Lawn Hill Gorge

Lawn Hill Walk (11 km - 160m ascent - 160m descent)

We drove the 10km from Adels Grove to Boodjamulla NP to start the walking part of our exploration of Lawn Hill gorge and surrounds. The tracks here are not particularly long and are well marked. However, the days heat up quickly, so we set off early, in a cool morning breeze, following a paved path along the rich tropical trees and vegetation that lined Lawn Hill Creek. Views of the creek only came in glimpses, through the gaps in the dense pandanus, where steps had been put in to allow swimming.

Monsoon forest on the creek corridor

Termite mounds

Ahead, the red rock walls of Duwadarri Hill blocked any riverside passage. The track, now dirt, turned inland to round the hill, quickly passing from lush tropical vegetation to drier savannah lands. It led us gradually up a valley that parallelled the gorge. On either side, the spinifex had just enough green shoot to give a pale olive colour. Scattered low eucalypts, some covered in cream blossoms, and curious bare-leafed yellow-flowering shrubs added to this faded palette of colour. The dry rocky ridge of the Constance Range formed a wall to our left.

Approaching Duwadarri Hill



Track through the spinifex woodland

Looking out across the spinifex

At the head of the valley, the track led us up onto a rocky hill and then along its ridge to reach the Upper Gorge Lookout. From here we got our first real idea of Lawn Hill Gorge. To the east, maroon-coloured rock walls rose above a narrow pandanus and cabbage palm lined creek edge, To the west, the gorge widened and two channels disappeared into a grove of paperbarks. We sat for a while to take it all in - impressive.

View from the Upper Gorge Lookout

Descending from the lookout

From the lookout, we dropped down in to a narrow gully on its eastern flank to reach the creek's edge. From a small gap in the pandanus, we could watch the fish and a turtle in its clear blue-green water. From here we began the inward walk, which stayed next to or just above Lawn Hill Creek.

Shady riverside track

Glimpse through the pandanus

Beneath the walls of Lawn Hill Gorge

The track from here on followed a very pleasant course along the narrow section of bank, wedged between the pandanus lined creek and the sheer rock walls of the gorge. Tall cabbage palms and paperbarks provided welcome shade for the walk. As the cliffs fell away, we began to hear the noise of falling water before suddenly popping out at Indarri Falls.

Lawn Hill Gorge treescape


Indarri Falls cascading over the tufa barrier

I had wondered where the water might be coming from as we had not crossed any sidecreeks on the outward walk. However, I soon learnt that Lawn Hill Gorge has an upper and middle section, separated by a porous barrage of tufa (formed from limestone deposited as calcium-rich water passes a turbulent section). Several lovely little waterfalls (2m high?) tumbled through the densely-vegetated tufa - clearly a highlight of the gorge.

A section of the upper gorge

View from Indarri towards The Narrows

It seemed the perfect place for lunch and a swim. Unfortunately, lots of other people had the same idea, as a small tour boat that travels up to here had arrived and other canoeists and walkers joined us. We settled for lunch, watching the people noisily enjoying the falls - the swimming could wait for tomorrow when we planned to return and explore the gorge by canoe.


The classic panorama of Lawn Hill Gorge


From the falls, we climbed up to a rocky viewpoint, taking in the grand vista of falls, upper and lower gorge. From here the track headed inland for a short distance to cross a spinifex topped hill before reaching the edge of the main gorge - a direct look-down to the waters below - impressive.

Crossing the spinifex plateau

View from lookout back to the forested flats

We crossed a steep rocky gully to reach Duwadarri Hill, with its views out towards the Constance Range, before a steep stepped descent brought us to its base, where we rejoined our outer track and followed the river back to the National Park Visitor area.

Looking down into The Narrows section of the gorge

Descending Duwadarri Hill ....

.... and back into the narrrow band of rainforest

The visitor area sits at a junction in Lawn Hill Creek where it branches before rejoining a kilometre or so downstream. This creates an island dominated by a large rock mesa, The Island Stack. Some shorter walks normally access this island via a floating bridge. However, the floating bridge had apparently floated away during the last wet season.

Riverside rainforest

A cascade over a tufa bar

Log Bridge on the way to Island Stack

Undeterred, after a bit of advice from a local, we set off alongside the right branch of the creek beneath the shady rainforest canopy, past the concrete pad where the bridge once was and along a creek bank covered with rough tufa blocks and fallen trees. Just past a nice set of rapids, we found what we were looking for - two large trees had fallen at right angles across each other and across the creek - the new bridge to the island.

A serene section of Lawn Hill Creek

The cliffs of Island Stack

The cliffs of Wild Dog Dreaming

On the other side, we quickly picked up the walking track that headed around the walls of the Island Stack through a dry scrubby landscape dotted with termite mounds. At the end of the stack, we reached our destination - Wild Dog Dreaming - a rock art site of the Waanyi people, where ochre-painted rock artworks and some very old petroglyphs marked this sacred site, while an area of shell middens testified to the many feasts had here by the Waanyi.

A glimpse of the Lower Gorge

Being reminded of its long association with the indigenous people was a good way to finish our walking in Lawn Hill Gorge, and after a quick rest at the lower junction of the two branches of the creek to peer up the Lower Gorge, we retraced our steps back to the visitor area and a swim in the refreshing creek water.

Walking had given us a good overview of the gorge and its landscapes, but watching the canoes drifting by from our lookout vantage points made us realise the best way to appreciate this gorge would be from the water. That we would do tomorrow.

As mentioned previously, the best way to really appreciate Lawn Hill Gorge is from the water. Canoe hire is made through Adels Grove camping area, 10 km away, where we camped, and is done in 2-hour blocks. We booked two such blocks to give us time for a relaxing exploration and a few swims on the way. At 11 am, we were back at Boodjamulla NP pushing our yellow 2-seater canoe into the waters of the Middle Gorge.

We took our bearings as we floated on the bluish-green surface of Lawn Hill Creek, typical of calcium rich water. Around us, the banks were lined with dense pandanus with a background layer of rainforest trees. Ahead, the red rocks of Duwadarri Hill marked the entrance to the gorge - we set off paddling in that direction as a brilliant blue kingfisher darted across the water.

Setting out from Boodjamulla campground

The entrance to the gorge

Canoesits in the Middle Gorge

It was beautiful paddling slowly up through the gorge, the sheer maroon-coloured walls towering above us on either side and a cool breeze blowing through the gap. Even on these walls, small trees clung to the cracks, their long roots trailing down the rocks for tens of metres - fascinating.

The red cliffs of Lawn Hill Gorge


At Indarri Falls

Pushing on past this narrower section, the creek widened as we rounded a bend. The cliffs fell away to our left and ahead the long densely vegetated barrier of limestone tufa blocked the creek. We had reached Indarri Falls which separate the Upper and Middle Gorges. It was only a 2m drop, but several lovely little water falls tumbled through the tufa barricade.

Re-entry point of the portage

View back towards Indarri Lookout

Paddling up the Upper Gorge

We pulled in for a closer look at each as we paddled by, before heading over to the bank and the canoe pull-out area. This was the start of a short 30m portage to by-pass the barrier and get from Middle to Upper Gorge. It was also the famous Indarri Falls swimming hole and, with nobody else in the water, it seemed a great opportunity for a swim over to soak under two of the closest falls. Even better, you could get right behind them under tufa overhangs and watch the world through a silvery veil.

Swim over, we made the portage and pushed the canoe back in at the Upper Gorge entry point to explore these higher reaches. Once again the banks were densely lined with pandanus, backed by cabbage palms, as the sheer rock walls rose up behind them to frame them and form a second narrow section of gorge.

Pandanus-lined creek banks

Looking back to the gap in the pandani

View towards the Upper Gorge Lookout

Here the creek narrowed even further and we found ourselves paddling up a faster-flowing pandanus-lined channel to emerge below the cliffs of the Upper Gorge Lookout. This had been our furthest point on yesterday's walk.

Entering a channel at the end of the Upper Gorge


Rainforest lining the channel

Passing under the lookout, we reached a point where the deep gorge waters ended. Ahead lay two merging creeks lined with cabbage palms and tall paperbarks. Only the left was navigable and we paddled up a few hundred metres more to reach a point where several braided fast-flowing channels created a series of short shallow rapids. These were some of the spring-fed creeks that channelled the water percolating from above through the porous limestone rock into Lawn Hill Creek.

In the top reaches of Lawn Hill Creek

At a junction of two cascades lay a small sandy beach - the only one on the whole creek. It was the perfect place for lunch, beneath the shade of the paperbarks, preceded by a refreshing swim with a small school of archerfish in the clear creek water.

Heading back home

Paddling back down The Narrows .....

.... highest part of Lawn Hill Gorge

Then it was time to head slowly back, stopping for another swim at Indarri Falls as the day warmed up and drifting slowly through the main gorge area in the shade of its tall rock walls, before pulling in back at the Boodjamulla NP visitor area.

For us, Lawn Hill Gorge had lived up to its reputation - an isolated and verdant oasis in the midst of the harsh savannah lands of North Queensland.