There are more than 1000 national parks in Queensland. Some, as would be expected in the Sunshine State, encompass glorious beaches and stunning coastline. Other parks are further inland, located in the hinterland of the Sunshine or Gold Coasts, or further still, covering parts of the rugged Queensland outback. The scope of these parks ensures there is no shortage of lookouts, walks, waterfalls and wildlife to explore. Here are just eight of the top Queensland national parks; only a hint at what awaits on your next holiday north.
Springbrook National Park
Located only 45 minutes’ drive from the famous beaches of the Gold Coast, Springbrook National Park is characterised by its volcanic perch, deep canyons, tumbling waterfalls, and some of the oldest trees in Australia. It is a popular daytrip destination for visitors to the Gold Coast, who come to explore its hikes, rainforest, and riverside picnic areas. One of the most well-known lures of Springbrook is the cave at Natural Bridge. By day, the cave offers a pretty view out onto the neighbouring waterfall, and at night is becomes illuminated thanks to the resident colony of glow-worms. Other things to do in Springbrook National Park include the Twin Falls Circuit walk, looking out for Albert’s Lyrebird, and learning about Gondwanaland.
Noosa National Park
There are more than 4,000 hectares to explore within Noosa National Park, covering the areas around Lake Weyba, Peregian and Coolum. The park is a favourite spot with both locals and tourists. There are ample walking tracks to wander, ranging from wheelchair-accessible paths to sandy strolls and more challenging routes. Get your first introduction to the park by following the boardwalk from the end of Noosa Main Beach. It leads to Little Cove, a pretty, secluded beach with a gentle break that makes for a great swimming spot. Another popular walk is the one to Tree Bay; don’t forget to look up into the tree canopy to catch sight of any snoozing koalas. Keep your fingers crossed if you head to Hells Gate during the whale migration season and you may just see one or two of these graceful mammals cruising off shore.
Boodjamulla National Park
Formerly known as Lawn Hill National Park, Boodjamulla National Park is remotely located in the far-flung outback of North Queensland – more than 1000 kilometres away from the nearest stretch of QLD coast. (The closest airport is Mt. Isa). The park is most famous for being home to fossils that are more than 25 million years old; these fossil fields were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and were also dubbed one of the most important in the world by Sir David Attenborough. Away from the dino-history, there are a number of ways of exploring the park: test your fitness on Upper Gorge Lookout track, catch spectacular sunset views from Constance Range track, and see rock art on the Wild Dog Dreaming track. You can camp at sites within the park, or there are a few accommodation options nearby.
Bunya Mountains National Park
Established in 1908, Bunya Mountains National Park is about a three-hour drive away from Brisbane. It contains the largest stand of ancient bunya pines in the world, and it is also the second oldest park in Queensland. The park spans everything from mountains, grasslands and rainforest, to more than 120 species of birdlife (including the endangered sooty owl) and even rare plants. There are 35 kilometres of walking track zig-zagging around the park, including the Barker Creek Circuit, Koondaii Circuit Lookout, and Westcott Plain Track. There are also 4WD-ing opportunities for those that prefer to explore using petrol-power.
Daintree National Park
Daintree National Park is actually made up of two sections: Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation. The Daintree Rainforest, housed within the park, is the oldest living rainforest in the world and can be explored by visitors in a number of ways: swimming in natural rock pools, ziplining through the tree canopy, joining walks led by local Aboriginal guides, or heading out on crocodile-spotting excursions. Look out for the cassowary (best admired from afar), Boyd’s forest dragon, Bennett’s tree kangaroo, and the vividly blue Ulysses butterfly on your discovery of the park. There is an incredible wealth of excursions and things to do within Daintree National Park, so those wanting to make repeat visits can base themselves in Cairns or Port Douglas.
Whitsundays Islands National Park
Whitsundays Islands National Park proves that not all parks have to be made up of bushland, rocky outcrops, and thicket-blanketed hinterland. There are more than 20 islands sitting within this park, and the scenery is synonymous with what the Whitsundays have become known for: turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, coral reefs, and isles dotted with swaying palm trees and luxury resorts. One of the most alluring sights within the park is the silica shores of Whitehaven Beach, but other things to do and see include snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, heading to Hill Inlet Lookout, visiting Ngaro Culture Site, camping on Hook Island, joining whale-watching tours, and ticking off the Dugong-Sawmill track. The ever-popular Hamilton Island is one of the islands contained within the park, or Airlie Beach makes a good access point from the Queensland mainland.
Undara Volcanic National Park
Discover the world’s oldest standing lava tubes, formed from Kalkani Crater, at Undara Volcanic National Park. The lava tube cave system is about 190,000 years old and exploring the network is one of the biggest draws for visitors to the park. You do need to book onto a guided tour to see the caves and tube system, so it is worth planning this in advance before arriving to the park. The caves nurture an incredible ecosystem of dry rainforest and wildlife, including rock wallabies and owls. There are also some great walks throughout the park, for once you make it back out to ground level. The Kalkani Crater rim walk and Atkinsons lookout trail are both Grade 3 and take about 90 minutes’ return. For more experienced bushwalkers up for a challenge, the Rosella Plains lookout trail is a 12-kilometre route that can also be done on a mountain bike. Camping is not permitted within the park.
Carnarvon National Park
Venture to the central highlands of Queensland to discover the astounding Carnarvon Gorge, located within Carnarvon National Park. The gorge is a sight to behold, containing towering sandstone cliffs, important Indigenous cultural sites, the Surat Basin, thick woodland, and habitats home to iconic Australian wildlife (platypus, echidna, wallabies) as well as gliders, freshwater turtles and more than 200 species of bird. Walk along the banks of Carnarvon Creek, take a dip in the Rock Pool (the only place where swimming is permitted in the Gorge), or tackle one of the longer walks to Boolimba Bluff, the Moss Garden, the Art Gallery or Cathedral Cave. Some walks are only open seasonally.