The Sunshine Coast hinterland is best explored through a network of easily-accessible national parks, and the following parks offer the perfect opportunity to best discover this lush wilderness.
1. Glass House Mountains National Park
The Glass House Mountains National Park (NP) is not a single tract of land but a collection of discreet reserves, each protecting its own peak. The park stretches between the towns of Beerburrum and Beerwah, with separate access routes off the Steve Irwin Way and Old Gympie Road to each of the recreation nodes.
The distinctive and spectacular mountains were formed by volcanic activity about 26 million years ago and subsequent weathering has revealed them in a medley of domes, cones and spires.
The best thing about the Glass House Mountains are how easily accessible they are from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, offering endless day-trip possibilities in the stunning natural environment. Mount Tibrogargan and Mount Beerwah are popular starting points for a variety of walking tracks, all of which ultimately lead to spectacular views across the hinterland. It is also possible to access the summits of these two peaks for 360° panoramas – not by walking tracks, but by steep routes over exposed, rocky terrain that require high levels of fitness and climbing skills. The rock-climbing and abseiling challenges posed by these dramatic peaks are punishing, but worthwhile, so ensure you are well-prepared for the physical task ahead.
If this sounds a bit extreme, why not try the 3.2km Tibrogargan Walking Track, which circles around the base of the mountain; or the 6km Trachyte Circuit, through through casuarina groves, open eucalypt and melaleuca forests.
There are no camping areas within the Glass House Mountains NP, although camping is permitted at Coochin Creek in the nearby Beerwah State Forest.
2. Kondalilla National Park
The park is named after Kondalilla Falls, where Skene Creek drops into a rainforest valley in a rushing cascade during the summer wet season, reducing to a gentle trickle in the drier winter months. Perched on the western edge of the escarpment, the 1591ha park is a cool mountain refuge protecting many relict species of plants and animals.
Getting into the heart of Kondilla NP is an easy 50m walk from the carpark, which descends into a large and pleasant grassy picnic area. There are also a number of walking tracks that lead out from the clearing, including a cruisy 1.7lm circuit through tall, wet sclerophyll forest around Picnic Creek to a lookout on the edge of the escarpment.
You can then follow the track as it diverges on the Falls Circuit, descending steeply by 100 steps to ‘The Rockpools’ overlooking the valley, and again through dense stands of piccabeen palms to the base of the falls.
Vehicle-accessible camping is not available within Kondalilla NP but there is a range of accommodation in and around the nearby townships of Montville, Mapleton and Maleny.
3. Jimna State Forest
Considering the Jimna landscape consists of dense pine plantations and native forest, it’s not surprising to hear the area was once a bustling hub for goldmining and timber milling. Nowadays the area is an ideal family-friendly destination, with plenty of space for the kids to run around and enjoy the great outdoors.
The quaintly-named Peach Trees is the main camping area, and is reached by an unsealed road, suitable for conventional vehicles. There is plenty of room for tents, caravans and camper trailers, and campers are well catered for with recently upgraded facilities.
Three walks leave the campground to explore the surrounding landscape: Yabba Creek Circuit (700m) links both sides of the creek by way of a suspension bridge; Eugenia Circuit (2.5km) meanders along both banks and includes a lookout over dense Lilly Pilly groves; and the Araucaria Circuit (4.5km) is an extended tour of open ironbark and grey gum forests and a dry rainforest of bunya and hoop pines.
There are also waterholes to cool off in, bike riding and 4WDing tracks to discover, and plenty of wildlife to keep an eye out for – don’t be surprised if you find yourself relaxing on the grassy banks with a few grey kangaroos!
4. Conondale National Park
The rugged 35,500ha park in the Conondale Range embraces a network of mountain streams and cascades that carve deep gorges through luxuriant rainforests and stands of towering eucalypts.
The best way to explore this incredible landscape is via the many walking tracks, the most challenging being the 56km Conondale Range Great Walk – not for the feint-hearted!
A great (relatively easy) walk to undertake is a side-track led to a clearing in which stands the impressive 3.7m-high Strangler Cairn sculpture by internationally renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy. It’s made from hundreds of hand-cut granite blocks with a strangler fig sapling growing from the top.
From there, the trail descends a steep hillside to emerge from the rainforest at the Artists Cascades, where the creek flows into a tree-lined grotto before tumbling through a series of pools among smooth grey boulders.
There’s a plethora of great camping spots in Conondale NP, making it an extremely popular spot year-round. The three largest camping areas are close to Booloumba Creek; however, only camping area 4 is suitable for high-clearance caravans and camper-trailers.
Beyond the camping area, Sunday Creek Road climbs along a ridge with a panoramic view over pine plantations to the mountainous landscape of Conondale NP.
5. Mapleton National Park
Beyond the town of Mapleton lies the national park of the same name. It’s important to note the roads in Mapleton NP are unsealed and can be a bit treacherous if conditions have been unusually wet. Make it into the park though, and you won’t be disappointed. Mapleton NP is a natural playground for bushwalkers, horse riders and mountain bike riders, with rock-strewn ridges, thick bush and numerous creeks providing a scenic backdrop.
Make sure to head to Point Glorious and, as its name implies, the lookout here offers spectacular views of the coast and hinterland from a rocky outcrop 400m above sea level. The day-use area is surrounded by lush vegetation and trees, and has picnic tables so you can sit back, refuel and enjoy the incomparable view.
Gheerulla camping area is the only place to camp within Mapleton NP. Although occupying a pretty location beside Gheerulla Creek, the camping area only has three sites and these are suitable only for tent camping. Caravans are not recommended because of the limited turn-around area.