Lawn Hill Gorge & Adels Grove
Lawn Hill National Park in Queensland's outback is a garden paradise you wouldn't mind looking after! Destinations, and the reasons we choose them, are as unique as we are. There are places we seek for beautiful landscapes, to learn about ancient cultures, observe unique wildlife, paddle ancient spring-fed waterways, or to experience the early pioneering spirit.
Lawn Hill Gorge and National Park is located near Queensland's border with Northern Territory on the state's far north-west.
Winton .. the journey begins
Sometimes, though, a place possesses all these, as well as the legacy of a man who ventured into the Never Never to fulfil a dream of creating an oasis in the outback; with pioneering spirit and character that is not only defined in folklore, but also the essence of Australia.
But Outback Queensland's Lawn Hill is about more than Albert de Lestang and what he created. It's about evocative indigenous Dreamtime stories, majestic gorges and pristine spring-fed creeks.
The easiest way to get to Lawn Hill is from the east via Bourke and Wills Roadhouse on the Matilda Highway. This route takes in Gregory Downs, a great pub stopover renowned not only for its great meals and hospitality, but also one of the nicest river camp spots just 5km out of town.
Tree-lined and with easy RV access, this is an oasis with refreshing crystal clear water meandering through the camp area. Despite its popularity there is plenty of space for your own piece of paradise without being only metres from your neighbour.
Whether at the pub or river camp, much of the evening conversation is about the drive to Lawn Hill, especially the last 75km of unsealed road, and those with some trepidation are reassured by those returning, that the road is fine, but the last 20km is rough in parts. 'Very dusty' is a description you'll often hear, and seems to be heeded by most the next morning – many RVers doing everything possible to plug holes that were the source of 'dusty caravan syndrome' experienced on previous adventures along bulldust roads.
The reports are accurate. The first 10km are lovely bitumen, followed by 30km of wide, well-graded gravel road, with very thick bulldust in parts, that changes to rough corrugation just after the entrance to the Zinifex Century Mine. The last section could be described as a bit rough, but by following the golden rule of 'driving to the conditions' you ensure an easy run for non-offroaders through a beautiful outback landscape with a great reward at the end.
Adels Grove is a real oasis in the outback with a great story. The lush, shading forest was created by Albert de Lestang (his initials are the origins of the name of 'Adels'), who in 1920 took over the original mining lease, and set about planting over 1000 native and exotic plant species to create a botanic garden that went on to supply seed to many botanic gardens around the world. Brisbane's Botanic Garden still has over 500 seed species in its collection.
Sadly though, fire swept through Adels in the 1950s, destroying everything, including Albert's house that contained all his research papers. Many believed the fire was deliberately lit while Albert was away. Albert lived his remaining days in Charters Towers and died in 1959, they say, of a broken heart.
To visit Adels and experience the passion of a true outback pioneer is a moving experience and enables one to pay homage to a truly remarkable man whose passion and legacy lives on.
Adels Grove provides the visitor with a range of accommodation options ranging from campsites, caravan sites, as well as permanent tents set on the bank of a creek that provides an excellent opportunity to cool off in the refreshing spring-fed waters. As an added bonus there is also a licensed restaurant and café.
It's easy to spend a few days enjoying Adels – swimming, canoeing, fishing or just relaxing by the creek and whiling the day away. Tours also depart from Adels for the Riversleigh Fossil Field, a World Heritage-listed fossil area with specimens dating back over 25 million years. There are giant snakes and megafauna like the carnivorous kangaroo.
About 10km west of Adels is the Lawn Hill National Park, accessed via a wonderful drive through a landscape that changes from flat and barren to rising ridges and greenery – building anticipation that at the end of the journey something special awaits.
The campground at Lawn Hill Gorge (which must be pre-booked) is more rustic than Adels, but still has good facilities including visitor information, toilets and an amenities block. With designated campsites and limited numbers, it's a back-to-nature campground set ideally beside the Lawn Hill Creek, with the riverine forest below the sandstone ridges that make up the gorge.
Known to the Waanyi Aboriginal people as Boodjamulla, Lawn Hill National Park is characterised by red sandstone formations of the Constance Range. The sandstone is the result of sand deposits when the area was covered by an ancient shallow sea. Over time, the formations have been eroded from the tropical rain, which is channelled into the Lawn Hill Creek and created the gorge.
This abundance of water has allowed the riverine forest to form around the creek and gorge area. Plant species are diverse with the palm-like pandanus, cabbage palms, paperbark melaleuca, Leichardt trees and ghost gums.
To get a better perspective of the gorge and its relationship to the surrounding country, there are many excellent walking trails that extend over 20km within the park. They range from a nice amble through the forest to several more energetic walks that access the top of the gorge for a really breathtaking experience, especially at sunset or sunrise.
One of the best walks for catching the sunrise accesses the Island Stack, a free-standing 'table-top' formation with a 1.7km track around its perimeter, providing excellent views over the lower gorge and the very evocative Wild Dog Dreaming sacred area.
The two other 'not to miss' walks are the Duwadarri Lookout and the Upper Gorge Lookout, which provide views of the middle gorge, Indarri Falls, and the upper gorge.
While the gorge looks spectacular from the various walking track vantage points, it is at water level that the ethereal beauty of it is fully appreciated. Canoes can be hired at the campground. An easy paddle is through the steep-sided gorge, then on to the Indarri Falls. The sensitivity of the rocks means the falls cannot be walked on, so exploration upstream requires walking the canoe around the falls via a well-made carpeted track. The effort is well worth it as the upper gorge is even more spectacular than the middle and lower.
With all the walking and paddling done, there is not much else to do but enjoy the camp area with fellow campers and reflect upon the journey and the experience of the Lawn Hill region, under what will possibly be the most beautiful star-lit evening sky you have seen.
Whether solo, a couple, a family or a group, Lawn Hill Gorge and Adels Grove is worth the effort. Its unique beauty, and story of a man and his passion will stay with you forever. In the truest sense, this is a 'must-do' destination.