Hike, camp or visit this varied and beautiful National Park
The Bunya Mountains National Park lies about 3 hours north of Brisbane. This beautiful national park is abundant in Bunya and Hoop Pines, as well as waterfalls, lookouts and is a great destination for camping, hiking and more.
Araucaria bidwillii, commonly known as the Bunya Pine, is easily recognised by its distinctive shape, with the tree forming a cone shape. When growing in the forest, the lower trunk will have no branches, and trees growing in the open will have branches low down as well.
The importance of the Bunya Pine for indigenous people's is immense. When the nuts were in season, they attracted vast numbers of diverse tribes to come together for what is believed to the be largest gatherings of Aboriginal people.
Unfortunately because of their long straight trunks many of the trees have been logged, as well as others simply destroyed as part of the oppression of local tribal gatherings. The Bunya Mountains National Park is one of few remaining areas that preserve large numbers of Bunya Pines, including many with the cuts made on the trunks as part of the indigenous harvest practice of climbing the trees.
The cuts on the trunk of this tree was made as part of the traditional harvest practice
Today they are being rediscovered as the next trendy superfood. Bunya nuts are often eaten roasted, sometimes boiled, but can be ground into a paste to make bread.
Staying in the Bunya Mountains
There are 3 campsites in the national park. The most popular is at Dandabah. This campsite has a tent and caravan access, showers, electric barbecues and even WiFi. Not only does it have access to the most interesting hikes, but there are also tourist attractions, cafes, a bar and a shop nearby. There are also Sunday markets.
Dandabah has a campground, B&Bs, cabins, cafes, a shop and a whiskey bar
Also at Dandabah are various types of accommodation nearby, including cabins, units, chalets. All these options and facilities make the area a little busy with both day-trippers and people staying longer.
The other main camping are is at Burtons Well. This wide grassy area is a great place to camp with wood barbecues, picnic tables, toilets, showers and a donkey boiler to heat water for the shower. The description says that you can't camp next to your car, as you can't drive onto the campground. But you can set up your tent right next to the car park, though this might end up a bit noisy. Most people prefer to carry their tents to a quiet corner of the field. Even on public holidays, this site doesn't get booked out as people prefer to head to Dandabah.
Camping under an ancient grass tree at Burtons Well in the Bunya Mountains
The third area to camp is in the middle of the park as Wescott. This quiet little campground doesn't attract many campers but has toilets (no showers), picnic tables and wood barbecues. Most people will camp near where they park for convenience, but you also camp in areas further away from the car park.
Westcott has two smaller grass areas where you can camp
The layout and organisation of the national park and hikes is at first glance a little inconvenient. However, once you realise that the Bunya Mountains Road cuts through the national park, you can see how you can easily access all the walks. The interconnected tracks form a 20 km one-way walk with access to the tracks from several points along Bunya Mountains Road at Dandabah, Paradise, Westcott, Cherry Plain and Burtons Well. So there are plenty of walking options in the park. The tracks are not steep or difficult, so the whole park is suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. There are also plenty of walking options for less fit and younger hikers.
The main walking area is at Dandabah where there are a number of interconnected tracks that form a 9 km circuit through lush rainforest. At the time of writing this, the Bunya Bunya Track option, which creates a shorter circuit, was not open. It can be a good option when it has been repaired. This area includes a number of little waterfalls as well as 2 lookouts. The highlight is the Pine Gorge Lookout. This grass clearing overlooks ridges of both Bunya and Hoop Pine.
Hoop and Bunya Pines seen from Pine Gorge Lookout on a misty day
You can also start your walk from Westcott as it is roughly in the middle of the park. If you camped here, you could do one 20 km return walk up to Burtons Well and back, or another 20 km return walk down to Dandabah.
Bottle Tree Bluff Lookout is one of many lookouts in the park
If you want to put it all together, everything is connected by road. You can walk from Dandabah to Burtons Well, then walk back along the road. The road has wide shoulders and is not very busy, and because it cuts through the forest it is only 7 kms. Of course, if you are walking with several people and have more than 1 car, you can do a car shuffle to your starting point then pick up the car afterwards. If you are camping, you can even drive to where you want to start walking, hike back to your campsite, then walk back and pick it up the car the next day.
The Bunya Mountains Road cuts through the national park
The Bunya Mountains is also a good place to do overnight hikes. This is not that popular because it can just be easier to car camp and do the tracks as day hikes. With a pack hike, you can do the entire track in from Dandabah to Burtons Well in a single day. You can collect water along the way from the campsites, though you will need to treat it before drinking. If you are looking for shorter half-day walks with a backpack, then you want to either start or end at Westcott.
Grass Clearings in the Bunyas
In the Bunya Mountains are nearby areas you will see a number of grass clearings. These are home to a lizard that only lives in these tree-free zones. The origins of these grass clearings is not that well understood. It is believed that the local indigenous people would use native fire management techniques to keep them tree-free and may have created them in the first place. Whatever their origin, they provide a unique open space that many hikes in the area lack.
The Bunya Mountains has many grass clearings that were maintained through traditional aboriginal fire farming practices
The Bunya Mountains is a great destination. Given that it is 3 hours from Brisbane, you may want to consider staying overnight. There is plenty of camping and accommodation options, as well as places to eat, shop and of course, have a few drinks. It is definitely worth the trip.