Southeast Queensland just brims with scenic country drives.
Whether you meander through the lush valleys in the Gold Coast Hinterland, take the picturesque Lion’s Road into New South Wales, or skirt around the Glass House Mountains or the Blackall Ranges on the Sunshine Coast, there are just so many gorgeous drives here.
My favourite drives are those that take you a bit offtrack and offer some pretty picnic spots. Because… who doesn’t love a picnic surrounded by rosellas, cockatoos and maybe even a wallaby or two.
But if I can’t have wildlife, I’m also happy to take in a waterfall or two.
Tourist Drive #21 – the Waterfalls Drive – offers just that.
TOURIST DRIVE #21: EXPLORING THE SCENIC RIM
Four waterfalls, lots of picturesque vistas, a short walk and some great picnic spots later, you’ve got yourself a leisurely drive in the Queensland-New South Wales’ volcanic border region: the Scenic Rim.
And in my southeast Queensland ignorance, I kinda had no idea this drive existed until we happened upon it a couple of weeks ago. We were actually just going to explore Queen Mary Falls but then realised there’s so much more to see and do (as there usually is).
Besides the very pretty scenery, what’s really nice about this drive is that you can easily turn it into a loop if you’ve got a high-clearance 4WD. You simply combine it with the 14 River Crossings track by taking the Condamine River Road.
That turns this drive into a pretty perfect circuit through some of the Scenic Rim country.
Here’s how to do it.
HOW TO GET TO THE FALLS DRIVE
The Falls Drive (Tourist Drive #21) is right on the border between Queensland and New South Wales, about 140 km southwest of Brisbane.
Start and end it in Killarney, 34km east of Warwick. Or you could approach it from Boonah and do the loop in reverse, starting at the Head (see map).
If you’re camping in Main Range National Park, this would make a perfect afternoon trip around the countryside. Some people also do it as a day trip from Brisbane but you really have to love driving to do that as you’d easily rack up some 350-400 km.
The region’s not exactly unpopular so don’t expect to be on your own on this drive or at picnic spots.
KILLARNEY – THE HEAD (SPRING CREEK ROAD)
From Killarney, take Border Road and then left onto Spring Creek Road, or simply follow the signs to Queen Mary Falls (Falls Drive).
Since we had already done an early morning hike in the Main Ranges that day, we stopped at Brown’s Falls Park for a quick wander – ahem, scramble – to Brown’s Falls, and then had a late lunch at the park.
In early May, the falls were still going so I’d imagine that after rainfall they might be quite something.
The track is a bit of a scramble, the path isn’t entirely clear though there are red markers in the trees. You basically just track the creek to the falls with several crossings. Whilst only 600m, it took a surprisingly long time with some climbing over fallen trees and rock-hopping involved.
Dagg’s Falls is just a quick stop after Brown’s Falls. You can’t access these falls but there’s a nice lookout showing the 39m drop. The light was terrible in the mid-afternoon so morning would probably be a much better option for these.
QUEEN MARY FALLS
Your next stop is Queen Mary Falls, part of Main Range National Park and the much larger Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage area.
There are a couple of short walks from the picnic area that you should really do. The “longer” Queen Mary Falls Circuit is a whopping 2km, and will include most of the even shorter (400m) Cliff Circuit, including the two lookouts on this track.
Definitely worth doing, especially after a bit of rain when the water would be gushing over the 40m drop.
There’s no camping in this part of the national park. But across the road from the day-use area is the Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park with a café that seemed to be having a rather good day in terms of trade.
It’s about 8km to Carr’s Lookout from here though there are various spots where you can apparently stop and take photos. Signage is a bit confusing and distances between scenic photo spots seemed to shift with each road sign.
I guess, stop where it’s nice and safe, and don’t worry too much about the not-quite-so-apparent photo spots according to signage until you get to Carr’s Lookout.
At Carr’s Lookout you’ll get splendid views of the sprawling and undulating Head Valley and the Scenic Rim surrounding it. It’s lush countryside here compared to stepping over the range near Killarney where everything seems bone-dry.
This valley is where the headwaters of the Condamine River springs from, and to do the drive as a circuit, you’d head into the valley and then loop back.
From here, the road becomes narrow, winding and lots of fun.
THE HEAD – KILLARNEY (CONDAMINE RIVER ROAD – 4WD ONLY)
Once you reach the Head, turn left onto the Condamine River Road to start the return loop.
Just like for the Lion’s Road into NSW, there’s a donations box at the southern end (near Killarney) to help with maintaining the road.
You can’t really get lost on this drive. Simply follow the road through the gorge and the 14 (!) crossings of the Condamine River.
This part of the drive is actually only 18km but driving slowly is what makes this drive so much more enjoyable. Plus with an all gravel road and a speed limit of 30 km/h, you don’t really want to drive that fast anyway.
The road slowly winds its way into the gorge and through the gap, past typical Australian bush, grazing country, and some stunning volcanic cliffs.
There are a few pullout spots where people camped along the creek but most of the land on either side of the road is private property. But with so many creek crossings, there were plenty of spots along the river for people to set up for the day (in typical Queensland fashion with gazebos and all…).
At one spot, you could stop to feed horses – why? – and buy some local honey. I did the latter, of course.
The creek wasn’t too high at any of the crossings when we did the drive in early May. There are gates at both ends of the road, and the road is closed if the Condamine rises too much. This should really only happen during the wet season (January to March/April) or after heavy rainfall.
The crossings are pretty much all rock and in dry conditions fairly shallow. Whilst I saw a couple of (annoying) vehicles barreling through, most drivers approached the crossings with care.
Water crossings aside, this was a super easy 4WD track, perfect for a beginner like me. I expect after some rain though, the track might become muddy and wouldn’t be quite as easily navigated as I had it a few weeks ago.
Once you’ve done the last crossing, you’re pretty much back in Killarney.
ALTERNATIVE: KILLARNEY – BOONAH
If you don’t want to do the 4WD loop back or take the high road past the waterfalls, you could just keep going north towards Boonah and call it a day. Scenic Rim Tourist Drive #21 actually continues all the way to the intersection of Boonah-Rathdowney Road.
On the way, you could stop at Teviot Falls Lookout but it’s more of a pullout spot than a formal lookout, and you’ll only see the falls dropping down the cliff face in the distance. It was a bit dark by the time we got there so no photos.
Instead of going to Boonah, we turned off left and took Croftby Road back towards the Main Ranges. This ended up being a gorgeous sunset drive with the ranges to the left and grazing country surrounding us.
Perfect way to finish a day on the Scenic Rim.
MORE POSTS ON SOUTHEAST QUEENSLAND
Apart from setting up an informal campsite along the Condamine River, you could also camp in Main Range National Park.
If you want to see more waterfalls, Springbrook National Park and Lamington National Park both have some stunning ones.
And Girraween National Park has some beautiful scenery if you want to see some granite country.