With its dramatic landscapes, gorgeous wildflowers and plentiful bushwalks, Girraween National Park is one of my family's favourite camping destinations -- and it's only a bit over three hours from Brisbane.
Not far from Stanthorpe and the Queensland - New South Wales border, Girraween is unlike any other national park I know, and very different from the coastal and rainforest parks closer to Brisbane.
Look around and you're likely to see granite tors and balancing boulders, hillsides covered by dry eucalypt forest, and kangaroos feeding in grassy clearings. During spring, wildflowers put on beautiful displays, and summer is a great time to swim in one of the (freezing) waterholes.
The national park has two campgrounds -- Bald Rock Creek and Castle Rock. Bald Rock Creek is more heavily treed and its campsites are more secluded, many with their own fireplaces.
We always opt for the more open Castle Rock Camping Area, which has a big grassy space where kids can kick a ball, and is right next to a large rock outcrop. My sons spend most of their time exploring these rocks with other kids. While the rocks give them a sense of adventure -- and do, admittedly, have their risks -- they are only a couple of hundred metres from the tent-sites, so it's easy to call the kids down or go check on them if you need to.
When they're not exploring those rocks, our boys are often out bushwalking with us. Girraween has 10 different walks ranging from an easy 800m circuit to a difficult six-hour hike to Mt Norman. It has something to challenge most people, and lots of climbs that reward you with great views of the surrounding countryside. Some of the walks are a bit scary (for me, anyway -- I find heights difficult), but I've managed to do most of the walks and survived.
We generally visit Girraween in the spring school holidays, when the wildflowers are at their best. A favourite walk of mine is along the Junction Track, where we wander through clouds of delicate wildflowers and our sons slip and slide down the watery rock-slides of Bald Rock Creek.
I love the abundance of wildlife that shares Girraween with us. Kangaroos are regular visitors to the campgrounds, as are parrots, kookaburras and currawongs (watch out for cheeky birds when you're cooking meat). I also love the sense of peace and solitude at Girraween. Unlike many other campgrounds closer to civilisation, there's no traffic noise, no overhead planes, no generators, and, generally, considerate people (many with small children) who go to bed early and get up early.
A few things could be considered drawbacks of camping at Girraween. First, it can be very cold -- even in spring. Remember, you're in granite country not far from Stanthorpe, and it has been known to snow here. So take warm clothes whatever time of year you go.
Second (and related), you're limited to timed showers in a shared amenities block. On a cold morning or night, this can seem very cruel. Especially because (and here's the third drawback), fires are only allowed in the national parks fireplaces. I completely support this rule for environmental reasons, but the fireplaces (at least at Castle Rock campground) don't spread heat effectively, so you won't get that lovely 'sitting round the fire' feeling that you get in some other campgrounds.
Still, I consider these minor issues and we love Girraween enough that we've visited every spring for the past five years. We now have the trip down to a fine art -- leave Brisbane mid-morning, drive the two hours to Warwick, stop at the wonderful Steele's Pies for lunch, then do the last leg so that we arrive in time to set up camp before dark.
Girraween is further than many places that are popular with Brisbane campers, and has fewer creature comforts than a lot of commercial campgrounds. But, for me, that's a big part of its charm -- after I've been there, I really feel that I've had a chance to experience nature, and that our whole family has blown the city cobwebs away.
(Oh, and two other things I should probably tell you -- if you're a wine buff, a number of the Granite Belt wineries are near Girraween. And if you don't like camping, there's a commercial environmental lodge about 10 minutes from the park entrance.)