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.