Nature, culture and history
Springbrook National Park is recognised as part of one of the world's most outstanding and valuable places. In December 1994, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee officially declared the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area over the Scenic Rim (including nearly all of Lamington and Springbrook national parks and most of Main Range and Mount Barney national parks) with the listed rainforests of northern and central New South Wales.
World Heritage listing is a prestigious international recognition of the important conservation values of this area, especially its unique geology, subtropical and cool temperate rainforests and rare fauna.
Although the total area of Australia's remnant rainforest is small on a global scale, its value to the world is immense. In the past 200 years, three-quarters of Australia's rainforests have been destroyed or degraded. However, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area conserves a rich diversity of wildlife, including more than 1,700 species of flowering plants and 500 vertebrate animals. Protecting these areas in national parks or other reserves ensures this biological diversity is secure. It also allows natural processes such as evolution to continue, undisturbed by human influence.
With pride, we protect and present this heritage—the world's heritage. Help us ensure that while we enjoy this wonderful area, we do not destroy it. Please look then leave—without a trace.
The landscape of the Springbrook plateau is a remnant of the northern side of a once huge shield volcano that dominated the region about 23 million years ago. The volcano was built up of highly mobile basalt lavas, and although centred on Mount Warning, it was about 80km across. At about 2,000m high, the volcano poured lava over 6,000km² (north to Tamborine, south past Lismore to Coraki and west to Kyogle). Some lava flows were 270m deep. Basalt, rhyolite and pyroclastic rock were formed. Later eruptions laid down the acidic rhyolite that is responsible for the sheer cliffs of Springbrook plateau.
About 10 million years ago the volcano began to die. The remaining lava plugged the numerous vents and over the millennia, weathering and water erosion have relentlessly sculpted the volcano to form a classic erosion caldera landform. The Mount Warning caldera—the crescent of perpendicular cliffs extending from Springbrook to Lamington plateau and the Tweed Range above the Mount Warning vent valley—is the largest and best of its age in the world. Visit Best of All lookout to view the grand scale of this magnificent landform.
Rainfall that feeds streams and powers waterfalls continues to shape the landscape in this ongoing erosion process. Natural Bridge is an example of water's tremendous power. The hard basalt rock bridge we see today was once the lip of an old waterfall. At its base, softer, broken up basalt in a different flow was gradually eroded by swirling waters into an undercut cave. Rocks in the stream bed above swirled around to drill a pot-hole, which gradually deepened and broke through to the cave beneath. The creek fell into the cave and then enlarged it further. Another pot-hole now forming in the creek above is already leaking into the cave, suggesting another break-through in the future.
The lip of the old waterfall now forms a bridge, while the cave below has since eroded further back from the foot of the falls.
Other unusual volcanic formations include Egg Rock and Pages Pinnacle in the Numinbah Valley and the distinctive rhyolite twin peaks of Mount Cougal.
A diverse environment
The forests of Springbrook National Park can be grouped into five classifications depending upon the dominant tree species, soil, location and rainfall. These forest types are subtropical, warm temperate and cool temperate rainforests, open eucalypt forest and heath. Subtropical rainforest characterised by a closed canopy, vines, palms, epiphytes and large trees such as strangler figs, can be seen at Mount Cougal, Natural Bridge and in the sheltered gorges of Springbrook plateau. There is a small population of the endangered plant, southern ochrosia Ochrosia moorei in Springbrook's subtropical rainforests.
Warm and cool temperate rainforest is of interest on the higher parts of the plateau. Distinguished by the pink-trunked brush box Lophostemon confertus and the mottled, lichen-encrusted coachwood Ceratopetalum apetalum, warm temperate rainforest can be observed in the Canyon area.
Antarctic beech Nothofagus moorei, relics of an earlier cooler, wetter age, now occur only at high altitude. Visit the cool temperate rainforest on the highest part of the plateau at Best of All lookout to view some of these ancient trees—some are around 3000 years old.
Two kinds of open eucalypt forest are seen on Springbrook plateau and in the Numinbah Valley. Tall white-trunked flooded gums Eucalyptus grandis tower over palms and treeferns. On poorer soils grow the uncommon and attractive Blue Mountains ash Eucalyptus oreades, with its lemon-coloured trunk, and the brown fibrous-barked New England blackbutt E. campanulata. Tall silky oaks Grevillea robusta line the Nerang River and Waterfall Creek in Numinbah section. Prickly-leaved heath plants, including the golden banksia, red bottlebrush and purple hovea, make a colourful understorey.
Of the many mammals living in the park, pademelons (small rainforest wallabies) are most frequently seen by day visitors. Please drive slowly to avoid the pademelons that can dart across the road without warning—particularly on the way to Best of All lookout. These shy creatures may feed on grass seeds on the road edges at dusk and in the cool of the morning.
Campers are usually rewarded with sightings of nocturnal animals, especially the greyish brushtail possum and the smaller, reddish, ringtail possum that has a distinctive white tip on its tail. A glimpse of the tiny and elusive sugar glider or large greater glider is the reward for those interested enough to take a red-filtered torch and explore the tracks at night. Koalas are occasionally seen on the drier western ridges of the plateau and in the open forest areas of Numinbah section.
Springbrook’s rainforests and rocky outcrops provide the ideal habitat for the vulnerable spotted-tailed quoll, mainland Australia’s largest native marsupial carnivore. Normally nocturnal, the quoll is an efficient, opportunistic hunter taking a range of prey including echidnas, bandicoots, native birds, reptiles and even frogs. Visitors may not see these mammals but may see where they have been. Spotted-tailed quolls mark their territory with ‘latrine sites’ that are normally found on flat rocks among boulder fields and rocky cliff-faces. Latrine sites can be recognised by the accumulation of ‘corkscrew-shaped’ faeces.
Over a hundred different bird species can be seen and heard in Springbrook National Park. Noteworthy species include the raucous and distinctively plumed yellow-tailed black cockatoo, which can sometimes be seen feeding on the seeds of banksia, casuarina and wattle.
The slender brown cuckoo-dove is often heard calling a plaintive 'oop oop' throughout the park. The elusive Albert's lyrebird is another species that is more often heard than seen. In the winter months its vibrant composite call can be heard from the depths of the valleys. A true songbird, the lyrebird is part of an ancient, unique bird group that probably evolved when flowering plants began to dominate the landscape. The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia reserves provide an important refuge for this species.
Smaller bush birds that may be seen along the tracks include the yellow robin, rufous fantail and the dainty superb fairy-wren. Three species of rosella are present in the park. The most striking is the descriptively named crimson rosella with its plumage of scarlet and royal blue. The black and gold regent bowerbird and the larger midnight-blue satin bowerbird represent the bowerbird family. These are spectacular examples of the diversity of bird life that can be seen by the patient and interested observer.
The most frequently seen reptiles are prehistoric-looking lace monitors, glossy black skinks known as land mullets, and sleepy carpet pythons. These are all harmless if not provoked. Remember though, that not all snakes are harmless. Stand well away, avoid aggravating them and allow time and room for them to get out of your way. See frequently asked questions for more details on snake safety.
The abundance of water in the protected area has resulted in a diverse selection of water-dwelling animals. Frogs are the most vocal, blue spiny crayfish the most colourful and eels the most surprising. Orange-eyed treefrogs and large beige-coloured great barred-frogs are often seen on the tracks at night.
Long-finned eels Anguilla reinhardti are common in the larger pools such as Warringa on the Springbrook plateau and in the upper reaches of Waterfall Creek and Nerang River. They are remarkable for their breeding behaviour. Adults travel enormous distances to breed in the tropical ocean and the young eels, known as elvers, return to the freshwater streams to continue the cycle. Platypus make their home in the large waterholes of the upper reaches of the Nerang River and Currumbin Creek. Using their large bills to search for food by sifting through sand and gravel on the creek or river bed, platypus feed on shrimps, small crayfish, worms and the nymph life stages of many insects—dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, stoneflies, caddis-flies and beetles.
Natural Bridge section is known for the small, brilliant blue-green lights seen at night decorating the ceiling, rocky overhangs and steep earth banks along the one kilometre circuit. These lights are emitted by tiny creatures that are not actually worms, but the larval stage of a small fly Arachnocampa flava.
Arachnocampa glow-worms are a primitive fly species found only in Australia and New Zealand and rely on rainforests of Gondwanan origin for their survival. These diverse, green havens provide the rainfall and dense canopy cover glow-worms require.
As Gondwana drifted north and split up, the glow-worms survived in the humid and dark conditions of rainforests and caves. As the Australian continent dried, these rainforests gradually contracted to tiny, green islands and glow-worms became isolated.
Over millions of years of isolation glow-worm colonies changed—the species’ physical structure and genetics modified. Today there are eight recognised glow-worm species in Australia and each of these is restricted to a region of rainforest or permanently wet caves.
The colony of thousands of glow-worms found in the cave's roof at Natural Bridge can only be seen after sunset. The ‘light’ you see is produced within the glow-worm’s body. It is the reaction of four chemicals that produces the cold light or bioluminescence—meaning ‘living light’. Glow-worms generate this bioluminescence to lure their prey. By producing long, sticky threads that work like a spider web, glow-worms entangle small invertebrates such as midges, mosquitoes and mayflies that are drawn to the blue-green bioluminescence.
The best bioluminescence displays are usually during the warmer, wetter months of the year (December to March).
It is only during this larval stage that the species feeds—a period of about nine months. Adults emerge to live only three to four days, long enough to mate and lay eggs.
If you are planning to visit the glowworms, please follow the basic cave rules to help protect these tiny creatures.
Culture and history
The plateau's formidable terrain was the major obstacle to settlers and timber-getters claiming Springbrook. Until the early 1900s the plateau remained intact. The first Europeans to explore the plateau were surveyors. When Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859 an accurate map was needed to show the new border. In April 1863 Queensland's Surveyor-General August Charles Gregory instructed his surveyors, Francis Edward Roberts and Isaiah Rowland, to survey the border along the watershed of the rugged and mostly unexplored McPherson and Great Dividing Ranges to the Dumaresq River. Surveyor Isaiah Rowland was assigned by the New South Wales surveyor-general to work on this joint project with Roberts. In an early official report the terrain of the south-east border areas was considered so rugged that 'settlement upon it will never take place until flying machines are in general use'.
Between April 1863 and May 1865 Roberts and Rowland completed the survey of this extremely rough terrain, helped greatly by Bilin Bilin and other First Nations People in their party. Despite facing extreme conditions, Roberts made detailed field notes and named many landmarks, trees and animals using Aboriginal words from the Yugambeh language.
Springbrook was originally referred to as Numinbah Plateau but was also known amongst timber getters as the 'Land of the Tall Timber'. In 1906 the plateau's status of timber reserve was revoked and it was opened for selection as agricultural land. The government offered special inducements to intending settlers to inspect the available lands in the hope of increasing the population of the newly formed state of Queensland.
The first groups of selectors became collectively known as the Springwood Group. It is uncertain how they chose the name, however it was soon dropped after mail, often containing requests for supplies, kept being sent to Springwood in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It appears that to prevent this from continuing, a simple alteration was made. Surveyor A.H. Burbank had named the small creek that drained the central part of the plateau as Purling Brook and it seems likely they merely exchanged 'wood' for 'brook' and solved their problem. The name Springbrook came into common usage some time in 1907.
Living on the plateau proved difficult. When the first selectors arrived in November 1906 the promised access road was still under construction. Built by the Labour Bureau with assistance from Brisbane's Boggo Road Gaol's prisoners, the narrow pack track was hacked out of the ridge by pick and shovel. For the first few weeks in the wilderness, the selectors had humped on their backs all the food and tools needed. It was considered prudent for the men to leave their wives and families in Mudgeeraba or Nerang until at the very least a slab house had been constructed. The one exception to the rule was Rose Nutley who, with her small daughter Clara, roughed the conditions alongside her husband Fred.
Better transport saw Springbrook become a popular tourist destination by the 1920s. The very obstacles that made life on the plateau difficult were the very things that attracted people—sheer cliffs, deep gorges and tumbling waterfalls. A guesthouse with dormitory-style accommodation, a post office and telephone exchange and a flourishing dairy industry were established and life improved on the plateau. By the 1940s seven guesthouses, three cafes and four different styles of self-contained accommodation were operating to cater for Springbrook's growing popularity.
By the 1930s parts of Springbrook were almost devoid of trees. Many of the forest areas on the plateau visible today are regrowth following the decline of the dairy industry after World War II. The growing interest in the plateau coupled with the push for precious rainforest remnants of the McPherson Ranges to be conserved, soon saw areas of the plateau gazetted as national park.
The current national park, covering 6,558ha, has been pieced together slowly from timber reserve, crown land and private property. The first section, Warrie National Park in The Canyon area, was declared in 1937. Shortly after, in 1940, an area at Purling Brook Falls was declared Gwongorella National Park. These names persisted until 1990 when the parks were amalgamated with Wunburra, Natural Bridge and Mount Cougal national parks to become Springbrook National Park (Hall, 1991).
The Numinbah Valley area saw the arrival of European timber-getters around the 1870s. Magnificent trees felled in the area included a giant red cedar taken in 1893 from near Natural Bridge. A huge section of this impressive tree was displayed at the 1900 Paris World Fair.
By the end of the 1920s large areas of Numinbah Valley had been cleared and dairy farms were expanding. Remaining forests provided a venue for social outings and recreation. People began to recognise the need to protect the few remaining lowland rainforests. In 1922 Natural Bridge, named after its natural geological feature, was declared a Recreation and Scenic Reserve. It became a national park in 1959 and was incorporated in Springbrook National Park in 1990.
Mount Cougal section
It was the area's rich resources and abundant water that attracted the first Europeans. Settlement of the lower Currumbin Valley began in the late 1860s and reached the upper valley in the late 1920s forcing the First Nations People to move to reserves or become fringe dwellers on the outskirts of nearby townships. A small community of hardy settlers coped with the rugged terrain, 26 creek crossings that frequently flooded, poor roads, little capital and geographic isolation from markets and stores.
Remnants of the bush sawmill stand testimony to the park's logging history. Established in 1943, the mill produced packing crate timber for local banana farmers during the war.
In 1938 the rainforested headwaters of Currumbin and Tallebudgera creeks (142ha) were set aside for conservation. Additions over the years brought the park to 811ha before it was amalgamated with the adjoining Springbrook National Park in 1990.
As early as 1879 the Numinbah area was proclaimed as timber reserve covering some 16,956ha extending to the Springbrook plateau. Most of this area was released for selection, leaving only 2,258ha in the valley as state forest—gazetted in 1915. By the end of the 1920s large areas of Numinbah Valley had been cleared and dairy farms were expanding.
Hardwoods including turpentine Syncarpia glomulifera, flooded gum Eucalyptus grandis and pink bloodwood Corymbia intermedia were the primary supply of millable timber. In the 1950s and 1960s small pine plantations and a few small-scale eucalypt plantations were established in the Numinbah Valley, though only on an experimental basis.
In 2002, Numinbah State Forest's conservation and recreational values were recognised through the South East Queensland Forest Agreement and the forest was transferred to Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Numinbah Forest Reserve was gazetted as part of Springbrook National Park in 2008 with a few trails remaining on the forest reserve for bushwalking and horse riding access.
Hall, P 1991, 'Springbrook: Where the clouds touch the earth', Watson & Ferguson, Brisbane.
- Planned upgrade to the Natural Bridge visitor precinct 27 January to 14 August 2021