Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mount Larcom

Two hours into driving north to Rockhampton and I was melting down from inactivity. We were passing Gladstone and Mount Larcom, to the west, offered a good walk and a viewpoint from which to see our upcoming sea kayak trip. The access is north along Targinie Road to Lyn Road and a small gravel parking lot. As we had our caravan, we parked at the bottom of Lyn Road and walked up.

Mount Larcom

Surprisingly, for such a scenic walk so close to two large centres - Rockhampton and Gladstone - there were few people on the track - at least at first. The track is marked with paint splotches and tree triangles, but as it is eroded about 2 metres wide, you would have to try really, really hard to lose it.

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For the first 1.5 to 2 km, the track is flat, apart from dips into and out of gullies, and heads west until you are below a saddle north of the small rocky peak. This is where the elevation gain begins, and it is a steep, but easy climb up to the saddle. Once at the saddle, the peak is a short 130 metres above capped with a brief but potentially slippery rock scramble.

Doug on Mount Larcom

There are good views north to the Keppel Group of islands, south to Rodds Peninsula and east to the scattered islands along the reef. After a short stay, we walked back inexplicably encountering 98% of the people we saw along the way in the first 2% of the track. All up, it took us under 3 hours, but YMMV.

Looking north from Mount Larcom

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fraser Island Sea Kayak

Urangan to Big Woody Island:

Pack a sea kayak for an ocean kayaking trip at any boat ramp in Australia and some old white guy with a gut - and I don't mean Santa - will come along and begin lecturing you on the dangers of setting out to sea in such a small, and, to an outsider at least, clearly unsuitable vessel. Right on cue, as we were loading our kayaks with a weeks worth of food and water at the strangely quiet Urangan marina, along came the old white guy lobbying out his opening salvo of "Do you know about wind on tide?"

It was windy; blowing strongly enough that when we had lunch before leaving, I had to make the salad behind a fortress built of dry bags to prevent the lettuce from being blasted over the parking lot. Perhaps that was why the marina, with three 4 lane public boat ramps and a couple of other private boat ramps, was so strangely quiet.

The old white guy hung around right up until we paddled off from the boat ramp, alternately complaining about modern times and trying to convince us that we faced certain death outside the marina walls. As Doug pulled away from the boat ramp, he shouted one last warning "The current will be ripping once you exit the marina."

It is only four kilometres across to Big Woody Island, passing by Round Island along the way. At low tide, the two islands are joined by a big sand flat, but at mid tide, we could paddle between the two islands to a small barely distinguishable point on the NW side of Big Woody Island where we camped for the night. This might seem like a pathetic effort for our first day out, and, you are probably thinking that the old white guy was right to be concerned about our safety, but, we wanted to catch an ebb tide across to Moon Point from Big Woody Island, and the high tide was really early in the morning.

As we were right around the shortest day of the year, the night seemed long, particularly when the bugs began to swarm around sunset (5.00 pm) forcing us into our tent. Morning could not come soon enough.

Sunset over Hervey Bay

Big Woody Island to Awinya Creek:

There is a big reef extending north from Big Woody Island that you have to clear before you paddle NE to Moon Point. Because Fraser is such a low sand island, Moon Point looks far away even though it is only about 8 kilometres. We started paddling across, our boats feeling heavy and sluggish so fully loaded, anticipating any moment to be hit by a strong northerly current but, it just didn't happen. The wind, however, was happening, blowing a solid 15 knots from the south with just enough westerly in it to fill our sails nicely and push us rapidly across to Moon Point.

It felt as if we flew past Moon Bank which, at all but the highest tides, is now dry and lightly vegetated, and continued sailing happily northward to Coongul Point. Moon Ledge, a long, low sandbank runs almost 6 km north from Moon Point to Coongul Point and offers shelter from the wind chop.

Coongul Creek forms a big and changing lagoon behind the beach and a number of yachts were moored in the lagoon. Sheltered anchorages are scarce for yachties out at Fraser Island and we were to find yatchs tucked into all kinds of unusual ancorages during our week long trip.

At Coongul Point we pulled in for breakfast and were enjoying the solitude until a couple of 4WD campers pulled up and began to unload all manner of gear. This was our cue to leave. It is inexplicable in a developed country (with a massive diabesity problem brought on by crappy food and sendentary lifestyles - but don't get me started) that the infernal combustion engine is allowed to drive just about everywhere in National Parks to the clear detriment of environmental values.

While we were onshore, the wind had switched to the southeast and was blowing at around 20 knots. We moved off-shore to catch the wind in our sails and, I at least, caught more than I bargained for. Due to some faulty kayak packing which left my bow too light, I could not hold my position and was gradually being blown west to the mainland.

After a couple of iterations of pull the sail down, beat into the wind back inshore, hoist the sail and get blown back out again, I settled in to a groove sailing along the shore-line with less wind, but more forward movement, while Doug sailed along further out.

Soon, it seemed like time to find somewhere to camp for the night as our aim for the trip was to paddle comfortable days not beat ourselves into the ground. However, we soon discovered that the best campsites (indeed, in some places the only camp sites) are beside creeks and all the creeks are accessible to vehicle based camping. Now the 4WD enthusiasts will scream and shout about this, but the reality is that where the infernal combustion engine goes loud music, drunken parties, huge (and illegal) bonfires, garbage and human excrement surely follow.

Tide, however, was in our favor as the camp area just south of Awinya Creek was now cut-off to vehicles from the south and north and we found a nice little spot sheltered from the wind beside a salt water lagoon. While we faffed around getting the tent up and wondering if those dark clouds scudding over head portended rain, it began to rain. We quickly got a tarp up but not soon enough to save much of our gear from a thorough soaking. Despite our plans to paddle easy days we had covered around 40 kilometres.

Fraser Island beach

Awinya Creek to Wathumba Creek:

One of the issues confronting a kayaker planning a trip to Fraser Island is the prevailing wind which blows almost incessantly from the south. This is great for speeding northwards up the island under sail, but results in some difficulty getting back. The last weather forecast we had was for light winds later in our trip so we had planned to paddle north for 3 days, allowing 4 days to paddle back south.

Wathumba Creek, which supposedly marks the limit of where vehicles are allowed to drive, was tantalizingly close, only about 13 km north. Today we planned to have an easier day, doddling up the island, past the vehicle zone and into blissful isolation.

It was a chilly morning and all our gear was wet so we had a later start than normal drying off what we could before packing it all away in the boats. I made sure to load the bow of my boat much more heavily in anticipation of a day sailing.

We had a light tail wind and found ourselves at Wathumba around lunchtime. A couple of yatchs were anchored in the lagoon, although at low tide, they sit dry on the sand. While we were having lunch, Steve, a friendly yatchie came by for a chat. Yatchies are really the only folks who understand sea kayakers and, as well as a good chat, Steve offers us water - which we don't need, but more importantly, an updated weather forecast - which we don't absolutely require but which no kayaker ever turns down.

Apart from the next day, when winds should be relatively light, the forecast is for moderate to strong southwesterly winds. Grand for sailing all the way to Rodney Point, but terrible for returning to Urangan.

We continue on, the lure of the vehicle free zone still strong although we now have some concerns regarding the paddle back to Urangan. We are now almost 60 km from Urangan, a distance we have covered quite easily in a couple of days, but, which will be a bugger to reverse if the forecast holds true.

Heading north we get in and out of the boats a couple of times at likely looking campsites but all we find is lumpy ground covered with long and scratchy salt resistant tussock grass. Landing and launching the boats repeatedly is difficult with the wind blowing onshore and wind waves washing into the boat continually.

Five or so kilometres north of Wathumba we see vehicles on the beach! Landing again, we find a vehicle track (new, one of our yatchie friends later tells us), and, for some inexplicable reason, Queensland Parks and Wildlife has allowed vehicles to drive out onto the beach and travel north and south for 50 to 100 metres. So, 4WD'ers being what they are, every vehicle on the island has to drive all the way to this northwest area of the island - that looks remarkably like the rest of the west coast - and right along to the sign prohibiting vehicles to the south and to the north, idle for 10 minutes, then turn around and drive off again. Braver drivers even edge past the sign before turning and returning on the bush track.

I'll admit we were finding Fraser Island a bit ordinary. Paddling up Platypus Bay, the scenery, while lovely, is all the same, and the continual rumble of vehicles driving mindlessly up and down was disturbing. We had seen virtually no bird-life - which can't be a surprise to anyone when the beach is as busy as a four-lane highway - and very little marine life. Getting away from the infernal combustion engine was not proving very easy, and, we had that strong wind forecast looming over us.

In the end, we decided to paddle back to Wathumba and a decent campsite rather than scratching out a lumpy bumpy one on the beach. Between Wathumba and the new track, the vehicles do not go, so we had some hope of a night away from bogans.

Paddling back into the wind was not as bad as we feared and we made reasonable headway, although by the time we had unloaded the kayaks and set up camp, it was dark. The moon, however, was nearly full, and the beach as bright as daylight, so we went for a lovely long walk. A pod of dolphins even cruised by the beach as the sun set.

Wathumba Lagoon fish

Wathumba to Awinya Creek:

Next morning we decided to have a day out of the boats exploring Wathumba Lagoon on foot once the tide went out. Steve thought this was a bit weird as it was the only day when the wind would be favorable for heading south, but now that we had given up paddling further north, we wanted to enjoy our time on Fraser Island, and Wathumba has the advantage of being away from vehicles.

As the tide drops, I go for a long exploration to discover the source of Wathumba Creek. The lagoon is almost completely dry and I walk a long way up river. Away from the vehicles, the sand is alive with soldier crabs, small fish, and other marine life. Alive also with sandflies and midges which are soon sucking off litres of my blood. Eventually, I get to the narrow river lined by thick mangroves on either side and I cannot get any further without swimming. The source of the Wathumba will have to stay hidden.

I push through the bush and over the dunes to the beach where the low tide has created a perfect walking beach and I walk north to the vehicle area. Half a dozen 4WD's are split between the two signs, having driven right up to the signs and just a car length beyond the sign. More come and go as I walk back. Once again, there is no sign of life along the beach.

During the day, the southwesterly wind has blown up, but, around 4.00 pm, as I am making some tea, the wind drops right down and, after another updated forecast from our yatchie friends, we decide to paddle south under moonlight to Awinya Creek.

We manage to get the tent down and all our gear packed in 40 minutes, and, as the sun dips down, we paddle out of Wathumba Lagoon and head south. It is gorgeous alone on the water under a full moon. The sea has quickly calmed and, apart from a cold wind that drains off the land, it is calm and peaceful. At Bowal Creek, I spy some campsites and we pull, in, but, we decide to continue on to Awinya Creek and our previous campsite. 

It is another 6 kilometres to Awinya Creek, so another hour, and we are both chilled by the time we arrive.  Camp and dinner are quickly sorted and around 9.00 pm we crawl into the tent. It is a cold night, and we have brought only overbags, not full sleeping bags, so we end up huddled in all our spare clothes in our inadequate bags. During the night, I keep looking at my watch and counting the hours until daylight and warmth, 8 hours, 6 hours, .4 hours..
Hervey Bay sunset

Awinya Creek to Bowarrady Creek:

The sun, when it finally crests the island, feels wonderful the next morning, but with the sun comes the wind, blowing strongly from the southwest. By the time we are ready to leave, the wind is into our faces at 15 knots and the water is choppy. Hoping it might drop a little around midday, we delay a bit before going, making a second cup of tea. Perhaps the wind eases a little, but, if it does, it picks up again very soon, but we set off nevertheless.

It is slow going into the wind and it takes almost two hours to paddle the 5 km to Bowarrady Creek. Bowarrady Creek flows fresh out to sea here, making a very small lagoon behind the beach. A yatch is pulled into the narrow anchorage and, when we get out for lunch, Charlie (the yatch owner) comes over to offer us hot tea. Charlie, like all the other yatchies we have met, has horrendous stories of bogan drivers and the garbage and excrement they leave.

We waffle back and forth about paddling further south today. The wind has only got stronger, and, according to Charlie, the next camps south are all full with vehicles. Behind the lagoon, there is a little sheltered campsite in the trees, and we will be safe from bogans as this camp is now inaccessible to vehicles.

Eventually, we decide to camp for the night. Doug drags his boat up and over the beach to the lagoon while I come up with the brilliant idea of paddling down to the mouth of the creek, a kilometre away, and "floating" the boat up the draining creek. Mistakenly, we figure that launching into the creek will be dryer than launching off the beach next morning.

This was definitely one of my worse ideas. Doug had his boat in the lagoon within 15 minutes, while I spent the best part of an hour dragging my boat up the shallows left behind the draining creek. The millimitre of water left in the creek at low tide is clearly not enough to float a kayak. In the end, I have to unpack the boat, ferry loads along the creek, drag the boat, ferry loads, and repeat until I finally get into deep enough water to drag the boat up beside Doug's.

It is cold again overnight and we huddle in all our clothes again watching the clock and waiting for morning.

Low winter sun

Bowarrady Creek to Big Woody Island:

The alarm goes at 5 am and I get out to check the wind and tide height while Doug stays in the tent shivering under his bag. The adiabatic wind is still draining cold air off the island, and it is chilly wandering around in my paddle clothes trying to gauge the tide height by my dimming headlamp - first trip ever I have forgotten spare batteries. Back at the tent, I crawl into my bag for a minute to warm up, and, if it wasn't so cold, it would be tempting to stay there but I know it will be at least as warm in my boat, so we get up, pack by headlamp, and set off down the creek to the ocean.

The creek is not quite deep enough to paddle, so we have to drag the boats a bit, and, launching through the creek outflow, I take three big waves over the bow getting thoroughly wet in the process.

We are both stiff with cold so it is hard to get into a rhythm paddling but as the sun gradually rises, we begin to feel some warmth on our backs, and at least the wind is still light. At Coongul Point, we pull out and spend a leisurely 1.5 hours having breakfast and taking a walk. There are no vehicle campers but a couple of yatchs are in the lagoon behind the beach.

The wind is more southeasterly today than southwesterly and we make reasonable progress all the way to Sandy Point where we pull out again. We have now decided to paddle back to Big Woody Island for our last night out, and, leave once the tide has switched to flood.

It is a slower crossing than a week ago, as the wind is not as favourable, but, we do manage to reef the sails fairly close to the wind and get a little push along. At Big Woody Island the tide is out, way, way, way out, and getting to land requires a few hundred metre carry. We cannot leave the boats as the tide is rising so fast they will be carried south, so we take it in turns carrying in our essential gear and minding the boats. Doug volunteers to bring the boats in with the tide while I set up camp.

Doug looks cold and lonely standing out in the water as I organize camp, and, as soon as I have camp all set up, I take him out a big mug of hot chocolate. Eventually, well after the sun has set, the tide has come far enough in that we can lug the boats the last distance into the beach and settle in for the night.

Just bad timing that's all

Big Woody Island to Urangan:

We are up fairly early in the morning to catch the tide and avoid a southwesterly wind. Passing Round Island at a higher tide than before we notice that it is full of birds. There are many more boats out than a week ago, and coming into Urangan harbour, we see that the ramps are very busy. I manage to pull my boat out on rocks beside the ramp, while Doug edges into a corner of the cement ramp. A friendly fellow cleaning the toilets nearby lets us use his hose to wash all our gear.

Before we leave Urangan, I look around for old, fat white guys who want to tell you how deadly sea kayaking is but they are all strangely absent. Driving south, we hit a pineapple stand and buy four big juicy pineapples for $5.   

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cooloola Great Walk

Tewantin to Brahminy

The map for Day 1 is 17.3 km and 6 hours walking time. We do about 20 km (2.5 km from the parking at the ranger station) in 6 hours, thus setting the standard for being about 1 hour quicker (including rest breaks) than the indicated times each day.

We had trouble finding the ranger station in Tewantin which was much busier than we expected. But, we should have expected as much as Tewantin is really just a suburb of Noosa which is outrageously busy. Only one car in the parking at the Ranger station and we went in and bought a map and told them we would be leaving the car for 5 days. Kept walking along the road a short distance to the river ferry which is $1 for foot passengers. Stacked with 4WD heading off to drive on the beach.

There is no track to walk to the start of the walk from the ferry terminus so you have to walk along the road which is not that nice. The start of the walk is well marked as is the whole walk.

South end of Cooloola Great Walk 

We walked through open heath and paper bark to the beach and along the beach for a couple of kilometres. The tide was low and the beach is flat so very easy walking. After two kilometres, you come to beach where bogans are allowed to drive and the track goes behind the beach. We did not want to be forced off the beach by bogans so instead we walked up the beach. We stuck to the wet area to keep from being run over. Lots of 4WD going past, apparently it is great fun to drive on a beach. A bit hard to understand why people who likely spend most of the day in a car during the week choose to do so on the weekend.

There is some kind of resort about 6 km up the beach from the start of the driving area where the bogans have to slow down to 50 km/hr. We walked past the resort on the beach and were just thinking about looking for the track when we were approached by a very enthusiastic older woman who had done the walk and wanted to tell us where to go. We got instructions, then found a good place for lunch at the top of the beach in some shade. I had a quick swim. The water was very warm.

A rare vehicle free moment on Teerwah Beach 

After lunch, we left the beach not to return. The track climbed up through heath to Mount Seawah which is a short 150 metre diversion from the main track. Nice views down to Noosa and of the waterways of the Noosa River system. About another two or three kilometres to camp and we were both ready to stop as our feet were getting a bit weary and the 5 day pack felt a tad heavy. The track is wide and well cut all the way to Rainbow Beach.

This was the best campsite as it was open with a nice view of the beach and the Noosa River system. The camps are unusually laid out with a common area, and then the tent sites off a track that leads away from the common area. The track leading to the campsites was a little overgrown and some of the campsites also seemed to be growing in. Some campsites are quite a few hundred metres from the common area. The common area has about five flat wood slabs that QPWS is fond of.

We had tea and dinner and lazed about after putting the tent up on one of the sites that was slightly larger than the others. I cleaned up a pile of fire wood as fires are not allowed. The sun went down at 5.00 pm and by 5.30 pm it was dark. The bugs were very bad at dusk and we got into the tent for the first of four long nights in the tent.

The view from Seawah Hill

Brahminy Camp to Dutgee Camp

Today we walked on good track all day mostly through open heathland or eucalpyt forest although we did go through one small patch of rainforest. We had a break in the rainforest in the morning and then lunch at Cooloola Sandpatch in the shade. The sand patch was not that soft to walk on. At the sandpatch we met four other walkers who had come up from camp #2 on the Noosa River. They were walking very slow and even with our 4 day packs we zoomed ahead of them.

Poona Lake

After the sand patch, the track goes downhill and passes by campsite #3 (a slight detour), continues along the river to Dutgee camp. This is the same set up as others with the communal area and platforms with tents sites off a track. Again, the tent sites are a long way from the communal area. We had a swim in the river, although inexplicably, QPWS has posted the track to the river as a rehabilitation area keep out. Wonderful to have a fresh water wash after a day of sweating. In hindsight, the thing to do would be to book Noosa River site #3. This would equalize the walking on days 2 and 3 and you would have a much nicer campsite. Campsite #3 is very luxurious as we had it last time we paddled the Noosa River.

Lake on the right, ocean on the left

Dutgee Camp to Litoria Camp

Some up and down today through open forest on the same good track. Doug found a tick on himself at the start in the moist section. We passed Ramsay's Hut site from the timber cutting days which is a collapsed corrugated shed like structure. We arrived at camp quite early as it was a short walk day. Same camp layout with the commmunal area and the tent sites along a ridge in fairly open forest.

Lake Cooloomera was about a 600 metre walk further along and for a look. The bugs were bad again at dusk and we were in the tent early again.

View to Noosa

Litoria Camp to Kauri Camp

Lots of walking through rainforest today with huge figs and towering Kauri trees. No views but good track. We found many bees nesting in the sand. Same camp set up but very dark and buggy even in the early afternoon. We had dinner early so we could get into the tent before the bugs got too ferocious. Some of the camp sites seemed quite overgrown again. A native mouse type animal was scurrying around in the night and did a poo in the cup which were hanging on a branch. A very dark night in deep forest.

Carlo sand blow

Kauri Camp to Rainbow Beach

I got up in the dark at 5.30 am to have coffee before we left and Doug got up about 6 am. Luckily no dew overnight and the tent was dry. A nice walk today in the rainforest again. We passed Poona Lake early and I had a swim in the lake - wonderful - but Doug did not.

At Carlo Sandblow we finally met people after 4 full days of seeing no-one. All the tourists from Rainbow Beach stagger up to the sand blow and carve their names in the trees - grrrr.

In Rainbow Beach we hopped the Greyhound back to Tewantin and I walked the 2.5 km out to the Ranger Station to pick up the car.  It's not often a shuttle is that easy. 

Double Island Point

Friday, June 23, 2017

East Peak Mount Barney: SE Ridge to S (peasants) Ridge

We had some confusing directions for finding the SE ridge track up Mount Barney that included "log across the track marks start of SE ridge route," and "look for the SE ridge track between campsite 9 and 10," and "tree marked with X," none of which were really correct.

Actually, finding the SE ridge is dead simple. Follow the old fire trail out of the parking lot heading uphill to a walkers gate on a saddle. Ignore the prominent track to the right which goes steeply uphill to Yellow Pinch and pass through the walkers gate and continue through a paddock to a causeway crossing of Logan River. Cross the river and pass some National Park signs. Keep going past campsite 9 and 10, and, about 200 metres beyond campsite 10 take the big eroded track heading uphill on the right. There is an old stump marked with many hieroglyphics including a scratched X and SE.

Mount Barney East Peak

Go up. Now there is some nuance, as the track is occasionally braided and there are some scrambly bits and one slab that may or may not be wet with an old climbing rope hanging off a tree to assist at this section. Some of the scrambly sections have options so if you don't like the track straight ahead look a few metres left or right and you might find a different scrambly section more to your liking. There are one or two short descents, and just before the summit plateau there is a longer scrambly section. But, it is hard to get lost as the track is deep and eroded for most of the way.

You pop out on a plateau after the last steep section with the west peak directly in front of you and the east peak now a short stroll away through rather thick vegetation to the right (northish).

East Peak from the top of the SE Ridge

We went down the south ridge route (Peasants) and found it much more braided all the way to the Rum Jungle campsite in the saddle. It was well nigh impossible to stay on the definitive route although we kept looking for the most prominent track to descend. A lot of the descent can be done on low angle grippy slabs that are nicely dry and clear of vegetation. In fact, you can almost do the entire descent on slabs.

At the bottom of the east face we crossed the creek and found ourselves again in a myriad of disappearing and reappearing tracks. If you aim generally to follow the creek (Barney Gorge) that drains the saddle between east and west peak to the north you'll end up walking slightly uphill to the campsite.

On the SE ridge

Out of the campsite on the left side (roughly east to southeast), there are orange triangles marking the preferred route. Apparently, these have been installed to reduce track braiding and will be removed in a few years. If you are coming from the campsite, the track actually climbs about 80 metres before beginning a serious descent. The track is steep and deeply eroded in parts and has some scrambly sections but the rock is super grippy and there is no exposure.

Gradually, the track gets bigger and bigger until you pass through a bit of rainforest on a tributary of Cronan Creek after which the track switchbacks a little bit and becomes the old road you started on. The south ridge track branches off the fire trail about 200 metres past the SE ridge track.

West peak of Mount Barney

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Walking With Wild Horses: Guy Fawkes River

Chaelundi Campground to Guy Fawkes River:

It is a long and bumpy drive out to Chaelundi Campground where there are two groups of campers sitting miserably around by smoky campfires when we arrive and quickly head off along the escarpment track.

Initially, it is flat and goes through open forest to a lookout near Chaelundi Falls - very broken falls that are barely visible from the viewing area. Ahead we can see Chaelundi Bluff. We pass by the side track to Chaelundi Bluff and continue on the escarpment track which offers scant views to Jordan's Track - a fire trail that runs steeply down ridges to Guy Fawkes River. There is one section of the fire track that is very steep and slippery on hard dirt with loose gravel over the top and we think it will be along way down if it is like this all the way. I pick up a stick to use as a walking stick.

Wild horses

However, it turns out the steep bit is over relatively quickly and the descent gets easier. I carry my stick all the way down but do not need to use it again. We have lunch part way down.

Looking down on Guy Fawkes River valley

At the river, it takes us a little while to find any tracks but eventually after walking about through horrible invasive weeds, we pick up a horse track heading downstream. It takes us a little while to "think like horses" and we don't really get good at it the first day so lose the track a few times. At some point, we cross the river and pick up a good horse track and follow it along to the Aberfoyle River junction. We take our shoes off and wade across the Aberfoyle River some point upstream from the junction with Guy Fawkes and have another snack. Doug has a swim but I am waiting for end of day to swim as I figure I will just get sweaty again.

We decide to walk on for another hour before finding a sandy bank to camp on by the river. It is pleasant walking along the river and there are some lovely big gum trees with wide spreading branches but the extent of the invasive spread is very disturbing. Pretty much the entire river valley is overgrown with blackberry, farmers friend (some friend!), nettles, and other invasive weeds, trees and shrubs.

Guy Fawkes River

Near a small cliff band by Combalo Spur we miss crossing the river and have to push our way down a thicket of nettles and other invasive plants to a steep spot on the river where we manage to wade across with pants off as the water is crotch deep. Once across this I walk past a human shit with toilet paper right on the river gravel!

Nearby is a nice sandy bench to camp on by the river but we deem the sandy spot too close to the excrement so we move along a little to a finger of pebbles that sticks out into the river and camp there. I have a very quick dip as it is now cool and the sun has disappeared behind the ridge.

River valley walking

We have drinks and dinner and enjoy the moon rise over the river. It is not wilderness down here as the invasives have destroyed too much native vegetation but it is nice to think we are far away from other people and there are no roads!

View from camp

Guy Fawkes River to Combalo Track to Chaelundi Campground

I get into my sleeping bag overnight although Doug just lies underneath. It is not too cold but the tent gets quite dewy. We have breakfast and coffee by the river before packing up. We know we have to cross the river many times this morning before we reach the spur where we hope to find the track back up to the escarpment. The Combalo Track is not marked on the topographic map and is marked in two different places on the National Parks sketch maps so it is a little difficult to know where we will find it. Both Doug and I have marked the map where we think we will find it. Mine, about 1 to 1.5 klms further downstream than Doug's.

Morning mist

Now that we have got the hang of thinking like a horse, we follow the track easily. However, we do have to cross the river either 6 or 8 (we can't remember which) times before we start the climb up. The track is good all the way and again through pleasant territory except for the bloody invasives. We come across three large herds of horses which are quite a sight to see and hear as they thunder past us and snort a warning. They all look much fitter, healthier and with glossier coats than horses you see in paddocks.


Travel seems a bit slow as we only manage to walk 300 to 800 metres or so without taking shoes and socks off, crossing the river, and then putting shoes and socks on again. None of the crossings are over knee deep. We pass by Doug's spot to find the track and continue along the river eventually crossing back to the east bank for the last time and thinking that we either find the track or go up anyway.

We have lunch by the river with horses nearby on the other bank and then, a mere minute up the track from the river, I find the trail marker sign. It is a steep grind up about 600 metres with barely a switchback all the way, but we plug away. Once away from the river the invasive weeds are gone and we can put shorts on. It takes about 2 hours to climb from the river to the Escarpment Track and then 10 minutes or so to saunter back to the car.   

Flowers along the river

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park: Salisbury Waters to Mihi Creek

Dangars Falls to Salisbury Waters:

It is cool in the morning starting out and before heading out on our overnight walk, we wander along the short tourist walks that go to a couple of lookouts over Dangars Falls. The falls are spectacular and fall steeply down to a deep canyon with cliffs on either side. A little bit downstream there are a series of jagged spires on a spur ridge that are known as The Pinnacles.

Dangars Falls

Back to the car and we picked up the packs and started out on the walk. There are another couple of view points over the gorge where we spent time viewing the falls and looking for possible descent routes. Heading out along the Salisbury Waters track we took a side track to Rock Wallaby lookout which offers views down the Salisbury Waters gorge.

The Pinnacles

The track continues east along the ridge that separates Salisbury and Mihi Creeks. There are two more lookouts along the way, one at Sarum Hill which looks over Salisbury Waters and one which looks over Mihi Gorge.

Mihi Gorge

The track switchbacks down to Salisbury Waters but, despite the switchbacks, it is still a bit steep in parts. At the bottom, there is a bit of roughly flat ground and we smoothed out a section for a tent pad and put the tent up.

Pool on Salisbury Waters

After tea and lunch, we walked up Salisbury Waters gorge for about 2 km getting almost to McDirtys Creek. The going was easy if slow. Lots of slabs along the river, boulders, rock hopping, crossing from one side of the river to the other. There were many big pools but all passed easily on one side or the other. Also, some short cliffs down by the water but the bigger cliffs are further upstream near Dangars Falls. After about 1.5 hours, we stopped for a break on a big slab overlooking another pool which marked our turn around point.

Night comes early in the gorge

Back at camp we had some hot chocolate, dinner and retired to the tent soon after dark. With our new jumbo sleeping pads we slept well and it was relatively warm and no dew overnight.

Boulders in Salisbury Waters

Salisbury Waters to Mihi Gorge to Dangars Falls:

We are up around 6.30 am after a good sleep and it is a relatively warm morning. We have breakfast. I have some new quinoa flakes which are bland, bland, bland. We pack up and begin walking down Salisbury Waters to the junction with Mihi Creek. Quite soon we come to the "big pool" and a dodgy climb up a little notch to scramble around the pool (river left). I go up first but Doug balks at my route and climbs back down with out doing the last bit. He looks around for another option, but there is none so he comes back up again and I haul his pack up the dodgy step. Past this, it is an easy traverse along ledges above the pool and we are soon at the junction with Mihi Creek.

Reflections on Salisbury Waters

Mihi Gorge is a mini Salisbury, very similar but just slightly easier travel with many fewer pools, smaller boulders - generally - and not as many slabs. The water is much clearer too as the water in Salisbury is green with some kind of algae. Travel is still slow, however as we cross and recross the river and scramble around rocks. About two hours from camp we have a break and note that we have about one kilometre in the gorge to go.

Heading up Mihi Creek

There are two prominent ridges which lead out of the gorge to the south and we have information on the one closest to Mihi Creek so decide to take that one. However, the more southeasterly ridge actually looks better on the map. It is, however, an unknown entity so we decide to go with the one that we know leads out.

So, another 40 minutes of creek hopping taking a turn to the right and then the left and passing the obvious drainage and we are at the bottom of the ascent slope. I have a dip before we head up and put on long pants as I am worried about scratchy grass, nettle and burrowing grass seeds.

Big boulders in Mihi Creek

Initially, all goes well and, although the ridge is steep, we are making reasonable progress, there are no nettles and very little grass seeds. Perhaps 200 metres from the top we run up against the cliffs mentioned in the track notes we found on-line. The instructions are to sidle around left which we do. At first this works very well and we scramble around to the left climbing up to keep to the base of the cliffs. After a bit, we scramble up onto the ridge top which is narrow and bristling with rocky pinnacles. Progress, however, is still possible and is pretty easy just below the ridge crest. We scramble up to the ridge again and find a big pinnacle with sheer walls on all sides and no easy way up.

We have to drop down back the way we came and traverse across steep grass and vertical dirt on the south side of the ridge. All the time we can see the ridge we thought we would go up looking very easy! It is hard not to wish we were there.

Mihi Falls

After traversing 100 to 200 metres we see a spot where we may be able to regain the ridge crest above the big pinnacle however it is impossible to tell if it will work without going right up and sticking our noses against it. There are two tricky sections where we pass the packs and then we scramble up, the terrain getting easier until we are on top of the escarpment with all the difficulties over.

Looking over Mihi Gorge

We have topped out at a good viewpoint by a big granite boulder so we stop for lunch here over looking the steep Mihi Gorge. After lunch, we walk along through light bush until we come to paddock land and begin hopping a series of fences each one harder to get over than the last. At Mihi Creek, we manage to cross without getting our shoes wet by pushing through a thick tangle of fallen trees laced with blackberry bush. On the other side of the creek we meet up with yet another fence which we need to cross to get back onto the National Park. This fence, like all the others is about 5 feet high and the top is laced with rusty barbed wire. We walk along it until we see a big tree which has fallen onto it and manage to climb over the fence by climbing the tree being very careful not to touch the electric wire at the bottom.

Wild dog fences

A short walk across open paddock and we finally reach the parks track. We drop the packs and detour to the viewpoint over Mihi Falls. These falls are quite spectacular falling down in a series of cascade that change direction and drop along fault lines in the steep cliff walls. Another couple of kilometres along the parks track and we are back at the car park, tired, but happy.

Among the boulders of Salisbury Waters

Monday, June 19, 2017

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park: Chandler River, Moona Creek, Apsley River

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is the kind of place you come for a day and stay for a week, all the while hatching plans for when you can next get back. It is a big, wild, sprawling National Park defined by steep and deep river gorges, roaring waterfalls, long untracked river valleys, dry eucaplypt ridges and enclaves of rain forest. Fire roads and walking tracks lead down to the less rugged river valleys, but access to the most dramatic areas of the park - the huge narrow canyons and gorges - is adventurous.

Chandler River Gorge

Wollomombi Falls and The Chandler River

There is a lovely NP campground at Wollomombi Falls from which you can easily walk around the all the tourist tracks in a morning or afternoon, even allowing for all the gawping you'll do at the jaw-dropping views. From the picnic area, a track leads across the top of Wollomombi Falls to Chandler Falls, and, in the other direction, the view from Checks Lookout is simply stunning. The surrounding rolling farmland gives no indication of the steep and rugged nature of these gorges which seem to simply open below your feet.

Wollomombi and Chandler Falls

We scrambled down to the Chandler River from near the campground, a somewhat adventurous descent that required a half length of climbing rope to get all the way to the river 500 metres below. Apart from one small rock slab which required careful downclimbing, travel downstream was relatively easy, scrambling over smooth river boulders past sandy banks and pools crossing the river occasionally when required. We got as far as viewing Church Rock before stopping for lunch on a big boulder in the middle of the river.

Pools along the Chandler River

After lunch, we scramble upstream through a magical landscape of small waterfalls, deep pools, and glistening rock slabs. Red bugs live on fallen leaves, and a carpet of tiny fern leaves floats on a rock pool studded with water droplets. We are dwarfed by the boulders in the river, and everywhere there is water, carving out new pools and chasms and channels. We travel as far as we can without swimming, then find a clean, smooth rock slab for another break and we sit, sip tea from our flasks, and listen to the sibilant hiss of the river as it slides down the river rocks washing them smooth.

There is a reason these are called wild rivers

It is a whole other world down in the bottom of the gorge. There is rock and water, and shifting glimpses of sky far above. It is a misty, rainy kind of day, perfect for exploring this narrow land of rock and water, where the vegetation clings to bare rock faces in a perpetual battle against gravity.

Small falls on the Chandler River
Moona Creek Gorge

The main rivers in Oxley Wild Rivers are the Apsley, Chandler and Macleay Rivers, but dozens of other small rivers and streams run into these larger rivers, and these smaller watercourses have carved yet more dramatic gorges.

Moona Gorge

Not far from the frequently visited Apsley Falls section of the park is Moona Creek and another gorge, this one almost 600 metres deep, improbably carved out by inconsequential Moona Creek. Unlike nearby Apsley Gorge, Moona Creek has no facilities, but it is well worth spending a day walking along the edge of the gorge, crossing over the top of the tiny waterfall that is Moona Creek, and scouting out all the viewpoints along the gorge rim.

Looking down the headwaters of Moona Creek

Apsley Gorge, Budds Mare and The Apsley River

Camping at Apsley Gorge is deservedly popular. The site we had over looked the fabulous Apsley Gorge, which may not be as deep as other gorges, but is every bit as spectacular with two waterfalls, deep pools and narrow rock walls lining the bottom of the gorge. The tourist track along the rim offers spectacular views and we even saw a platypus swimming in one of the pools below.

Apsley Falls

It's worth the trek out to Budds Mare, where the campground is a small enclave among towering eucalpyts perched on a plateau overlooking the Apsley River where it runs deeper and slower. The ridgelines are all dry eucalpyt forest but the gullies harbour moist green rainforest. The starry nights are quiet but for the sound of nocturnal birds and animals, and, in the morning, the valley, far below is draped in mist shifting across the river valley.

The view from Budds Mare down to the Apsley River

A faint, but easily followed track descends 700 metres down a dry eucalpyt ridgeline to the Apsley River where there are deep pools for swimming and gravel banks shaded by she-oaks for camping. We spent the day exploring down river walking along grassy banks, past small rushing rapids, and sluggish deep pools. The river is a corridor for travel, and wild horses roam the valley.

Apsley River and Paradise Rocks