Location: Paluma Range National Park, North Queensland
Article: Written by Damien Burrows; Imagery by Michael Pugh
Our plan had been to traverse Nolan’s Gully from Paluma township down to the Rockslides but on the morning there was only four of us that turned up and given that Michael and I had done Nolan’s Gully before, whilst refuelling at Yabulu, we decided to change and head into the unknown. I had previously looked at Frances Creek on Google and looked a likely creekline to follow. And here we were now, on the spur of the moment, without any prior planning, setting off to explore it.
Frances Creek drains from Paluma north of Jourama Falls. It heads north and crosses the Bruce Highway at its namesake roadside rest stop just south of Ingham. We had once before attempted to access the uppermost reaches of Frances Creek from above the Black Hole but were defeated by thick vine-laced rainforest. This time, we would come from the bottom.
Fortunately, you can access Frances Creek just near the National Park boundary where it crosses Pappins Road. At this point, the creek is shallow and sandy. Rather than wade through the creek this early in the day, we followed along the weed-choked bank for 15 minutes until the creek become more rocky and we could rockhop up the creekline which was beginning to show elements of what was to come.
You never know what to expect traversing an unknown creekline but it wasn’t long before we could see this was one was going to hold some highlights.
After an hour or so, we encountered our first small gorge. Once through the gorge (at 120m elevation), we could see a waterfall in the distance ahead if us. It took a little while to reach it but
I knew from a quick scan of Google Maps that the junction of Frances and Flagstone Creeks was not far upstream and the gorge-like terrain there looked interesting. When we reached the junction (2hrs15mins from the start), we were amazed to find the junction was marked by waterfalls on both creeks, just metres apart from each other. What’s more, we had to wade underneath the Flagstone Creek waterfall to progress upstream. What an epic creek junction.
Departing the creek junction required us to boulder-hop under a canopy of huge trees and then we popped out onto a 100m long sloping slab of rock. Wow – 2 joining waterfalls, a huge canopy and open slab rockface all within 200m. We all agreed that even if we had turned for home then, the days explore would have been fully worth it. But little did we know that more grand sights were to come in quick succession.
Along the creekline, the valley sides are not particularly high. You can see the vegetation above, which in these reaches is mostly dry open forest with grassy understorey. We ascended the valley walls at one point to see if we could traverse more rapidly along the top but was met with a wall of lantana, so back to the creek it was.
After 7km and 4hrs of steady walking and clambering, we arrived at the Jacobsens Track crossing of Frances Creek at 311m elevation. It is impossible to miss, consisting of a concrete causeway across the creek appearing suddenly in remote rainforest. Jacobsens track was blazed in the 1890’s to connect Ingham with Hidden Valley (behind Paluma). It was later used as a vehicle road and as such has a gradual gradient and other features such as the concrete causeway and concrete drainage pipe under the track. Although no longer suitable for vehicles, the track remains wide and hikers have traversed the track in recent years, the last I am aware of in 2018. The track was still clear a few hundred metres either side of the causeway but we could see a wall of lantana beyond that so didn’t pursue it any further – maybe another day. If this track was passable, it would make a faster entry point to this rarely visited part of the National Park.
After photos on the causeway, we eschewed the risk of returning via Jacoben’s Track and opted to return via the creekline.
The full day entailed 8hrs and 14km of rock-hopping, cliffside clambering, weed-bashing and swimming narrow gorges. A tiring effort but a fantastic reward and revelation for hat was a last minute decision. There is more to explore in this area and we will be back to see what else the northernmost section of the National Park holds in store.
Surprisingly, we had mobile reception (Telstra) for much of the day including at the creek junction.
How to get there
Access to this hike is via private property with permission of the relevant landowners. As such, we cannot provide access information.