1. Conondale National Park
Rating: Easy – may require high clearance
Starting Point: Kenilworth
This is a relatively easy track that loops through Conondale National Park, though more difficult 4WD tracks are on offer further south towards Jimna. The park itself is part of the mountainous Conondale Range, with dense rainforest dominating a landscape that’s interspersed with creeks and tracks. There is a long and shallow creek crossing upon starting the trip, and from there the track is relatively straightforward (unless it’s been raining) as it alternates between lush valleys and tall eucalypt forest with some interesting climbs and descents mixed in.
Camping in Conondale National Park is one of the trip’s highlights, with four well-situated camping areas available off the main loop. Each camping area is grassy, well shaded and close to Booloumba Creek, which is why they’re collectively known as the Booloumba Creek Camping Area.
NOTE: A condemned bridge between Peters Creek and Booloumba Creek day use areas means visitors cannot drive the loop track shown above in its entirety at present.
While the drive itself is relatively short, there are plenty of activities available along the track. Walks to points of interest include the Gold Mine (5.2km return, 2.5 hours, class 3), the Strangler Cairn (6.5km return, 2.5 hours, class 3), Artists Cascades (10.6km return, 4 hours, class 4), Booloumba Falls (3km return, 2 hours, class 3) or Peters Creek (500m return, 15 minutes, class 3). The Conondale Range Great Walk is an option for experienced walkers looking for a multi-day hiking adventure. Meanwhile, the park’s creeks and waterfalls are an attraction all on their own, with electric blue water flowing freely for those who are keen for a relaxing swim.
2. Cooloola Recreation Area
Rating: Easy – may require high clearance
Starting Point: Tewantin
The trip from Tewantin to Rainbow Beach goes through the southern section of Great Sandy National Park, the northern section being Fraser Island – that fact alone says a lot about the area this trip takes you through. Expect lots of sand driving, beautiful beaches and a real adventure, keeping in mind that you will need a vehicle access permit for Cooloola Recreation Area.
Starting with a barge trip across the Noosa River, the adventure really begins after reaching the beach – remembering to lower your tyre pressures for the drive ahead. What follows is 30km of pristine beach driving, before deviating inland along the Freshwater Road to head to Rainbow Beach. The Freshwater Road puts Cooloola’s diverse plant life on show, as the scenery changes from coastal rainforest to tall blackbutt forest and scribbly gum woodland. Alternatively, you can continue north along the beach to magical Double Island Point, and from there head west to Rainbow Beach along Leisha Track. Beware the tides, especially around Mudlo Rocks where the onrushing tide regularly drowns unsuspecting vehicles.
Camping is available along the initial beach drive at Teewah Beach Camping and Freshwater Campground, while numerous inland walkers camps are available for those attempting the lengthy Cooloola Great Walk.
3. Sundown National Park
Rating: Difficult – requires low range and high ground clearance
Distance: 70km return
Starting point: Ballandean
Red, rocky and remote, Sundown National Park is an explorer’s dream, and one of the most difficult 4WD trips near Brisbane. Made up of rolling hills carpeted by pines and eucalypt woodland, Sundown has a distinctly remote character that is enhanced by its lack of facilities. The adventure begins the moment you enter the park and are met by a rocky Sundown Road, which begins easily enough but becomes increasingly more challenging as you venture deeper into the park’s ranges.
The first big attraction comes in the form of Red Rock Gorge, which is also the first of Sundown’s three camping grounds. A 200m walk from the camping area, the Red Rock Gorge lookout offers a perfect vantage point to take in this stunning sight, with the gorge itself dominated by a great band of granite that snakes through a steep-sided wall of traprock.
The two other campgrounds in Sundown National Park are on the Severn River, which over time has formed the river flats, gorges and waterholes within the park. Both Red Rock Gorge and Reedy Waterhole have pit toilets, while the furthest campground from the park’s entrance, Burrows Waterhole Camping Area, offers bush camping only.
After driving the steep and rocky ascents and descents of Sundown Road, there is a junction on the way to Burrows Waterhole which leads to the campground on the right or Rats Castle on the left. Rats Castle itself is a towering landform, however the name is more often associated with the track to reach it. The Rats Castle track is for serious four-wheel drivers only, with the state of the track taking Sundown’s rugged reputation to a whole new level. Unforgivingly rough and rocky, the Rats Castle loop can cause havoc on tyres and will test an array of any four-wheel driver’s skills.
4. Condamine Gorge
Rating: Easy – may require high clearance
Distance: 128km return
Starting point: Boonah
Condamine Gorge Road is famous for the fact that it crosses the Condamine River no less than 14 times, though that point is only part of what makes this a worthwhile trip. The track itself is situated among the rugged mountains of the Great Dividing Range and the Scenic Rim, which means stunning lookouts, flowing waterfalls and beautiful scenery are an intrinsic part of the journey.
The river crossings along Condamine Gorge Road are not overly demanding in normal conditions, though decent rain predictably swells the Condamine to the point where they can easily become impassable. The riverbed is made up of water-smoothed rocks that offer a firm base for a 4WD, while the rocky track undulates through eucalypt forest and densely vegetated gullies that are worth taking your time to enjoy.
Waterfalls are plentiful along the drive, most notably Daggs Falls and Queen Mary Falls, which can be enjoyed from the perspective of individual lookouts. Walking trails are available to reach the base of Queen Mary Falls, which is directly across the road from a café and caravan park. On the return loop is Carr’s Lookout; while it doesn’t overlook a waterfall, it offers a panoramic view of the region’s farms, ranges and rainforest.
Camping is available at the various caravan parks within the area around Killarney: Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park, Boonah Show Society Caravan Park and Killarney View Cabins and Caravan Park, each with a long list of facilities within each park or close by.
5. Moreton Island North
Rating: Average – may require high ground clearance
Starting point: Tangalooma
Moreton Island is a self-contained off-road adventure haven, and the world’s third largest sand island behind North Stradbroke Island and Fraser Island. You will first need to organise ferry passage, a vehicle access permit and camping fees, but once on the island all this effort will be worth it.
Outside of Tangalooma, Moreton Island is almost totally devoid of bitumen, so getting around the island involves all kinds of sand driving. The beach access points are where the sand is generally softest and most likely to create a recovery situation, while driving on the beach is straightforward so long as you don’t drive two hours either side of high tide.
There are a handful of major tracks around the northern half of the island outside of the beach runs, which collectively serve as a guide to all the major attractions. At the northern end of Moreton is the oldest lighthouse in Queensland, while heading south down the eastern beach is the picturesque Blue Lagoon, which is perfect for a relaxing swim. Available off Middle Road is a walking track to Mount Tempest, the island’s highest sand dune at 280m and the only place on you can find a panoramic view of the entire island. Also off Middle Road is the track to The Desert, which links up with the Rous Battery Walking Track for those who want to spy the scattered ruins of a World War II fort amongst the dunes.
Meanwhile, swimming and fishing are commonplace all around the island, as are bush camping zones and designated camping areas. Closest to Tangalooma is The Wrecks camping area, while nearby Ben Ewa and Comboyuro Point further north are the other camping areas on the western side of the island. North Point camping area is a stone’s throw from Cape Moreton Lighthouse, while Blue Lagoon is home to the only formal camping area on the eastern beach.