Nature, culture and history
The Dalrymple Gap walking track, Girringun National Park is within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450 kilometres between Cooktown and Townsville. Consisting of nearly 900,000 hectares, vegetation is primarily tropical rainforest, but also includes open eucalypt forest, wetlands and mangrove forests. The WTWHA meets all four natural criteria for World Heritage listing. These criteria recognise the area's exceptional natural beauty and the importance of its biological diversity and evolutionary history, including habitats for numerous threatened species. The WTWHA also has cultural significance for Aboriginal people who have traditional links with the area and its surrounds.
Find out more from the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
The Dalrymple Gap walking track passes through a variety of forest types found on the flats, slopes and summit of the Cardwell Range. This range formed in ancient times when land was uplifted and eroded. Molten rock initially cooled underground to form coarse granite. The granite eventually weathered and eroded, forming the Cardwell range and strongly influencing today’s vegetation. The high rainfall at the summit diverts runoff to Damper and Dalrymple creeks on either side of the range. These creeks are lined with rainforest—a contrast to the casuarinas and eucalypts on the exposed ridges and plains.
Clear boulder-strewn creeks give way to open forest and grassland. Look for tracks and listen for rustlings of giant white-tailed rats (Uromys caudimaculatus), long-nosed bandicoots (Perameles nasuta), northern brown bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus), musky rat-kangaroos (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus), Australian brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami) and elusive Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus lumholtzi).
The endangered southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) also lives in and around Girringun National Park. You may spot their footprints or clumps of fruit-filled droppings.
Over time, both Aboriginal people and early European settlers have used this track. For Aboriginal people the track has cultural significance as it passes through the country of three different Traditional Owner groups: the Girramay and Bandjin people on the north-eastern side of the range, and their neighbours, the Warrgamay people, to the south-west.
Traditionally the Girramay, Bandjin and Warrgamaygan Aboriginal people used this track to cross the Cardwell Range to attend ceremonies and meetings with neighbouring groups. They also used the track to gather forest resources such as fruit and plants.
The existing 10 kilometre Dalrymple Gap walking track is only a small section of the original 96 mile (160 kilometre) track to the Valley of Lagoons Station. The track was the first road suitable for wheeled traffic in north Queensland. A stone-pitched bridge is the oldest surviving example of civil engineering work on mainland north Queensland. The original track now also forms part of the Wallaman Falls section of the Wet Tropics Great Walk.
The original Dalrymple Gap track between Cardwell and the Valley of Lagoons Station crosses two parallel ranges. The coastal Cardwell Range and the inland Seaview Range were difficult barriers for early travellers.
Following the foundation of Queensland in 1859 there was a push for settlers to take up pastoral leases in north Queensland. Politician and explorer George Dalrymple was granted a lease to the Valley of Lagoons Station in October 1861 and immediately sought a supply route to the coast.
In 1863 Dalrymple unsuccessfully tried to find a route from the Valley of Lagoons to the coast. The forest and Seaview Range appeared impenetrable. The following year Dalrymple joined a seaward expedition to establish the settlement of Cardwell. He followed an Aboriginal track from Cardwell, through mangroves and swamps, to a gap in the range. On 15 February 1864, accompanied by four men on horseback, Dalrymple blazed his way through to the Valley of Lagoons. This strenuous, hazardous, wet season journey took two weeks.
On 8 March 1864, after a much-needed rest, they started on their return journey with extra hands, three bullock drays, 61 working bullocks, 63 fat cattle and 18 horses.
The 16 men hand cut 130 kilometres of track through vegetation. Due to lengthy delays, they lived for over a month on beef and water and desperately needed supplies. On 24 April 1864 Dalrymple and a small party travelled the remaining 21 kilometres to Cardwell, where they rallied support. Twenty-six men volunteered to cut through the remaining scrub, completing the road from the interior to the port.
The track was heavily used from 1864 to the late 1870s. Pack horses and bullock and horse teams carted supplies between the coast and the inland and cattle and horses were driven to the coast for sale. The track, initially built for bullock teams to pull wagon loads of wool, was always difficult and slow, so freight costs were expensive. The unsuitability for sheep grazing and the development of other north Queensland towns, mineral fields and alternative roads all contributed to the track’s demise.
- Dalrymple Gap walking track access update: Girringun National Park 8 January to 30 April 2021