THE CAPE’S LITTLE COUSIN

WORDS BY STEVE COLLINS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MEGAN STACE

For many of us – a trip to the tip is years in the making, there’s the vehicle prep, fuel costs and time off work. But what if we told you we’ve got the next best thing?

Eurimbula National Park is a lot more like the tropical north than you might think – only it’s less humid and closer to home. Yeah okay, the water’s not quite as clear and you probably won’t hook many barra – but what you will experience is solid 4WDing not too different to what you’ll find in the Lakefield National Park backed up by sensational waterfront camping and plenty of places to fish and swim without the threat of being eaten by a croc. And best of all, you can do it THIS weekend!

Yeah okay, it’d be worth chucking a sicky or cashing in an RDO to make the most of it, but hey, spending time in the fourby is better than doing the dishes, right?

Eurimbula is less than six hours from Brissy which means you’ve got a better chance of convincing the missus that this weekend is better than any, you don’t have to fork out much on fuel and you don’t need to pull any all-nighters in the shed like you would prepping for a Cape trip. It’s also just far enough away from town that it’s not flooded with local riff-raff come 5 o’clock on a Friday arvo.

THE EASY WAY TO GET THERE

The 485km run up the Bruce Highway from Brisbane is well signposted. Take the Agnes Waters–Seventeen Seventy turn off onto Larson Rd which is 112km north west of Bundaberg. The park entrance is 19km from the turnoff on your left, and the Middle Creek camping area is 16km down the main access track.

WHY NOT MAKE IT A WEEK-LONG

If you want to break up the drive or have a few sickies up your sleeve, why not pull into Rainbow Beach on your way up? Rainbow Beach is a slight detour off the main drag but it marks the half way point between Brissy and Eurimbula. Even better, why not hop onto Fraser Island, bag a tailor or three then catch the ferry from the western side of the island over to Hervey Bay? From Hervey Bay it’s an easy three hour drive north to Eurimbula.

WHY EURIMBULA IS A CRACKING 4WD DESTINATION

If you like deep ruts and muddy bog holes – Eurimbula National Park’s got you covered. The low lying scrub land offers very little runoff which means rainfall can transform tracks almost overnight. What was dry and drivable one day could be a washed out sill-deep bog hole the next!

You’re looking at a mixture of sand and clay terrain right throughout Eurimbula. Sure, there’s not much by way of steep hill climbs, but that’s not to say you won’t have a blast ploughing through the endless stretch of rutted mud puddles and diff swallowing bog holes. Airing down to around 18psi will see you through most obstacles, but be warned, some holes are deeper and softer then they look and will need a quick hand on the wheel to stop you from getting stuck.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”What was drivable one day could be a sill-deep torrent the next”[/blockquote]

The corrugations on the main access tracks can be rough but the trick is to stick to the left of the track, out of the main wheel tracks. Don’t wait too long to air down, either. Most of the corrugations start not far past the main gate, so pull over and air down as soon as you enter the park.

What’s fantastic about Eurimbula is that all the action is close together so you don’t need to travel for weeks on end to get from one side to the other.

THE PICK OF THE CAMPSITES

How busy each campsite is depends on the time of year and if the fish are biting. But here’s our pick of the best campsite in the park – head to the Middle Creek camping area and take the track up to your right past the loos. It’s perched up on a rise with 180° views over the river and out to the Coral Sea, it’s reasonably well protected and you’ll have the entire place to yourself.

If that’s taken, you won’t be disappointed by your other options. Bustard Beach offers pristine white sandy waterfront sites and the lower section of Middle Creek is perfect if you want to sleep close to your boat. Bustard Bay can be busy if there’s a run of tailor or salmon, or in the peak seasons because it’s sheltered from the elements. Middle Creek is popular for fisherman who want to make use of the boat ramp.

THE GEAR YOU’LL NEED

Muddies, a 2in suspension lift and a rated snatch strap should be considered mandatory for this trek. You’re not going to get yourself into too much trouble out here, but because there’s limited mobile coverage and track conditions can vary quickly it pays to be prepared.

Whether you’re on your own or travelling in a group, a set of Maxtrax will pay for themselves in no time if it’s been wet. The old ‘third truck through’ rule applies in many of the waterlogged muddy sections (the first two trucks usually take the top crust off the surface leaving little traction available for that third vehicle in the convoy).

One point of difference to the Top End is that you’re not likely to be winching your way through many creek crossings up here, so if you’re only starting out, spend your beer tickets on a well equipped recovery kit.

FOR THE FISHOS

Staple fish like flathead, bream and even whiting can be caught in the Eurimbula Creek. Cast a line in at dawn or dusk for the best chance at hauling in something big. Using prawn for bait will almost guarantee a bite or two as soon as it hits the water and makes the perfect bait for fishing with kids.

If you’ve got a tinnie you can launch it from the sandy ramp at the Middle Creek camp ground, though the low-lying swamps mean you’ll need to time your run either side of high tide. Here’s a tip; if you want to have a bit of fun head upstream from the boat ramp and cast lures at the snags and rock ledges.

WHAT TO DO IF THE KIDS GET BORED

If the kids are bored with fishing and you’ve done a few hours in the 4WD already, it’s well worth doing the 800m walk to the Ganoonga Noonga lookout for sensational views over Bustard Bay, Seventeen Seventy and local wetlands. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed!

WHAT’S NEARBY?

The Deepwater National Park is well worth checking out if you’ve still got time to kill. There are plenty of steep trails to explore, some with access to the beach. The sandy tracks in Deepwater NP are a little more overgrown and takes a sharp hand behind the wheel to navigate, plus the park boasts 14 sensational beach front campsites the kids will love.

Whether you’ve been here before or you’re coming for your first time, we think you’ll agree… Places like the Eurimbula National Park only confirm that Queenslanders are a lucky bunch. Guess it isn’t called the Sunshine State for no reason!

FACT FILE

WHERE:
Eurimbula National Park is 485km (6 hrs) north of Brisbane, or 112km north west of Bundaberg via the Bruce Highway. The run up north is well signposted – simply take the Agnes Water–Seventeen Seventy turn off onto Larson Rd. The park entrance is about 19km from the turnoff on your left.

CAMPING:
There are three campsites with basic facilities. Bustard Beach has 17 site areas on the foreshore of Bustard Bay and is located on the eastern side of the park. Middle Creek has two open camping areas and a small boat ramp. The lower site along the shores of Middle Creek has plenty of comfortable campsites, but the best campsite in the park up to your right past the facilities. It’s perched up on a rise that overlooks the water and is big enough for a small group. Rodds Peninsula camping area is boat accessible only and has no amenities.

FACILITIES & AMENITIES:
Both Bustard Beach and Middle Creek have pit toilets and bore water, but otherwise you’ll need to be fully self-sufficient.

WHAT TO TAKE:
You’re not far from town, so you don’t need to go too overboard with spares, but you will need to be self-sufficient. Make sure you have decent off-road tyres, a recovery kit, traction aids like Max Trax, a first aid kit, a sat phone and enough food and water to last your stay.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
January-March

FUEL & SUPPLIES:
Agnes Waters has your basics including food and fuel, but it’s often flooded with backpackers which means you’ll pay a premium if you decide to stock up on supplies there. If you want to save a few bucks it’d be worth stocking up at Hervey Bay or Bundaberg on your way through.
Agnes Water
Diesel: $1.58/L
Unleaded: $1.54/L
Bundaberg
Diesel:$1.45/L
Unleaded: $1.38/L

TRIP STANDARD:
In dry conditions this trip is rated D, with A meaning only suited to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modification and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles. Most of the tracks are do-able in standard form if conditions are dry. However, during the wet summer months some tracks can become heavily rutted and impassable.

RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
Camping permits are required and a tag with your booking number must be displayed at your camp site. Pets are not permitted in the national park. Campfires are allowed, but it’s recommended you bring your own firewood and water. Costs are $5.95 per person per night, or $23.80 per family per night.

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