By NELSON HALL
Rivalling Tasmania in size, Queensland’s ruggedly glorious Sandstone Wilderness is home to flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet, spectacular sandstone gorges, majestic mountain ranges and culturally significant Aboriginal art sites.
So, if hiking, exploring national parks, and spotting endangered species is your bag, don’t let this biodiverse wonderland remain part of your great unknown.
The Sandstone Wilderness is located in Queensland’s Brigalow Belt bioregion or, as I prefer to call it, nature’s Noah’s Ark.
Take only photos and leave only footprints… and Mother Nature might just repay you by revealing some of the world’s most precious wildlife.
Note these down: the endangered bridled nail-tail wallaby; glossy black cockatoo; bulloak jewel butterfly and the last remaining wild population of endangered hairy-nosed wombats.
With more than 36 walking tracks to choose from across 25 national parks, the Sandstone Wilderness offers something for everyone, from hard-core, über-fit hikers who crave multi-day adventures to social walkers, like myself, who lean more towards leisurely strolls.
It’s no wonder this lush oasis is arguably the most popular national park in the region. Carnarvon Gorge is home to more than 173 bird species and shelters endemic Livistona Palms, ancient cycads and fragile ferns. It really is like stepping on to the set of Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs.
Take your time to appreciate this living museum as you journey through sandstone gorges and culturally significant Aboriginal rock art. Here’s a peek at some of my favourite day walks around Carnarvon Gorge
A nature lover’s paradise, Isla Gorge National Park is home to 10 rare and threatened flora and fauna species, including the shy Herbert’s rock wallaby. Keep an eye out for wedge-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons as you enjoy one of the many walks. Plan your trip in spring to take in the colourful blooms of wildflowers.
Four-wheel-drive fanatics, take note: this is where you can vroom into the wild. Take on Kroombit Tops National Park’s stunning Razorback Track, cruising through creek crossings and up ridges.
Be sure to stop by Beautiful Betsy, a WWII Liberator bomber that crashed at Kroombit Tops in 1945, remaining hidden in the forest until it was discovered nearly half a century later.
Keep your ears pricked for the calls of the endangered Kroombit Tinker frog, the endemic Kroombit treefrog and two other threatened species, the Cascade treefrog and Tusked frog.
Caves, mountains and lookouts… Cania Gorge doesn’t disappoint in the jaw-dropping views and rock formations department.
For the best selfies or family photos, head to Castle Mountain Lookout and the Overhang. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and keep an eye out for sulphur-crested cockatoos and black-striped wallabies.
Although technically not a national park, it’s too cool to miss off the list. Geology buffs, hold onto your knee-high socks as you explore Mount Scoria – the only mountain of its type in the Southern Hemisphere.
What’s its claim to fame? This geological hotspot is one of only three prehistoric rock formations in the world that was originally the core of a volcano. Boom!
The Sandstone Wilderness is dotted with points of historical significance from famous explorers of the ilk of Ludwig Leichhardt and Major Mitchell to Australia’s most famous sheep shearer, Jackie Howe.
If you’re hankering for cheekier tales, look no further than Australia’s last legendary bushrangers, the Kenniff Brothers, who caused mischief and mayhem near Carnarvon Gorge.
What’s more, the region is home to some of Australia’s most significant stories and sites for Aboriginal peoples, ranging from habitation sites to paintings and ancient rock art. The Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave in Carnarvon Gorge draw global recognition as being home to some of the finest examples of Aboriginal stencil and engraving techniques in the world.
Black’s Palace, meanwhile, situated to the east of the town of Blackall, houses the largest known collection of Aboriginal drawings in Central Queensland.
Belt up and pack some toe-tapping tracks. Located in the heart of Queensland’s drive routes, the Sandstone Wilderness is easily accessible via Matilda Highway to the west, Australia’s Country Way to the east or by the Great Inland Way, the Capricorn and Warrego Highways.
For more ideas, read this recent road trip blog post, covering Brisbane to the Sandstone Wilderness.