Outback - Currawinya National Park, Qld
|Currawinya National Park, Qld - Quick Facts|
|Getting there||On the Queensland-NSW border near Hungerford, 170 km south-west of Cunnamulla.|
|Tourist Information||About Currawinya|
Where the water flows free
On the banks of the Queensland outback's last free flowing river, Currawinya National Park is one of the last unspoilt wetlands.
Among the many inland rivers that nourish the Murray-Darling basin, only one, the Paroo, is completely unregulated and still in its natural, free-flowing state for its 600-kilometre length.
It rises in Queensland, west of Charleville, then flows south-west, crossing the NSW border at Hungerford and continuing south, past Wanaaring and White Cliffs, where it spills into a vast overflow lake system before joining the Darling at Wilcannia, 200-kilometres to the east of Broken Hill.
The NSW and Queensland governments are usually unable to agree on anything related to water management in the western rivers, but thankfully both have committed to long-term protection of the Paroo because of its unique status as a pristine arid inland river system.
Currawinya National Park occupies 154,870-hectares of the Paroo floodplains between Hungerford and Eulo in Queensland. It's tough western mulga country, desert in parts, a mosaic of different landforms including low dunefields, sandy plains, ephemeral and permanent lakes, claypans, saltpans and deeply weathered granite ranges.
Whichever way you choose to get to Hungerford, it's a long trek on the dirt, with road conditions and access entirely dependent upon the weather.
We're coming from the NSW north coast, so we head first to Walgett, where we spend the night camped on the banks of the beautiful Barwon River.
Next day it's due west for the 220km run to Bourke, on the Darling, where the tar ends. Another 220km north-west, crossing the Warrego River at Ford's Bridge, brings us to a gate in the dog fence which marks the Queensland border. We drive through the gate into Hungerford and pull up outside the Royal Mail pub.
It's a quiet day in Hungerford (they all are…) and in the pub we say gidday to "Piston," a retired truckie who tells us we're in for something special at Currawinya. We're intrigued to know how he got his nickname, but he's not telling.
Currawinya is a big park and although visitor numbers are on the increase it still sees only 2000 or so people each year, so finding somewhere to camp by yourself among the river red gums isn't a problem. There are four designated areas in the park, each adjacent to a waterhole on the Paroo.
We choose Ourimperee Waterhole, 20 kilometres north of Hungerford, near the Currawinya woolshed. Currawinya was a grazing property until 1991, when along with the adjacent Caiwarro it was gazetted as national park.
Ourimperee has toilets and showers, the latter in a wonderful bush-engineered open-air tin structure. There's cold water only so it's pretty bitey in July, even though we're showering under a blue sky and a deliciously warm Queensland sun.
You need a few days to explore Currawinya's desert wetlands. These are the most diverse and geographically concentrated in Australia, and are recognised as such by their inclusion on the Wetlands of International Importance register under the RAMSAR convention.
Currawinya's most striking feature is its twin desert lakes, Wyara and Numalla, which are reached via a 35 kilometre access track, marked 4WD only, that runs north-west from the main Hungerford-Eulo road.
The track isn't difficult, with the only obstacle of note being plenty of shallow water that hangs around in the claypans between dunes after rain. You can usually skirt the bigger puddles on a side track.
Although both lakes are separated by just a few kilometres, Wyara is saline and Numalla is freshwater. Each is semi-permanent, with Wyara more frequently dry and salt-encrusted. They are major breeding habitat and refuge in times of drought for pelicans, black swans, ducks, sandpipers, egrets, grebes, cormorants and many other species.
Overall, 73 species of waterbirds have been recorded in Currawinya, a diversity rivalled only by the Kakadu wetlands.
Such is their delicacy of the Numalla/Wyara ecosystems that no camping or fishing is permitted, only walking, and some particularly fragile areas of the lake shore are even off limits on foot. You can kayak on Lake Numalla.
Anywhere there's water in the outback, you will also find birds of prey, and here you'll see the magnificent wedge tailed eagle, white-bellied sea eagle and swamp harrier hunting over the lakes. In the afternoon, big red kangaroos, western greys and wallaroos come down to the Numalla shore to drink.
Currawinya also hosts a breeding programme for the endangered bilby in an enclosed, 25 square kilometre predator-free area that's not open to the public, with the aim of eventually reintroducing the animal to the wild. It was established in 2001 by volunteers and funded by public donation. Currawinya was chosen because it is roughly the centre of the bilby's former geographical range in eastern Australia.
The breeding programme is apparently going well, but outside the fence there are still plenty of foxes and the dreaded feral cat, the curse of native animals everywhere.
At the Currawinya Woolshed is a striking, quasi-religious, copper sculpture of a figure we call the Bilby Man. There's no accompanying explanation of who or what this artwork is supposed to represent, but he holds a bilby in one hand, and another little critter in the other, so we decide he's the patron saint of small, endangered marsupials. He's in the right place.
We have an encounter with another common Currawinya feral critter when we head north west for 10 kilometres from the Ten Mile bore on the old Thargomindah Road to The Granites, a striking series of huge boulders piled in formation at the foot of Hood's Range. Goats are regularly mustered in the park, and as we clamber over the rocks we find two kids, huddled together on top of a seemingly unclimbable boulder. We don't speak goat, but it's pretty clear they're not happy, wondering where mum has gone and when (or if…) she will be back.
At the north-eastern end of the park, 50 kilometres from Hungerford, are the ruins of Caiwarro homestead, which was abandoned and demolished in 1971.
Immediately to the north, on the western side of the Paroo, is the Corni Paroo waterhole camping area which has tables and a pit toilet at the ruins; a few kilometres south east you can also camp at Caiwarro Waterhole, which has no facilities.
You can chuck a line into the Paroo, but I'm as competent at fishing as I am at neurosurgery, so it's a pastime I'm happy to leave to others. I can vouch for the fact that there are a lot of fish in the river, because they leap about like mad when the sun goes down and the bugs hover on the surface, offering themselves up as food.
All of Currawinya's camping areas, which are open, set up wherever you like arrangements, are accessible to caravans and trailers, however as mentioned earlier unsealed road conditions can vary a great deal depending upon weather and how long it has been since a grader last gave the surface a scrape, so if you're travelling with a light duty caravan it would pay to check on road conditions beforehand.
It's certainly worth the trip, though. Currawinya presents a remarkable variety of outback landscapes within its boundaries, and although remote it's not difficult to reach if you don't mind a bit of red dirt under your wheels.
Setting up camp, in solitude and silence, beside a gorgeous waterhole on the last free flowing river in outback NSW and Queensland is an experience worth travelling far to enjoy.
Words by Bill McKinnon. Photography by Bill McKinnon and Lee Atkinson.
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