Visiting White Mountains National Park

White Mountains National Park straddles the high point of the highway between Hughenden and Charters Towers. There is a lookout on the crest of the range – the Burra Range, part of the Great Dividing Range. It presents great views over wild country to the South of the road, but it is a bit sad that that is all that most people ever see of the park.

View from Burra Range lookout
Looking roughly South from the Burra Range lookout

Apart from the lookout, the park’s facilities are limited to a camping ground ten km off the main road, accessed by a dirt track recommended for 4WD vehicles only and comprising eight camping sites and a composting toilet, all neatly maintained in standard National Parks fashion (camping fees, in equally standard fashion, are a not-too-whopping $10 per night). There is no water supply, though, and the creek rarely runs so visitors have to bring all their own water.

The publican at Prairie reckoned my vehicle (a soft-roader, not a real 4WD) should have no trouble on the road ‘except for maybe the creek just before the campsite,’ so I cautiously gave it a go. The going was good until I got to the creek, which was only a trickle but its bed was deep soft sand perhaps four or five metres across.

view of Cann's Creek
Cann’s Creek just after the Wet – a trickle of water and lots of lovely soft damp sand

Walking across, I found I had the camp completely to myself and decided the possibility of a 10 km hike for help was less attractive than the certainty of a little extra walking, parked beside the track and carried my gear across to the campsite. After the tent was up, I had a quick look round then pointed my camera at the twilight sky:

Trees silhouetted against the sky
Twilight skyline, Cann’s Creek campground

Three things about the park struck me very forcibly: that it was a botanist’s paradise, that the vegetation was subtly but critically dependent on the geology (especially soil type and drainage) and that the animal life was completely dominated by ants.

I’m no botanist so I can’t say much about the plant life but I did enjoy all the flowering trees and shrubs, especially the wattles and grevilleas. This link will take you to a collection of my photos of them on Flickr.

As for the geology, it is all sandstone country – called the ‘white’ mountains for the pale grey-yellow of most of the rock – but the various sedimentary layers laid down over a couple of hundred million years are different in hardness and mineral content and have been exposed and weathered differently, resulting in a patchwork of micro-environments.

The clearest medium-size example was the area on the track to Sawpit Gorge which supported a veritable city of termite mounds (here and here). On a much smaller scale, I found an isolated patch, less that a square metre, of sundews beside the track near the Sawpit Gorge lookout:

Sundew plants in sandstone gravel
Sundew plants in sandstone gravel

There must have been a tiny seepage of moisture from up-slope, to encourage them here but nowhere nearby. (A better view of individual plants is here.)

As for the ants, I had camera problems (reduced to a point-and-click by battery failure on the SLR) so I didn’t try to take many pictures of small subjects but I did record some of the amazing variety of ant-hills along the road.

The guide to the park is replete with warnings about waterless, trackless wilderness and the very real chance of getting lost or injured. Roaming around the park is recommended only for ‘experienced, well-equipped bushwalkers’ in strong parties. However, a walk along the road from the highway to Sawpit Gorge and back (or a shorter part of that trip) would be a very easy, enjoyable and safe way of seeing a good selection of what the park has to offer. Camping a night or two at Cann’s Creek will be possible for most people, most of the year  (it’s not recommended in the Wet) and offers a complete break from urban life as well as an extended opportunity to explore the diversity of the area.

Park information:

Related posts on Green Path: Easter break, Life in ‘the outback’ (more to come).

5 thoughts on “Visiting White Mountains National Park”

  1. Once again, I enjoyed visiting your site and reading about White Mountains National Park…. also checked out the photos on Flickr. The ants were my favourites. Seeing them at this magnification was both extraordinary and enlightening.

  2. Glad you’re enjoying it, Marg … at this rate you will be coming up some time to see it all for yourself ;-)
    Meanwhile, stories on the cattle property and Porcupine Gorge are slowly coming to Green Path.

  3. I was googling White Mountains and was pleasantly surprised to find your article. We have talked about camping in the area for years and are again considering it as a possible destination for our next sojourn. Thanks for your enjoyable and interesting read.

    1. I’m glad you found it interesting, Adele, but I now have two apologies – firstly for this late reply (I was on holidays and have only just returned) and secondly that my promised post on Porcupine Gorge never got written. Actually, I would recommend the Gorge ahead of White Mountains if you’re planning a camping trip to Western Queensland wilderness, because there’s more to do and see. And if you were willing to travel (even) further from Townsville, Carnarvon Gorge near Springsure is great too.

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