Walking for Refugees – Days 4 to 7 – Walks near home

I wake on 4 March knowing I have to start work at 9am and won’t finish until 4pm on 5 March. This will be followed with long days at work on 6 and 7 March so it will take dedication to get through these four 12km outings. It’s a luxury problem though – both because I have a regular income and because I am living in a peaceful country. By contrast, those for whom I am walking are fleeing the horrors of war and often are carrying everything they own with no hope of employment or income for many years into the future. So I get up and walk. Every day.

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On 4 March I start my walk before the dawn. The suburbs are sleeping but there’s plenty of walkers, joggers and fishermen at the waterfront. It’s Saturday morning, so that probably explains it. These are the people who are up while I’m usually still sleeping. The people who run quickly and who have dogs to walk. Sunrise is pretty across the tidal flats and I enjoy the walk.

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I come off my triple shift at 4pm on Sunday 5 March. It’s still hot and sunny when I start waking. But by the time I reach the 3km mark the sun is starting to set. The tide is out and families are exploring the tidal flats. These flats are a combination of mud and sand. They stretch a long way out into the bay. Mangroves cover large sections of the shore line while narrow white sand separates the tidal flats from the path in others. I am happy to be out here enjoying the evening.

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6 March sees me at work from 6am to 3:30pm. I’m not one to get up at ridiculous o’clock unless there’s no choice so a 3:30pm start it is. I work in beautiful Redcliffe about 500m from the waterfront so it’s no hardship to set off on this walk. A strong breeze is blowing ripping up waves on the usually calm Moreton Bay. But it doesn’t stop people from swimming to cool off from the afternoon heat.

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My legs are starting to feel the effort by the time I step out of bed on Tuesday 7 March. I have muscle soreness in my feet and fatigue in my calves. But I get up, eat breakfast and walk the 12km to work. I walk along busy roads clogged with commuter traffic. The sun doesn’t start to rise until I reach the 5km mark. I can’t help but wonder whether I look odd walking through this suburban landscape with hiking poles. I’m not about to give the poles up though because the reduced pressure on my legs and feet is worth it. I get my first blister today – on my right heel. It’s a sure sign that I’m dehydrated so I spend the day pumping water into my body to start to improve things.

Tomorrow I’ll be back out in the bush for my walk. I can’t wait.

Distances: 12km, 12.1km, 12.1km and 12.1km
Cumulative distance: 98km

If you would like to support me in my chllenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross check out my profile at http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills

Walking for Refugees day 1 – Somerset Trail, Mt Mee (Queensland, Australia)

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I’m excited and nervous all at once as I leave work around 8:30am to drive up to Mount Mee. It’s only an hour away and the 13km Somerset Trail looks like a great way to start my challenge to walk 12km a day to raise awareness and money so the Australian Red Cross can continue helping refugees who are fleeing war. I don’t have to be back at work until 4pm so this is a perfect way to start.
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I set off on the trail. These are the first steps of my 372km+ walk. The path is littered with leaves and slightly damp from recent rains. But not wet enough to make mud. I start to unwind almost immediately.
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I know I’m in a good place when I’m noticing the small things along my walk. Water drops sit on leaves. Bark peels from trees reaching for the sky. Bicoloured fern leaves soften the edges of the trail. And palm trees create beautiful silhouettes against the blue sky.
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The trail is well signed. And, yes, I ignore this graffiti warning.
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The trail takes me through a variety of landscapes. There’s a patch of rain forest, which is cool and damp. Pine trees grow in places, making me reminisce about my Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in Japan. The open eucalyptus forests are hot and dry. And the heath land is so green it seems impossible, particularly given the lack of rain we’ve had this summer.
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Somerset Lookout marks the midway point of the trail. A steep rocky cliff drops down off the escarpment, leaving me with views of the valleys and dams to the west. Grass trees grow in the poor shallow soil between the boulders. These trees always seem to thrive most in the worst soils around. The trees generally grow slowly and are more fragile than their black bodies seem. I stop for lunch and to enjoy the view for a while. This is living.
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Leaving the views behind I walk back towards the carpark. The walk is undulating but not too challenging. There are many places where I have to cross gravel forestry roads. In one place the markers are missing but I spy the trail about 50m to my left. As I approach the end of the trail I start to notice chop marks in some of the larger tree stumps. These must be the scars left by the timber getters in days gone by. The same timber getters who had need for the gantry that remains up at the Gantry Day Use Area where I’ve left my car. I can’t say that I’m terribly fond of our history of cutting down forests so I can’t get excited by this historic structure. But I guess it tells part of the story of our history.
 
Distance walked: 13km

Total distance for challenge so far: 13km

I am walking to raise awareness and money to help people who are walking to flee war. For more information, check out my profile on the Australian Red Cross website.

All donations over $2 are tax deductible and you’ll receive a receipt from the Australian Red Cross. Will you help me change the world? Donate here.

 

Stony Creek hike (Bellthorpe National Park, Australia)

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The sound of cicadas fills the air. It’s humid despite the grey skies. The birds are silent. Perhaps it’s too hot. But it’s not too hot to explore the creek. The great thing about a long hot summer is that we have plenty of rocky creeks to explore.

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I park in the Stony Creek Day Use Area. I used to come here when my son was younger so that he could swim in the rock pool. I haven’t been here in over a decade. I guess in all my distractions I had forgotten this waterhole (and many other local places) existed.

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The rock pool at Stony Creek is fed by both Branch Creek and Stony Creek. I decide Stony Creek looks more interesting than Branch Creek so that’s the one I take. I follow the creek upstream for 1.5 hours. There’s plenty of water holes to swim in and admire. This creek is amazing! The water holes are fresh and dark and deep. I almost wish it was sunny so that I could really take advantage of the swimming opportunities.

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I stop along the way to look at the native orchids and other flora. Not that I know the orchids are small flowers are native orchids until I see a comment when I upload my photos onto Facebook. The flowers are pretty and I like the way they are growing in cracks between rocks.

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The blue dragon flies are gorgeous too.

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The snakes I almost stand on aren’t so gorgeous. The first is a small green coloured snake that slithers away as I walk past. The second is a green coloured snake that rears it’s head angrily at me as I approach. The third is a massive python coiled behind a rock that I am stepping over. I am just lucky I looked down before placing my foot. The snake stayed coiled. It was the biggest python I think I’ve ever seen. The final snake really did my head in. It was another python that was on a rock I was about to descend onto. It was hidden but when I almost stepped on it I screamed and ran into the creek like a fool.

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I follow the creek up past where it has stopped flowing. The stagnant water in this large pool is stinky. I try to avoid walking through it but can’t. My feet sink into the stagnant mud. I try to tell myself it’s just a part of life and I need to harden up. But I do much prefer walking through the flowing creek on it’s rocky bed with swimming holes.

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Rain forest takes over up here beyond the stagnant pool. The creek bed is wide and rocky but it must only get wet here when it rains. I love walking in the creek bed and could continue all day. But today is my split shift day so I have to turn around when my 1.5 hour alarm goes off. It’s a good practice in discipline to turn around at the designated time. And it’s better to have a limited time out than not to come out at all.

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I follow the creek back the way I came, ending my day with a swim in the water hole near the day use area. I’m loving this creek exploration thing I’ve got going on. I wonder which one I will explore next.

South Pine River hike (Mt Glorious, Queensland)

I’ve driven past cars parked on the side of the road from Samsonvale to Mt Glorious many times but have never stopped there myself. I’ve always been coming from or going to some place else. I knew there was a creek in the gully next to the road but didn’t know it’s name or qualities. That’s all changed now that I’ve walked the South Pine River at Mt Glorious. For that’s the name of what I thought was a creek.

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There are barely any track notes available for walking the river here at it’s head. A river that feeds into the mighty Pine River that I have paddled so often. Perhaps the lack of track notes is reflective of the commonality of people just stopping their cars and scrambling down the embankment to swim in the waterholes along the river. Or maybe it’s just that this isn’t a place people think of to hike. Either way, I didn’t really need notes because the river is easy to follow. I parked just after the D’Aguilar National Park sign on the river side of the road and follows a short steep path to the river.

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Despite the title “river”, the waterway is barely a creek here. The rainy season hasn’t really begun here yet. This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because walking in the creek bed is easy and there’s no need to worry about flash flooding. A curse because the water levels are low. There are plenty of cobbler’s pegs about and my clothes are quickly covered in these annoying prickles. And the river could do with a flush because there’s plenty of green algae. But that’s just the cycles of nature; it’s nothing to complain about.

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I have only been walking for about fifteen minutes when I come to the first water hole of any significance. I’ve set off late and the midday heat is already beating down on me so I don’t even waste time taking off my shoes. Lazing in the cool water I feel free and relaxed. What a blessing to be healthy and free to explore places like this.

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I don’t waste energy keeping my feet dry. It’s summer and about 35’C today so walking in the water is refreshingly cool. My old worn out joggers have good grip thanks to the lack of tread. It’s a perfect combination. Besides, there’s fewer cobblers pegs in the creek itself. Though it is better to walk in the water where there is gravel, rather than large rocks. Large rocks are slippery and I do have a couple of moments where I think I’m going to fall flat on my face.

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About half an hour later I reach a large rock pool at the top of what would be a small waterfall if the water levels were higher. There’s a couple hanging out here with beer and cigarettes. I’m more curious about what’s up ahead so I close my dry bag and swim across the rock pool to continue my adventures. I could have scrambled around the rock pool up a small cliff section that locals use as access to save them a walk but the water is too inviting and there’s an easy exit on the other side of the pool. I will come back here for a longer swim on my return leg.

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Despite the proximity to the road, there’s still a sense of wilderness here in the creek. Strangler figs crush their hosts and even try to crush rocks. Tall palm trees rise from seeds dropped by birds. It’s just cool enough for small birds to twitter among the trees and for bell birds to chime away like church bells at a wedding.

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There’s the perfect combination of flat open creek and deep rocky pools. Some look like they go right through to the centre of the earth, so black is the water.

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I reach a large wall of rock. In the wet this would be an amazing waterfall. I climb slowly up the rock wall. The sun has been beating down here and my hands feel like they are holding hot coals. I stop frequently to sip water from my hydro pack and then spit it out onto my hands in the hope of easing the pain. I do not recommend this climb in the heat of the day because it’s almost torturous.

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The views down into the waterholes are spectacular though. There’s three or four water holes that have formed in the rock wall at various levels. I’ve seen photos of people swimming here but I don’t feel confident that I’ll be able to get back out given the low water levels. And the last thing I want is to be stuck here. Especially given that my mother is doing this same hike with a bushwalking club tomorrow and it probably wouldn’t be so nice for her to have to rescue me after a night in the rock pool.

The terrain flattens out above the rock wall and there are sections of river bed with no water. I reach a small weir and follow the river for about ten more minutes but I’m hot and longing for a swim. This area of the river isn’t as pretty and there’s more rubbish (plastic food wrappers and bottles) here. It’s time to turn around.

I retrace my steps to the weir before walking up a well worn path to the road. The road is perched above the river most of the way but I barely notice it. I am grateful for its presence because it saves me having to burn my hands again on the down climb from the top of the rock wall. If the road wasn’t here I’d climb a ridge and drop back down afterwards but why trash the bush when I can just as easily walk a few hundred meters along the road.

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I descend back into the river not far downstream from the rock wall. There’s a small path to a water hole where I stop for lunch. I laze on the rocks (the ones that are shaded) and watch dragon flies, other water insects and an eel going about their usual water hole business. The flying insects make small rings of tiny waves as they touch down on the water surface and their shadows are fascinatingly large compared with their sizes. The eel just swims around, hiding behind the green moss.

The walk downstream is faster than the way up because I stop for fewer photos and am keen on a swim in the big waterhole. I reach it just before 3:00pm and join local families who have stopped in for an afternoon dip. They’ve all parked their cars just above the water hole so that they only have a two or three minute walk in. I can’t help but wonder at this freedom I have to be here today. It was only four months ago that I was going through my five month long lawyer phase with little free time, even when I wasn’t at work. Now I have the time again to relax when I’m not at work without any take home work responsibilities. (And I have a job that I actually love too).

To find the car again I walk almost to the road bridge and then back track about 50m to the pathway that takes me to the car. I’m glad to have discovered for myself the secret joys of this river and I will probably park my car here more often for a summer swim.

Northbrook Gorge hike (Brisbane, Australia)

My sister mentions that her friends went to walk Northbrook Gorge at about the same time as I read a blog post from a mate of mine about his adventure in the same place. So we arrange to have our own adventure in this stunning place less than an hour from Brisbane. There’s two Couch Surfers staying at my home so I invite them to tag along.

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There’s a few websites sharing information about this walk and all mention different places to start this walk. We follow logic and drive up to Mt Glorious from Samford and then down the other side through the hairpin bends until we cross Northbrook Creek. We park on the opposite side of the road about 50m from the creek crossing where there’s space for about six cars. You need to be traveling in the opposite direction to see this sign but it’s a good marker for where to park.

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It’s a hot summer day so my nephew and I waste no time getting our feet wet. The creek water is cool and the gravelly creek bed is not too slippery. The rest of our crew try to keep their feet dry by walking along a feint trail next to the creek and rock hopping. I can’t be bothered with all that because we all know there’s a waterhole further up the creek that we will need to swim across.

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Navigation is simple. There’s no need to worry about a map, compass or GPS here. Just follow the creek upstream from the bridge (to the left traveling down the mountain). This is a fairly flat walk so it’s perfect for a hot day when we don’t really want to over exert ourselves. The colourful rocks on the creek bed are pretty and the plants create structure with both hard and soft fronds.

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We stop at the first gorge and pack all our gear into dry bags. There’s no more keeping feet dry now. We wade in and swim the last section of the pool where the water is too deep for us to stand. Warm rock walls stand above us. The walls here are not too high but there’s still a gorge feeling about this place. There’s a family who have stopped here for a swim and we can see why.

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Continuing upstream there’s a few more good deep swimming holes. The terrain has definitely changed since we entered the gorge areas. Gone is the shallow gold-brown water. It has been replaced by deep green-black pools that are deep enough to be refreshing.

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We swim across a deep waterhole that leads to a small waterfall that we need to climb. When I say “small” I mean small. From the bottom of the pool it looks like it will be a challenge to climb up into the big gorge above. But there are some rock steps to the right of the pool in a dark corner against the cliff face. Other walkers point these out to us to make life easier.

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My nephew splashes water against the rocks before we start the swim and the drops form a rainbow.

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The swim and short clamber are worthwhile. This second gorge is amazing. It’s short, narrow and deep. We sit down and unpack our lunches from our bags. We bought a barbecue chicken and salad greens from the supermarket, and fresh bread rolls from the bakery. It’s enough to feed a small army. Or at least the six hungry mouths in our group. It took us about 1.5 hours to get here. You could do it faster but we took our time and enjoyed the experience; I’m not into marching through the bush.

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We linger in the second gorge for about an hour, exploring a little further upstream through a big boulder field. And then it’s time to head back to the car. We retrace our steps downstream. My other nephew and I plunge on through the water while the rest of our group again keep their feet fairly dry.

I can’t believe I’ve lived in Brisbane all my life but never known about this swimming hole and walk.

Do not head up the gorge in wet weather or if storms are forecast because it would be a dangerous place to be trapped in rising waters.

Simpsons Track, Mt Cootha (Brisbane, Australia)

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Start of track

It’s stinking hot and I only have about two hours free but I’m passing Mount Coottha. I’ve never done any of the walking trails here so decide to stop and check one out. Simpsons Track starts near Simpsons Falls. It’s a short walk from the carpark to the start of the trail. A walk that takes me through a pretty park with barbecues, water taps and picnic tables along with plenty of space to drop a picnic blanket.
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Dry creek bed

The rocky creek bed is bone dry. The heat rises from the rocks. It’s a baking dry heat and I imagine that a drop of water might sizzle on contact.
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The trail

The trail leads ever uphill towards a picnic area near the top of the mountain. Mt Coottha is not exactly wilderness but it’s still fairly rugged for a being so close to the city. My shoes leave footprints in the sand. If it weren’t so hot I’d take them off but I haven’t yet worked up enough toughness to sustain even this short 5km (3 mile) hike without shoes. It’d be okay if the ground weren’t radiating such heat.
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Simpsons Falls

Simspons Falls are predictably dry. In a few months water will likely be tumbling over the falls and into waterhole below. The wet season hasn’t set in yet but when it does the dry dusty track will become a mud bath, the air sticky with humidity and the creek full.
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Red tree in the bush

It’s wonderful to be outdoors exploring the bush. This is one of the key reasons why I’ve made these latest lifestyle changes. I have to balance it with work, study and family. But today I had a little spare time and used it well.

Pumicestone Passage Paddle (Queensland, Australia)

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It’s amazing what knowing I am finishing up at my stressful job has done to my head space. Suddenly I am not spending my weekends stressing about family law matters and client needs. I am not feeling pressure to work because I need to make billables and I’m not feeling like there’s a lifetime of the limited four weeks annual leave that would otherwise await me. And this freedom made it easy for me to throw the kayaks on the roof of the car, message a friend and hit the water for a day of paddling.
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The Pumicestone Passage at Bribie Island is an amazing place of clear water, white sandy beaches, mangroves, sea creatures and a backdrop of the Glasshouse Mountains. F and I set off around 8am from a beach just north of the Bribie Island Bridge. The incoming tide created a perfect opportunity to drift and paddle northwards up the passage (you don’t want to paddle here against the tide).
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The water was incredibly clear today. Winter and spring are the best time of year to paddle here in South East Queensland because the summer storms are long gone and blue sky days allow the water to reflect blue. We did a lot of chatting as we drifted and paddled gently up and down the passage. I know I’m feeling content again because I didn’t feel an urge to push myself. I felt content to relax and feel the sun on my body, dip my hands in the cool water, share stories with F and admire the Glasshouse Mountains in the distance.
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We stopped on a beach just north of Gallagher Point. A child from a nearby boat played in the water. A stingray swam along the sandy sea bottom. Water lapped gently against the shore every time a boat or jet ski passed by. Donnybrook perched on the shoreline across the passage; the houses glistening white in the bright sunshine. I must come back and camp up here overnight to have more time to take in the atmosphere.
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On our way back down the passage we passed a dugong eating sea grass close to shore. It was majestic and right next to our boats. Suddenly it was just there and we had to move out of its way. Quite a spectacular moment. We also saw turtles and stingrays.

On returning to the cars we loaded the kayaks then F left for home. I hung out in the shade of some trees eating a late lunch then went for a little swim in the passage. I can’t wait for the next adventure …