Multi-day Hiking in Girraween National Park
If you’re looking for a multi-day hiking option with relatively straight forward navigation, and trails that won’t destroy your feet within the first kilometer, then look no further than Girraween National Park. In preparation for a trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, we had bought a number of new pieces of equipment, including sleeping bags, inflatable sleeping mats, jackets, and backpacks. With Stanthorpe holding the title for the lowest recorded temperature in Queensland, we selected Girraween as the testing ground for our newly acquired gear.
Trails and Trials
Our relatively simple two-day route starts and ends at the Dr Roberts carpark, with one evening's camping at the South Bald Rock bush camp. There are many more options for bush camping, however, the bush campsites are not indicated on the standard map provided by the Queensland National Park Services. Instead they provide the GPS coordinates of the campsites and then it’s up to you to navigate your own way. It would be nice to have some information on the more reliable spots to collect water, but unfortunately they do not provide these details to the public. All that means is you need to pay attention while walking and fill up those water bottles whenever you can.
The adventure starts by leaving work early on a Friday and taking on the three and a half hour drive from Brisbane to Girraween - very exciting stuff. Next up is spending a freezing night sleeping on an inflatable double mattress in a summer tent (we had not yet decided which tent to get for the Chile trip). Yes I concede, it was a rookie mistake to not have an extra blanket to place beneath the mattress, and boy did we pay for it. The temperature dropped to -4 degrees C that evening, and as we embarked on the hike the next morning there was an undeniable dread of spending another cold night in our “not-up-to-the-task" tent. I also noted that some of the seem seal tape had worn out...let's just hope it doesn't rain... Nevertheless, after parking the car at the Dr Roberts carpark we set off with enthusiasm down the footpath toward the Underground Creek. Over many thousands of years flowing water carved away at the granitic rocks of the creek bed and eventually caused large boulders to collapse and bury the creek. The water now flows underground beneath enormous granite boulders. Next time you’re out here, pack a book and brunch and spend a relaxing morning down by the creek.
“Boiling water for basic consumption is such a shlep and a complete waste of climate-changing hydrocarbon fuel”
Continue along the path on the northeast of the creek and head towards the top of the Underground Creek. The path turns south and disappears on the rocky outcrop, but keep heading south, cross the creek (above ground now), and aim for the track on the opposite bank. This is exactly where the two-day route circles back to, so have a good look around and take note of some landmarks. From here we turn east and follow the trail down towards South Bald Rock and the bush camp via Paling Yard Creek and Dingo Swamp. You can’t miss the campsite. It’s a large flat area marked by an enormous tree and a “no fire” sign. Ironically there was indeed a small fire pit (clearly a makeshift attempt) holding the remains of a small fire right next to the sign. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why fires can be a problem, but having a campfire is one of the main reasons we go camping. The sound of crackling wood, the flashing of firelight across your friends' faces, marshmallows flaming like meteorites... Dear National Parks, please consider providing some basic infrastructure for a campfire in the bush camps. A simple National Parks approved fire pit should be more than enough. Dear potential fire makers, please be responsible and don’t burn down our national park.
If you really want to appreciate the landscapes in Girraween you have to make an effort and climb to the top of at least one of the many large granite domes. South Bald rock campsite is conveniently located right at the bottom of, you guessed it, South Bold Rock. It’s a short steep walk to the top, from where you can enjoy 360 degree views of what seems to be all of Australia. On this occasion we carried a camping stove and had a cup of tea in the fading light of the sunset. We were told of a cave somewhere on the outcrop, and we tried unsuccessfully to find it for about half an hour before daylight became a problem. We’ll have to take another trip out there to do more exploring.
As it turned out our gear mostly worked very well. The combination of the new sleeping bags and the insulated inflatable sleeping mats kept us nice and toasty (even in the summer tent with its all mesh inner). The 550 loft duck down jackets weren’t quite up to the task though, so we ended up replacing them. Our new 50L MacPac and Osprey backpacks proved more than capable, and the good old MSR Whisperlight stove, which I’ve owned for more than a decade, performed exactly like expected. The nearest water point is just south of the campsite (less than 500m) on the path that turns west towards Middle Rock. If it was running water I would have happily used it as it was, but to be safe we opted to boil it - another rookie mistake was not taking purification tablets. Boiling water is such a shlep and a complete waste of climate-changing hydrocarbon fuel. After several hours of boiling we eventually headed out on the trail and pointed our feet towards Stone Gate via Middle Rock and Old Stone Cottage. Near Middle Rock and West Bald Rock the trail is slightly more undulating, but nothing too serious. Near Old Stone Cottage the trail is flat and fast, so hold on to your sneakers. From Stone Gate we followed Mt Norman Rd to the day-use area, took a short break and continued north back towards Underground Creek. Apart from the water hole near the campsite we didn’t come across any other creeks to fill the bottles. We had 3L each to last us all day, but it was nice and cool, and staying hydrated wasn’t a problem.
With a total distance of ~26km (day 1: 10km and day 2: 16km) this was the perfect outing to test some gear while enjoying the beautiful scenery Girraween has to offer. We arrived back at the Dr Roberts carpark just before sunset. That gave us just enough time to drive back to the main campsite, set up for a night not nearly as cold as the first, and take a very welcome, albeit rushed, four minute hot shower before total darkness fell. Well done Queensland National Parks for putting in some decent infrastructure in such a remote location and not asking an arm and a leg for it.