If you love hitting those red dirt roads, visiting historic communities and going bush in remote places seldom heard of by most campers, do your best to ignore the name and make Hell Hole Gorge your next off-grid adventure.
Lately I’ve been using the CamperMate app to find remote and unique destinations, and Hell Hole Gorge was one that popped up recently. Located near the centre of Queensland in an extremely remote area nearly 1200km west of Brisbane, it sounded just like my kind of challenge. Hell Hole Gorge has only one road in and out via Adavale, so for emergency reasons and your own safety, you need to register at the local pub and then de-register on your return.
Queensland Parks opened Hell Hole Gorge to campers only recently, and you need to be totally self-sufficient with all food, water, communication and a comprehensive first aid kit. Seasons are extreme, with summer temperatures reaching the high 40s yet the winters can get bitterly cold, so be prepared for whatever season you choose.
The last stop for any luxuries before heading offroad is Quilpie, where there are limited supplies if you need to stock up before reaching your destination 120km away. The roads are generally that stunning red dirt type lined with mulga, red gums, gidyea trees and low salt bush.
The history to be found in these remote regions is pretty amazing, and Adavale is no different. Dating back to early 1800, it’s hard to believe that Adavale was once a thriving gold rush town, home to eight pubs, a police station, doctor, school and shops. The town is said to be named after a local bride, whose veil flew off into a creek. When somebody yelled out “there goes Ada’s veil”, the name stuck.
Originally the rail line was planned to go out to Adavale, but a last minute decision had the line sent out to Quilpie. This hurt the town and marked the beginning of its gradual decline. Later on in 1963, huge floods swept through the area. The flood water was reportedly ten miles wide at Adavale, cutting the town off for weeks, washing away buildings and forcing even more locals to leave the area. These days there are only around 20 permanent residents.
Campers heading to Hell Hole Gorge will want to drop into the local pub to register (and then de-register on the way back) as a safety precaution as there is no phone signal anywhere in the park. But I found Adavale was a good little place to have a look around in its own right. There is an outdoor museum, the old police cell has been restored and is jammed packed full of memorabilia including hand written letters, and the local hall has been restored. Here you can walk around the verandah and see a plethora of old photos, reports, cattle and mine leases, and other relics from the past on display.
Heading out of Adavale towards the park, you’ll pass through several large stations where you’ll need to be wary of cattle wandering freely. The road out is not generally maintained, so drop a stack of air out of your tyres and you’ll have a more comfortable drive while also ensuring the roads don’t get torn up. There’s only 70km to cover, but due to the road condition and photo opportunities along the way, don’t expect it to take any less than two hours. It’s a stunning drive with long stretches of sand, narrow single lane tracks and sections where you’ll wind down and cross huge, dry creek beds.
As you enter Hell Hole Gorge there’s a board with info on the local flora and fauna and general park information. (You’ll also need to self-register in advance through Queensland parks online). The park has only been open to campers for a short time, and after a long drive in you’ll find the designated camping area across the other side of the Powell River Gorge. Blue markers are in place to guide you there safely, and there are plenty of informal camping options scattered through the trees and rocky outcrops.
Hell Hole Gorge doesn’t have 4WD tracks, but it’s a quiet place where bird watchers, hikers and those seeking a little solitude can spend time doing what they love. The camping area is only 200m from the waterholes, where at any time of the day you’ll spot an array of different birds, fish, the rare Krefft river turtles, and maybe even a yellow-footed wallaby. When the sun sets out here stunning colours light up the sky, an eerie quietness blankets the area, and at night the stars seem to shine brighter than anywhere else.
The park was declared only 20 years ago to protect western Queensland’s mulga ecosystem, so by following the regulations that are in place it will be kept open for years to come. There are no facilities out here so all rubbish needs to be carried out, toilet waste needs to be dug into the ground and paper should be burned if it is safe to do so at the time.
There are also no formal walking tracks in the park, so take care wherever you venture. If you don’t keep track of where you are it can be easy to get a little disoriented, as I found out, but the scenery is stunning. Formed over millions of years from water running high and fast through Powell Creek, the gradual erosion of sedimentary rock has produced an impressive gorge with cliffs reaching 40m high.
Spending time in Hell Hole Gorge requires respect, because if anything goes wrong with your preparations or if an accident occurs, help is a long time coming. It may be a long drive in, but it’s well worth the time for a remote adventure in outback Queensland.