Location - Paluma Range National Park, North Queensland, Australia
Grade - 3, easy/beginner
Distance - 11 km return
Time - Allow 4 hours return
Many Townsville locals have been to Big Crystal Creek but not many have been to its waterfalls. This walk will take you on a formed track down to where the water cascades down numerous waterfalls for almost a kilometre.
There's a lot of tracks up at Paluma so have a read of the Paluma Trails article.
The easiest way to get to Crystal Falls is from the Paluma Dam or Culvert 81.
The best time to do this walk is after the wet season when it's an absolute delight to see the Paluma Dam so full and the large volume of water flowing down the waterfall.
It is best done with a stop off at Wilfred's Lookout and Torsten's Rock Garden either before or after visiting Big Crystal Creek Falls.
Wilfred's Lookout and Torsten's Rock Garden are named after the two bushwalkers, Wilfred Karnoll and Torsten Lindgren, who discovered these sites in the early 2000s. The Rock Garden is among the most beautiful of rainforest environments in North Queensland. Whilst these features may have been known prior to that time, no records of their existence have been found in early literature or on early maps.
Here's an interactive map of the journey with two starting points for your choosing:
How to get to Crystal Falls (From Paluma Dam)
Starting at the Paluma Dam at an altitude of 900 metres, follow an old logging road that circumnavigates the dam for 1.5 kilometres. At track junction 29, the foot track leaves the logging road turning right towards Crystal Falls. After only 100 metres, at track junction 30, the track to Wilfred's Lookout turns off on the right.
Wilfred's Lookout offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Snakes love sunbaking in full sun so keep a lookout for them. From the dam, it's about a 30-minute walk.
The track slowly descends through rainforest, then enters a more open tea tree forest, growing between granite outcrops. After crossing the headwaters of Little Birthday Creek, (the only reliable water supply on this walk) you arrive at junction 31. Wilfred's Lookout will be on your right.
This is a huge granitic outcrop that provides uninterrupted vistas over the treetops of the surrounding rainforest. This birds' eye view of the forest makes the lookout an ideal spot for birdwatchers, as it gives the opportunity to view birds in flight above the canopy. Not to mention the sun baking snakes!
One of the more spectacular rainforest birds to be seen in the vicinity is Victoria's riflebird. This spot is also well-known for various pythons, snakes and skinks - all absorbing the warming rays of the sun.
You can also see the Paluma township and the high voltage power lines on a clear day.
Once having a quick rest, from junction 31 continue along the track east to Torsten's Rock Garden, a beautiful collection of large, granite rocks in the middle of the rainforest. They are covered by lush ferns, moss, and tree roots stretching over them from above.
Approaching the Rock Garden from a lower vantage point is also a spectacular sight.
There are two bat caves in the area. Both "caves" are created by an overhang created by two adjoining boulders form narrow, cave-like structures that provide a home to hundreds of microbats.
Continue along the track towards Junction 32. From here, there are two return options if you've had enough. Either taking a right to the unsealed Paluma Dam Road (Once was Benham's Track) for a three kilometres walk back to Paluma Dam, or the prefered approach is continuing uphill north towards Crystal Falls. At junction 33, you can then take the left-back towards Lake Paluma passing an impressively large tree or continue right down to Crystal Falls detailed below.
Keep an eye on the side of the tracks for the bowers of male golden bowerbirds. These bowers, a stick mound construction on either side of a wooden perch, are sometimes active and decorated with bits of lichen and small white flowers. The male performs a mating display dance for any prospective female in the area.
If at Junction 33 you've taken the right downhill to Crystal Falls, continue past Junction 34 and after a slow descent, you will start to hear the sound of running water. You will soon find your way to a granite slab creek, this is Crystal Creek. If you go upstream a few metres you will find a large swimming hole. And just downstream 20 metres, you will see Crystal Falls.
Crystal Falls Lagoon is at an altitude of 765 metres and is a great place for a picnic. Break here and enjoy the views of the falls, have a swim in the pool, and have a snack or lunch. After a very relaxing rest, make your way back towards the dam passing a massive tree just before you get to Junction 33. From Crystal Falls to the Dam is 5.3 kilometres.
The alternative to heading back in the same direction is to do a circuit and stopping off at DCK Shelter (private property). It's a pleasant 17 kilometres walk passing creeks, two swimming holes, and colourful fungi in the moist, mossy rainforest. The temperature is pleasant, much nicer than down on the coast in Summer.
If you continue on this track past Crystal Falls and Gold Creek Falls, you will end up down at Paradise Waterhole, this track is called Bullocky Tom's Track and is a very nice throughwalk (car shuttle recommended).
You can also abseil down the myriad waterfalls in Crystal Creek to the water intake plant near the rockslides (a car shuttle is also recommended).
What to bring
- Food & snacks
- Sun protection
- Mosquito repellent
- Swimmers and a towel
Being out in the bush is invigorating, refreshes the mind, and you can focus the brain on the important things in life. It is highly recommended to get out into nature at least once a week for a few hours. The suggested route is about 10.5 kilometres with an overall ascent of 609 metres and a descent of 612 metres. Make sure you take a map with you so you don't get lost at the Junctions.
See also the Three Lagoons Hike.