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National Parks Of The Western Downs
kanagarooQueensland's Westerm Downs are among the country's best when it comes to wide open spaces and friendly country folk and atmosphere. The peaceful and laid back lifestyle of the region will immediately have an impact on you when you visit, because all you have to do is kick back, relax and breathe in the fresh country air to feel right at home. The expansively wide country of the Western downs means that hiring a car is probably the best option here. This will allow you to explore this amazing place to its full potential.

With so many brilliant things to see and do, it can be tough deciding just where you want to go. Perhaps the best way to get a sense of the environment here is to visit one of the many National Parks in the region. These amazing parks are home to an exciting combination of wildlife, impressive vegetation and unique scenery. They are ideal for anyone longing to escape from the hustle and bustle of their busy lives and enjoy nature's peaceful sanctity.

Carnarvon Gorge National Park is situated in the semi arid Queensland heart, and is a unique contrast to the otherwise harsh desert out here. Some may even say that it is an oasis in the desert. Situated between the country towns of Emerald and Roma on the Carnarvon highway, the beauty and easy accessibility of this park has made it the most popular destination in the region for campers and adventure seekers alike. Throughout the gorge you will be able to follow Carnarvon Creek, which winds its ways in and amongst the large and small boulders that litter the floor of the gorge. The steep sandstone cliffs that form the gorge walls are topped with lusciously green grass, and tall rising forest trees. These woodlands are home to over 173 species of birds that swoop and dive into the gorge, feeding off the river that is their life source.

There is a total of twenty one kilometres of walking tracks throughout the gorge and these will help bring you into closer and more intimate contact with nature. They will also allow you to explore Australian wilderness at its best. Aboriginal heritage is another strong focus here, as Aborignal rock art can be found in Cathedral Cave, Baloon Cave and the Art Gallery. The ochre stencils and freehand paintings demonstrate the indigenous people's strong connection to this gorge. While in the park you simply must pay a visit to Mt. Moffat, which is the highest plateau in Queensland, and offers some of the most spectacular views in the park.

The Expedition National Park is another prominent natural beauty of the Western Downs is is situated only 660 kilometres from Brisbane. The awe inspiring Robinson Gorge takes up fourteen kilometres of its length and is the highlight of the park. The cliffs here stretch 100 metres into the sky and these sandstone cliffs are populated with rainforest scrub and topped off with cabbage palms. The rest of the park is home to a dry eucalypt forest, which is, punctuated with bottlebrushes and wattles. An impressive array of birdlife, such as king parrots, rainbow lorikeets and golden whistlers reside here, making it a bird watcher's paradise. In the summer the colours of the birdlife and of the blooming wildflowers creates an enchanting kaleidoscopic effect. If you visit this park, make sure you take a trip to the natural rock pool, which is affectionately known as 'the cattle dip', whose cool waters are perfect for a refreshing dip. If you are feeling particularly energetic take a walk up to Shepherds Peak, which overlooks the pool and has a nice view of the Carnarvon Ranges in the distance.

Crows Nest National Park is another easily accessible park close by a, resting just outside of the town of Crows Nest, near to the regional centre of Toowoomba. One of the most stunning features of this park would have to be the spectacular Crows Nest Falls, which are the result of the flowing creek cascading down into a rocky granite gorge. The gorge is home to an abundance of wildlife and likely animals you will probably see are the swamp wallabies, echidnas, bandicoots and even the elusive platypus if you are fortunate. Another must-see in the park is Koonin, which offers an amazing view over the Valley of Diamonds. An abundance of the mineral felspar in the soil reflects the light, which makes the whole floor and walls of the valley sparkle in the sun. There is also a large eucalypt forest which is where the camping grounds are located. This is the perfect place to set up your camp and enjoy the birdlife flying in the trees around you. The facilities are second to none and offer plenty of toilets, showers, barbeques and bins. Positioned just six kilometres off the New England highway, it is not difficult to visit this park and the beautiful scenery will ensure you are well rewarded for your efforts.

Driving north west along the Warrego highway from Brisbane for 515 kilometres will take you to Isla Gorge National Park. There are many things here that will attract your attention, but perhaps none more so than the impressive panorama of sculpted sandstone that greets you upon entry. There are also aboriginal rock engravings and stencils hidden amongst these rocky features, demonstrating the strong indigenous culture here. Gorge Creek, which goes on to join the Dawson River, is the lifeblood of the park. It supports many rare and threatened plants, as well as the abundance of wildlife that call this place home, such as whiptail wallabies, grey kangaroos and rock wallabies. In the spring the wildflowers bloom, bringing glorious colour to the semi arid lands.

A trip to the Western Downs and its national parks should definitely be planned in advance. Make sure you don't leave your sense of adventure at home and prepare yourself for a peaceful and rewarding time enjoying the Australian environment.

Christine Barton

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