Bunya Mountains: Ancient bunya pines, valley vistas, rainforest, walking trails, and wallabies everywhere. Sounds like a place made for a relaxing camping weekend away.
And it is.
Since the Bunya Mountains are only some 200 km west of Brisbane and cover a relatively small area, a long weekend is all you need to explore them. But unlike other Queensland favourites, like the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays or Fraser Island, they’re not a tourist magnet (can you hear me going yay!?).
Don’t get me wrong, the campground at Dandabah was packed. But it was packed with locals, and that somehow seemed ok. If you came outside of season, you might even have the campground to yourself.
A few years ago, we had to give Bunya a miss when we were coming home from our Queensland outback trip as we just ran out of time. So the Easter long weekend seemed like a good excuse to finally go and explore. I was basically just hoping for some hiking trails and a bit of relaxing.
Here’s what to expect if you ever make it to this tiny neck of the Queensland woods.
A LONG WEEKEND AT BUNYA MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The Bunya Mountains are an old area, you might say ancient. In parts of the rainforest, you walk beneath giant trees that have been growing for hundreds of years. Somehow walking in old forest reminds me of my own mortality. Is it just because some giant branch could fall out of the sky and drop on me?! Or in the case of bunya pines, a bunya cone the size of a soccer ball?!
Thankfully getting hit on the head by a bunya cone is only likely to happen during December to March. We were there in early April. Phew, lucky me, I’m still alive.
Of the three campgrounds in the national park, one of them, Dandabah, is located in the tiny settlement of the same name. This tiny town is literally on the border of the national park, and has a cafe and small shop, a museum (I think?), quite a few holiday homes, and a picnic area with a couple of trail heads.
It’s also where you find the main campground, you know the one with showers and real toilets, and the rangers office. But beyond that, Dandabah is pretty sleepy.
So, what exactly is there to do at Bunya?
1. SPOT A WALLABY, OR TWO OR THREE…
I didn’t realise but the Bunya Mountains are the perfect spot for being surrounded by gorgeous red necked wallabies!
You’ll be greeted by them as you crawl out of your tent and attempt to not step into wallaby poo every metre. Or you can ogle at them as they eat and lounge about in the many open grass areas around Dandabah. I’m sure if you rented a cottage, you’d find them happily munching the grass in your front yard.
So, if you’ve never met one of these cuties, Bunya is where you should come.
2. HIT THE TRAILS
The walking trails are kind of why we went to the Bunya Mountains.
There are 9 walking trails at Bunya, involving nothing too strenuous and nothing overly exciting. Although 9 trails might sound like a bit full-on for a weekend, it isn’t actually as you will end up combining some of the trails. Or do you really only want to walk 500 m?!
Eastern walks: Into the rainforest
There are two circuits starting from the picnic area at Dandabah, one 4 km, the other 10 km, plus the 0.5 km Bunya Bunya track. You could do them all together though. It’s pretty flat around there.
We accidentally walked the 10 km Barker Creek Circuit when we had meant to do the shorter Scenic Circuit due to being weirdly navigation-challenged. But it definitely didn’t take us 3-4 hours as per the park notes, even with occasional photo stops.
Barker Creek Circuit takes you past a couple of minuscule waterfalls and Barker Creek Lookout that isn’t worth shouting about. People were taking photos like they’d never been in a prettier spot. The thing is that the picturesque valley views are all on the Western side of the mountain range but clearly not many people knew that.
And don’t be fooled by Big Falls Lookout, you won’t actually see any falls unless you’re there just after heavy rainfalls. That’s about the only time you’ll see some waterflow. The ranger we asked said that this happens about once or twice a year. So good luck to you!
The 4 km Scenic Circuit takes you past Pine Gorge Lookout, and to be honest, I can’t remember a thing. Plus I have no photo so clearly it didn’t impress me at all. There’s a bit of a longer drop at Festoon Falls and a tiny trickle at Tim Shea Falls.
The most impressive sight on this walk is actually where the path goes straight through a giant strangler fig. That enormous tree is quite something.
Other than that, there’s not much to see and you should be able to stroll the Scenic Circuit in less than an hour if you’re reasonably fit. And since you’re walking through ancient rainforest, it’s all very shady and cool, which is nice if you’re there in summer.
Western walks: Along the ridges
You’ve got a few more trail options on the Western side of the Bunya Mountains. Overall, I liked them much better because the tracks weave in and out of the forest, and you’ll get some views over the valley. They’re also a bit quieter as not as many people explore them. Either people are lazy or it’s because there’s no cafe nearby, you choose.
For the ridge trails, there are basically three sections, starting from the respective carparks: Paradise to Westcott (3.2 km), Westcott to Cherry Plain (4.8 km) or Cherry Plain to Burtons Well (6 km). There are also campgrounds at Burtons Well and Westcott so if you’re camping here, it’d be super convenient to explore these trails.
The only thing with the ridge trails is that they don’t loop easily unless you fancy walking back on the road to link back to the carpark from where you started. We did it for one of them but it’s not awesome. For the other two sections, we just walked back the way we came. It’s just a little more picturesque.
Of the three sections, I liked the Cherry Plain to Burtons Well best. We did it in reverse, starting at Burtons Well, and then returned via the road (2.4 km). It’s shorter but unexciting and in fact, seemed incredibly long and hilly at the end of the day.
There’s also the shorter Koondaii Circuit (2.5 km), which starts at Westcott, and the Mt. Kiangarow track (2.3 km one-way) at Burtons Well. Both of them are quite nice but they won’t stick in your memory beyond being pleasant short walks. You’ll get some nice valley vistas from the top of Mt. Kiangarow though.
And if you fancy it, you could combine the 3 ridge trails into one massive circuit from the Paradise carpark all the way to the Burtons Well picnic area, and then back along the road. It’s about a 19 km walk including the 6 km return via the road. If you like that sort of thing (the road part, I mean), then you could pretty much cover all the western trails in a day.
3. WATCH THE SUNSET
I didn’t even think about watching the sunset until we got to Bunya. Once we got there and I actually had a look at a map, I realised that the lookouts on the western side are nicely located for indulging in a bit of sunset watching. You’ll see the sun get swallowed up by the horizon, which isn’t something you’ll get to see very often if you’re on the east coast.
Because Westcliff Lookout isn’t that far from Westcott campground, expect to share that special sunset moment with a few people though. You know, like 6-7 people…
And make sure you grab a torch, the walk back to the carpark / campground will be quite dark.
The other lookout I liked for sunset was Bottle Tree Bluff but mostly because I forgot to bring a tripod and there were some nice rails that I could balance the camera on. We were completely on our own here – nice!
Mt. Kiangarow would probably make for a nice sunset spot too. And if I recall correctly, there’s even a bench there for old people like me.
4. GO TO THE CAFE AT DANDABAH
“Poppies on the Hill” in Dandabah seemed to be a very popular cafe, at least over Easter. It was packed pretty much the whole weekend.
I have no idea if it’s any good though. They didn’t seem to have any gluten-free item on their menu (though the website says they do) so we didn’t stop for Kaffee & Kuchen or good, old afternoon tea.
Instead, I boiled the billy, emptied some fancy coffee sachets into our classy melamine camping mugs, and opened my supermarket gf-biscuits. They tasted pretty good. But then again, I find that everything tastes pretty good when you’re camping.
5. DO SOMETHING WEIRD
If none of this appeals, then you could always do something weird like take a horse and cart ride. Yes, it’s a thing!
We saw some people on a horse drawn cart, and then I googled it as it just seemed a bit odd to me. Apparently they take you into some private rainforest. It didn’t exactly tickle my fancy, but hey, each to their own. You’ll need to pre-book your horse adventure, I think.
Or if you don’t have any food issues, go and eat a bunya nut burger at Poppies. Bunya nuts, the seeds from a bunya cone, are mixed with beef into a burger patty… sounds intriguing, especially since bunya cones can weigh up to 8 kg. Now that’s a big burger!
We had three nights at Bunya Mountains National Park and that was more than enough time to explore the various trails. We were actually quite lazy (for us) on this trip, and spent a large part of the weekend hanging around the campground reading.
It’s a pleasant spot but not one that you’ll want to return to again and again once you’ve had a good look around.
You can find trail info and maps, camping details, and more on the culture, history and nature of the area on the Bunya Mountains National Parks website.
Also, check out the information on ticks as they can be found in this area all year round. We didn’t have any issues but talk to the park rangers if you’re concerned and check yourself regularly.