I completed my Thesis, finished the accompanying work of Creative Nonfiction, graduated from the University of Queensland, moved house, oh, and welcomed a tiny Jamey Fellow into the world. Despite having the best of intentions, I’ve not been able to write my own words for quite a while, walk my hills, in fact, not do that much other than marvel and wonder at the endlessly happy, endlessly exhausting little chap in our lives. But now, with Jamey fast approaching a year old, my writing fingers and walking legs are itching furiously. The walking may have to wait a little longer due to current issues, but I reckon it’s time to start draining the story brain.
The first draft of my book on Tasmania, hiking and wilderness, Over Land, is done, but it is only a first draft. After some fantastic feedback from other nonfiction writers and my agent Merrilee, I’m pulling in a bunch of other threads to turn the work of nonfiction into a story, a book. This is going to be really tricky for me, as all along I knew that I would need to put myself into the story a lot more than I had -this is a linear work in a very true sense of the word; me following a path. Literally. From the outset I just didn’t want to make it about me. Through my studies on Landscape at UQ, I knew I didn’t want to write a grief memoir (which is a slightly melodramatic-sounding genre classification for the books that have appeared over the last few years that use nature as a means of exploration for loss, or a dramatic change in in circumstance. These kind of stories date back centuries -millennia- and have seen a remarkable resurgence recently, and I imagine after the events of 2020 and enforced isolations, will continue to be a literal escape for many). But I also knew what I needed was some sort of story arc. This is a particularly difficult proposition because of the very nature of my source material -two seperate trips with different outcomes though the same agenda, is almost itself more circular than linear.
So I guess we’ll see. As I mentioned earlier, with our Jamey-inclusive life a little more settled now (and, let’s face it, the distinct lack of any music work other than our weekly broadcasts), I think I can finally get myself back into gear. I’ve got a couple of fiction ideas bubbling away next to the coffee pot at the moment, but I really need to finish this tale of walking, snow and mountains that very nearly killed me!
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I’m just back from my second winter ramble across the Overland Track in Tasmania. It was as equally fantastic as last year’s, and although this time I walked it the ‘proper’ way (as in north to south), I did most of the trip solo in very wintery conditions. At the moment I’m going through many hundreds of photos, and catching up on my thesis (of which a book about the Overland is the major part).
I’ll eventually get around to writing a blog post about the trip, although most of it will end up in the book, which is coming along very nicely. I also have another Lamington post to write when I get a minute. So much writing to be done…
Oh, and I’ll be doing a reading from the new book next Tuesday, the 18th July here in Brisbane at the Wild Readings get together at the Mu-ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End (54 Mollison Street, just along from the Three Monkeys). It’s a great little monthly reading session.
Until then, here are a few photos I twiddled with on the iPad. I’ll post the full set to my 500px account when I get time. Always time….
It’s been a couple of months since I lasted walked Lamington. Mostly, I’ve been absent simply because of the hot summer. It’s been a stinker this year, and even in the shelter of the rainforest, it still gets very hot and humid; not exactly the best conditions for my poor English temperament. But now Autumn has broken (albeit slightly) so it’s time to hitch on the boots and pack and get back in there.
Half way up the mountains, I was reminded quite suddenly of cyclone Debbie that stomped its way through here a month or so ago. By the time Debbie came slowly down past Brisbane and the Hinterland, it was more a severe low pressure system, rather than a cyclone, but over the course of a couple of days, it dumped a phenomenal amount of rain on the area. Something in the region of 800mm in 24 hours. So the road up is scarred with the red soil gashes of landslides, the debris of fallen trees and a few boulders the size of small cars. It’s about then I start to wonder if any of the paths will be closed. I’m heading up to Binna Burra again; like the last trip, because I think there’ll still be a lot of people around the Green Mountains, as the holidays are only just a few days over. My thoughts were confirmed when I reached the ranger station, about 2km shy of the end of the road in. Initially, I was planning on doing a couple of short routes, but my first choice of the Cave Circuit, was barricaded with a tangle of bright orange temporary fencing, forbidding trespass and warning of on the spot fines. The closure of the Caves also shuts me off from the Illinbah Circuit as they share a common start. I assume it’s to do with the steep descent at the beginning of the walks. Landslides tend to knock out a lot of the paths. Fallen trees can be chainsawed quite easily, but if the path has actually been turned to slurry, that takes a lot more work. In the car park at the end of the road in I have another momentary flash of concern; there looks like there’s a warning barrier stretched across the actual park entrance, but it’s not the same yellow mesh, it’s simply a No Parking warning.
Barring a couple of the bigger walks like Aracaria and Mt Hobwee, I’ve done most of ones heading out from here, so I settle on the Upper Ballunjui Falls walk, which is a pleasant 12km with a few side trips to waterfalls. I figure with the weather we’ve been having lately, there’s a good chance they’ll be flowing. The forecast is for possible showers. As I was only planning on doing short walks today, I only have a light fleece and a rainjacket, just in case. It’s a very pleasant 17c, so it’s probably overkill, but as I’m walking solo it’s best to have a bit of security. I think there’s still a person missing in here somewhere from the time of the cyclone; more proof that despite a lot of these tracks being graded, they’re not to be underestimated.
As usual, the Border Track is a gentle, familiar descent. Past the twisted vine at head height that I’m always surprised hasn’t been ripped down by the sheer number of people that swing on it.
I’m not far in before the extent of the winds and rain become evident. Trees are down, and in the green elbows of the ridges, where the creeks run, great strips of brush have been flattened, the soil around their roots softened by water and making them susceptible to the huge winds that were channeled through. But it’s not all doom. The soil is damp, and the forest smells greener than usual. Pademelons torpedo off into the brush from where they’d been feeding, and I’m lucky enough to spot Noisy Pitta in the undergrowth. These beautifully coloured ground-feeding birds remind me of the Green Woodpeckers from the UK. Alas it was too far in the undergrowth for me to get a decent photo. Whip Birds battle each other away in the bushes, and the finches are just little flecks of movement surrounded by continuous joyful song. The fungi are out in force too, not so much the brilliant sprays of red and orange of a couple of months ago, but more of the larger, paler ones, feeding on the deadfalls.
I stop to take a photo of the fungi, twisting myself into a strange shape so I could catch the light through the gills (the ant was a bonus!). I’m concentrating so hard I almost miss the rustle of dry leaves off to my right. As I look, I get one of those frights that sets the heart hammering and the adrenaline coursing almost instantly. Nothing quite wakes up a walker like a one metre Red-bellied Black Snake casually gliding over his boot. I think I let out a tiny ‘oh’, but I didn’t move, didn’t even think to lower the camera and take a shot, and within moments it’s gone. I stay for a bit to calm myself (and hope it might reappear), but I’m alone again. A few moments later, I walk on. The falls are flowing nicely, though some are pretty chocked with debris.
More than usual, there’s junk around the base of the falls. Packaging, bottles, and of course the obligatory white mush of used toilet paper. In one spot, the smell of urine is really strong. It gets me thinking on the walk. People are obviously reluctant to carry out their used toilet paper —and I’m not talking about the heavily soiled stuff that needs to be buried properly, that’s a whole other problem—more the stuff that is used to wipe up after peeing. It’s the revulsion of packing away and carrying your own waste rather than the ease of just ditching it. Perhaps we could take an idea from the way we managed to remove most of the dog shit from our urban parks.
We need a big sign at the entrance, and a zip-lock bag dispenser. The sign simply requests people to carry everything out (and I reckon some silhouette ‘human’ versions of the dog pooping and peeing signs would be nice and visual, along with some crossed out bottles, apple cores, chip packets etc) then give them the bag, the same way there are little black dog poop bag dispensers all around parks these days. The sign could provide some detail about the problems, for those that want to educate themselves, but they should be places right at the entrance to the track, and be lurid and unmissable. If people can bend down and pick up a warm dog turd in an inverted bag, surely they can learn to put a used tissue (or a stinking nappy) in a clean bag. Of course there’d need to be a bin at the exit too…
Enough ranting. The track zigzags down through the bush, steeply in sections, but nothing too hard. There are little side trips to the numerous falls along the way, and some interesting-looking climbs down to what look like fantastic swimming holes. Once again, I wish I had the courage of Roger Deakin to wild swim at a moment’s notice. There are patches of mud in the sheltered areas of the path, and some of the creek crossings are a bit slippery with moss, but the waters are running clear and quick, and I spot a few crayfish in the creeks. I always wonder how many are washed away during the big storms.
I have lunch at the end of the track, at Ballunjui Falls. The path finishes here in a rather abrupt cliff, and though the Ship Stern Circuit is only a few hundred metres away, there’s no way down, something I had to explain to the rather odd Frenchman I met on my way out. He was wearing shorts, thongs (flip flops for those of you from outside Aus) and had a sleeping bag in his hands. An old pole tent stuck out of a tiny daypack that looked to contain little else. He seemed rather insistent on trying to get through. I explained as best I could, stressing the cliff is pretty steep, but I received a shrug and we parted ways. I wondered about him the whole way back out.
The walk out was much warmer. The sun heated up the trees, releasing that summery tea tree smell that is so familiar to me now. It got warm enough that by the time I reached the top of the Ballunjui Falls Track and was back on the Border, I was sweating quite a bit. Autumn has not so much broken, as just found a small crack to look in through.
Walking back, I met quite a few people heading in. I stopped to chat with a lovely couple about the Daves Creek Circuit (which was still open) and a photographer with a lens the size of a bazooka. We watched a pair of massive Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding in a gum not far from the track, and I exchanged nods with groups walking in thongs, shorts and sleeveless tops drinking from beer bottles. It’s hard not to feel like an old fart sometimes.
Oh and while I was sipping my flask of coffee, I saw the Frenchman come back out. He looked a little frustrated, but at least he’d not tried climbing in thongs.
The night before, we had 75mm rain in an hour. It was one of those relentless Brisbane summer storms; tearing winds, white phosphorent flashes and rippling sheets of water that shook branches and tore blossom. To paraphrase the inimitable Terry Pratchett, it wasn’t so much rain as a vertical sea with slots in it. By morning it had cleared to unpredictable squally showers, but the radar looked a lot better than the night before. Splendid Wife and I left early, stopped briefly to pick up our brother in law, Simon, then hit the road.
There was a fair bit of debris on the road to Binna Burra, and quite a few fresh landslips, but nothing too alarming. Down in the hinterland, it was still raining, but not badly, and it eased off as we climbed up into the mountains. I picked this walk because I didn’t want to head to O’Reillys while the school holidays were on, bad weather or not, and I was also hoping that some of the waterfalls might be flowing after the rain.
Daves Creek is a really nice half-day walk. Like so many walks from this eastern side of the national park, it shares the start with the Border Track, then a bit of the Ship’s Stern, before breaking away on its own. It’s a lot like Ship’s Stern, and follows part of the same ridge line, and on reflection, it’s probably the prettier walk. Despite the rain, we walked in T-shirts as the temps were still around the mid 20c mark. This place is so different when it rains. Despite being a ‘rainforest’, I’ve not actually walked here that much in anything other than heat and sunshine, so, truth be told, I was kind of looking forward to a little mud and perhaps even a temperature low enough to pull on the jacket.
For the first hour, before hitting the track proper, it was hard to tell if it was actually raining, or if it was just the wind through the canopy shaking water down on us. It was damp, humid and smelled incredible. That thick, loamy musk of rotting wood and the deep green. Birds were everywhere, and the forest was alive with the echoing battles of whipbirds, the low, repetitive questioning of the fruit doves, and the eerie screeching of the green catbirds (or as I once described them to a friend’s young daughter, goblin babies) followed us deeper.
The ground was alight with fungi, the most starting being the jelly and cup fungi that ripple along the rotting deadfalls like scattered jellybeans and little faerie umbrellas.
The inky caps, spinning tops and corals were all erupting with the moisture, and it wasn’t uncommon to see roads of orange or yellow stretching away into the green. Some of the trees had stripes of foam running down their trunks, I assume from where the sap gets dissolved by the rain.
There was one other common visitor that wasn’t quite so welcome though. Leeches. Now usually, there are a few on any walk in Lamington, it’s a rainforest after all, but today, they were everywhere. Leeches have to be one of the hardiest little bastards in the wilds. I’ve encountered them everywhere from here to the freezing winter forests of Tasmania. And they like me. I can’t really complain. I’m not that bothered by mosquitos, so I guess I have to make it up with leeches. When we stopped for water or photos, we could see them on our boots, doing that rhythmic, alien, looping dance. Flicking them off became quite a challenge. Socks and pants were liberally sprayed with our friendly go-to mosquito repellent, but when that proved somewhat ineffectual, we had to crack out the DEET. There’s nothing quite like finishing a walk and finding a fat, engorged leech in your sock. They usually reward being rudely disturbed by exploding like a little bladder of blood. Should probably wear gaiters next time it’s wet.
Usually, there are some spectacular views from Daves Creek, but not today. It’s quite a peculiar walking experience though. There have been some significant bushfires through here recently. The undergrowth, usually several meters tall, brilliant green and meeting above the path to form a verdant tunnel, is charred and somewhat apocalyptic. It’s like walking through a forest of black sticks, with the smell of the wet ashes somewhat comforting. Eucalyptus and burnt wood. Clear of the rainforest, the wind is ferocious, and although it’s not raining as such, we’re up in the thick clouds so it feels like it is most of the time. Coming to the first escarpment, we’re almost rewarded with a view. The clouds are scudding so fast it look like a time-lapse film. Yargorui cave is just visible, veiled by a white flume of cloud, but after a moment, I realise I’m looking at a waterfall being blown back up over itself. It’s an incredible sight, like a stream of thick white smoke being exhaled into a fan. I tried taking some photos, but nothing did it justice, so I had to settle for one of the valley that really shows the fire damage.
Carrying on around the ridge, we caught a break in the wind and managed to get past the cascade while it was falling ‘correctly’. Breaking from the path, we headed down to the cave in search of a bit of shelter to make a brew. Unfortunately, the cave was anything but dry, as the waterfall was being blown into it. Coffee would have to wait. I have a short video from inside the cave (shot with an iPhone safely encased in a ziplock bag) but unfortunately I’m unable to post it here. The Olympus stayed mostly packed away as I’ve still not gotten around to buying the weatherproof lens.
Coffee didn’t have to wait too long though, as there was a good break in the weather as we reached Picnic Creek. Simon walks like a Hobbit -his pack was full of just about everything (except for the Sam Gamgee-style pans clattering on the outside) and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had pulled out a skillet, stolen mushrooms and bacon. He set up the stove in a sheltered spot and fixed up some Walking Brew (coffee with evaporated milk from a tube. Bliss). Of course just as we were doing that, we bumped into our first walkers of the day -a large family ensconced in those disposable plastic ponchos, with several young teens with bare legs and mud-gummed trainers. They looked pretty sorry for themselves (rain and leeches), and one of the girls seemed unable to believe we were making a coffee by the side of the track. All they wanted to know was how far it was back to Binna Burra. Dad looked a bit fed up, and I had flashbacks to how I used to feel when my Nan would take me on those never-ending walks that just turned into sore-footed misery and the repeated promise of ‘it’s just over the next hill’. They didn’t linger, but we did -the coffee was great and made me realise how much I missed my little stove. Something to pick up in the sales I think.
The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful. We stopped at Surprise Rock, which is an exposed ridge of rock that has resisted the surrounding erosion, and though we scrambled up for a look, it was just too wet and windy to walk across the top. It was impossible to raise yourself from anything other than a primal crouch, for fear of being torn away and scattered across the valley. The creeks were flowing well (though not as much as I thought they would be, but then the land was very dry so perhaps it’s having a good solid drink). Every ten minutes or so we’d stop for leech checks, and I ended up getting suckered about a half-dozen times, one of them chunky enough on my knee that when I accidentally squashed it I got a nice orange-sized bloom of a bloodstain through my wet pants. That’s going to itch for weeks.
Boots stayed beautifully dry (this was their first wet outing) which made a lot of difference, as Sarah’s old pair gave up the ghost on this walk and she had to endure wet feet for a few hours. Didn’t really use the weatherproofs, despite the rain. It was just a bit too humid for me (though Sarah wore hers the whole time without any problems). The knowledge of dry, clean clothes and a nice stop at the cafe in Beechmont on the way down was enough to make the last few repetitive kilometres back along the Border Track worth while. It was really a cracking walk, something very special with the weather, and a lovely contrast to the hot and horrible experience last month on Ship’s Stern.
This is one of my favourite tracks in the park, and it’s been several years since I’ve walked in its entirety. I tried a few weeks ago, but it was closed because of backburning. It’s the eastern-most track in the national park, and as a result, it has the most diverse ecosystems as the deep rainforest of the centre gives way to sheer cliffs, palm forests and even open dry eucalypt forest. 21 or so kilometers, with an approximate walking time of eight hours. It’s also probably the least shaded of the walks, which is why I ran into some trouble.
We get there in pretty good time (Sarah had a rare day off so she walked with me). We start out from Binna Burra at about 8am, and already the heat is palpable. The forecast was mid thirties (c), but once we hit the slopes of the Lower Bellbird circuit it cools off, but the humidity is still very high though. I’m stopping pretty frequently for photos, but not as much as usual as I’m quite aware we have a fairly long day ahead of us. The rainforest is still pretty dry-looking. None of the waterfalls we pass are flowing at anything other than a distant, buried trickle. We see quite a number of Red-Necked Pademelons feeding pretty close to the track. Timid, yet curious, and of course the birdsong is a symphony.
The Ships Stern is usually walked in a clockwise direction, and it shares its start with several other tracks, so the first few kilometres are quite familiar- you have to follow Bellbird for a time before Ships Stern splits away to the right. As is usual this time of year. Yangahla Lookout is spectacular, but hazy. One day I’ll get a clear panoramic shot from there. After starting these walks in the cool of Autumn, the heat washing up the valley is like opening an oven door. Directly opposite the lookout, the Ships Stern shoulders out from the valley, a heavily forested ridge scaled with rock outcrops. As usual, the illusion of both nearness and distant grandeur makes it look both easy and somewhat daunting. I’ve always thought it slightly inappropriately named, as to me, the pointed ridge line looks more like a ship’s bow than a stern. Maybe there’s an old story there.
The track starts with a descent down into the rainforest, then a steady climb out. It’s easy going; humid, but not terrifically so, and the path is nice and firm. The slope gradually increases to a moderate incline that soon as us puffing. We have lunch at Kooloobano Lookout, which isn’t halfway, but it is right at the tip of the ‘stern’ and is the point where the track doubles back along the eastern ridge. Smoked ham baguettes with cheese. Brilliant. It’s a deliciously open viewpoint, looking northward back down the valley, and is suitably dramatic. Rocks are baking, lizards are supercharged with energy. We watch for snakes but with the exception of one lightning-fast green tree snake, they’re nothing more than the occasional disappearing tail-tip.
We’re wilting after the long climb. My shirt is soaked, and here’s where the trouble begins. I’d rather carelessly overlooked the fact that a long stretch of the Ships Stern is on the eastern-escarpment and isn’t rain-forested. It’s in full sun on the hottest day of the season so far. It’s also just after noon. The sun is merciless, there’s very little shade. A breeze would sometimes kick up from the valley, but it was hot and dry, gritty. Far below us, toy cars threaded silently along the road, just little colored dots. The views are really quite wonderful, and there’s a point, about halfway along the eastern ridge where the path splits in two for a kilometer around a breathtaking rock wall. We choose the higher path (because it looks a bit more shaded). The forest here is open, and last time I walked it, several years ago, a bushfire had ripped through sometime previous so the undergrowth with low, almost heath-like sparse in places. Now, it’s mostly waist high grasses, shrubs and opportunistic young trees making the most of the light. A huge fuel load just waiting to dry out in a month or so, then be sparked into a bushfire by dry lightning or a careless walker. The biggest trees are scarred around their bases, the black char reaching up several meters. These fires are (mostly) natural. An ancient cycle that reduces and rejuvenates the ecosystem.
By the time we reach Guraigumai Rock, I’m really struggling. I don’t normally drink lots of water when I walk, but I’m gulping it, sweating and feeling decidedly unwell. Lunch is sitting like a brick in my stomach. We stop for a while, shrugging off day packs (we’d loaded up with waterproofs on top of the usual gear as there were storms forecast for the evening, and in the forested mountains they sometimes strike without warning as you can’t generally see the sky to get warning). It started with just feeling a bit dizzy, but then Sarah was looking at me, and all I could focus on was the darkness that was creeping in at the edges of my vision. She steers me to a log and I plop down. I don’t black out, but I come close several more times. Drink lots of water. According to the map, we have about seven kilometers left, which wasn’t that many, but it’s still really hot and we’re now very low on water, and as I’ve mentioned before, this area is very dry so there are no streams running, so no chance of refilling. So of course once you start thinking about how little water there is, you become more thirsty, and I’m pretty sure I am suffering from dehydration and a little bit of heat stroke, and of course Sarah is hot and thirsty too. But there’s nothing for it. We have to walk out. It’s not a very nice feeling, but you just have to get on with it.
It’s hard to enjoy walking like this, but it’s still a magic area, and once we’re back heading westward, it starts to cool down. I check the map, looking to see if there was any chance of finding water. Nothing we’d crossed so far was running, but I see Ballunjui Cascade a couple of kilometers along the track. I know these falls from other walks, and they’re quite large, and I figure they’ll probably be flowing reasonably well. Problem is, they’re not directly on the track, and it’s bit of a round trip to them. As much as I don’t want to extend the day any more than I have to, by this point we’re out of water, and although it’s not that far out, I’m still not feeling very well and we’re both very thirsty. We take the chance.
I can hear the falls flowing long before we see them. In the forest, water sounds like wind; a low, persistent white noise that seems to fluctuate like breath. After following the thin, dog-legging track down into a gully, we finally see the falls. They’re not exactly the cascade as advertised, but the stream is flowing pretty well and the water is clean and cold. I fill one water bottle, then filter it through the microfibre of my floppy hat into my wide-necked Nalgene bottle (microfibre lives up to its name and is a pretty good filter at a push). It takes a while to drip through, but I want to make sure I remove any bugs and grit. I don’t have an active filter with me, and after one of my last walks I’m somewhat reluctant to drink the water untreated, but these falls are quite away from the common areas so they should be fine. There are quite a few blue crayfish in the pools too. The water tastes amazing, as it usually does when you’re very hot, dusty and thirsty, and because we’re not too far from the finish, we drink our fill.
We walk clear with sloshing bellies, and for the last couple of kilometres, the canopy above us is stirred to restlessness by the wind. The light is dropping significantly, and through gaps in the green, I can see grey clouds scudding eastbound. There’s a typical Queensland late-afternoon storm brewing. It doesn’t feel like it’ll hit us yet, but thunder is grumbling on the other side of the range. By the time we emerge at Binna Burra, erratic, fat rain is falling, big drops with enough space between them that they kind of feel almost deliberately-aimed.
The usual flask of coffee awaits us (as do two ticks on poor Sarah), and the drive home is an adventure in traffic as the storms finally hit us on the freeway, but it’s not too bad. Lots of barking and flashing, but little rain.
Lessons have been learned, and I’ll take a bit more care next time.
Start: Green Mountains Class 4 17.4km rtn (my GPS tagged it as 22k) Approx 6hrs
After Confirming my Masters on Friday (which basically means the university like the project and I can continue for a bit longer) I took off on Wednesday at 6:30am, deciding I had enough time to do one of the day walks. Problem I have is getting though first the Brisbane traffic then hitting the Gold Coast right at peak time. It took me over 2 hours to get to the Green Mountains (which are another 30-odd km farther along than Binna Burra). Something to think about when it comes to the long day walks like Ship’s Stern and Mt Hobwee.
Easy drive up, though we had a very nasty little storm come through on Monday, and I wonder if it loosened things up a bit as there were a lot of rockfalls on the mountain roads. Nothing too dramatic. O’Reilly’s was pretty empty, but then it was midweek.
I’ve not walked the Toolona Circuit before. It’s a creek track, following the crease of a gorge, bisecting two points of the Border Track (which spines so many walks here). So it starts on the Border, first on wide wooden decking, then graded gravel. The sheer number of visitors here means damage mitigation is essential, especially considering the beginning of the Border Track leads to the famous Airwalk and then on to the botanic gardens. That’s a lot of feet.
I dip off the Border at the start of the twisty little Box Forest Circuit. Still graded and easy to follow. It’s a stunning day, not a cloud above and the light through the canopy is equally soft and shattered. Oh, I have new boots as well. After much research, I picked up a pair of Scarpa Cyrus gtx. Lovely, lightweight (but still mostly leather) Gore-Tex lined stomping machines that are funky enough that I can wear them around town. I mentioned in the post before that my Deltas are just too big and heavy for 99% of the conditions in Queensland. Well these should be perfect for here and the large amount of urban walking I do (and no I’m not being sponsored by anyone).
First stop of the day is Picnic Rock, which is at the top of Elabana Falls. There’s actually not a lot to see here, the real spot is below, following a switchback and a slight detour. It’s here that I walked over the Red-Bellied Black Snake. Funny thing is, I did actually see it, but it’s been such a long time since I’d seen snake in here that my first thought was one of annoyance that someone had dropped a child’s plastic toy on the path. Then, of course, it moved. It was only a small one, maybe a metre and a bit long, and quite sluggish as it was a fairly shady path. Beautiful though, and silent as it melted back into the green.
Red-Bellied Black Snake
What’s in there..?
Elabana Falls is the picture postcard waterfall of Lamington. I’m looking at a photo of it now, on the map cover. I’ve not been here for a good few years but it’s barely changed (I suppose it wouldn’t, really). I mooch around, taking a few photos. It’s nice to have the place to myself. There’s a surprising amount of crap around. Lolly wrappers, orange peel, and, most alarmingly, little clumps of white toilet paper right next to the water course.
I return to the switchback, and the Toolona Track starts proper. As I mentioned before, this is a creek track, so it’s winding, steep, damp and overgrown. Excellent. I’m not going to list all the waterfalls (there’s around 15), and as it’s a pretty steep gorge, so some of them are pretty high. Birdlife is everywhere, and there’s also a surprising amount of potaroos around, darting off into the scrub, usually nothing much more than little explosions of chaos. I’m the first one through here, at least for today, if not longer. The track is criss-crossed with cobwebs that I break though, mummifying me by microns at a time. The ground is damp, but not really muddy, and through the creek is flowing nicely, it does look a little low. Still, we are coming off the dry season. I imagine in full flood this gorge would be a cacophony.
I wonder how long before it falls
It’s an interesting path. It crosses the stream, doubles back on itself, wanders precariously up the side of the gorge then seems to change its mind heads back over the stream. There’s only one moment of confusion, where a blaze points in a vague direction, but a moment of looking around carefully, I spotted the other blaze, across the water, and upon further investigation I found the track ambling upwards again. Mentally, it’s an easy path to lose yourself on, especially if you’re a photographer. The only time I came to physical grief was because of a fresh deadfall. Now, sometimes these are as simple as hopping over (or under) a trunk, but this one… it was basically like working my way through a horizontal tree canopy, complete with a slick, mossy 1.5m thick trunk. I managed to skin my hands, slipping as I straddled the wood (I imagine the sight would have been a bit amusing). Eventually I had to discard my backpack (filled with camera, lenses, tripod and lunch) to wiggle through a gap. All good fun, if a bit messy.
So there’s one thing that happened on the track that I wasn’t sure I was going to write about until just now.If you’re a bit squeamish about bodily functions, skip down until you see the happy photo of the bird. So I’m walking along a relatively flat and level section, boxed in by trees and scrubby bushes, but not that close, pressed atmosphere of the gorge, when I come across a shit. Believe me, I sat here tying to think how best to describe this, but in all reality, it was a huge, human shit. On a rock. On the path. Few days old I guess (bit I’m no expert). There were no attempts to hide it (not even paper or leaves), it was just on a rock that was part of the trail edging. At first I was simply revolted, but as I walked on, I found myself dwelling on it a lot (which is nothing new as my mind turns in on itself when I walk and simple ideas become internalised epics). This wasn’t just somebody caught short, I mean that happens to all of us at some point on a day-long hike. This was a statement shit. I mean, who does that? I’m 10km into the rainforest here, with at least another 7km to go, so we’re not talking about a casual visitor wearing thongs and being a wanker.
I just don’t get it. I don’t understand the mentality behind someone who would do that.
It’s bad enough that on the walks within 5km of the start zones if you stop at a waterfall or a viewpoint, there’s inevitably piles of toilet paper crammed into rocks, behind a tree, or simply just left within a step or two of the path. I realise that they’re stopping points, and if someone is going to feel the urge, it’ll be then, but fuck… I see it everywhere now. I understand most people don’t walk with a trowel, but how fucking hard is it to bury crap, or at least cover it over far enough away from the track (and waterways) so that people don’t have to see it. I just don’t get it. It’s a World Heritage Site, and other than that pretty important title, it’s a fucking magical place, an inspirational place. I would never drink from the waterways in this park unless I was very deep, and even then I’d boil the hell out of it. I don’t have any answers. I’m not sure that there are any really.
Ok, back to the track, though I imagine the balance between tourism, access and environmental damage is something I’ll have to revisit again.
White-Browed Scrub Wren
The switchbacks are a bit more frequent (and there’s a special place in Hell for people who shortcut them and score ugly great eroded gashes in the hillside. Right, I promise that’s my last grouch for today). Looking at the map I can see I only have a few more waterfalls left, so at each one I shed my pack and hop around with rock pools looking for a Lamington Spiny Crayfish. These bright blue crustaceans can get to over 13cm in length, and are sometimes found wandering the paths in the rain, hissing and waving their claws at people. I was lucky enough to have a huge one walk over my boot while I was resting on one of my very first trips here, and I was eager to find some more. At the third set of pools, I managed to find a couple of smaller ones (4cm or so). Damn they move quick in the water. I tried to get a photo, but surprisingly the vivid blue didn’t show up too well against the mud of the pools. Another time.
So, out of the gorge and up onto the Border Track. The Toolona Lookout offers a view all the way to the sea in NSW. It’s a lovely clear day and I can even see the white frosting of breakers. Mt Toolona is just off the right, and caps out at 1189m, which is quite respectable for around here. The Border Track is easy, flat and simple to follow (which is lucky as there have been a couple of times when I’ve misjudged how much I fart around with my cameras and have had to walk out in the near-dark). The stands of Antarctic Beeches are just beautiful. They seep age. Lamington contains the most northerly stands of these amazing trees. Whereas the leaves of the Tasmanian ones I walked on recently were small, like pistachio shells, these are broad like the ones in England, though the trunks, seemingly dying from the inside out, remind me more of the colossal grandfather Oaks that dot Hayes Common in my native Kent.
No real surprises along the Border, although it is a fair bit muddier than I expected it to be and the boots get a bit of a workout. I’ve still not seem another person on this walk. Bliss.
Held safe by the tree roots
Lewin’s Honeyeater feasting on the White Bottlebrush
The closer I get to the end, the more abundant the birdlife becomes, and as I emerge back into O’Reilly’s, I bump into a group of photographers making the most of the wildlife. There was a time when I would have envied those lenses the length of my arm, but after walking 80-odd kilometres of the Overland Track in Tassie carrying heavy glass and a big DSLR, I’m so glad I traded for this Olympus system.
After how tired I was driving home last time, I’d made myself a flask of coffee. It was magic just sitting on the grass watching the birds and unwinding. But one final surprise was waiting for me down near the car…
So. Walk 1 of about 24. Originally, I’d planned to hike the Ships Stern Circuit, which is one of my favourites, but I was a bit late in getting down the coast so I settled for a half-dayer. Turns out the Ship’s Stern was closed because of back burning anyway (a process here in Australia where sections of nationals parks are stripped of potentially dangerous underbrush by the process of burning it back. It helps to protect houses from bushfires in the dry months, but it’s a pretty horrible for people like me with asthma and air pollution in general. There are a lot of pros and cons). It was the tail end of the school holidays so there were quite a few cars up at Binna Burra. That was pretty much why I’d stayed away from the Green Mountains this time. It just gets too busy up there. As it was I encountered one group on the trip at a breath-taking lookout, standing around playing Pokemon Go. I just don’t get that.
The Lower Bellbird actually shares the first few kilometres with Ship’s Stern. It’s an easy walk, following the ridgeline mostly, and passing the beautiful Yangahla Lookout (there’s a photo from there in the previous post) before finally beginning to descend. The path draws a wavy down through the elbow of the valley then out away to the north. I find myself crossing the same trickle of a creek a number of times. It’s been dry, but sometimes I can clearly hear water running somewhere under the debris of the dead, moss-sprayed trees and rockfalls. It’s a lovely temperature, but I’m sweating, mostly because this is my first big walk since the Overland Track in June, and I’m quite unfit (the perils of sitting behind a desk writing). I’m also slightly nervous about my boots. Well, not my boots as such, my ankles that are in the boots. During the last couple of days on the Overland, my ankles took a beating, mostly from my boots being frozen solid each night (the story of my Overland adventures will be in a series of stories and a book next year) but also from the continual dropping down large sofa-sized slabs of quartzite whilst carrying a 25kg backpack (we walked the track in reverse, so we ending up in the mountains). Oh, and also I’m much older than I used to be. Anyway, I’ve not worn my Scarpas since, and because they’re heavy leather Deltas, there’s not much call for them up here in Queensland, short of a very wet, muddy Lamington. But not today. It’s dry and hard, but the boots feel fine. I’m still going to look into a lighter pair though. I really don’t need the Deltas here.
I was trying to recall if I’d walked this track before, but I remembered I had as soon as I hit Wojigumai Cave. Not so much a cave as an eroded fault line, it’s still really impressive. The texture of the contrasting rocks is wonderful, and with the rock face rising above, it acts as a scoop for the breeze. I’ve always loved the hiss of the wind through the canopy. It sounds like something is alive up there, restless. It’s the quality of breath, the way the forest inhales and exhales on a scale far grander than us. Occasionally, as I walk, the wind will pick up fragments of other walkers talking, or a bark of laughter, on the ridge opposite and carry them across the valley like leaves so that is sounds like they are right behind me. Other times the sound of the leaves is like distant traffic, but never it is silent.
There are a few open patches of damaged forest, and I seem to recall hearing about a very big and isolated storm out this way maybe a year ago. Where the trees have fallen it hasn’t taken long for the understory to erupt into the new light, and the small cluttered clearing is dotted with flowers and the low, gentle hum of insects.
The track is easy, nothing even remotely tricky, which is kind of nice as it frees me up to look for opportunities to test the new camera. Problem with shooting in a rainforest though is that unless you focus on something specific like a bird, a snake or flower, it’s really hard to convey the sense of depth through the lens.
It’s also tricky to capture the quality of the light with a snapshot of a moment in time when it’s so fluid and alive.
A couple of hours in and I clear the rainforest, out into an area of cut brush that I assume is for a helicopter. Perfect spot for a cup of tea. Clear of the forest it’s surprisingly blowy. Probably too windy for the back burning, which would explain why I’ve not smelled any burning. The final 3 or so miles are a bit dull -following the road back past the ranger station to where I left the car, but I come across a sullen-looking bowerbird sitting on the verge (I actually saw it sitting there driving in). I can almost hear its bothered sigh as it lifts off into the trees. For a moment I consider following it, so see if I can find its bower, but the day is getting on and its a very scrubby drop.
One last treat awaits me at the car. The bush I’m next to must be giving off some sort of aroma, as its dusted in confetti of little butterflies.
Right, coffee at Beechmont, then time to hit the traffic home.
At the moment, music is taking a bit of a back seat as I’m over at the University of Queensland studying for a Master of Philosophy in Creative Nonfiction Writing for the next couple of years (yes there is such a thing as creative nonfiction, but I’ll get into that in another post). Basically, I’m writing a big thesis on the Overland Track in Tasmania, which I walked in June. The opportunity to go and be a postgrad at UQ, and study Nature Writing and Wilderness, a form of writing that has quite honestly been a life-long passion, was too good not to jump at.
While I work on the thesis (a series of interconnected essays about Wilderness and the Track) I’m basically submerging myself in the genre. I’ll be walking a whole lot more, writing articles and taking a lot of pictures.
My Tasmanian walking companion, Zane, has inspired me to take up a little side project. Zane is currently working his way through climbing every peak in Tasmania classified an ‘Abel’ (The Tasmanian version of our Munros. Basically, a mountain over 1100m in height with a drop of at lease 150m on all sides -named after Abel Tasman). Zane is climbing all 158 before Winter 2017. His blog is AbelZane Blog and is well worth a read. My little project is nowhere near as grand.
I’m going to walk all the tracks in Lamington National Park. There are 24 marked trails, ranging in length from simple strolls through to the 21.4km walk that links O’Reilly’s Guesthouse with Binna Burra. The history of the marking of the tracks is pretty fascinating, and I think I’ll deal with that in another blog post. There are also a scattering of other ‘off trail’ walks deeper into the National Park that I want to take a look at. Most of the tracks are graded Class 4, which means they can be very steep, rocky and there’s not a lot of signage, in all the yeas I’ve been walking here I’ve never struggle to follow the route, and they’re quite highly trafficked. Still, people get lost in this park all the time.
Lamington is a 20,600 hectare area of World Heritage Area (part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia). Most of the park is 900m above sea level, meaning it’s substantially cooler than Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast. It has a variety of ecosystems,from heathland, to caves, many creeks and waterfalls (over 500) and is primarily subtropical rainforest, and of course the flora and fauna is incredible (I once had a 7-inch long blue crayfish walk over my submerged boot in one of the creeks).
So, I’m not walking these in any particular order, just what takes my fancy on the day. No idea how long this will take (though I think I’d like to try and do one trip down there a week).I’m simply doing this to give myself a bit of a challenge while I pursue this degree, and hopefully give me nice amount of locally-produced writings and photos.
As I write this, sitting in my favourite local coffee shop, I can see it, scrabbling around in the small tree on the other side of the road. There’s a murder in the Japanese maple behind the house, but it doesn’t seem to be part of that. This one’s watching me. Its eye is blue, like someone punched a hole through a painting to the sky beyond.
A few mornings of the week, I leave early with S. She hops on the bus, and I walk the few miles through some parklands to this cafe to work. I’m not a big fan of where we live. For years I lived on the Southside, with its rich bounty of old shops, leafy streets, rolling hills and much less traffic. We moved through necessity, but I’ve never really settled here. To me, the Northside just feels like residential plots build around trunk roads.
But there are some gems here. I’ve been walking the area, checking out the little coffee shops that are blooming all over Brisbane like Japanese knotweed. Most are just opportunistic ventures. There’s a distinct trend of finding an old parade of shops (that would have been a thrumming little suburban strip in the 60s-70s) then popping a coffee shop into an old disused shop that was once a bakery, or a clothes mender, or a small accountants. Most of these look exactly like a coffee shop put into little disused shop that was once a bakery, or a clothes mender, or a small accountants. A few ‘vintage’ knick-knacks, a chalkboard, some nice cakes, and coffee. Most are souless, and don’t last more than six months (a lease on the shop, perhaps), but some are run with love, and it shows.
I have an internal chart of the best coffees I’ve ever had. Top of the list is Monmouth Street in London. The coffee I have had there deserves its own blog post, and it’s the only place where I’ve ever gotten into an argument with a barista over coffee (he was right, the Mandehling was best black). A very close second is Vilinos in Hobart. The best double ristretto on milk I’ve ever had. The requirements for my internal chart can’t really be written out. It’s not just about the actual coffee (I have many places I love that serve a pretty average brew). It’s about the soul of the place and the people.
Well, where I’m sitting is in the top 10. I’m not yet on casual speaking terms with the people here, despite coming here since the new year (I have a really severe ‘frowny thinking wanker face’, so I’m pretty unnapproachable when I’m working. Some would say always), but their coffee is sublime, and they have a choice of roasts too.
I’d like to run one someday, though I doubt the cafe I have in my mind would ever completely be realised (short of us finding a staggering amount of money and time under a couch cushion. It’s something I’ve talked about for over a decade, and something I think perhaps will eventually happen, just not this year, or next. Them’s the Study Years.
But back to the crow. It accompanied me for at least a mile, from midway through the parklands to the coffee shop, flying from tree to tree, often seeming to wait for me to catch up. A Crow Spirit following me to coffee. I like the idea of that.
While I’m away on tour I generally get up at dawn, stealth a quick coffee then slip out the hotel door. It’s a habit born of restless legs and a somewhat frustrating ability not to be able to sleep late in a strange bed. Today, I’m in George Town. Here with Sarah to perform at the lovely little Tamar Valley Festival right up at the top of the little island of Tasmania off southern Australia. I love Tasmania, it’s like coming home. Even more so at the moment as the difference in temperature between here and Brisbane is over 25 degrees and a swimming pool of humidity less. It reminds me a lot of England.
It’s five am and blowing a gale outside. The sun is shining but it’s only about 7 degrees. I don’t have a coat, only a fleece and a long sleeved shirt (we left Brisbane at 38 degrees, 95% humidity and expected the same temperatures -sans humidity- here so we packed quite light). A friend once told me I have nails for blood because I rarely feel the cold. The heat is another thing altogether.
There’s an oddly ceremonial feel about pulling on an old pair of walking boots.
They don’t so much fit as encase; they’re more foot casts than boots. Laces seem almost an afterthought. My boots can all tell stories. I walk them to death then very reluctantly buy a new pair. There’s a lovely synchronicity about the newish Scarpas I’m wearing. The pair they replaced (a mere 10 year old pair of Caterpillars that somehow far exceeded my expectations) are actually resting in Launceston, 30 miles from here, having suddenly arrested during my last trip to the Tamar. They’re planted out in a friend’s garden with herbs, slowly returning to the earth. Very fitting. These new ones were broken in on Cradle Mountain, as much of a baptism of mud, water and rock as they could have. I have urban boots and mountain boots. My mountain boots (a pair of full-leather Scarpas) are over twenty five years old. The idea of being buried standing at some wilderness spot, anchored by them is very appealing.
The main street is deserted. I can hear the distant rumble of a car somewhere but it’s the wind that snatches me. It’s not cold enough to be a slap in the face, more like a stiff shove from a chilled oven mitt, and straight away I’m leaning into it, zipping the fleece up over my neck and my hands are quickly nested in my pockets.
Low Head is my aim this morning, a lighthouse further up the estuary, along a river track greened by gorse, blackberry and button grass. The sun is coming up slowly, and I’m sharing the path with Silver Gulls, necks turtled into their bodies the same way mine is in my fleece. They stomp away from me like grumpy old men, occasionally lifting into flight that more often than not sees them carried backwards on the wind. The larger Pacific Gulls are more stoic, standing in conferring groups on the little islands exposed by the tide. The river has been coaxed by a stiff brush into stippled life. The Tamar is wide here, estuarine, taking a long exhaling breath after the rushing adventures of Cataract Gorge upstream in Launceston
Fingers guiltily stained with blackberry juice, I leave the path for the shoreline and as usual my eyes follow by moving from the sky to the stones under my feet. Cuttlebones litter the shore like pale spear blades, featherweight, they’re blown east by the wind like jellyfish. I’m searching for a talisman stone, something to pick up and hold as I walk. It’s an old habit I have trouble explaining. It’s not so much souveniring as having some sort of connection to where I am, something to carry, to warm in my hand as I explore. Stooped and searching, I find a bird’s egg quite by chance. Breathtakingly camouflaged against the muted myriad of stone browns and quartz. I nearly pick it up as my stone, so perfect is the pattern and position, but I leave it be. There’s no sign of the owner, but I’m sure I’m being watched from the gorse, so I move along.
When I break free of the shelter of the tall gorse, the sun on my back is earnest, almost apologetically eager. The wind is still insistent, but at least now there is warmth. My rambling along the shoreline away from the track has proven to be my undoing, and after a series of leaps and some tracking inland through the scrub, I realise I’ve reached the point where I can go no further without getting either wet or suddenly learning flight. But I’ve found a small inlet, almost a bay, isolated from the prescribed path. The resignation of having to backtrack a fair way is almost immediately offset by the thought of a swim. I’ve not long finished reading Roger Deakin’s wonderful book, Waterlog, where the noble narrator would shed his clothes at some remote location and wild swim with the enthusiasm of a fox cub. Alas I have neither the courage nor the fortitude for such actions, but for a short while it’s a very appealing thought.
Doubling back, I chance across some more blackberries within a sunsplashed tangle. It’s really too early in the summer for them, but a few have ripened to little glassy raven-bead clusters (with just enough youth in them to make my mouth tingle). I remember blackberrying expeditions back in Kent, England, during the long dog days of the August school holidays. Daring ourselves to go deeper into the living (and often seemingly sentient) thorn to try and find the most perfect berry. I have memories, no doubt magnified by time and age, of finding blackberries the size of golf balls that would explode like ink bombs. These are tiny, but no less appealing, and I wrap them carefully in a handkerchief to take back to Sarah. I didn’t make it to Low Head. As usual, my wanderings have eaten away the early morning, and with the sun very much risen but the wind no less insistent, I head back to the hotel and the promise of another coffee.