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Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk

Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk
 
   
   
   
   
 
 

Day 1

HEAVY mist filled the track entrance at the end of Leafy Lane in Mapleton National Park. Light rain had fallen over the parched land overnight just enough to bring out the aroma of the soil over that of the acrid eucalyptus.

Leafy Lane

Leafy Lane

We left the car park heading into the tall forest of gum trees. After a short descent, we reached the junction marking the end of the Gheerulla Circuit. I will be passing back through here in two mornings’ time, having completed the circuit making up over half of the distance of the track.

Light misty rain fell as we walked through the fall eucalypt forest of Leafy Lane, following the top of a ridge. Eventually we reached the Ubajee Campsite, where we will be staying tomorrow night.

Just below the campsite was a lookout down the Gheerulla Valley. Misty cloud was clearing from the gentle drizzle that had been falling. From the lookout there was a moderate descent of about 200 metres into the rainforest that followed the Gheerulla Creek. Last night’s storm had hardly hit this end of the park. The overnight drizzle had resulted in the stream running very low.

Gheerulla Creek

Gheerulla Creek

The track headed downstream along an old dirt road crossing the main creek several times as well as a few tributaries. Each crossing had the remains of a concrete ford that would have been built decades ago but not maintained since. The raging waters of frequent tempests have all but demolished each ford.

Thick rainforest covered the upper reaches of the valley, but this gradually thinned into open eucalypt as I approached the end of the valley. The creek was running low today but it was obvious from the erosion along the banks that there have been some spectacular surges boring their way down here in the past. These torrents had carved out enormous water holes now placid and stained black with tannin from the surrounding vegetation. The track followed several flood channels that were completely dry today. These channels were littered with large boulders and all the trees that grew in them were bent over from past floods.

The sky remained overcast and the air very still and humid as I continued hiking downstream. The forested ridges towered on either side with large cliff faces on their higher slopes.

Eventually the track reached a junction near the bottom of the valley. A side track continued to follow the stream to the end of a road heading towards the farming town of Kenilworth along the Mary River. This wasn’t where I was heading though. The Great Walk Track turned off to the left to scale the Gheerulla Bluff.

Steep trail up Gheerulla Bluff

Steep trail up Gheerulla Bluff

The track rose moderately crossing a couple of dry creek beds before turning the first of twenty nine hairpin bends scaling the steep bluff negotiating its way between a couple of rock walls. The steeper sections of the track were constructed from concrete stairs.

The forest throughout the length of the bluff was open eucalypt, but gradually changed to montane eucalypt with the trunks of some of the trees being bright orange and others a very pale yellow. Most of the trees looked very old with their enormous gnarly trunks towering into the sky overhead.

Eventually I reached the top of the Gheerulla Bluff, where stunted and weathered trees grew out of its rocky summit. The rocks were very similar to those I had seen on the Glasshouse Mountains, so this was the remains of a volcanic plug, which held together a sandstone ridge extending between the Gheerulla and Pencil Creeks eastward towards the backbone of the Blackall Range.

Lookout over the Gheerulla Valley

Lookout over the Gheerulla Valley

The track meandered its way along the top of the ridge, going around the small rolling hills and descending to the small grassy saddles in between them. Large ancient mountain gum trees watched over the track as we headed towards the next campsite at Thilba Thalba.

About half an hour after the summit of Gheerulla Bluff I turned off on a short side track heading up one of the hills. The summit stood at the edge of a cliff from where I had a spectacular view over the lower Gheerulla Valley. Upon returning to the main track, I continued following it along the gently rolling ridge line for another hour before reaching the Thilba Thalba Campsite.

The campsite stood on top of the ridge at the edge of a cliff offering another view down the valley. There were a number of campsites set up around the open eucalypt forest. With darkness drawing near, we set up camp.

Day 2

Drizzle had fallen over much of the night providing some relief from the intense humidity of yesterday. Heavy rain was supposed to have fallen, but we had been spared the worst. This morning there was a gentle damp cool breeze blowing over the ridge.

Forest near Thilba Thalba

Forest near Thilba Thalba

We left camp reasonably late in the morning. The undergrowth in the forest became a lot thicker almost immediately after leaving the campsite. The track negotiated its way around the increasingly rolling hills. The trees stood taller and more slender and there were a couple of small creek crossings, except there hadn’t been enough rain last night for them to have any flowing water.

About an hour after leaving the campsite I reached a side track with a bit of a scramble up to the top of another rocky ledge overlooking the Gheerulla Valley. The hills on the other side seemed very flat, and the forested valley deeply cut into the plateau.

From the lookout the track became rather wiggly following the ridges and gullies.  The ridges were open eucalypt and the gullies were now dense rainforest. Eventually the track passed through quite a long section of rainforest before suddenly arriving at the Delicia Road.

Rocks near Gheerulla Falls

Rocks near Gheerulla Falls

Although we had reached the road, there were still several kilometres to go to the end of the circuit. The track ran parallel to the road, steeply falling down a large gap in the ridge. The road dropped at a steeper gradient than the track. Rainforest covered the other side of the road whilst farmland and open eucalypt forest was to the right.

Eventually we reached the bottom of the saddle where the road began a steep ascent towards Mapleton. The main track turned off here dropping through the forest for about a kilometre to Gheerulla Falls. Upon reaching the stream a short side track headed up the valley towards the falls. Despite last night’s rain, the stream didn’t have any more water than it had yesterday.

Sunset over Gheerulla Valley

Sunset over Gheerulla Valley

As expected Gheerulla Falls was only a trickle running down the massive rock face into the pool below. Much of the rock face had been stripped completely bare of vegetation indicating massive torrents of water do sometimes flows over here. The rainy season was late in coming this year. Normally the creeks run a lot higher.

From the falls I returned to the main track and followed it for two hundred metres to the junction where the track headed straight up towards Ubajee.

The cloud cleared and the sun came out as we approached Ubajee. Upon reaching the campsite we set up for the night.

Day 3

Leafy Lane

Leafy Lane

The following morning dawned cloudy, but it quickly cleared as we set off from Ubajee back along Leafy Lane. The mid morning sun was shining brightly over the canopy overhead through the very tall trees, but it clouded over again just before we reached the junction.

Once at the junction we turned off following the great walk over the narrow walking track through rainforest, dropping down to the long black pools of the headwaters of the Gheerulla Creek. This section of the national park was the Linda Garrett Reserve, a large block of land bought and preserved to prevent any residential development of the expanding town of Mapleton.

The forest in the reserve was stunningly beautiful. Eventually though the track reached the Delicia Road around five kilometres from the saddle to the Gheerulla Falls. The track crossed the road and followed a side road uphill passing a few quiet homes before entering the forest at Mapleton Falls National Park. This is not to confuse with the nearby Mapleton National Park where we had been hiking over the past two days. That was the largest of the three national parks along the walk. Mapleton Falls on the other hand was by far the smallest of the three parks at quarter of a square kilometre.

Gherulla Headwaters

Gherulla Headwaters

The track descended an old dirt road to the start of the Wompoo Circuit. One track headed downhill cutting through the forest whilst the main one headed out towards the end of the spur through eucalypt forest. A short side track led to a lookout from the edge of a cliff down into the valley. Mapleton Falls was nearby, but hidden from view.

We continued heading around the ridge through what was now rainforest until reaching the other junction of the Wompoo Circuit shortcut. We turned right passing through more rainforest before reaching a small grassy open area beside Pencil Creek. From there a short sharp rise led to the lookout over Mapleton Falls.

Mapleton Falls

Mapleton Falls

The platform overlooked a vertical drop in the rock. Mapleton Falls fell about a hundred and twenty metres into the rainforest below, following the valley along Pencil Creek towards the Mary River just a short distance downstream from where the Obi Obi Creek flowed into it.

There was a car park next to the falls lookout. The track followed the car park up the hill out of the tiny Mapleton Falls National Park and followed the road towards Mapleton along a sealed wheelchair grade pathway until turning off along a steep side road which rose, then fell over the ridge to a cutting in the forest where the track passed through.

Baxter Creek

Baxter Creek

The sudden change in grade of track was highlighted by a sign warning only experienced hikers to go beyond here.

The track descended through rainforest along a small spur before it switch backed down a very steep section with a recent landslide down either side. I could hear rushing water below me, and it was not long before I reached a swing bridge crossing Baxter Creek.

We crossed the fast flowing creek and followed a short side track up to Baxter Falls. Unlike the Gheerulla Falls there was a reasonable amount of water flowing over the waterfall. This area must have received more rain over the past few days.

Heading up from Baxter Creek

Heading up from Baxter Creek

Following the main track back out of Baxter Creek, the forest quickly turned to eucalypt as this was the sunny side of the ridge. Despite that the sky was heavily overcast indicating rain was on the way. The moderate rise zig-zagged its way up the side of the ridge until reaching a large burnt patch of forest near the top. From there the track crossed over to a grassy saddle and continued through the forest for another half an hour before reaching the Flaxton Walkers Camp.

Unlike the previous two campsites, this campsite on our final night on the track didn’t have any views. It stood on top of a plateau. It was not long after arriving when the rain started to fall.

Day 4

Fortunately the insides of the tents had remained dry throughout the night despite several substantial downpours. Although the ground was rather flat around the campsite the drainage here had been good enough for none of the water to have accumulated.

Sun comes out near Flaxton

Sun comes out near Flaxton

We left the campsite and followed the track along the top of the plateau through the tall gum forest. The sun was out enhancing the raindrops that were still dripping from the foliage above us. We reached a road about half an hour after leaving the camp.

The track followed the road through Flaxton to follow the main ridgeline of the Blackall Range, then turn off down along another road towards the Kondalilla Falls carpark. Most of the clouds cleared but the ones that were remaining were menacing enough to know the rain wasn’t over yet. A bank of low cloud was approaching from the south east.

Picnic Creek

Picnic Creek

There were already quite a few cars parked at the entrance to the Kondalilla National Park, the third and final national park the track passes through. A steep sealed track led down through a grassy picnic area and into the rainforest to a bridge crossing the idyllic Picnic Creek, where a small waterfall cascaded into a pool. The overnight rain had created quite a significant flow without the water appearing flooded. The sky quickly clouded over as we rested at the creek.

From Picnic Creek the track followed above the stream heading out onto a ridge. The forest gradually thinned into eucalypt forest before we reached a small lookout over the valley we were about to enter. Much of the cloud had cleared, but it was about to cloud over again. From the lookout the track switch backed tightly down the rocky edge of the valley. Part way down it reached a junction. We took the track to the left taking us down to a tranquil rock pool with a small waterfall tumbling into it.

Pool above Kondalilla Falls

Pool above Kondalilla Falls

A wooden boardwalk led between the pool and its outlet where it cascaded for a few metres to the start of the 90 metre high Kondalilla Falls.

We returned to the main track and began descending the very steep rocky stairway towards the base of the waterfall. We reached a lookout about a third of the way down where we had a clear view of the falls before thick mist suddenly enveloped the valley. Last night’s rain had ensured the falls were flowing very well this morning. We continued climbing down the very steep forested gorge.

Upon reaching the bottom of the gorge, we briefly took another side track to the bottom of the falls before returning and crossing a concrete ford set over huge boulders. Although the stream was flowing high, it wasn’t enough to wash over any part of the ford bridge.

Obi Obi Creek

Obi Obi Creek

A stairway led from the ford and the track continued to a junction where we could have done a loop back to the rock pool above the falls. We continued heading downstream Skene Creek which gently flowed down the valley through ancient Bunya Pine forest – a remnant of the age of dinosaurs.

By the time we reached the bottom of the valley the sun had come out again. The track turned to the left following thick forest undergrowth before reaching the long black pools of the Obi Obi Creek. 

The track followed above the track until reaching Flat Rock, a grey outcrop over the stream. From there the track ascended through gum forest, then descended beside the creek again, then rose again traversing a high bluff along the Obi Obi Gorge.

Obi Obi Gorge Lookout

Obi Obi Gorge Lookout

At the top of the bluff was a lookout over the Obi Obi Gorge, where the stream flowed far below us. Looking upstream we could see the lake of Baroon Dam. This was our final destination. Heavy rain began falling so we headed back onto the track descending moderately through the forest.

The rain had stopped falling by the time we reached the end of the gorge. A lookout from the edge of the cliff gave one last look through the precipitous gorge before we continued through the dry rainforest too far above the creek to see it.

About a kilometre later we reached another junction where a steep wooden stairway led to a water hole from where I could see the top of the dam wall through the forest. The creek cascaded into a long deep pool discoloured from all the rain that had fallen here.

Baroon Dam

Baroon Dam

From the waterhole we returned to the track and hiked the final couple of hundred metres to the end of the track, 56 kilometres from the start at Leafy Lane several days ago.

A short track led from the car park to the top of Baroon Dam. This was our final destination. Low cloud hovered over the hills surrounding the dam. On one side the rock sloped steeply down into the rainforest of the gorge like volcanic rubble. On the other side was the large expanse of the lake that covered what had once been a fairly significant valley.

We had reached the end of the four day great walk through the native forests of the Blackall Range.

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27-30 December 2015

 

Blackall Range

Australia

 

26°40'S
152°50'E

80 - 420m ASL

 

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