If you’re after a waterfall walk in the Binna Burra section of Lamington National Park, then Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls should be on the top of your list. We did the full Ship Stern Circuit including the short detour to Lower Ballanjui Falls (19 km from the car park) at the start of spring. In summer, we came back for the return walk to Lower Ballanjui Falls (12.5 km from the car park according to our device but only 10.6 km according to the sign). Here are some tips to help you plan your hike.
Summary (Ship Stern Circuit)
Distance: 19 km
Time: 7 hours
Disclaimer: the hiking time and difficulty are based on our experience. We’re experienced hikers with a good level of fitness and used to hiking long distances and scrambling. We have good navigation skills and use a Garmin watch* with a GPS navigation map. Always check the park alerts and notes; trail conditions change over time which can impact the level of difficulty of the hike.
How hard are the Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls hikes?
The distance is really what makes this hike harder than others in Lamington National Park. The path is easy to follow and although you’ll go up and down, there are no very steep sections. However, some parts of the path are exposed so you may not want to do it with young kids.
We completed the Ship Stern Circuit from the car park in 7 hours, including breaks. It took us 4.5 hours for the return walk to Lower Ballanjui Falls at a slow pace on a muddy, slippery path. Fit hikers can do it in a lot less time if they don’t stop for photos, lunch and to enjoy the views. But some of the lookouts are really spectacular so I recommend allowing enough time to have long breaks.
Is it worth it to hike the extra kilometres on the Ship Stern Circuit?
The return walk to Lower Ballanjui Falls will already take you to two stunning lookouts (Koolanbilba and Yangahla) and the biggest waterfall on the Ship Stern Circuit. I really liked the other lookouts on the Ship Stern Circuit and the lovely Nagarigoon Falls (a lot smaller than Ballanjui Falls but totally different), so I absolutely recommend doing the full circuit if you have time and energy.
When is the best time to hike Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls?
This is my main tip in this article. There is no wrong time to hike Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls – except if the creeks are too flooded or after a storm or bushfires that may have damaged the path (always check the national park alerts before going). Note that although a part of the Lower Bell Circuit has been closed for a while, the Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls are still accessible.
Even if the Ship Stern Circuit is lovely all year round, summer was by far my favourite time to view the Lower Ballanjui Falls.
I know that hiking in summer in Queensland may not sound like the best idea. But even when it’s very hot in Brisbane, the temperatures in the rainforest and on the O’Reilly plateau are cooler. Plus, most of the hike is in the shade. I found the hike was a lot more spectacular in summer during the wet season. We went after a particularly rainy week and saw many small waterfalls before reaching Lower Ballanjui Falls. Sure, the path was a lot more slippery and muddy. But it was worth the extra effort to see the impressive falls. Keep your eyes open for crayfish too. You may spot them on the path outside the water when it’s rainy.
When we completed the Ship Stern Circuit at the start of spring, there was almost no water coming down Lower Ballanjui Falls. It was still a lovely hike to do as the lookouts are impressive and the rainforest is beautiful. But waterfall lovers will be disappointed. However, blooming wildflowers added lovely colourful touches to the path.
What should you bring when hiking Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls?
You’ll need good shoes for this hike. If you’re going during the wet season, it will be easier to walk in waterproof shoes. I also recommend wearing long pants as there can be leeches. Make sure you check the local weather and bring appropriate clothes. Even if it’s hot in Brisbane, you may need a jacket in Lamington National Park.
Is Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls the best waterfall hike in Lamington National Park?
Although I think it’s the best hike in the Binna Burra section of Lamington National Park, it may not be the best waterfall hike in the whole national park. I really loved the Box Forest Circuit and the Toolona Creek Circuit too in the O’Reilly section of the park.
But if you visit Lamington National Park after the rain, the Lower Ballanjui Falls are impressive and the lookouts on the Ship Stern Circuit are stunning.
After the hike…
The cafe at the car park at Binna Burra stays open late for hikers to have a bite and refreshments after their hike. It’s a good way to enjoy the views for a little bit longer. When we did it on a rainy day that was also surprisingly cold for summer, we loved the opportunity to have a hot chocolate before driving back to Brisbane. Another time, we loved the opportunity to get cold drinks!
Stay for the night
The Ship Stern Circuit is a long walk that you may want to start early. So why not stay at Binna Burra for the night? It can also be nice to relax after the walk rather than drive back to Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
You’ll find a few accommodation options at the start of the walks in Binna Burra, from stunning Skylodges with a spa bath and panoramic views* to budget options with a more basic campground or safari tents*. Both will allow you to connect with nature and fully enjoy the national park.
Have you hiked Ship Stern Circuit or Lower Ballanjui Falls? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where are Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls?
You can access Ship Stern Circuit and Lower Ballanjui Falls from the Binna Burra car park in Lamington National Park. It takes about 1.5hrs to drive there from Brisbane. The end of the drive is very scenic.