Written by Damien Burrows
Photography by Damien Burrows & Michael Pugh
Many members of Townsville Hike and Explore have hiked or mountain-biked the track/old road that circumnavigates Paluma Dam. About 3km from the main dam wall on the western side, this old road crosses a small, innocuous-looking creek gently flowing westward, that we would normally tip-toe through on our way to other destinations. This little gem, known as Hermit Creek (presumably after an old mining prospector who lived along the creek in the 1890’s), runs gently through the rainforest past Benhams Falls and 6km further downstream, after leaving the rainforest behind, it becomes the magnificent Hermit Creek Falls. Located within State Forest, Hermit Creek Falls are one of the most under-visited highlights of the Hidden Valley area. Both Benhams Falls in the upper reaches of Hermit Creek, and the much larger Hermit Creek Falls, in the lower reaches, are within 1-2hrs walk of a car, thus making either an attractive half-day hiking option. The contrast between the peaceful and relaxing rainforest-clad Benhams Falls and the dry country geological splendor of Hermit Creek Falls, though both located on the same creekline and only 6km apart, was appealing to us. Thus Townsville Hike and Explore recently hit both sights on the same day.
Being in the lower, drier, sun-exposed reaches, we started with Hermit Creek Falls (18.952970’S, 146.091815’E) in the morning, parking at the National Park gate on Valley Road, ~10km from the Paluma-Ewan Road crossing of Running River at Hidden Valley. Valley Road connects Hidden Valley to Paluma Dam, but it has locked gates and requires a National Parks permit to traverse. From the National Park gate (18.95185’S 146.08288’E), we followed a small dry creekline, then cut through the bush, for ~500m to Hermit Creek, then proceeded to follow the sandy and rocky creek for ~700m to the base of the falls. The falls are actually a series of cascades over large granite rock slabs. Unfortunately, being early December, the falls were not flowing, but there was a decent pool at their base. Though dry, the gorge-like geology of the falls are dramatic and still a splendid sight to behold and it was great fun to scramble up the various dry falls faces, releasing our inner child. We explored further above the falls, encountering a long pool not far upstream. Exploration complete for the morning, from the top of the falls, we bush-bashed an alternate more northerly ~30 minute route back to our vehicles.
We then drove to Paluma Dam and began the 3km walk from the dam wall to the shallow and gently-flowing upper reaches of Hermit Creek. This is a straight-forward stroll along an old road, largely in the shade of rainforest. Instead of hopping over and by-passing Hermit Creek, as we would normally do, this time, we turned left and followed it downstream. After only a 100 metres easy walk, you will see the very obvious remnants of a water race, used for tin mining >100 yrs ago. Although obviously man-made and a testament to the tenacity and endeavor of the districts early miners, the race, which flows year round, is moss-covered and lined by trees, forming the appearance of a perfectly rectangular-shaped creek. After another 30 minutes easy walk down the creek, you will come across the delightful Benhams Falls, named after Arthur Benham, one of Paluma’s first residents/miners. The falls can be descended to locate small swimming holes and a beautiful shady creekline to be explored further beyond that. Benhams Falls are not especially large or voluminous but, being easy to access, and hidden in amongst the forest, they are incredibly peaceful and relaxing – a great place for a picnic or just to sleep on the rocks beside the falls/flowing creek. At 1.5-2hr each way, the return hike makes a relatively straight-forward and shady half-day trip from Paluma Dam. The rocky creekline can be slippery after rain, so wear shoes with grip.