Outback 3 Porcupine Gorge
The decision was made for us in a way. There was no time to visit Porcupine Gorge, having arrived in Hughenden at 5.15 pm; and to go first thing the next morning before driving 444 kilometres to Isisford in a rush of an afternoon was probably not even possible. So, having determined that the Royal Hotel was bearable for a second night – and the room was available – we delayed our return to Brisbane by a day. The benefits of this decision were considerable: we had a whole day to explore the spectacular, as it turned out, Gorge; and we were putting off the psychological impact of turning south, which meant 'on the way home'.
Porcupine Gorge National Park is 63 kilometres* north of Hughenden along the Kennedy Developmental Road, which felt remote even though it's fast and sealed, the whole way to our surprise. First there were camels.
And then there was Bottle Tree Ridge Lookout, not far from the southern limit of the National Park. It's a short steepish climb up the ridge, but the view to the east is worth the effort. There was a wizened old bottle tree, of course.
A stone's throw away from the bottom of the path is the forlorn grave of a packhorse mailman who met his doubtless untimely end on this spot at the hands of Aborigines in 1886.
The 120-metre-deep Gorge was formed along a tributary of the upper Flinders catchment, Porcupine (or Galah) Creek, which cut through a hard basalt cap and underlying sedimentary and metamorphic layers. The National Park, gazetted in 1970, includes eucalypt, acacia and melaleuca woodland, and ten regional ecosystems. There are at least 80 bird, 30 reptile and 30 mammal species associated with the Park. The northern part of the Park is in the Einasleigh Upland biogeographic region (essentially savanna and woodland); while the southern section is part of the Mitchell Grass Downs bioregion (largely treeless plains). The Park extends for 25 kilometres along the Creek: it doesn't require a genius to work out how it got its name.
Ten kilometres or so before the access to the Gorge via the Pyramid track is the 'official' lookout. The red grass was striking, as was the marked difference between National Park and the cattle-munched rest of the country. There is no access down into the Gorge from here.
The turn off the Kennedy to the Pyramid camp site is another 11 km further on; then 4.5 km along Mount Emu Plains Road; and finally right for 2.5 km to the day use/camping areas. It's all clearly signed. The Pyramind walking track is 2.4 km return. It says allow 1.5 hours, but I'd say longer if you want to fully appreciate all this fabulous place has to offer. The track is steep in places but not tricky: I would recommend walking boots, however, especially if you want to leap from rock to rock along the Creek bed. The descent affords good views.
Once down, we sat by the Creek, taking stock of our beautiful surroundings.
There was probably more potential here than in any other national park we'd visited this trip, with the exception of Uluru. I almost didn't know where to start.
We progressed downstream slowly towards the Pyramid. The patterns and colours in water and rock offered endless opportunities.
The Creek bed has an interesting geological feature, an isolated monolith of multicoloured sandstone (the four pictures above). The Pyramid rises from the Gorge floor, created by the eroding action of the Creek and a tributary. At the foot of its rock wall is a waterhole with a small beach, which is where we had our lunch, listening to birdsong. It was by now hot enough to seek the shade of bush and rock.
Then we walked upstream: the Gorge narrowed and there were fewer opportunities to cross the Creek.
It was tempting to keep going… just round the next corner… but there was no end to that game. And so we returned to the flaming path and climbed back up into reality from a magical place.
Porcupine Gorge is up there with Kings Canyon and Ormiston Gorge in our Best of Trip experiences. It is almost beyond comprehension that this and neighbouring White Mountains National Park are threatened by a current coal mining application.
Back in Hughenden, we wanted to eat at the Outback Deli B&B (on Little Avenue, down by the river), which we'd heard good reports about, but it was Sunday apparently, and they didn't return our call. It's maybe worth a look if you're after accommodation, too. The Royal Hotel didn't rate that well in our Outback accommodation appraisal. Our room was only slightly larger than the bed and it had paper thin walls. We ate in the bar the first night, which was not an uplifting experience – loud TVs, unhelpful bar staff and an Indigenous man begging. We waited an age for our pasta, but the sauce was delicious and we concluded it must have been freshly made. We didn't fancy another evening there, so we headed to Chengs Chinese on Brodie Street. It was busy, a good sign, and our starters were good, but the mains were rather too MSG for my liking. You know that shiny, gloopy consistency…?
Sadly, Hughenden's once Grand Hotel is in a sorry state. Built in 1912 and the only original hotel building in town, it failed to meet revised fire standards in 2003, lost its licence and was sold. It was heritage-listed four years later which resulted in a battle between the owner and the council over the cost of restoration. It remains boarded up to this day, an all too common sight in Outback towns.
Otherwise, Hughenden was the usual mixture of interesting signs and shopfronts, with the addition of weird names that I struggled to pronounce.
We also looked at the Flinders River, which needless to say was dry…
…the Historic Coolabah Tree, blazed by Frederick Walker and Sir William Landsborough who each lead a relief expedition searching for Burke and Wills…
…and the Federation Rotunda, an unusual feature constructed from two 20-foot windmills that came off a local property and date from 1912 and 1916. There's interesting information about the history of windmills alongside, and you can sit and ponder the federation of the states into one nation that the monument commemorates.
Information about all these and more is available at the Flinders Discovery Centre in Gray Street, open seven days a week. And as is the case in more and more remote towns of western Queensland, there was a dinosaur lurking not far away.
* You'll find different distances given, depending on whether the source is talking about the National Park or the Gorge itself, and whether 'the Gorge' is classed from the Lookout or the Pyramid camping ground. It is also described as an hour's drive from Hughenden
This post was last edited on 16 October 2016