Seeing Stars: This Big Sky National Park camping trip is on another level
If the only twinkling lights you see on a regular basis come from a light bulb on the blink, it’s time to escape the CBD, pack your camera, tripod and hit this national park stargazing loop from Brisbane to St George.
Enter, the suite of seven Big Sky Country Drives crisscrossing south-east Queensland and Outback Queensland, which offer more star power than the Hollywood walk of fame, while also connecting five national parks with Brisbane’s doorstep.
Not only will you find some of the most scenic road tripping country this side of a car commercial, but you’re guaranteed to find the real milky way (and not just the kind you unwrap from a chocolate packet we might add).
DAYS 1-2: Brisbane to the Bunyas / 225km
From the Garden City, follow the pine-tree signs to new, 975m heights and pull up for the night at the Bunya Mountains National Park.
You’ll know you’ve arrived when the windy, rainforest clad scenic route breaks out into three grassy campsites and you see the A-frame cottages that make up The Bunyas (side note: the perfect accommodation-antidote for not-so-happy campers).
Take your pick from Dandabah, Burton’s Well, or Westcott camping areas, which may just be the best spot to drop your pegs if you’re new to camping because you still have the creature comforts of a village nearby.
As the sun sets and the moon rises, take your nightcap up a notch with a tipple at Australia’s highest whiskey bar, Shackleton’s. Perched inside Bunya Mountains Tavern within the Bunya Mountains, this bar beckons with over 130 different whiskies, sourced from over the world.
By the time you’ve finished a couple of neat nips, the real show will begin. Dust off your tripod and grab a long exposure of where this mountain meets the milky way.
Overnight: Dandabah, Burton’s Well, or Westscott campgrounds in Bunya Mountains National Park.
DAY 3: Bunya Mountains to Miles / 190km
For star trails with more sparkle than Meghan Markle’s wedding tiara, set your GPS towards Miles, 190km north-west of the Bunya Mountains.
Looking for more quirks and character than country charm? Time your trip with the town’s biennial Melon Festival which takes over the town every second February (FYI – in odd years only).
Further west in Miles, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to a classic country pub feast. In fact, there are three iconic establishments in what feels like as many metres on the main street.
Take your Instagram feed to new levels by pulling up for a night of stargazing at Dogwood Crossing, the creekside rest area on the western outskirts of town.
Don’t put your lens cap on just yet. There’s 212km more of Dogwood Creek for exploring – proving there’s miles to do in Miles.
Overnight: Possum Park, Miles
DAY 4: Miles to Carnarvon Gorge / 342km
Fuelled by petrol and a parmigiana, it’s only a 142km drive from Miles to Roma to find a taste (physically and literally) of Outback Queensland.
Out here, the star game is as good as its cattle game which is saying something because you’ll find the largest cattle saleyards in the southern hemisphere, with over 300,000 cows sold under the hammer each year.
From Roma, put 240km of light-pollution-free sky between you and the sandstone structures of Carnarvon Gorge.
Set up camp at the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge, with camping, caravanning and cabin lodgings available.
Although not directly within the national park, the lodge is so close you might as well be, with walking trails starting from your tent’s door.
As night falls and the campfire smoulders, the stars turn up for their nightly show. A star-studded night sky is followed by an encore performance of endless blue skies by day.
Make the most of daylight hours taking to the national park on foot, across creeks and waterfalls, through woodlands and dense forest, and around the sandstone gorges and cliffs.
Overnight: Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge
DAY 5: Carnarvon Gorge to St George / 663km
If you thought vineyards were confined to the southern states, Queensland’s most western winery, Riversands Vineyards, gives your favourite daily-drinker a run for its money.
Catch a glimpse of the inland fishing capital of Queensland with a sunset cruise on the Balonne River. The 230 species of birdlife seen swooping will be all the evidence you need to prove the fish are always biting out here.
Stay the night at Pelican Rest Tourist Park, where campers, caravanners, and those who prefer a cabin, are welcome to kick back at the parklands.
With a tent, wide-angle lens and a tripod, you’ve got yourself front-row seats to the glow show.
Overnight: Pelican Rest Tourist Park
DAY 6 – 7: St George to Girraween / 430km
Set your compass east 430km to find Australia’s version of Stonehenge – Girraween National Park. Standing amongst the balancing boulders, rock pools and cascading waterfalls, it’s easy to see how this area earned the moniker of the Granite Belt.
You won’t be the first photographer to use the oddly formed rocky structures as your muse, especially at night when the stars create a sparkly crown.
Stay close to the action with a two-night stay in the national park at Bald Rock Camping Area, where the majority of the walking tracks start. If you’re heading out in winter, pack a few layers as temperatures are more reminiscent of a European winter than a Queensland one.
If you’d rather treat yourself (or rather, retreat), book into a chalet at the Girraween Environmental Lodge, where you can soak up the sparkling skies from the comfort of an outdoor spa.
Overnight: Bald Rock Camping Area, Girraween National Park
Day 8: Girraween to Brisbane / 263km
Take the scenic route back to Brisbane, stopping into Stanthorpe, Queensland’s answer to the big apple. Seriously, on the outskirts of town, you’ll find a giant one – like an X marking this food and wine hot spot.
If time is on your side, spice up your return journey and take a detour along the Cunningham Highway to return to Brisbane via the Main Range National Park.