Location - Paluma Range National Park, Queensland, Australia
Difficulty - Grade 4/5, it is an unformed track with many obstacles, slippery rocks, deep water, and small waterfalls for experienced bush walkers
Distance - 6 kilometres, one way
Time - 3-6 hours, one way
Max elevation gain - 150 metres
Following this route will take you down to the lower part of Crystal Creek (also known as Big Crystal Creek) starting from either near the Intake Plant, Ethel Creek, or Nolan's Gully. Having some rock hopping skills will allow you to see the pretty spa-like pools, enjoy some swimming along the way, and check out some small waterfalls.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land being the Nywagai People and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging.
How to get there
Start by driving to the Mango Tree Car Park, also known as the rockslides car park, which is 2 kilometres past the Paradise Waterhole and Crystal Creek camping area on Speigelhauer Road. There are several places to enter and exit lower Crystal Creek from here, which means that the length of the lower creek can either be done in sections or in one long trip. If you do opt for sections, start with either the Ethel Creek to Nolan's Gully section (intermediate) or the Nolan's Gully to Paradise Waterhole section (easiest); the Intake Plant to Ethel Creek section is very technical and is only recommended for the more advanced adventurer that has experience in grade 5 creeks, rock hopping, scrambling, and navigating.
The Intake Plant
This section – below the Intake Plant – is comprised of huge boulders and requires technical skills, such as scrambling. This section is recommended for the more advanced adventurers. See the other sections detailed below for an easier trip: starting at either Ethel Creek or Nolan's Gully.
From the Mango Tree Car Park, walk along the Intake Road about 4.6 kilometres to the Intake Plant. Walking leisurely, this section will take approximately one hour, and along the way, you will cross Ethel Creek after 3 kilometres and then a small, unnamed creek right before you reach the Intake Plant.
From the rusty, open gate, not too far before the highest point on the road, there is a wide track that, for about 400 metres, leads down to Crystal Creek. This track leads to a beautiful pool that you can enjoy before you commence the rock hopping and scrambling. This track also avoids some of the large boulders and waterfalls that are very technical scramble and navigate. Follow Crystal Creek all the way down until you reach Ethel Creek.
Exit via rock hopping up Ethel Creek to the waterfall. Then, continue scrambling up the left-hand side of the falls. Proceed another 150 metres to the Intake Road, and then you will follow this road for 3 kilometres back to the Mango Tree Car Park.
The Intake Plant to Ethel Creek route can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on your speed, route, and how many times and for how long you stop (e.g., lunch, photos, etc.).
This section has slightly smaller boulders than the Intake Plant section and much less scrambling.
From the Mango Tree Car Park, walk along the Intake Road for 3 kilometres to the Ethel Creek causeway. Walking leisurely, this should take around 45 minutes. Then the rock hopping will begin. Start by scrambling down Ethel Creek for about 150 metres until you reach a beautiful waterfall. Then, continue to scramble down the right-hand side of the waterfall. Cliff jumping is strongly discouraged here, as there is a shallow ledge beneath the falls. However, you can certainly enjoy the falls and a swim before continuing on your adventure.
Proceed down Ethel Creek, and then scramble past the huge boulders to connect with Crystal Creek. From here, you will need to rock hop, swim, wade, scramble, climb, and slide down Crystal Creek for about 3 km until you reach Nolan's Gully. Nolan's Gulley, which is actually more like a creek, is famous for its rockslides.
Along the way down Crystal Creek, and before you get to Nolan's Gully, there is access to the road, but it may not be incredibly obvious. Look for the big pipes about 2.5 km downstream. Otherwise, keep going until you reach Nolan's Gully.
Rock hop up Nolan's Gully until you reach the road, and then walk 50 metres to the Mango Tree Car Park.
The Ethel Creek to Nolan's Gully route can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours, depending on how much time you spend sitting in little waterfall spas or eating lunch by a pool.
This section has smaller boulders and much more sandy areas than the Ethel Creek section.
For a much gentler walk, but a less scenic journey, consider entering at Nolan's Gully, proceeding for about 150 metres to Crystal Creek, and then walking/swimming downstream for about 2.2 kilometres to Paradise Waterhole. Once you reach a large granite rock and swimming area, exit Crystal Creek via the stairs and proceed past the day-use area to Speigelhauer Road, which will be about 250 metres. From there, walk along Speigelhauer Road for about 2 kilometres to the Mango Tree Car Park.
Alternatively, you can exit via Bullocky Tom's Track.
The Nolan's Gully to Paradise Waterhole route can take anywhere from 1 to 4, hours depending on your speed, water levels, and how much time you take to enjoy a swim.
What to bring
- 3L drinking water
- Food and snacks
- Waterproof dry bags
- Insect repellent
- Sun protection
- Appropriate footwear good for swimming and rock hopping
- Clothing that can get wet, such as a rash vest and board shorts or quick-dry clothing
- Dry change of clothes to leave in your car
- First Aid Kit (including electrolytes) and PLB
The usual need for responsible hiking is required here and everywhere. Let someone know where you are going and approximately when you will return. Take plenty of drinking water, but know that you can re-fill in the creek if you bring sterilisation tablets. Bring snacks and/or a picnic lunch. Also be mindful of the importance of sun and insect protection. Note that there is no mobile phone service throughout the entirety of this walk.
As this hike is predominantly in the creek requires substantial rock hopping along the way, this adventure does come with the risk of slipping on wet rocks. Before you embark on your adventure, prepare by having appropriate gear and ample fitness. Agility is key for rock hopping. While rock hopping, think about every move as well as the following moves. All in all, you should aim to plan your hike, and hike your plan. Also see the Guide to the Great Outdoors and our Disclaimer.Photos in this article are by Jim Fitzgerald and Emilia North. Cover photo by Emilia North.