Exploring Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park

There are so many varied experiences to be had on the Cape York Peninsula. But perhaps the one that felt most authentic, was the time we spent in Rinyirru National Park.

As QLD’s second-largest National Park, Rinyirru is a huge place, and one that is very much changed by the seasons. It’s easy to imagine during ‘the wet’ how the three main rivers that run through its boundaries merge to create huge floodplains, and how the lagoons become alive with bright red and white lilies.

We spent the better part of two days traversing from east to west through Rinyirru, but our first stop was to explore the grounds of old Laura – once a huge cattle station, who’s purpose was to provide meat to workers during the gold rush at the nearby Palmer Goldfields. Walking around the old timber and tin buildings it was amazing to think that people lived in such a harsh and remote place before cars or any form of modern amenities were available.

I won’t even try to begin to tell you of it’s rich history, if you want to read more, you’re best heading here.

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After Old Laura, we opted to stop for some lunch and a quick (but uneventful) fish at Catfish Waterhole, before heading to our planned site for the night at Kalpowar Crossing. When we did finally reach Kalpowar, we were a little disappointed that the namesake creek was empty, and the site rather full. The boys had been excited to fish for Barramundi, which the park can be filled with at the beginning of the season.

So, as it was only 2pm, we opted to use the showers to freshen up after two days on the road (there aren’t many sites with facilities at Rinyirru), and jumped back in the cars to try and find another site alongside some water, or at least get further through the dreaded corrugations that make up a lot of Rinyirru’s tracks.

Approaching the Rangers station in the heart of the park, we dropped in so we could use the self-service computer kiosk there to change our booking - taking a quick look at the map we’d pretty much thrown a dart and landed on Hann Crossing, hoping for water there. Having this kiosk available, whilst slow, was incredibly useful - as we managed to change our bookings properly and facilitate a refund for the site we were no longer using.

Eventually, we reached Hann Crossing. We were nervous as we drove in – the entry was dry and filled with a huge rock formation akin to a hardened lava flow. But as we pushed on and over it, following the signs to our site, we were relieved to find it was worth it.

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That night at Hann Crossing (site 4 if you’re interested) is one that I will always look back on fondly.

Parked high above the steep sheer banks of the Hann River, we spent an afternoon in the shade of the paperbark trees, mending cars, laughing, cooking and fishing (with maybe a yell or two to get back from the water), surrounded by thousands and thousands of the golden soldier-like termite mounds of Rinyirru. It felt private, intimate, in a way I’ve seldom felt in nature before. Like an exclusive invitation had been extended for to us to witness the wild in all her glory. We felt like the last people on earth.

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We were lucky enough during our time in Rinyirru to get a small glimpse of just how many animals call this park home - millions of termites, wallabies and kangaroos, snakes and lizards, waterbirds, eagles, cranes and thousands of bats, even a dingo through our campsite in the morning. And we can only begin to guess how many crocs were resting in its waters.

It’s easy to understand why this landscape is of such Aboriginal cultural significance. It’s raw, wild, stunning. We always know nature is powerful, but you can feel it here.

Brisbane-based lover of travel, off-roading, camping and photography.