4x4 Travel Guide
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.
4x4 Travel Feature
Hell Hole Gorge might sound like the last place you’d want to visit but this outback Queensland park is like heaven for those after some peace and quiet.
By: Kevin Smith
When the name Hell Hole Gorge popped up on my radar some time ago, it certainly sparked my interest. Only opened to the general public in 2015 it’s one of the most isolated national parks that you can imagine. Like many in outback Queensland, the park was a grazing property until the early 1990s before it was declared a National Park. Apparently, across its 12,000ha, there are plant species that are part of this area’s mulga bioregion that need to be preserved and are significant to the western region of Queensland.
Hell Hole Gorge has only one road in and one road out, via Adavale (1050km west of Brisbane) where you need to register at the local pub and then deregister on your way out, for emergency reasons and your own safety due to the park’s extreme remoteness. The publican can give you a rundown on the area while you have a coldie and a look around the quirky hotel.
Queensland Parks opened the park to campers in 2018 but you need to be totally self-sufficient with food, water, communications and a comprehensive first aid kit. The last stop for supplies before heading into the gorge is Quilpie, 120km away. The roads out here are generally a stunning red-dirt type with mulga, red gums and gidyea trees lining the road with low saltbush intermixing around their bases.
The history of the remote regions of Queensland is fascinating and Adavale is no different. Dating back to early the 1800s it’s hard to believe that Adavale was once a thriving town during the gold rush days, and it had an unbelievable eight pubs in the area, a police station, several doctors, a school and shops, and it was on the mail route out to Windorah.
Originally the rail line was to come out to Adavale but a last-minute decision had the line sent out to Quilpie instead, and this hurt the town and it slowly died. But later on in 1963 huge floods swept through the area, and it was reported that the water was 10-miles wide (16km) at Adavale, cutting the town off for weeks and washing away buildings, and resulting in more locals leaving the area in despair.
There’s a history trail across the road from the pub where a mini-museum is packed to the roof with 100-year old relics, and there are signs in the nearby paddock where the old town buildings were, while a couple of old shacks give you a little indication on what was there.
Adavale was reportedly named after a bride when her veil flew off into a local creek and somebody yelled out, “There goes Ada’s veil!” These days there are about 20 permanent residents living in this remote town and it is a good little place to have a look around with its outdoor museum, the old police cell that’s been restored and jammed packed full of memorabilia, plus the local hall which has had a makeover and features stunning old photos around its verandah, along with several police reports, old cattle and mine leases, and other relics from the past.
An added bonus is you can free-camp here beside the hall before heading into or out of the gorge area. Around town there’s good fishing for yellow belly in the Bulloo River, plus you can check out the causeways built by a couple of Polish workers back in 1950.
Heading north out of Adavale towards the park you’ll pass through working pastoral stations where cattle wander freely and have the right of way. With a 70km drive to the park don’t expect it to take any less than two hours due to the corrugations, thick bull dust and photo opportunities along the way. It’s a stunning drive with long stretches of sand, narrow single-lane tracks plus some sections where the road winds down and across huge ancient dry creek beds.
As you enter Hell Hole Gorge NP there’s an information board highlighting the area’s flora and fauna, its features and camping procedures. Don’t forget to self-register before heading to the park through Queensland Parks online – this needs to be done back at Adavale. The park has only been open to campers for a short time and after a long drive in you’ll find that the designated camping area is across the other side of the Powell River gorge.
Parks Queensland has placed blue markers along the old river bed that direct you to drive down onto the rocks, then upstream for a good 200m, then back the other way before popping out the other side. The route laid out by the markers seems a bit strange – there are plenty of beautiful camping spots before you head across to the gorge overlooking the creek and waterholes – as it seems to be creating extra wear and damage in the old creek bed which, by the way, has a couple of steep drop-offs, so if you’re towing a camper it needs to be a genuine off-road unit.
Once you find a site, and there are plenty of them tucked up behind rocky outcrops and the mulga trees, there’s nothing more to do. Hell Hole Gorge doesn’t have 4WD tracks, but it’s a quiet place where bird watchers, hikers and those seeking a little solitude can spend time doing what they love.
Camping is only 200m from the waterholes where at any time of the day you’ll spot an array of different birds, fish, the rare Krefft’s river turtles and maybe spot the yellow-footed wallaby as we did near the 40m-high cliffs farther up the gorge. When the sun sets out here, there’s an eerie quietness across the area, but it’s a typical outback sunset where stunning colours light up the sky and at night the stars seem to be brighter than anywhere else.
Hell Hole Gorge itself is a large, permanent waterhole that’s been created over time where age-old river gums line the banks giving refuge to birds and other animals that want to escape the heat. The Gorge has been formed over millions of years with water running high and fast through Powell Creek and pumping down into Hell Hole, creating this large waterhole. Nearby in Spencers Creek, the erosion has created long and large pools where red cliff faces give a stark contrast to the upper landscape of the area. Spencers waterhole is a place to sit and watch the wildlife and enjoy the cool outback water.
Seasons are extreme out here with summer temperatures reaching the high 40˚Cs, so it would be excruciatingly hot with clusters of flies, yet the winter nights can get bitterly cold, with bearable days that are great for exploring, so be prepared for whatever season you choose.
There are no facilities out here and all rubbish needs to be carried out, toilet waste needs to be dug into the ground and paper needs to be burnt if it’s safe to do so at the time. There are no formal walking tracks in the park either, so take care when you venture, as it can be easy to become a little disorientated if you explore away from camp.
Hell Hole Gorge is only a small NP in comparison to others in western Queensland, but due to its isolation it needs to be respected – if anything goes wrong out here help will be a long time coming. For those after a remote outback adventure, a visit Hell Hole Gorge is worth the long drive in, and it would be a stunning area to explore after a good dumping of rain with the rivers flowing, the flowers in bloom and plenty of wildlife about.