Track conditions: Fair – the track is clearly marked for most of the way but has rocky sections with plenty of obstacles
Difficulty: Moderate (class four) – 7.4kms return with some fairly rugged terrain
Facilities: Minimal – pit toilets at the car park, nothing at the campground
Winter is a great time of year for hiking. There are often fewer people on the trails and the weather’s cool enough to keep you from overheating too much. Indeed, depending on the flora and fauna native to the region, some hikes are just straight-up better to do in winter.
To prove this point, we headed out to Mount Barney National Park, in South East Queensland (see map below), to check out the stunning Lower Portals walk. This area can really heat up over summer, making the mild Queensland winter the perfect time of year to explore the region.
"It's a walk that I wouldn't recommend in summer because it's fairly open and exposed. Once you get in there it's lovely, but then you do have to walk back out again. It's an undulating walk so it goes down through gullies and up ridges on the other side," says Mount Barney ranger in charge Justin O'Connell.
The Lower Portals walk is categorised as a class four track by the Queensland Government. It is moderately challenging at times and is recommended for experienced bushwalkers. But for those up to the task, the rewards are manifold.
The Lower Portals rock pools are perfect for a quick escape
It’s a 7.4km round trip from the car park to the Lower Portals – a series of tranquil rock pools filled with pristine mountain water – but that distance is made up of some fairly rugged terrain and in places it’d be fairly easy to lose the path. So be sure to check out our checklist at the bottom of the page before heading off.
Hikers can either do a day trip or grab a camping permit from the Queensland National Parks Booking Service to take advantage of the small hike-in campground next to the pools.
The track begins from a small carpark at the end of a fairly rough dirt road. From here it winds through open bushland filled with xanthorrhoeas (grasstree) and eucalypts such as mallee ash. Many of the inclines along the track are made easier with the addition of stone stairs.
Unfortunately stairs like this are only found in some places along the track
These become less common as you venture further down the track, however, and in places we found ourselves scrambling up and down rocky slopes crisscrossed with tree roots and the like – many of which are perfectly positioned for sending you flying should you misstep!
Look out for tree roots across the track!
The Lower Portals
After walking for about an hour and a half we entered the lush gully that is home to the Lower Portals. Here, you can walk along the creek bank and take in the many large rock pools filled with crystalline water – it's pretty cold in the winter months but still worth taking a quick dip to cool off. Just be cautious.
"The water is pretty frigid at this time of year. There's even a sign there about the cold water because there have actually been two deaths in the last couple of years – people just cramp up and can't move because the water's that cold. It's quite deep up the other end of the waterhole but if you stick around down the bottom part where it's shallower, it's not so bad there but it's still very cold – even in summer," says O'Connell.
The journey's not bad but the destination is spectacular
The shady campsite is just a few hundred metres from the main pools. There is space for a maximum of three tents and 18 people – bookings/ permits are mandatory.
There are no facilities at all at the campsite and campers are required to carry in all their supplies and equipment and take all their rubbish with them when they leave. Fires are prohibited and all cooking must be done on portable camp stoves.
The Lower Portals campsite
Mt Barney National Park one of the largest areas of undisturbed bushland in South East Queensland and is home to a diverse array of native wildlife. Brush-tailed rock wallabies (listed as vulnerable to extinction) are regular visitors to the Lower Portals campsite and black cockatoos can often be spotted flying overhead.
Check out our blog Looking Out for Wildlife to ensure you enjoy the native fauna without harming it.
A brush-tailed rock wallaby at Lower Portals
Before setting off, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service recommends hikers carry a topographic map, compass, reliable watch, and route guide. You should also be experienced in remote bush navigation and know how to triangulate your position with a map and compass. Also, advise a responsible person of your route and intended time of return before setting off.
On any trip into the wilderness, you should make sure you're equipped with quality hiking gear including a torch, spare batteries, matches, first aid kit, whistle good quality footwear, food and water and adequate clothing.
The mighty Mount Barney
The Lower Portals are situated at the base of Mount Barney which is just about two-hours' drive from the Brisbane CBD. Dirt roads make up the final few kilometres of the journey but these are fairly well kept and easily manageable in a 2WD. An alternative route (see map) will add around 10 minutes to the overall travel time and avoid toll roads.