Lamington National Park, Walk 5: Upper Ballunjui Falls Track

Start: Binna Burra
Class 4
12kms
Approx 4hrs

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.

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Storm Damage

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.

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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.

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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.

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Lord of his Domain

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.

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Nargarigoon Falls

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.

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Not a bad spot for lunch

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.

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The Unfurling

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.

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I swallowed a few of these buggers…

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.

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The Sun in the Stream
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