SUNDOWN NATIONAL PARK

Some say you need to travel thousands of kilometres to experience true wilderness and remote locations, but just recently I explored a national park that ticks all these boxes and more and it is located just a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of Queensland capital city- Brisbane. On a recent trip through the New England tablelands area in northern NSW I decided to pop across the border into QLD, to explore the rugged Sundown National Park, a relatively small park of just over 11 000 hectares.  There are several national parks in this area, located on a huge granite belt stretching for several hundred kilometres from the south to the north. The rugged ridges and gorges of Sundown National Park have taken millions of years to form from erosion, intense heat and pressure from past volcanic activity to form what we have today. 

There are several points of access into Sundown, to the west of Tenterfield you can head  several kilometres into the park to explore several walking tracks, but to truly head deep into this Natural wonder you need to travel 40 kilometres north of Tenterfield to the town of Ballandean for true 4wd access. Ballandean lies just inside QLD and it is here you can gather some last minute supplies and fuel. Heading west from Ballandean along Sundown Road, you meander past boutique wineries that thrive out here in the cool winters and warm summers. Let me tell you it is a great place to stop for that last minute bottle of white or red if you prefer. 

Sundown is signposted for the 10km of tar that you travel along and it is not long before you head into Ballandean Station. This station was settled in 1840, when pioneers travelled the tablelands looking for a better life. As you enter Ballandean station keep in mind that this is a working and private station so you need to keep on the main road and adhere to any signs that are in place. On interesting place to stop lays just 2 km along past the main house where a monument sits beside the road with the names of the early pioneers that settled in this area, giving homage to their early settlement and their passing in this area.

The station road leads you some 15km towards sundown where you enter a compound gate. This gate needs to be kept shut at all times as it defines Balladean Station and Sundown National Park. Before camping at Sundown at any of the three camping areas you need to book online due to park management. There is a information shelter here at the gate where you can pay your camping fees, grab a information leaflet or just learn a little bit more about the area, and it is defiantly an idea to lower your tyre pressures here as the rocks in the park have a high concentration of traprock, a hard sedimentary rock created by deposits of marine life, in other words they are very sharp on all edges.

The information board here will show you that it is a good 20 km down into the main camp sites and you need to allow a good 2 hours to get there. Towing a trailer is not recommended into sundown, but if you are experienced and your trailer is well set up it defiantly isn't a problem, but be warned that the roads in here are at times only a single narrow track and passing isn't an option.

The original Sundown homestead lies 500 meters down the road and has had a chequered past, from extensive clearing for sheep grazing to when the whole area was mined for mineral deposits over many years. As the main trail wanders along, you meander along several ridge lines as you rise and fall between 800 meters above sea level and the magic 1000 meters above sea level giving you spectacular views along the way. 

A good break along the way is to head into Red Rock Falls where a short 200 metre walk will give you breathtaking views onto Red Rock Gorge. These extremely eroded rock gorge walls are the result of intensive weathering. An interesting note here is that apparently the hills above the gorge was pasture land and clear some 100 years ago to cater for the fine wool that the station produced, and there was mining activity deep below for several types of minerals. 

Returning back to the main trail for another 7 kilometres it is hard not to miss the huge fence that runs beside the trail for several hundred metres and now encumbers Sundown Mine deep in the valley. This mine area is now closed off due to the amount of unstable mine shafts and the presence of several dangerous materials that might cause harm, including arsenic and Molybdenum. There is an opportunity to stop and check out the old Beecroft mine that sits trackside, where a safety fence and grate has been placed over the top of the main shaft. What I found amazing here is that on both sides of the road the drop offs literally are hundreds of feet down on both sides. Old diggings can be seen throughout this area and all the way down to the Severn river. From around 1880 mineral deposits such as tin, copper, gold and ore were dug from these areas with at times up to 100 men working at any one time, but financially these mines never paid off.

The vegetation changes as you wander along from tough old Eucalyptus forests to groves of Cyprus pine, yet occasionally you may spot the odd orchid, wattle tree or even a bottle brush giving some colour to this harsh environment. Throughout the journey down to the camping areas there are numerous unmaintained tracks that loop back onto the main trail. These tracks are extremely rough, very rocky and are unforgiving and should only be attempted by experienced 4wders. Once you get past the mines there is no phone service, so a little extra care should be taken. 

The track opens out on several ridge tops giving unrelenting views into this remote area and in several of these cleared areas there are the remains of old sheep yards, buildings and structures. An interesting note is that Sundown Station produced some of the countries finest wool back in its time and is the home of the 14 wire strand fence, a bit of an overkill to todays standards. 

Here at the yards its where you have several camping options depending on where you booked your site. The track down to both camping areas are steep but shouldn't cause any drama if you stay in low 4wd.  Burrows camping area lays beside the Severn river with flat informal camping spots doted along the river for several hundred meters. Swimming is allowed here but check levels and any debris in the water first, as after any good flood water levels do change as does the content in the water. During the day it's possible to see a host of wildlife around the camp grounds, from several types of kangaroos and wallabies, wild deer, a host of birdlife to the odd Goanna that passes through looking for any scraps.

Sundown is one park where you need to spend several days to explore the different areas in the park, to understand the geology of the area and to feel the remoteness of this park. More than 130 species of birds have been recorded from satin bowerbirds, plovers, honey eaters and parrots, along with mammals, mice, gliders and deer. The serenity at night is often broken by the playful screams of possums arguing in the treetops or the occasional sound of several owls calling in the darkness, but this makes for a great night in around the campfire.

Throughout the park there are several unmaintained trails that will defiantly let you enhance your 4wding skills and lead you to some great points of interest, like the rats castle, the hell hole and other side trails. These are trails where you will need some good ground clearance, good aggressive tyres AND plenty of time to explore, allow around an hour to travel around 5km on the unmaintained trails. As well as being rough these trails are narrow and at times they are only around the one car width wide, so be vigilant. 

Sundown national park is one location where you need to be totally self sufficient, confident of your 4wd and camping skills and be totally aware that it is a very remote location due to its access. Sometimes these remote locations are closer than we think.