Burra Range lookout
Just at the entrance of the park is the Burra Range lookout. We stopped here for a quick break and enjoyed the breeze and views across the landscape. From here, we started heading into the park, with the next stop being Sawpit Gorge Lookout. We set up for lunch and enjoyed the views. After our lunch break, we went for a short walk to a rocky outcrop with views all the way across to the other side of the park. This rocky outcrop is marked on the interactive map below.
Sawpit Gorge lookout
Sawpit Gorge lookout is 4kmfrom the park entrance and traverses over that iconic iron-rich, bright orange lateritic, stone-littered landscape, contrasting against white sandstone shelves and peaks covered in heathlands. This drive is particularly beautiful when lit up when the parks’ native plants are in bloom, typically from May to September.
Canns Camp Creek camping area
We headed back to the main dirt road and drove north toward the Canns Camp Creek camping area. This is an incredibly scenic drive, but it should only be done outside of the wet season, and so usually May through October. Only a couple thousand people visit this park each year, and very few, approximately 200, venture out in the remote parts of the park. Canns Camp Creek camping area is approximately 10km in from the park entrance. This is part of the Galilee Basin dating from the late Carboniferous through to the Middle Triassic Periods 323 to 238 million years ago. The first sediments laid down were fluvial sandstones, which, with subsequent sandstones and sediments, formed the current plateau. This area is a partially-shaded, quiet camping area in open woodland and is accessible by four-wheel drive only. The camping area provides a composting toilet and flat places for pitching your tent. Campfires are allowed in the allocated spots, depending on conditions. So we’ve brought our own firewood to do just that and to make this experience even more bonding and morale-boosting. It’s true… not much rivals a campfire in the middle of nature and a starry night sky. Notice the naturally formed mounds of dirt around the camping area.
Big Swamp and Poison Valley
Continue the scenic drive towards Big Swamp and Poison Valley, which is 14km from the park’s entrance. The road winds its way through open eucalyptus woodland, acacia scrub, and heath and across the rugged terrain of the Torrens Creek basin. The poisonous heart-leaf shrub, scientifically known as Gastrolboum grandiflora, which is widespread in the region, is what gave the valley its name. This plant contains the poison mono sodium fluoro acetate, more commonly known as the brand name, 1080, the chemical compound used as a pesticide since 1942. The Poison Valley Road ends above the banks of Torrens Creek, the most northerly stream running into Lake Eyre. We did need our four-wheel-drive vehicles to access this part, however, and so we carefully made our way down the steep, rocky slope to check out the creek beds and dried mud flaking way like scales before heading back up, thankful for good tyres with plenty of tread so we could make our way back to camp for lunch. Throughout the area, you may find evidence of early European history, as it was used as a grazing area with remains of old wagon trails, graves, and dwellings from bygone times, some of which we observed.
Camping permit bookings
- Camping permits are required.
- Book online - https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/camping/bookings
- Note that there is no reception once in the national park.
- Camping site
- Fire pits
Brief Overview, Geology, Geography, & History
The national park covers well over 100,000ha of rugged wilderness and features spectacular white, sandstone bluffs and gorges, not to mention the diverse plant and animal life. The white Warang Sandstone gives the area its name and offers geology and geography that is guaranteed to fascinate anyone.
The landscape appears flat as you drive north from Torrens Creek, but it actually climbs nearly 300 metres. In the Sandstone Wall area, this plateau suddenly drops off into rugged, complex gorge systems.
The Yirandhali are the traditional owners of the White Mountains area. The area has a rich Indigenous history. There are many significant sites in the park. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this land, the Yirandhali people, and we pay our respects to their elders, past, present, and emerging. As we continue to explore more and more of northern Queensland throughout our journeys, we make sure that we aren’t impacting areas that hold cultural significance and always aim to leave no trace. We’ve had conversations with the local Queensland Park rangers in charge of the areas we visit to make sure we’re being as culturally sensitive as possible on our expeditions. It’s an evolving conversation, but ultimately, it’s about transparency and respect.
Early Europeans used the area for cattle grazing, and remains of old wagon trails, graves, and dwellings may be seen.
White Mountains National Park has three major catchments where the water flows through several smaller streams into rivers like the Burdekin River, which is Australia's largest river by peak discharge volume. The Flinders River, which is Queensland’s longest river, also borders the national park on the northwest. Torrents Creek flows down the middle of the national park, splitting the area into southeast and northwest segments. Finally, Sawpit Creek represents the headwaters of the Warrigal Creek system, which flows into the Cape and the Burdekin Rivers. You can probably understand why White Mountains National Park is such an important recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin.
Flora and Fauna
The golden-orange, white, and red grevilleas, often known as spider flowers, as well as wattles in all shades of yellow and white clustered ironbark flowers magnificently transformed the landscape. For most of the year, the park is a vast arid landscape. However, being early spring, it was truly alive this time, boasting the most colourful display of wildflowers.
Protected within this national park are no less than 14 different ecosystems that span the Desert Uplands bioregion, making it one central Queensland’s most botanically-diverse parks. The diversity of plant communities and species is a result of the geological history of this area. You really experience so much… open woodlands, lancewood forests, laterite pastures, heathlands, and spinifex grasslands are spotted around the white sandstone outcrops, sand dunes, and sandy flats.
During the night, you may be lucky enough to hear the barking owls – scientifically known as Ninox conniven – by their distinctive ‘woof-woof’ call. These owls are dark brown in colour, have white spots on their feathers, and have large golden-yellow eyes.
In addition to the owls, a wide variety of other birds, such as parrots, honeyeaters, and friarbirds, can be seen in the tree canopies. Sit for a while and listen to their calls. Or, watch Australia’s fastest bird of prey, the peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus, fly high overhead, searching for small reptiles and mammals.
Indeed, a wide diversity of animal species may be observed within the park boundaries, especially reptiles, which thrive in the arid, rocky environment. There are thought to be 51 species of reptiles in the park. Some may be seen basking in the sun on rocks or trees, using the sun’s heat to warm their bodies. In particular, the spiny knob-tailed gecko – scientifically known as Nephrurus asper – and the frilled lizard – scientifically known as Chlamydosaurus kingi use the spinifex grasslands and rocky outcrops as their habitats.
Mounds of eastern pebble-mound mice, Pseudomys patrius, have been seen in the Burra Range section of White Mountains National Park. At the entrance of their burrow, these creatures construct rock cairns out of small pebbles to collect the essential dew they need to survive.
During the day, many of these animals shelter from the harsh sun under vegetation or in burrows only to come out in the darkness of the night to search for grasses, herbs, and fruits.
These documents cover the flora and fauna of White Mountains. This may be interesting to people wanting to better understand the area. Links to more information:
- Vertebrate fauna survey of White Mountains.pdf
- Plants of the Burra Range _ White Mountains National Park, North Queensland.pdf
The White Sandstone, Canyons, & Ridges
A thin, iron-rich cap covers the soft Warang Sandstone, which is where the canyons form. This distinctive white rock forms exposed rocky ridges carved with deep slots. The canyons start from very high up, often less than 100m from where the gully begins. The canyons generally drop quickly, then flatten out. The upper section is usually the narrowest part. Interestingly, the narrowest slots were often in a conglomerate layer. Once through this, they would generally widen slightly, but continue as a slot for a long way. The shorter side canyons were often extremely narrow and cave-like.
The rock itself varies from quite fine-grained sandstone, to material that appears to have some calcium in it, to conglomerates that vary from gravel to large river stones. In the canyon, the rock is reasonably solid, but higher up it is very fragile. There’s an enormous number of overhangs, many of which contain holes and arches. When exploring from above, you need to be very careful of these thin, fragile edges, which are often topped with loose pebbles.
Torrens Creek Locale
Torrens Creek is the nearest locality, approximately 60km from the base camp. The pub in Torrens Creek (Exchange Hotel - 07 4795 5990) offers:
- Unpowered camping, $5 per person (includes hot showers)
- The kitchen is open until 9pm every night
- Can refill drinking water containers
- Diesel and petrol are available
- Small, unheated swimming pool
If you need to go to an actual town with shops, it’s a full-day affair. Hughenden is the nearest town, but quite limited. It is approximately 110km from camp. Charters Towers is much more substantial, but about 200km away.
The main road into the park and Sawpit Gully are of decent condition and are usually well-graded by dozers.
Poison Valley Road is apparently reasonable but can be extremely boggy in the wet (should be dry when we are going). There are washed-out sections that can easily be avoided.
The turnoff for the road leading to the Warang section is approximately 10km west of Torrens Creek. The signpost is marked "Spring Hill Road and White Mountains Road". This road from the Flinders Highway to Warang Hut was upgraded in ~2016 and graded again in 2022. It mostly remains in good condition. Take care of washouts when crossing Bullock Creek.
The Sandstone Wall track was graded at a similar time so is in good condition.
The track northwest of Warang Hut and the other tracks marked on the map in this area are of unknown condition and may not be negotiable in vehicles. Aerial imagery suggests that they are disused and overgrown.
The nearest weather stations are in Hughenden and Charters Towers. BOM provides weather forecasts for Torrens Creek. The area we will be in is 60km away and 250m higher in altitude, so conditions can differ. Daytime temps will reach the high 20s or low 30s, while nighttime temps are unlikely to get much below 10.
Rain is very unlikely in May to September. On average, they have just over one day of rain in the month of September, with average monthly totals of less than 10mm.
You can look at the long-term climate statistics for the two nearest weather stations below: