Middle Gorge we came to another lookout where we were offered breath taking views of a small waterfall that gently cascaded into the deep waters of an emerald pool below. This wall of tufa separating Middle and Lower Gorge.
Apparently, around 4-million spring-fed litres of water bubble up every hour from the Georgina Basin to cascade through Lawn Hills Upper, Middle and Lower Gorges.
This limestone water source taints the water with chemicals that help form ‘tufa’ waterfall barriers across the gorges and the calcium carbonate content gives the water the greenish tint that contrasts beautifully with the towering ochre red cliffs and the brilliant blue outback sky.
Just a little way down the track we came to the very crowded swimming hole where bodies floated on noodles or relaxed under the falls enjoying the cool water and as we wandered on we passed canoeing groups scrub bashing and dragging their canoes from one gorge to the other before setting off on the next leg of their journey downstream.
Foregoing a swim we continued on following a narrow track that squeezed between the creek and the gorge walls and meandered through a magical, shaded rain forest of cabbage palm, pandanus and fig trees… this lush green oasis eventually bringing us to another peaceful and secluded swimming hole where turtles and fish provided the only distraction. Swimming was pretty safe here as the ‘freshies’ (crocodiles) are quite shy if left alone!
The silence was so complete in this little piece of paradise with only the occasional small birds chirruping, a corella squawking or palm trees rustling in the slight breeze.
Moving on, the track zigzagged up a steep bank to Upper Gorge lookout… not an easy trek by any means, but once we reached the top it was well worth every step just for the breathtaking panorama as we gazed down at the little swimming hole we had just left and Lawn Hill Creek weaving its way through the imposing red-walled gorge.
When we finally managed to drag ourselves away from the lookout, the track back to the carpark, although less strenuous, was long and exposed… and we could feel the sun burning down on our shoulders as we trekked the valley.
This National Park might be known for lots of water but there was not a drop to drink because it is so calcium enriched. We were certainly thankful of our trusty drink bottles… although our supply was running out fast!
Finally, we were back to the track we had originally started on and the short cut leading to Indarri Falls, a welcome detour to the now not so crowded waterhole we had bypassed earlier.
We quickly discarded our damp clothing for our cozzies and dove into the cool water and despite our exhaustion this beautiful oasis amid dry, stony savannah country soon proved a great distraction from the heat of the day.
After rejuvenating in the cool water we backtracked and made our way to the car before heading back to Adels Grove.
Adels is well worth a few days stopover if you are out this way. You might drive for hours over rough roads and through scrubby country wondering where you are going to end up but believe me this little campground, that appears out of nowhere, is an oasis in the Outback and was a welcome sight for us at the end of a very long and exhausting day of traipsing gorges. If you have never been to Adels Grove head to their website and check it out.
The next morning we woke just in time to see the sun slowly rising above the tree canopies painting the early morning in a wash of orange and golden light.
Our days over the past months are now just routine; wake, eat, packup camp, drive, setup camp, relax and sleep – with a few necessities in between and perhaps a ride or a walk… and today was no different, so before leaving we wandered along the creek bank where the clear, green water glittered under the bright sunshine with so much clarity that we could see the fish swimming.
It was hard leaving this little bit of paradise but since we hadn’t seen all of Boodjamalla National Park, we decided to head back to explore the hiking trails we had missed the previous day.
The Waanyi Aboriginal peoples’ connection with this land dates back 25 million years. They know this region as their spiritual and sacred ‘Boodjamulla’ or ‘Mumbaleeya Country’ – Rainbow Serpent Country.
As mentioned earlier this ‘Sacred Ancestral Being’ created many of the region’s striking landscape features and is said to still live at the shallow end of the Lower Gorge.
Because of this the custodians of this country believe if the nature and purity of Lawn Hill should be disturbed, the creative, life sustaining ‘Budjamulla’ will up and leave so they ask visitors to respect the Waanyi Laws and help protect their significant sites by not taking photos or swimming in this area of the gorge.
The next part of our trek followed the dramatic red cliffs below the ‘Island Stack’ as we wandered along the creek edge on the ‘Wild Dog Dreaming Track’, deep into the Lower Gorge.
Along the way we viewed 10,000 year old rock art hidden in the rocky alcoves – engravings known as ‘peckings’.
Shell middens (remnants of long-ago meals) were scattered in various locations and signage explained the creation story and the Waany peoples’ deep sense of responsibility for the safekeeping of their traditional homeland. Archaeological deposits and artefacts in the area have established Aboriginal occupation at 30,000 years ago.
White woollybutt trees stood majestically against the red cliffs as we made our way to the junction where the creeks that divide the ‘Island Stack’ meet.
Imposing Lower Gorge sandstone cliffs towered above us and fascinating tufa (limestone) formations, shaped by chemical erosion, lined the creek banks.
It was a magical setting where red bluffs and creekside vegetation reflected in the still, clear water… and on the opposite bank a rocky formation gave the illusion of a ‘Wild Dog Dreaming’ as it guarded the waters that flowed into the junction.
Making our way back to the beginning of the track we headed along the ‘Cascades Walk’, a very flat, easy and shady track that was a welcome relief from the heat of mid morning sun. Unfortunately the ‘Cascades’ were not flowing for our visit, but the ponds were crystal clear and full of little fish.
Before tackling the ‘Island Stack’ we embarked on another short stroll along the ‘Botanical Walk’, another easy 1.6-kilometres walk to where the path ended in a tropical forest on the lily lined water’s edge of the Lawn Creek. Here, tall Livingstonia Palms (only found in this area) surrounded us and again provided welcoming shade from the heat.
Along this track bush tucker and bush medicine signs explained the uses of the surrounding plant life by the custodians of the land.
The ‘Turpentine Bush’ takes its name from the black smoke and turpentine smell it gives off when burning; the ‘Sandpaper Fig’ has leaves which feel exactly like sandpaper and were used by Aboriginals to smooth wooden implements; and the red resin of the ‘Bloodwood Tree was used for wound healing and, when boiled with honey, eased all kinds of stomach ailments.
After walking the ‘Wild Dog Dreaming’ the ‘Cascades’ and the ‘Botanical’ tracks, the next path on our map was a strenuous climb straight up another cliff face…
… and this ‘Island Stack’ track was certainly a challenge!
For the moderately fit this ‘must-do’ hike is around 4-kilometres, and kicks off with a staircase climb that gradually eases into an easy track then loops around the large island of rock in the heart of the gorge.
From high up on the cliff edge we could now clearly see where Lawn Hill Creek splits and flows around either side of the ‘Island Stack’ creating this arid rocky plateau we were now standing on.
Following the circuit track our walk around the perimeter revealed some spectacular views into Lower Gorge. Vegetation clung to the rugged red sandstone cliffs above the water lily lined emerald waters as the river drifted along its course below and again we marvelled at the ‘Wild Dog Dreaming’, lying peacefully as if guarding the waters where the divided Lawn Creek met. More signage requested that no photos be taken from this vantage point as it is an important cultural site.
These rocky escarpments are home to Olive Pythons, Ring Tailed Dragons, Rock Wallabies and the little Arm-Waving Gilberts Dragons or ‘Ta Ta’ Lizards, the most commonly sighted lizard in the area, which has a habit of waving a front limb when it stops running.
Birdlife was in abundance. We spotted several Crimson Finches flitting in and out of the bushes while Fairy Martins and little Woodswallows swooped around the edges of the gorge and we had our first glimpse of a Black-Chinned Honeyeater and a Sandstone Shrike-thrush singing from crevices in the cliff.
We spotted lots of little fish in the creek, caught a distant view of a freshwater croc and a rather large ‘Salmon Catfish’ lurking in the depths under a walking bridge… and even an elusive ‘Gulf Snapping Turtle’ made a rather brief appearance.
Aside from these creatures there were other fish like ‘Barred Gunter’, ‘Seven Spot Archerfish’, ‘Bony Bream’, ‘Barramundi’, ‘Sleepy Cod’ and ‘Long Tom’ – all lucky to be swimming in a National Park’ and protected from lurking predators and fishing lines.
It was finally time to move on but we were already planning our next trip back to do the only walk we hadn’tt completed, the challenging trek to Constance Range. This is a walk that is best done from Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National park campground as we were told it is better attempted around sunset or a sunrise…. so next visit we will book well ahead so we are guaranteed of one of the 20 camp spots in this National Park!
Deep within this National Park, is also the ‘Riversleigh World Heritage D Site’ fossil site that is apparently so impressive that David Attenborough himself labelled it one of the top 4 most important deposits in the world.
Covering 10,000 hectares of the southern section of this National Park are fossils dating back 15-25 million years when Australia broke away from Antarctica (then a lush rainforest filled with lakes and waterways), and representing evolution of Australian mammals at its best.
Making our way 55-kilometres through very flat farming grasslands, we eventually arrived at our next destination.
It was a pretty rough, corrugated road that seemed to stretch on forever through inhospitable and unforgiving country and it didn’t help we had to contend with the occasional road train or cattle truck that would appear out of nowhere in a rosy halo of dust causing us to slow or pull over just to let the dust settle.
Frequently we came to roadkill where masses of birds of prey gathered consuming a feast. In total we saw a couple of wedge tailed eagles, a number of kites, 2 big red kangaroos and a family of emus gambling with life as they dashed across the road in front of a truck.
Herds of cows grazed in the unfenced side paddocks and occasionally roamed into the middle of the road slowing us to a crawl as they stared us down before lazily making their way to the other side.
It’s isolated country out this way and you never know what’s around the next corner so it pays to be prepared with a reliable 4WD vehicle, spare tyres and a UHF radio or satellite phone.. and lots of fresh water and food just in case a sudden mishap may occur and you’re in for a long wait!
Whilst the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park carpark had been full while we were there, at Riversleigh we were the sole visitors.
In 1992 Boodjamulla National Park was extended to include the Riversleigh World Heritage D Site and this unassuming area is the only publicly accessible area to one of the largest fossil deposits known in the world and is one of only 2 fossil mammal sites (the other in Naracoorte, South Australia), ‘Australian World Heritage Areas’.
Palaeontologists have revealed an amazing record of life dating back 15-25 million years exposing unique fossils including giant snakes, tree-climbing crocodiles, large flightless birds (Big Bird) and carnivorous kangaroos and according to the signs, over 60 scientists are still working on the fossils at this site).
After a short walk of 800-metres along the self-guided interpretive trail that exposed the ancient landscape and fossilised bones and a quick visit to the very interesting and cleverly constructed man-made cave information area which detailed the history of the area and provided a moment’s reprieve from the burning sun, we headed on again.
We only had to travel a few kilometres down the road this time before we came to our next camp… and fortunately we had planned ahead and booked a couple of nights at Miyumba Bush Camping ground on the edge of the National Park.
It was spectacular country that surrounded us in this part of the world but it was also a harsh and extreme part of the country where in almost every direction there was little or no shade to speak of!
Situated only a few hundred metres back from the causeway over the Gregory River, the very same river we had camped on at Gregory a week previously, Miyumba Bush Campground was a welcome site at the end of another dusty track.
This small camping area of only 6 sites is set in open woodland near the banks of the Gregory River and is suitable for tents, camper trailers and offroad caravans that are self sufficient. There are only a couple of loos, no drinking water and no bins provided.
It is a beautiful spot where the river gushes over the only spot where we could cool off… but the very strong current made relaxing in the water a bit difficult for fear of being washed downstream.
Walking across the causeway was no mean feat either. Being very slippery underfoot combined with the strong current made it hard going just to get a photo of ‘Harry Hilux’ making a crossing!
Like Lawn Hill Creek, the Gregory and O’Shanassey Rivers up this way flow all year round, providing a sanctuary for resident and migratory wildlife and birdlife… and we were lucky enough to photograph some amazing birds and enjoy their lively antics.
The magical Purple Crowned Fairy Wrens or ‘Boodjamulla pixies’ as they are known to the Aboriginal people took no notice of us intruders as they set about building nests in the thick vegetation close by our camp. Spinifex Pigeons wandered around and in the very early hours of the morning we were woken to the unusual sound of Barking Owls calling to one another.
A few creepy crawlies decided to make their home in our rooftop tent and a couple of rather large roos enjoyed wandering through our campsite at dusk each night but our frequent visits to the causeway each day to catch sight of the large 3 legged croc (that apparently frequents the area), proved unfruitful!
Finally it was time for us to pack up and head towards Camooweal through more wild and remote parts of the country.
The Outback of inland Australia is often described as vast, remote and empty… and it is vast and remote, but Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is far from empty. We were truly awed by it’s harsh appearance yet it is so complex and diverse with its treasure trove of hidden gorges, ancient Aboriginal rock art, and waterholes and wetlands.
We delight in getting off the main roads and heading into this remote, rough and rugged Outback country and we would like to thank the Waanyi Aboriginal people, the Traditional Owners of Boodjamulla National Park for allowing us the opportunity to enjoy their home.