“The sky forms vivid pastel layers and the gorge glows a soft orange. Pelicans with their great wing span glide serenely over the water. Everything becomes still and gentle. This is outback Australia at her finest and its magnificent.”
Diamantina National Park is remote. Draw a rough diamond on a map between Winton, Boulia, Birdsville and Windorah in Outback Queensland and Diamantina is roughly in the middle; in the middle of nowhere to be precise. It’s the catchment region for the Diamantina River in the heart of the mighty channel country and until 1992 was a former pastoral holding.
The flat, treeless black soil plains that surround the National Park hold many perils for the 4WD enthusiast if it rains. Even small amounts of rain can make the roads impassable. The wet black soil is treacherous and will suck you down to the bowels of the earth, or at the very least to your mudguards. National Parks advise that all travellers must be self sufficient, prepared for emergencies, carry an EPIRB, extra fuel and be aware the campground is exposed and has few shade trees.
As uninspiring as all this sounds, we were drawn to the Diamantina in July 2015, or more appropriately, lured by a siren song. Australian folk singer, John Williamson is responsible for that. His version of ‘Diamantina Drover’ has always been one of our favourites and it inspired an intense longing to visit a region immortalised so eloquently in folk song. It’s a song about droving days gone by at Old Cork Station where the rain never falls on that dusty Diamantina.
With a few different options available to enter the National Park, we chose the 306km Winton route, specifically so we could go via the ruins of Old Cork Station and pay homage to those droving ghosts of days long gone. We passed the occasional red sand dune on the drive in, an indication of our close proximity to the Simpson Desert. You must be totally self sufficient and its rough but there is a free camping area behind the ruins on the muddy banks of the Diamantina River. It’s in the dirt, its parched dry and the river is the muddy brown of all our inland rivers but it has a romantic allure with a windmill providing the opportunity for a classic Australian sunset photo. The feeling of isolation was absolute and the ruins proved to be fascinating to explore.
It’s only a relatively short distance from Old Cork Station to the entrance of Diamantina National Park, where the landscape continues to hide its secrets. There is literally nothing from horizon to horizon. It’s this in itself which makes the drive ‘something’ to experience. The third year of an extended drought ensured that we encountered little more than vast expanses of bull dust and dry parched earth. We could see how only a little bit of rain would change the conditions instantly though.
After passing through the park ranger station it was a further 10km before we set up camp at Hunters Gorge Campground on the banks of the caramel coloured Diamantina River.
The harsh midday sun drains the colour from the landscape. It’s stark, harsh and almost lifeless and our initial impression was misleading. Only the 1.5 billion flies take great delight in making their presence known; in your eyes, up your nose, in your ears and they even accompany you on a visit to the single pit toilet. Any orifice will do. Okay, that was a bit tongue in cheek, but I’m sure you get the picture. The flies were bad to the extent that even Kevin for the first time ever in all our years of bush travel succumbed to the almighty ‘fly net’.
This place is, however, incredibly special. When the sun sinks low on the horizon at sunset and sunrise, Diamantina National Park is spectacular. The buzzing of flies diminishes and only a gentle chorus of birdsong breaks the quietude. The features of the landscape start to soften and the hues of colour are stunning. The sky forms vivid pastel layers and the gorge glows a soft orange. Pelicans with their great wing span glide serenely over the water. Everything becomes still and gentle. This is outback Australia at her finest and its magnificent.
So, we find it hard to leave this stunning place. We extend our stay and we learn to live with the landscape. During the day when the sun is merciless and the flies congregate in masses we ‘siesta’ and read in the safe confines of our fly-screened Trayon camper. At dusk we drink in and savour the beauty and the complete solitude. At night we prepare the campfire for a phenomenal starry night sky that defies comprehension and then we sleep to the eerie tune of distant dingo howls. At dawn we rise early to appreciate the coolness, the stillness, the pastel shades in the sky and the mirror reflections on the water.
So, is it worthwhile to go out of your way to visit this remote National Park in Outback Queensland? If you are into adventure and solitude where people are few, the landscape is vast and only 4WD vehicles dare to tread, absolutely it is.
We love the layering of the layers in the sky. Its worth braving the chill and climbing a hill at sunrise for the view.
After visiting Diamantina National Park I recommend a visit to Boodjamulla National Park. Yeah it’s a long drive but that goes with Outback Queensland and Lawn Hill Gorge is an absolute oasis. Read my blog Just what is it about Lawn Hill Gorge?