Perfect peace... and granite
There is a place, just over three hours' drive from Brisbane, where I guarantee you will find perfect peace. No distant traffic rumble, no roaring motor bikes, no over-revving of unmuffled engines, no overflying aircraft, and only the occasional, essential gadget. You'll have lots of Eastern Grey kangaroos for company and hear birdsong from first light to sundown. And the Milky Way will straddle the darkest night sky with billions of stars forming a cloud bridge to the further reaches of the galaxy. For this is a special place: this is Girraween.
Girraween lies just east of the New England Highway between Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe in Queensland's Granite Belt, and Wallangarra on the New South Wales border. If you turn off the Highway on to Pyramids Road for the few kilometres to the National Park, you'll pass Girraween Environmental Lodge, where we have stayed before and where we returned last week – to realise our visitors' desire to see roos in the wild.
We'd been in Byron Bay for three days before heading off on the Bruxner Highway (Route 44) across northern New South Wales, via Lismore and Casino, to Tenterfield. Along the way, up on the Richmond Range, we saw Mt Warning from a new angle, and crossed the Clarence River on what is reputed to be the longest single-span wooden bridge in the southern hemisphere, at Tabulam. Beyond here, the Bruxner Highway traverses increasingly remote country, winding up through native forest (with Bell Miners tinking) and pretty deserted rural districts with names such as Sandy Hill and Black Swamp.
Tenterfield is the 'Federation town', where Sir Henry Parkes, an English-born New South Wales Premier, delivered a speech in 1889 that ultimately lead to the federation of the Australian territories 11 years later. We stayed in the delightful, colonial-style Annie's Folly and ate barramundi that evening in the local pub. The New England Highway passes straight through the middle of this small agricultural town (population about 3,000): next day, we shopped for provisions before heading north.
A few kilometres north, a lovely old rickety-rackety railway bridge over Tenterfield Creek sits alongside the highway, but you take your life in your hands to get a decent pic. Less than 20 kilometres up the road is the railway's destination – the border town of Jennings (NSW)/Wallangara (QLD), where the disused station has a plaque describing an old rivalry between the two states.
Girraween Environmental Lodge is surrounded by the National Park on three sides, but has 400 acres of its own that you need never leave if you bring enough provisions. You can walk for hours through open eucalypt forest (and the occasional stand of conifers), crossing creeks and climbing impressive granite outcrops. This time around we combined Rock Pools with Giants Marbles. At the Rock Pools, Ramsay Creek tumbles through pot holes formed along a weakness in the rock: Giants Marbles features a huge granite slab littered with various-sized remnant boulders and dotted with moss- or lichen-filled depressions. Everywhere brilliant-yellow wattle was enhanced by sunlight.
The wooden cabins are set far enough apart in the bush for you to believe you're on your own. Wood-burning heaters make them toasty-warm even on frosty nights – it's 900 metres above sea level here. We had company on an early-morning walk in the form of Tasman, GEL's lively dog-in-residence, but the roos were unimpressed.
We observed lots of Crimson Rosellas and King-Parrots, and spotted an (Australasian) Darter, as well as the usual suspects such as Kookaburras, Masked Lapwings, Magpies and Honeyeaters. And on our walk I think I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Long-nosed Bandicoot.
The quickest route to Girraween from Brisbane is down the Cunningham Highway (Route 15) off the Ipswich Motorway west of the city. Join the New England Highway north of Warwick and head south for Stanthorpe (see Great Granite, October 2010). Alternatively, you can take Route 93 at the top of the Cunningham Highway, then Route 90 to Boonah and the Falls Drive (off the Boonah-Rathdowney Road) as far as Killarney Road (see Off road: Mt Superbus and the source of the Condamine, May 2012). Heading south, Killarney Road joins Mount Lindesay Highway (Route 13) at Legume: south of Liston take Amosfield Road to Stanthorpe. This latter route includes an unsealed section, but you won't need a 4x4 under normal weather conditions.
Whenever I've been to Girraween, I've revelled in the natural sounds and the silence. There are few places down Australia's eastern seaboard where you can escape all forms of noise pollution. The landscape here has a remote feel, yet it's benign and soothing. There's something very pleasing about granite, gum and wattle. In spring the wildflowers are spectacular, and I imagine this place would provide a cool respite from summer in the city. Go and see for yourselves.