Maidenwell is a small town in South-East Queensland’s South Burnett district. It’s a two and a half hour journey by car north-west of Brisbane. The town is a gateway to the nearby Bunya Mountains, but is also known for its large privately owned astronomical observatory, and the spectacular Coomba Falls.
My friend, Eric, is planning a social ride in this area in a couple weeks, so I jumped at the chance to ride through it with him today and help him work out the best route.
We started at Yarraman, a beautiful timber town on the D’Aguilar highway. Yarraman is surrounded by Hoop Pine plantation forests. Plantations can sometimes be monotonous places, but not here. Majestic Hoop Pines (Araucaria Cunninghamii) are native to South East Queensland. Even when planted in regimental rows, they are still beautiful serene giants. They don’t cause a toxic monoculture like introduced plantation pines (Pinus Radiata and Pinus Elliotti). So you’re more likely to find healthy and diverse ecosystems in Hoop Pine forests – even plantation forests.
We followed a few forestry trails westward from Yarraman. The roads undulate for about ten or fifteen kilometers, slowly rising to a peak of about 660 metres above sea level. This provides some moderate climbs, with a few enjoyable fast descents down the smooth clay roads, as well as some great views.
After working hard to get up some of those hills, I was glad to arrive in Maidenwell around lunch time, and devoured a delicious steak sandwich. It’s a beautiful small country town with a pub, general store / cafe and small war memorial.
They haven’t had rain in this area for a few months, so the ground is starting to look a bit dusty. Jean says she loves this old Iron Bark tree. They grow very slowly, and this specimen is huge, so Jean thinks it’s at least several centuries old.
The Johnston’s property is home to some spectacular rocky outcrops. Jean told me this whole area is very important to the Wakka Wakka aboriginal people. There are a couple of Bora Rings nearby, and even some ancient rock art. Jean’s neighbor, Max Forsyth has visited the rock art and tells me one of the paintings is of a whale. This is amazing because the ocean is 200km away. Max says he thinks the paintings were done by Aborigines visting from the Hervey Bay area.
The falls have created deep permanent water holes which serve as refuge from drought for the local plant an animal life.
A unique hybrid variety of the Grass-Tree (Xanthorrhea) grows here. It’s not found anywhere else.
More importantly, these water holes were an important part of the life of the local Wakka Wakka people before European settlement. During extened dry periods with no or little rainfall, they could always rely on the Coomba waterholes to provide fresh water.
Tragically, the falls were the site of a massacre in the 19th century.
European settlers killed hundreds of aborigines here, including women and children. Some reports say that the bodies were thrown into the water hole, and that there are human remains at the bottom of the deep pools.
As a result, local aboriginal people never go here any more. Ironically this place of beauty and refuge is now a place of deep sorrow for them.
We took a few different roads through the forest back to Yarraman. In some places, with towering Hoop Pines either side of us, I felt like I was in a natural cathedral.
Eventually the forest opened up as we entered some areas where the timber had been harvested recently. It takes about sixty years to grow a Hoop Pine plantation forest. The area looks bleak after harvesting. It’s sad, but on the positive side, it seems to be reasonably sustainable. The trees are native to the area, and for most of those sixty years we get to enjoy (and ride through) a beautiful forest. I think I can live with that.
We rode 63km in just over 6 hours including breaks. All up we climbed about 1,200m and I burned about 4,000 kcal (about 7 Big Macs).
I’d rate this one 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter. Take plenty of water and snacks. It’s a long time out in the sun, so make sure you re-apply sunscreen a couple of times during the day.