You’ve got to be joking. Spend a night in a tent at Girraween when the forecast is for sleet. I don’t think so. Have we have gone soft ? Maybe. We even took the civilian route and were simply amazed to find that it is bitumen all the way to the park entrance. Our previous routes along Mt Lindsay Highway, the back of Moogerah Dam, The Head Road and White Swamp Rd were as far away from the main highway as our nice warm bed was from a tent and sleet.
Mind you, that did not stop us ending up on roads that would have been better suited for a 4WD as we found ourselves returning to Warwick via a graded Old Stanthorpe Rd. Eventually we did find the Fruit Run, a collection of stalls that remained a vivid yet distant memory of the best apples I have ever eaten in Australia. Since the diversion of the main flow of traffic this once gay selection of stalls, orchards and wineries had become tired. Much was for sale, including the orchard where we purchased some pretty tragic “new season” apples. Yet across the road the rail tracks could be the salvation for this now quiet service road. No one has captured the “new black” cycling movement. Those poncy blighters just love flaunting their branded behinds and what better way to do it than on very exclusive and seasonally determined boutique cycle tours of the orchards, wineries and B&Bs. People speak so highly of the Otago Rail Trail, yet here is an exemplary setting for what could become a state asset for cycle touring. Backed by magnificent country lanes like Rabbit Proof Fence Road and the stunning scenery around Storm King Dam leading into Girraween National Park. Those driven by endorphins could finish their day with a run up the Pyramid for the sunset. This entire area could become cycle heaven with exquisite birdlife and just enough threat from deadly reptiles to give life a real edge.
By the time we poked our noses into camp we were surprised to find the place relatively empty. Graham and Christina were established in well executed comfort in the same possie as last year. We recognised Joan but she didn’t have much time to talk as Stu was quickly disappearing on their walk to the creek. Having pitched tent and filled it with no less than five sleeping bags we headed off for a walk to The Junction. We had nominated this weekend for Girraween as in October 2008 the wild flowers had been spectacular. This year was very different. The flowers were fewer in number and variety. According to the locals it had remained very cold until the last week or so. With the recent abrupt start to searing summer temperatures in Brisbane, the only reason why we decided to come down was that the forecast was for a comfortable 23C during the day. At The Junction massive granite boulders morphed into a mouthing lung fish and a predatory goanna. On our return we greeted some late afternoon walkers who, unbeknownst to them, were followed by a spectacular red belly black which quickly wended its way back into the undergrowth.
Back at camp the group had returned from a walk to Mt Norman. The bush walkers had showed their metal by climbing to the summit, where the soles of Ray’s shoes selected a precarious moment to fall apart. The fire had been lit and while I had some wasabe peas to light Peter’s fire, the opportunity did not avail itself as this crew were into dinner and bed toute suite. The firebug remained a faithful worshipper while bullfrogs croaked from tents and we promised Umi that we would get her up The Pyramid in the morning and that spider impressions were perfectly normal behaviour on granite outcrops.
The BOM delivered a glorious day with dutiful accuracy. The female satin bowerbirds delighted with their cheeky behaviour and curious calls, the currawong studied the rubbish bag with intent, while the superb fairy wrens chased insects in the long grass. A trail of walkers went to the base of The Pyramid where some said their farewell. Umi is not keen on heights and I can relate to her reticence in climbing to the top. Having people like Ray around is priceless at times like this as not much fazes him. Dean is another although he tarnished his silver cape status when he took delight in my five point contact strategy. On return to camp most people were packing so Mark and I went for a walk to The Sphinx. There were remarkably few flowers. Even the flannel flowers remained in bud. On the way back an even larger eastern brown nonchalantly crossed the path a mere 10 feet in front of me. I froze, not as a strategy, as Mark had assumed, but out of fear. It was not until he touched my arm that I was able to respond. Jeepers if that snake had come up the path, I don’t know if I would have been able to do anything. I gave him a good 10 seconds grace after he slipped silently into the long grass.
Coming back through Castle Hill Camp Ground we discovered that there was a crowd, but we were isolated from them by their large campers which were lined up end on end like a car park. Bald Rock Camp Ground was ghostly in comparison being in the possession of just Graham and Christina. To our delight the impossibly fat wonga pidgeon had turned up and was strutting his stuff. Our fireplace had been stocked with timber that had the hallmark of Ted. We enjoyed a really beautiful warm fire that evening and slept soundly.
The next day we were keen to check out Dr Roberts waterhole and see if we could find our way to the top of the creek as last time we had seen people walking through the dry creek bed while others called from somewhere up above. I don’t know how we missed the trail as it was clearly trampled. We followed it around to find a granite plateau carved by the running creek spilling over into worn splash pools. A curious stair like a granite fault line transected the main rock face and promised to channel a spectacular flow of water during summer deluges. Delicate daisies anchored in a mere scrape of decomposed granite flowered defiantly. Bright orange lichen and Cunningham skinks lingered in the shelter of massive boulders. Then it was back to camp where we enjoyed some of Christina’s magnificent baking.
After we ate lunch in the Rotary Park overlooking the river in the centre of town we called into the Stanthorpe Visitors Centre. You have to hand it to the Stanthorpe. With only 5 000 residents the Centre was an impressive set up and the woman we spoke with was most helpful. Soon we were looking down at the town from the local lookout. There is a short concrete walking path encircling the telecommunications hub on the summit. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to pour concrete up here while the gate across the road access was padlocked with style. We took our tourist map and went out of town on a local road which took us by even more wineries. The sheer number of was remarkable, how could they all survive aside primary production tax breaks ? Some orchids looked like they had gone under with rotting netting cast adrift massive wooden scaffolds. The map had fine light grey lines near the edge indicating a series of small roads, including one called Rabbit Proof Fence Rd. With a name like that it was no the check it out agenda. Soon we were on a quiet road with a slight grade and shaded by eucalypts – it was charming and would be ideal for cycling.
We popped out onto the Fruit Run then went back via Boonah which was busting out with the biggest collection of campers and caravans we had even seen. The Caravan and Camping Association had come to town and filled the show grounds with a sea of white boxes with more spilling over into various parks around the town. No wonder the truckies were grumbling on the UHF – getting stuck behind a convey of those converging on Boonah would rip the schedule out of your day. Just before the top of Cunningham’s Gap we pulled over in the car park on the left for a quick walk around the lookout circuit which in the Main Range National Park. Graham spoke very highly of this park, although I would hope that where you camp would be spared the constant growl of trucks. Where we were there was no getting away from the constant noise. The map indicated some interesting looking tracks that would make a good one way walk with the aim to hand over keys with another group coming from the other direction – much like a walk from Bald Rock across to the Mt Norman Day Use area seems like a future day walk option.
Each time we go walking, it seems inevitable that we will see snakes, something Mark finds really funny given that he spent a childhood running around the bush and never saw one. Each time we go to Girraween I would like to go back with the bicycles. And each time we pull into an unfamiliar National Park it presents some really good looking trails. Each time we go off road we find some really fascinating routes that at times would be hard to retrace. We may have gone a bit soft, but certainly not soft on our love of the great South East and all there is to see and do.