Nothing ventured, nothing gained as the saying goes, and never was this truer than in the case of Kroombit Tops National Park, 85km south-west of Gladstone in central Queensland.
Rising like a great sandstone bastion, 800m above sea level, it takes some effort to reach the plateau by way of the ever-steepening roller-coaster of Tableland Road. Other access routes are doable but difficult, if not impossible, with a trailer in tow.
But Kroombit rewards the intrepid traveller with spectacular views, magnificent forests and many kilometres of rugged 4WD tracks that will excite those not afraid to tackle the rough stuff. The camping areas have no facilities, but this is more than compensated by the natural bush setting, the serenade of birdsong and liberation from internet and phone coverage.
THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
The Kroombit plateau was created by volcanic activity about 215 million years ago, and later covered by sediments compressed to sandstone at the bottom of an ancient sea. After the ocean retreated, erosion scoured away the surrounding country leaving the resilient plateau standing atop spectacular 100m cliffs along its north-east flank, crowned by Amy’s Peak (930m). Over millions of years, streams carved steep-sided gullies and deep gorges into the plateau and scree slopes where rainforests now grow.
Kroombit’s weather is much cooler than the surrounding lowlands and receives an average of 1800mm of rain each year — making it a temperate 43,000-hectare island in the steamy subtropics. There is also a marked variation in rainfall across the plateau which fosters many different ecosystems.
The Kroombit climate supports more than 850 species of plants, many listed as rare or threatened. Its singular asset is its trees — blackbutt forests in the south-east; piccabeen palms, coachwood and white beech in rainforest gullies; Sydney blue gum, pink bloodwood and rough-barked apple trees on the eastern slopes; and white mahogany, grey gum and ironbark woodlands further west. These diverse communities provide vital habitats for an impressive array of wildlife — 71 species of mammal, 165 birds, 70 reptiles and 30 amphibians, one of which (the Kroombit tinkerfrog) is critically endangered.
The Kroombit Tops lie within the traditional country of the Bailai, Gooreng Gooreng and Gurang Aboriginal people, who occupied the region for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Large groups camped along the nearby Boyne River, and a tribe of several hundred had a permanent camp at a waterhole they called Euboba, now the town of Ubobo. Their first contact with Europeans occurred in 1802 when Matthew Flinders arrived at Port Curtis (present-day Gladstone) in the Investigator. Flinders described the locals as, “stout, muscular men who went entirely naked, understood bartering better than most and were curious but not over excitable”.
Today, the region’s Indigenous people maintain a strong spiritual connection with Kroombit Tops, and work closely with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in the day-to-day management of the park and protection of its cultural sites.
Twenty years after Flinders, John Oxley explored the Boyne Valley, naming the river and paving the way for settlers who claimed large pastoral runs for grazing sheep and cattle. The discovery of gold in the Boyne Range in the 1860s led to the establishment of lucrative mines, including one at Norton in the Milton Goldfield which supported several thousand miners and produced over 20,000 ounces of gold before it closed.
Mining, smelting and expansion of the Gladstone settlement created a demand for timber, which was harvested from the ranges and hauled by bullock teams to the rail heads. At the end of WWI, returning soldiers were settled on blocks of land to establish farms for dairying and growing crops. The depression, falling prices and WWII forced the closure of many farms and their amalgamation into larger holdings with river frontage for broad-acre agriculture and cattle grazing, which still continues. From 1969 to 1995, Kroombit Tops was logged for hoop pines and hardwoods, but the forests are now protected by the national park.
A popular drive within the park is the 35km Loop Road (circuit) which leads to the Bomber crash site and The Wall camping area. The first half (20km) of the Loop to the crash site is suitable for most drivers in AWD vehicles with high clearance, but the track down to The Wall and the second half of the circuit includes some steep, rocky sections that are suitable only for experienced drivers in high clearance 4WDs. Any amount of water in Annie Creek at The Wall will present another significant challenge. The route includes stunning vistas from two natural lookouts.
The 27km (one way) Razorback Track between Tableland Road and the park’s western boundary is strictly dry weather 4WD country and not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. The rugged terrain includes numerous creek crossings and steep, narrow sections through the core of the park, but rewards careful adventurers with panoramic scenery atop the twisting ridges and the Marble Waterhole at the far end. This route is not suitable for camper trailers and caravans.
It’s not all hard yakka, though. The Tableland Road from The Barracks to the eastern side of the plateau is a scenic 20km run on a well-maintained, hard-packed gravel track through picturesque forest. There are some tight corners and crests that demand your attention, but the road doesn’t present too much of a challenge until it starts the steep descent to the junction with Mahoon Creek Road at the eastern edge of the park.
For a change of pace, you can stretch your legs on a couple of bushwalks that reveal different aspects of the Kroombit environment in all its natural splendour.
About 8km east of the Griffiths Creek camping area, a carpark off Tableland Road marks the start of a short (100m) track to a lookout with spectacular views from the eastern escarpment towards the Boyne Valley. The walk might only take a few minutes, but the panorama will keep you mesmerised a lot longer. Colourful sandstone walls drop from the plateau to a landscape heavily dissected by rainforest gullies through eucalyptus woodlands.
The lookout carpark is also the trail head for the Escarpment Track, a 13km (one way) hike that shadows the escarpment through open blackbutt forest with glimpses of the Boyne Valley to the north-east. While the walk itself is easy, it’s a long one and you might want to arrange a car shuttle for a pick up from The Barracks at the other end.
Tableland Road continues east from the lookout for about 2km to the start of the Rainforest Walk. This delightful 300m circuit meanders through a tropical rainforest of palms, ferns and towering timber around Munholme Creek, a very different environment from the drier eucalypt forests that cover the plateau further west.
The southbound leg of Loop Road ends 20km from the Tableland Road junction at the head of a 700m (return) track through the Bomber Crash Site. The trail winds around a ridge overlooking Annie Creek Gorge, through open forest littered with the remains of ‘Beautiful Betsy’, a WWII Liberator bomber that crashed here in 1945 claiming the lives of eight airmen. Interpretive signs along the track describe Betsy’s history and her disappearance that remained a mystery until the site was discovered in 1994.
Bush camping is available at Griffiths Creek, The Razorback and The Wall, none of which has any facilities except fire rings. Campers need to be self-sufficient in just about everything, including a portable toilet (the only one in the park is at the Lookout, 8km from Griffith Creek) or a shovel.
Griffiths Creek camping area is a delightful grassy place in an open forest of tall trees, about 2.5km from the ranger base at The Barracks on Tableland Road. There are no defined sites and it’s possible to set up your tent or trailer in spacious glades well removed, even totally secluded, from your neighbours, with plenty of room for large groups or families. But choose your spot carefully as trees may drop branches, especially during high winds. A shady day-use area on the banks of Griffiths Creek opposite the camping area is a nice spot for a picnic.
The small, secluded Razorback camping area is set among tall blackbutt forest about 1.5km along the Razorback Track from the Tableland Road turn-off. It’s only accessible by high clearance 4WD vehicles and offroad capable trailers. The Wall camping area is a grassy clearing on the south bank of Annie Creek, a short distance along the Loop Track from the Bomber crash site. It’s located at the bottom of a steep rocky section of track, making it accessible only by 4WD vehicles. The Loop continues on one-way from the camping area and it’s a rough, tough climb out. But, like everything else at Kroombit Tops, you’re bound to enjoy the experience.
‘Beautiful Betsy’ was a B24 Liberator bomber with the USAAF 380 Bombardment Group based near Darwin during WWII. She was named after the wife of Lieutenant Joe Roth, the aircraft’s first commander. After arriving in Australia in April 1943, Betsy flew 25 combat missions over New Guinea, Timor, Borneo and the Solomon Islands. Later, stripped of her guns and armour plating, Betsy flew ‘Fat Cat’ runs transporting supplies and personnel throughout Australia. At 2200 on 26 February 1945, war-weary Betsy departed Darwin on another run to Brisbane. On board were six US air crew and two RAF passengers — Flying Officer Roy Cannon and Flt-Lt TJ Cook. Cannon, 23, was due to be married in Brisbane on 2 March, and Cook was his best man. When Betsy failed to arrive at her destination, an air search was mounted along her projected route, but no trace of the plane was found. Her whereabouts and the fate of all on board remained a mystery for nearly 50 years.
While monitoring a back burn along a ridge beside Annie Gorge in July 1994, national park ranger Mark Roe discovered Betsy’s shattered remains strewn among the rocks and trees. It is believed that in the pre-dawn darkness, the pilots thought that they had crossed the range and began a shallow descent towards the coast, slamming into the unseen ridge at 320 miles per hour. On impact, the aircraft disintegrated, killing all on board and scattering debris over a 100m radius. The crash zone is now managed as a heritage site and all parts of the wreck are protected.
- Kroombit Tops NP is 85km south-west of Gladstone in Central Queensland.
- The park is accessed from Calliope on Tableland Road (68km), Biloela on Plains Road (40km), Monto on Mahoon Creek Road (66km) and Ubobo on Clewleys Gap Road (70km).
- Tableland Road is suitable for conventional vehicles in dry conditions only and the recommended route for towing trailers or caravans. All other roads require high clearance 4WD vehicles. Within the park the Loop and Razorback Tracks are strictly 4WD.
- Fuel and supplies are available at Calliope, Biloela, Monto and Ubobo.
- Camping areas are located at Griffith Creek, Razorback and The Wall. There are no facilities except fire rings. Pre-booked camping permits are required, and fees apply.
- Campers will need to bring drinking water, firewood, fuel or gas stove, a shovel or hand trowel to bury toilet waste or (preferably) a portable toilet. Take all rubbish home. The only toilet in the park is at the Lookout.
- Mobile phone reception is available in some areas in the park and emergency communication equipment is recommended.
- Temperatures are generally 5–10 degrees cooler than surrounding lowlands and can be quite cold in winter, especially at night.
- After heavy rain, check road conditions with Queensland Parks, Queensland Traffic or local councils before entering the park.
- Activities: 4WDing, bushwalking, bird watching, photography.
QUEENSLAND PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
P: (07) 4167 8162 or 0428 789 316
P: 13 19 40
BILOELA VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
437 Callide Street, Biloela
P: (07) 4992 2405
GLADSTONE VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
Bryan Jordan Drive, Gladstone
P: (07) 4972 9000