Hidden Hell Hole

Ron and Viv Moon — 7 June 2019
Hidden in remote outback Queensland is a little known national park that will be blooming now that water is flowing through the Channel Country.

The track dropped down a low escarpment and crossed a small dry creek which, it turned out, was a tributary of the much bigger Powell Creek that makes up the major catchment area in this rugged 12,700ha national park. We then took a more minor track, bumping over  a few low rocky outcrops into the cliff-lined Spencers Waterhole on Spencer Creek and a major tributary of the Powell Creek. Both creeks have cut deep incisions through the surrounding highlands, resulting in a dissected and tortured landscape with vertical cliffs up to 45 metres high surrounding both these two streams.

We were in south-western Queensland, north-west of the small township of Adavale, heading for the little known Hell Hole Gorge NP. We had left the town little over an hour earlier and after crossing a dry section of the Bulloo River, just west of the town, and passing through the Milo Station property for most of the way, we had opened the gate and entered the park. 

The track quickly started to get deep in bulldust, but as suddenly as it had begun it petered out and we were again on a reasonable dirt path that belied the huge warning sign we had stopped to look at as we turned onto the access track to the park. 

After we found a spot to park close to the edge of the cliffs bordering Spencers Waterhole we went for a walk to explore this rugged section of country further. It was no wonder the area wasn't used by pastoralists as you had to be more like a mountain goat to get anywhere and anything remotely resembling cattle fodder was not visible. Still there is no doubt that this is an important refuge for native wildlife and birdlife, with permanent pools of water dotted along the creek and shaded by high cliffs. While red roos and euros are commonly seen in the surrounding area, yellow-footed rock wallabies have been recorded from the more rugged and remote sections of the park. Surprisingly, I thought, native water rats have also been recorded from the two major creeks previously mentioned, but you'd have to be sharp-eyed, I reckon, to see one. 

Birdlife is common and while there have been few surveys done in the park to determine how many birds actually live here, the variety we saw included small bush birds flitting amongst the scrub, birds of prey wheeling overhead and water birds which included a couple of species of ducks, some water hens, herons and egrets around the waterholes. In spring or after rain, the park is coloured with wildflowers.     

Back on the main access track we came into solid exposed rock country, the track dropping over a series of low steps that would stymie many low slung SUVs and lesser vehicles. The route then swung along the edge of the deeply rutted Powell Creek before crossing it at a smoother spot, then climbing another series of steps to take you to the camping area and a spot to park close to the edge of the Hell Hole. Once again there are some pleasant walks around here and you can walk the gorges between the two main waterholes if you have the time and are nimble enough. 

There's some great camping around here and while the designated camp spot is close to Hell Hole (you are supposed to book online) there are unofficial camps before you cross Powell Creek on the rock slabs and at Spencers Waterhole on the cliffs overlooking the water. The park is worth much more than just a day visit, which we had planned for, so next time we'll be staying longer and exploring more. You'll almost definitely have this place to yourself!

Back at Adavale we had camped at the old Shire Hall, where the extensive grounds have now been set up as a free camp and include quite an informative display with lots of old photos as well as brand new hot and cold showers and flushing toilets. Not only that but the camping area is less than 100 metres from the Adavale Hotel, which is really the focus point of the small scattered town. 

The town has an interesting history and its smallness today seems at odds with what it once was. Adavale had developed around an important crossing of the Blackwater Creek and the town was surveyed in 1880. By the turn of the Century it had 2,500 people and five hotels, the first one being established by the legendary cattleman, Patsy Durack (made famous in the book, Kings In Grass Castles), in the early 1880s. Some of his relatives, the Costellos, lie buried in the local Adavale cemetery. Patsy went on to found a cattle dynasty in the Kimberley, but that is another story. 

There's a bit of a historic walk around the old town while a mini-museum in the old meat house is worth a look. The two causeways across Blackwater Creek were, rather surprisingly I thought, built by Polish workers between 1949 and 1951 and a small memorial close by acknowledges their hard work that is still appreciated today.   

The demise of the town started in 1917 when the railway to Quilpie bypassed Adavale altogether. In 1930 the shire offices were moved to Quilpie and the town was struggling, with its fate sealed when a disastrous flood in 1963 nearly wiped the town out completely. It's hard to believe in the normal dry times, but there was so much water moving over these vast, near billiard table flat plains, that some of the buildings were washed downstream. Today the town has a population of around 25, boosted at times by backpackers serving behind the bar in the pub, doggers patrolling the Dog Fence and grader drivers working on the roads.  

For those who want to get away from town and have a bush camp to themselves, then there are plenty of opportunities. South of town the road to Charleville crosses the channels of Blackwater Creek and once across the first causeway a track on the south-east side of the road leads to a number of good camps along the shady creek. Crossing the second causeway brings you to the 'Red Road' from Quilpie and just a short distance down this, another track on the north side of the road takes you along the creek to some large camping spots on the bank above the stream.  

There's some good fishing in the streams around Adavale made even better after a flush of water has flown down the waterways, which will be happening now as you read this. Yellow belly, spangled perch and Hyrtl's catfish are the main fish caught (bag limits apply), while a good feed of yabbies is always on the cards. There are a lot of feral pigs through this region as well, but you need the permission of the local land owners to hunt. A policeman based in Adavale hasn't much to do, so it's best to make sure you are always doing the right thing!

A couple of short and fairly easy 4WD trips are available from Adavale with a brochure provided by the pub. One will take you along the old coach road, while another will take you to the old dump circa 1870, that sits on top of a mesa about 6km from town.

Another rarely visited national park can be found 50km from Adavale along the main road to Charleville. Here the Mariala NP protects over 27,000ha of rugged scarps, gorges and dissected country that not surprisingly has never been grazed. Established as a scientific reserve in 1979 the park has 146 bird species, 26 different reptiles, 27 mammals and even 10 amphibian species. There's a couple of camping areas in this park, one close to the main road and two deep inside the park, only accessible with a 4WD.         

After three full days in Adavale, where we had only originally planned to stop for a beer at the pub I had visited many years previously, we headed down the Bulloo River Road the 102km to Quilpie. This route on the western side of the river is good dirt for all the way and parallels the Bulloo River before crossing it at Fish Hole Crossing some 30km north of Quilpie. Our unplanned stop over had been enjoyable and interesting and next time we'll be stopping for longer in this south-west Queensland destination, especially now with the verdancy of the plains and the waterways, brought about by the recent floods. 


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