The Bunya Mountains are like an island, surrounded by a sea of plains. They are a refuge of biodiversity, harbouring the world’s largest stand of bunya pines.
And, the bunya pines are like lighthouses, cultural beacons that once lured First Nations people from all over southern Queensland, and beyond, to the ‘island’s shores’ for the famed bunya festivals.
In traditional times, bunya festivals, and the journey to get there, had an important cultural purpose—sharing knowledge and connecting people to each other and with their land. Today when you visit the Bunyas, you’ll experience the bunya forest ‘up close’, learn about First Nations culture and connections with country, and—if you take in the markets and local cafes—even get to try out the traditional tucker, the bunya nut!
To reach the Bunya Mountains, you can choose to travel along the Great Bunya Drive, a scenic route meandering through ‘country’ landscapes between Toowoomba and Gympie.
In the past, travelling to the Bunya Mountains was a cultural journey. Along various traditional pathways leading to the mountains, First Nations groups visited ceremonial places, such as bora grounds, stone arrangements and rock art sites. At these significant places, they held initiation ceremonies where Elders passed on cultural knowledge to the younger generation, readying young men to participate in bunya festival ceremonies.
Make your journey to the Bunyas a ‘cultural experience’, too. Along the Great Bunya Drive, call into heritage museums and historic sites to appreciate more about the region’s history. And while you’re on the road, why not drop into some of the wineries, gourmet cafes and country markets to chat to the locals and absorb some of the ‘local flavour’?
The Bunya Mountains hold great significance for First Nations people, and bunya festivals were an important cultural tradition. Once every two or three years, the bunya pines produce prolific crops of bunya nuts—large heavy pineapple-shaped cones with 50–100 edible 'nuts'.
During these times, for countless generations, large groups of First Nations people gathered at the Bunya Mountains for bunya festivals. They met for ceremonies and corroborees, law-making and resolving disputes, renewing friendships, exchanging stories and songs…and, naturally, feasting on the abundant bunya nuts!
Visiting the Bunyas today
While these traditional gatherings could last for months, your visit will likely be shorter! You can set up camp in one of three camping areas in Bunya Mountains National Park—Dandabah, Westcott or Burtons Well—which all have toilets and picnic tables. Or, if you hanker after a little more comfort in your accommodation, you’ll find a range of guesthouses and holiday homes for rent within close proximity to the national park.
Call into the Dandabah Visitor Centre (open most days, 10am to 2pm) to learn about the ancient origins of this landscape, bunya pines and other plants and animals found here, and Bunya Aboriginal people's cultural connections with the land.
Then get exploring! There are many walking tracks to choose from, ranging from easy strolls to all-day hikes. But whatever you do, don’t miss the 4km return Scenic circuit, where you’ll explore a bunya pine forest ‘up close’, discover delightful rock pools and waterfalls, and gaze at panoramic views over vast valleys and hills.
There is something magical about the Bunya Mountains that encourages you to relax—a unique combination of crisp clean mountain air, soaring bunya pines and majestic scenery. Spend your day doing as much or as little as you choose. Enjoy a bushwalk, then settle back to watch some of the abundant native wildlife, and ponder the many layered stories of this wondrous landscape.
Feasting on the bounty
And what about the bunya nut itself? Traditionally, soft, juicy, young nuts were eaten raw. The mature nuts were cooked over an open fire to crack their outer shells, then the kernels were pounded into meal to be baked into a type of cake. Feasting on rich nutty meals was the order of the day during traditional bunya festivals…
If you plan your visit to coincide with the Bunya Mountains Markets, held on the last Sunday of every month, you can sample the bunya nut bounty too! The markets serve up this traditional food with a twist—bunya burgers, beef and bunya pies, and bunya nut ice-cream!
End of an era and new beginnings
Once Europeans settled in the area, bunya festivals were disrupted—the last large gathering was around 1902. But First Nations peoples’ connections with the Bunyas are still strong. Aboriginal Rangers work with Park Rangers to look after the area’s natural and cultural values. They assist with fire management of the Bunyas, and undertake cultural heritage protection of traditional pathways to the mountains. Bunya festivals are being revived in various places in southern Queensland—bunya pines are still cultural beacons for First Nations people.
Inspired to learn more?
Visit Bunya Mountains National Park for more information on how to journey to the Bunyas, book your camp site, and what to do when you’re there to make the most of your visit. Always check park alerts before you set out.