As Girraween’s bigger and lesser-known sister, Sundown is a treasure trove of remote and relatively undiscovered hikes. Saphira made the four-hour trip from Brisbane to check out one of the park’s multi-day hikes up Mt Donaldson.


Highlights

  • Red, rugged landscape
  • Heaps of wild swimming spots
  • Wild camping
  • Remote and uncrowded
  • Super challenging 

An Important Safety Note

If you are in any doubt about your physical fitness, navigation skills, or bush bashing experience, do not attempt the way down from the summit to McCallister’s Creek – return the way you came. You won’t miss any views, but you’ll miss a lot of sketchy, exposed terrain, and overgrown bush. The multi-day hikes in Sundown are extremely challenging and can be very dangerous. Information is deliberately limited, and the walks are not encouraged by rangers. Do not rely on these track notes as your sole source of information for route-planning!

The Mt Donaldson Circuit

Located a four-hour drive southwest of Brisbane, Sundown is known for its rugged and serene landscape, with red gorges and deep brown waterholes reminiscent of the Kimberley or Northern Territory. The north side of the park can only be accessed by 4WD, but there’s plenty of 2WD-accessible hiking to be had from the south side.

Sun-up to Sundown National Park – The Mt Donaldson Circuit (QLD), Saphira Schroers, Wallaby Rocks, valley, rocks, hiking, hiker, cliff

I did the Mt Donaldson circuit earlier this year, a navigationally difficult multi-day hike, and didn’t see a soul for four days. The hike passes by several waterholes and features some hella good views from the top of Mt Donaldson. Best of all, Queensland Parks offers ‘bush camping’ permits for Sundown, so you simply pay the usual fee and camp wherever you want.

Day 1 – The Broadwater To Wallaby Rocks Waterhole

You’ll be starting from The Broadwater, a traditional drive-in campsite. Just a kilometre in you’ll have to schedule your first break at Permanent Waterhole, a sweet little spot where you can try your hand at fishing for carp, take a dip, or just chill out. We spotted a little waddling echidna we called Edna, and a very old wallaby at the water’s edge. 

Continue on, following the Severn River as it winds through the open landscape. Keep an eye out for kangaroos and gargantuan goannas. The Severn River is wide and obvious, so this part is navigationally straightforward, even though it’s not a true track. A good lunch spot is Red Shelf Waterhole, a ridiculously beautiful red rock outcrop with pools of water. Someone’s done the hard yakka here and set up a stone couch and a bench. There’s a fire pit too, and fires are permitted in Sundown as long as you carry in your own wood and keep it small and sensible. 

After lunch, keep meandering along the Severn River until you get to Wallaby Rocks Waterhole, a great spot to pitch for the night. You’ll need your topo map and/or app towards the end, as it can be a little difficult to figure out where you’re going next. Wallaby Rocks is another lovely spot for a dip, and it’s a lovely spot to paint, if you’re so inclined. 

Day 2 – To Mt Donaldson

The next morning, back-track about an hour and then head up the ridge following the dingo fence towards a saddle. It’s a hard 200m ascent up 30-degree incline terrain. You’ll be following the dingo fence most of the way. After about an hour, veer left and follow the ridge to the summit. You’ll now be doing a series of three mini ascents totalling 400m elevation, before the final push for the summit. This will take up most of your day and there aren’t any good lunch spots, so stop wherever.

The more beautiful part of the day is at the end, with stunning rocky outcrops speckled with orange lichen. There’s a sheltered spot beneath a tree on the summit which has just enough space for a two-person tent. With plenty of spots around the summit to look over Sundown, you’ll be sitting back with a hot chocolate in no time, watching the sunset over panoramic mountain vistas. See if you can spot Blue Gorge in the distance; it’s the destination of another multi-day in Sundown.

Day 3 – Back to Broadwater via McCallister’s Creek

If you decide not to backtrack the way you came from the summit and plan on completing the loop down via McCallister’s Creek, you will need to seek out further information from rangers, forums, bushwalking clubs, other hikers who have done the track, and track notes online. In the interests of limiting information of this route to experienced hikers only, I have decided not to include detailed track notes of this part of the hike.

The vegetation here is thick, intense, and scratchy, with lots of spiders! There are several massive and sheer drops you need to detour along precarious scree slopes. It took us eight hours without a break. Luckily, there’s a couple of open clearings where you can pitch your tent if shit hits the fan. After a long day, you’ll be back at the Broadwater.

Now, start picking off those kangaroo ticks – we had about five on us a day, so be warned. I recommend setting off a Mortein bomb in your car with all your camping stuff inside before coming home.

What To Bring

  • Two water purification devices: a filter and either a UV wand or tablets (the waterholes are brown and have a lot of algae, and there’s no other water sources, so you need to be able to filter out debris and then zap/kill bacteria for good measure)
  • Detailed topographic map or app, preferably with the intended route marked in – do not depend on these track notes alone to plan your route! Give a copy to a ranger or trusted friend with a return day.
  • Personal Locator Beacon in case you get injured (no reception)
  • Ankle-supporting boots (we hiked in low-rise boots and regretted it)
  • Tent and sleeping bag
  • Gaiters (for snakes and ticks)
  • Tick tweezers (Sundown was infested with Kangaroo ticks when we visited in April 2019)
  • Don’t bother bringing camp shoes, the whole place is covered in small cacti which will skewer your feet

Best Time To Go

Because of the limited vegetation cover, temperatures can really soar. Between May and September is best.

How To Get There

Avoid driving the last hour at dusk, unless you want to drive half the speed limit trying to avoid the hordes of roos. From Brisbane, take National Highway 15 and then State Route 89. You can park at The Broadwater camping site during your hike.

Elevation and Distance

31.2km return to the summit of Mt Donaldson and back the same way.

This is essentially a flat walk with 600m elevation up Mt Donaldson.