Off road: Mt Superbus and the source of the Condamine
When we first visited Queensland's Granite Belt in Spring 2010, I wanted to return to Brisbane a different way from the outward journey (via Cunningham's Gap and Warwick). But the tourist information office in Stanthorpe was unable to confirm that the road from Killarney over the Main Range to Boonah was sealed all the way.
There was another reason for wanting to go that way. As I compiled my lists of Aussie place names, Mt Superbus was a favourite. I mean, where did that name come from? It is Queensland's third-highest peak (1375 metres) and the highest south of Innisfail (100 km south of Cairns), although unspectacular by all accounts and lacking a view from the summit – perhaps because the top consists of a plateau with several high points.
When you read the name of the mountain, did you pronounce it in your head as Super-bus, or Superb-us? I have always thought it was the former, but during my research for this post I have been disabused. I am rather disappointed, but I suspect it will always be Super-bus in my world.
A couple of months ago, we left Brisbane via the Cunningham Highway but soon turned off for Peak Crossing and Boonah down the 93, a quiet route through pleasant country. Boonah lies in the fertile and picturesque Fassifern Valley: the town has a friendly feel and a splendid horse. The Clydesdale heavy horse came to the region with squatters in the 1840s and assisted settlers and farmers for more than a hundred years. Local breeders have kept the Clydesdale alive and Andrew Scott's galvanised steel sculpture makes a big impression as you drive into town.
Fourteen kilometres down the Boonah-Rathdowney stretch of the 93, The Falls (Scenic) Drive, aka Carneys Creek Road, turns off right. It immediately felt far-from-the-madding, even before the road began to ascend the Main Range through a Bell Miner zone, grass trees and dingley-dell forest.
On the top of the Range was a good view, some impressive plunge falls (Teviot), and the border with New South Wales – which came close to Head Road although we never crossed over.
It isn't called Head Road for nothing, of course, and at Carrs Lookout we discovered why. Here are the headwaters of the Condamine River which starts out as a spring on the slopes of Mt Superbus and becomes a tributary of the mighty Murray-Darling.
My old friend Ludwig Leichhardt followed the westward-flowing Condamine for a while in 1847 (see That man again, November 2011). And the river is also notable for having reached a record peak during the Queensland floods of 2010-11. From Killarney, it turns northwest, draining the northern Darling Downs: at Surat, 75 kilometres south of Roma, it turns southwest and becomes the Balonne. In total, it flows more than 1200 kilometres before it even reaches New South Wales*. Behind the bank of cloud below is Mt Superbus: I am beginning to think I will never see it. Behind us should have been Wilson's Peak but we couldn't see that either. The grey couldn't drain the lush valley of its colour, however.
Also unfortunate was the news that the 4WD track off Spring Creek Road that we had come here for was closed following heavy rainfall. (There's a lot of rain in these parts.) But at least now we had the answer to whether or not you can drive from Killarney to Boonah without a 4WD. Had everything gone according to plan, however, we would have missed Queen Mary Falls, a fine example of a retreating waterfall, with a 40-metre drop. The Falls are receding upstream as the water erodes the rock behind it: there was a major cliff fall in the 1880s, the debris from which lies at the foot of the Falls.
Not far away, just five kilometres east of Killarney, are Daggs Falls, very close to the road.
Only as we drove into Killarney did we realise it was St Patrick's Day. Of all the places we could have visited in Southeast Queensland that day, we chose this small township founded by Irish settlers who were reminded of home by the surrounding country. Many of the day's festivities were coming to an end and unfortunately the Killarney Hotel had stopped serving lunch. We were ravenous. Remarkably, a corned beef and salad doorstop of a sandwich went down a treat.
Still determined to drive off road, my friend tried to navigate us back to the Cunningham Highway across country from Killarney via Emu Vale and Yangan. We didn't join it as far up as we would have liked, and the gravel roads were hardly challenging, but we passed by some great fields and verges.
*the Murray-Darling river system flows 3,375 kilometres before entering the Spencer Gulf in South Australia
This post was last updated on 25 May