THE TRACK was starting to get deep in bulldust, but as suddenly as it had begun it petered out and we were again on a reasonable dirt track that belied the huge warning sign we had stopped to look at as we turned onto the park’s access track.
We were in south-western Queensland, north-west of the small township of Adavale, heading for the little-known Hell Hole Gorge National Park.
We had left Adavale an hour earlier and, after crossing a dry section of the Bulloo River just west of the town and passing through the Milo Station property for most of the way, we had opened the gate and entered the park. The bulldust began soon after, but it was only short and it wasn’t hiding too many potholes or rocks, so the route remained easy.
The track dropped down a low escarpment and crossed a small, dry creek, which was a tributary of the much bigger Powell Creek, which makes up the major catchment in this 127km² park. We took the more minor track into Spencers Waterhole which is on Spencer Creek, a major tributary of the Powell. Both creeks have cut deep incisions through the surrounding highlands, resulting in a dissected and tortured landscape with vertical cliffs up to 45 metres high.
After we found a spot to park close to the edge of the cliffs bordering Spencers Waterhole, we went for a walk to explore the rugged country. It’s no wonder the area wasn’t used by pastoralists, as you have to be a mountain goat to get anywhere – and there’s a distinct lack of anything remotely resembling cattle fodder.
Still, there’s no doubt this is an important refuge for native wildlife and birdlife, with permanent pools of water dotted along the creek and shaded by high cliffs.
While red ’roos and euros are commonly seen in the surrounding area, yellow-footed rock wallabies have been recorded in the more rugged and remote sections of the park. Surprisingly, native water rats have also been recorded from the two major creeks previously mentioned, but you have to be sharp-eyed to see one.
Birdlife is common and, while there have been few surveys to determine how many varieties live in the park, the variety we saw included small bush birds flitting amongst the scrub, birds of prey wheeling overhead, and waterbirds – ducks, water hens, herons and egrets – around the waterholes. In spring or after rain, the park is coloured with wildflowers.
Back on the main access track we entered exposed rock country, with the track dropping over a series of low steps that would stymie many low-slung SUVs. The route swings along the edge of a deeply rutted Powell Creek, crosses it at a smoother spot, and then climbs another series of steps that lead to the camping area close to the edge of Hell Hole.
There are some pleasant walks around here, and you can walk the gorges between the two main waterholes if you have the time and are nimble enough. There are great camping spots around here and, while the designated camp spot is close to Hell Hole, there are unofficial camps before you cross Powell Creek on the rock slabs and at Spencers Waterhole on the cliffs overlooking the water.
Back at Adavale we camped at the old Shire Hall, where the extensive grounds have now been set-up as a free camp. On site is an informative display with lots of old photos, as well as brand-new hot and cold showers and flushing toilets. The camping area is less than 100 metres from the Adavale Hotel, which is the focus point of the small, scattered town.
The town of Adavale was developed around an important crossing of the Blackwater Creek, and the town was surveyed in 1880. By the turn of the century it had a population of 2500 and five hotels, the first one established in the early 1880s by the legendary cattleman, Patsy Durack (made famous in the book, Kings In Grass Castles). Some of his relatives, the Costellos, lie buried in the Adavale Cemetery. Patsy went on to found a cattle dynasty in the Kimberley.
There’s a historic walk around the old town, while a mini-museum in the old meat house is worth a look. The two causeways across Blackwater Creek were, rather surprisingly, built by Polish workers between 1949 and 1951, and a small memorial close by acknowledges their hard work that is still appreciated today.
The demise of the town began in 1917, when the railway to Quilpie bypassed Adavale altogether. In 1930 the town was struggling when the shire offices were moved to Quilpie, and its fate was sealed in 1963 when a disastrous flood nearly wiped it out. It’s hard to believe, but there was so much water moving over these vast, billiard-table-flat plains, that some of the buildings were washed downstream.
Today the town has a population of around 25, boosted at times by backpackers serving at the pub, doggers patrolling the Dog Fence, and grader drivers working on the roads.
There are plenty of opportunities for those who want to get away from town and have a lone campsite. South of town the road to Charleville crosses the channels of Blackwater Creek and, once across the first causeway, a track on the south-east side of the road leads to a number of good camps along the shady creek.
Crossing the second causeway brings you to the ‘Red Road’ from Quilpie and, just a short distance down from here, another track on the north side of the road leads along the creek to some large camping spots on the bank positioned above the stream.
There’s good fishing in the streams around Adavale, which is made even better after a flush of water has flown down the waterways. Yellow belly, spangled perch and Hyrtl’s catfish are the main fish caught (bag limits apply), while a good feed of yabbies is always on the cards.
There are plenty of feral pigs through this region as well, but to hunt them you need permission from the local land owners. The police based in Adavale don’t have much to do, so it’s best to ensure you’re always doing the right thing.
Pick up a brochure at the pub in Adavale for advice on short and fairly easy 4WD trips in the area. One route takes you along the old coach road, while another will take you to the old dump (circa 1870) that sits on top of a mesa about six kays from town.
Another rarely visited national park, Mariala NP, can be found 50km from Adavale, along the main road to Charleville. The park protects more than 270km² of rugged scarps, gorges and dissected country that unsurprisingly has never been grazed.
Established as a scientific reserve in 1979, the park has 146 bird species, 26 reptiles, 27 mammals and 10 amphibian species. There are a couple of camping areas in this park; one close to the main road, and two deep inside the park only accessible with a 4WD.
After three full days in Adavale – we had originally planned to stop for a beer at the pub – we headed down the Bulloo River Road to Quilpie. This route on the western side of the river is good dirt all the way and parallels the Bulloo River, before crossing it at Fish Hole Crossing some 30km north of Quilpie. Our unplanned stopover had been enjoyable and interesting, and next time we’ll be stopping for longer.