Te Waihou Walkway, Blue Spring, Wairere Falls and Te Aroha Museum (Waikato, New Zealand)

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We wake on our first morning in New Zealand to the most glorious sunrise from our bedroom window at my cousin’s home. I jump up and run outside in bare feet on cool wet grass to take a photo (or ten) of the magical moment. It’s our first glimpse of the landscape without the over of darkness. And what a glimpse it is.

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Our first stop for the day is the Te Waihou Walkway and Blue Spring. It’s about 45 minutes drive from our home for the night. The short walk is immediately beautiful! There’s dairy cattle grazing in a paddock and a few hundred metres further we see the blue waters of the creek that leads to Blue Spring for the first time. The waters are impossibly clear. It looks shallow but is actually deep. The green plants look like tall trees that sway in the currents below the water. It’s mesmerising. At a constant 11’C it would make an incredible place to cool down in summer (though swimming is prohibited at the actual Blue Spring).
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From Blue Spring we drive to Wairere Falls. Former Cyclone Debbie dumped so much water here that the falls are visible from miles away. My cousin tells us about a track to view the falls. It’s 45 minutes each way and has some steep sections. Sounds perfect so we turn off the road to take a short hike. The walk is pretty. The creek is flowing quickly and full of water. Each bridge across the raging torrents brings stunning views. Small rainbows form in a whisper of water slipping down a wall in long thin fingers.

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But the real majesty is waiting for us at the lower lookout. The waterfall is plunging down the cliff ahead of us. Words can’t do it justice. We eat lunch in awe of the view before the much easier walk back down.

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All I knew about Te Aroha was that my aunt lives there. She wasn’t home for a spontaneous visit but the nearby museum was open. For $NZ5 it’s a good value museum. Te Aroha was established for the purpose of being a bath town because of the natural thermal springs there. The first European bath was made in the muddy ground by burying a piano box. After that a number of huts were built around the various springs. Unfortunately, this affected the rights of Maori people who no longer had access at their traditional waters. At their height, the Te Aroha baths were a major tourist attraction for health and healing. After science disproved the curative properties of thermal baths the baths fell into disrepair until 1990 when restoration works began. Now there are two thermal baths, a foot bath and a public swimming pool.

We end the day at the Top Pub in Morrinsville where we take my cousin for dinner. It’s quiet but then there are  only 4.5 million people living in New Zealand and this is a particularly rural part of the country. The food is tasty and the atmosphere relaxed even though we have the place to ourselves. It’s been a brilliant first day.

Double Island hike day 2: Freshwater to Rainbow Beach via Double Island Point (Queensland, Australia)

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I wake up early in the toilet block ready to explore some more of this beautiful part of the world. The rain has stopped and the sky has turned blue. I give myself the luxury of a shower and set off down to Teewah Beach. The morning sun and blue sky is such a contrast to last night’s storm.

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I turn northwards and start walking. I’ll have breakfast at Double Island Point, some 10km up the beach from here. A few 4WDs pass me but the incoming tide and it being a weekday seems to have limited the vehicles to a trickle. Most have surf boards so much be heading up to ride the waves for a day. I stop to admire the sea slugs, shells and jelly fish. The incoming waves make patterns in the sand. The sound of the waves is the musical score to my hike.

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The tide has almost blocked car access to the southern beach of Double Island Point. Experienced surfers tackle the big rough waves that crash over the rocky point. I take off my shoes and sit in the crystal clear water for a short while.

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I leave my shoes off and climb the track up to Double Island Point lighthouse. I was here a couple of years ago when I ran a 45km trail run along the same trails. But now I am enjoying the trail with a tent and plenty of food instead. It’s exactly what I want to be doing.

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The northern side of Double Island Point is a stark contrast to the southern side. It’s almost always protected from the prevailing south easterly winds. The water is so clear I cannot resist a swim. Less experienced surfers ride easy long waves over a sandy bottom. I swim a while then eat breakfast (well, at 10am I guess it’s more like brunch) in the shade. A Canadian backpacker who I spoke with last night at camp happens to be there too so we have a yarn. Before I know it, midday has come and gone and I still have 15km to hike on an increasingly hot day.

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The walk along Double Island Point is hot but gorgeous. Tidal lagoons with glassy surfaces stretch in a long chain. Small fish swim in the shallows as wading birds time their attack for optimum success. The sun is beating down but the scenery is perfect. I can see the Carlo Sandblow and Rainbow Beach in the distance. It doesn’t look so far away but looks can be deceiving.

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I reach the decision point: to walk in the sun along the flat beach or turn inland to walk the undulating trail under the trees in the humidity. The trail seems more sensible given the speed with which the sun is drying me out. I’ll never know which option was better. I do know now that the trail was hot, sweaty and challenging.

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Despite the trail being pretty I struggle in the heat. My pace slows to about 3kph, which is incredibly slow. My pack is not even that heavy. It’s just the humidity and the cumulative effects of my walking challenge. It’s now day 17 and I have walked at least 12km every day, with today being a 25km epic. I am so grateful to reach the sign that shows I only have to walk 3.6km to Carlo Sandblow because that puts me within 5km of the finish line.
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Carlo Sandblow is a sight for sore eyes. I know I can make it back to the car from here. It’s now late in the afternoon and the sun has started to lose it’s edge. It’s started to drizzle and I can hear thunder in the distance. Looking to the south east I can see Double Island Point stretching into the sea (photo above). I can’t believe I walked from there plus that distance again from camp.

Would I do this hike again? Absolutely! But probably not in March, which is our hottest and wettest month of the year.

Distance: 25km
Cumulative distance for my challenge to walk 12km a day for 31 days: 237.9km.
To support me in my challenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross, please donate at:  http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills 

Double Island hike day 1: Rainbow Beach to Freshwater via Poona Lake (Queensland, Australia)

So here I am, sleeping on a bench in a bathroom grateful for the one pair of undies that stayed dry tonight. I wonder what the other blokes in camp will think when they find me here tomorrow morning. Two bad choices led me here: taking a bivy instead of a tent during the wet season and trying to be a hero when the storm came over. But I am not down on myself.  I know from experience that I always remember the nights I’ve slept in toilet blocks clearly for many years. 

But I should really start this story from the beginning.  For it’s not a sad tale at all. 

For days 16 and 17 if my challenge to walk 12km each day during March to raise money for the Australian Red Cross, I decided to go on an overnight hike. With the Cooloola Great Walk closed between Freshwater Lake and Harry’s Hut, and a nomadic friend being in Gympie I decided to walk the Double Island Point loop from Rainbow Beach. By camping at Freshwater Lake the distances would be a challenging 18km and 24km. Freshwater camp has drinking water so that made it a logical camp.  

After a 2.5 hour drive I park midway between the Rainbow Beach surf club and Carlo Sandblow. This allows me to get the steep urban walk out if the way today. Something I’ll surely be grateful for tomorrow.  
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Carlo Sandblow is an iconic Rainbow Beach destination in its own right.  I remember playing here on family holidays during my childhood. Back then it was still possible to climb down the cliff face to the beach. But it was always scary and dangerous. Today it is forbidden and with good reason because the cliff has changed and we probably caused some terrible erosion back then.
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Crossing Carlo takes me into a fairly lush rainforest for such a sandy place. I will spend my day meandering past brightly coloured mushrooms and twisted vines. The buttress rooted trees and strangler figs so familiar from my years of bushwalking in South East Queensland are plentiful here too.  
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8km after entering the bush I come to Poona Lake. I was here last year when I ran a trail half marathon but this time I can stop to enjoy white sands of the ti tree stained water. The sand granules are sticky and cling to my sweaty body and clothes. I sit a while in the water. It’s refreshing on this disgustingly hot and humid day. 
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I hear the three young backpackers for twenty minutes before they arrive. Carrying only swimmers and towels they’re on a different mission to me so I leave them to their fun and continue my walk.
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I am hot and bothered by the time Freshwater Lake comes into view. The humidity is stifling and reminds me why I hate March – that sneaky hot rainy month right when you think the long hot summer might be over. The lake is pretty but I don’t stay long. I want to go to camp and have also forgotten to pack bug spray to protect me from the mozzies. 

Freshwater camp is quiet and pretty.  There are only two other tents here.  Both have 4WDs parked out the front so I must be the only walker.  We used to come here by 4WD when I was young too.  Cooloola is amazing and one of the best and most accessible 4WD areas around. 
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I lay on my bivy bag  squashing horse flies. A butcher bird flies over to catch and eat the flies that I throw away.  It also spies a native cockroach and makes short work of that. I eat my own dinner and drink strong sweet tea Javanese style with lots of condensed milk. And that’s where the sensible part of my day ends.
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For some reason I get it in my head to walk to the beach. I discover that it’s much cooler there due to a breeze. I also spot a storm coming quickly north. What I do next is so dumb. I am surprised at myself. Instead of hanging at camp amd waiting for the storm to pass, I decide to shift to the beach because it’s cooler and I might not sweat as much in my bivy. The real mistake was relying on a bivy during the storm season and not carrying a tent.  That aside, I should not have moved camp because the beach is the worst place to be in a storm.  There’s limited protection from lightning and the rain has nothing to temper its ferocity.  
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Half an hour later everything is wet and I’m running back to camp in my now saturated sleeping clothes. And that’s how this episode of “Andrew sleeps in a toilet block” comes about. 

Lessons learned: pack mozzie spray, bivy bags are a three season shelter so use a tent in summer and stay in camp when it storms. 

Distance: 18.3km plus 3km to and from beach a couple of times

Cumulative distance for challenge:216.9km

If you would like to support me in my challenge to walk 12km each day during March to raise awareness for people walking to flee war and to raise miney for the Australian Red Cross, please donate through my profile on the Red Cross challenge page: http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills 

Walking for Refugees Day 9 – Bunya Mountains east walk (Queensland, Australia)

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Wallabies hop outside our tent. It makes it easy to get up for my walk. I feel so blessed to be waking up like this. It makes it easy to put on my shoes, grab my hiking poles and set off into the bush. It’s about 200m to the start of the Eastern Tracks where I will walk today.
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Setting off into the rainforest I am struck by the number of bunya nut seeds that litter the trail. Bunya nuts are massive seeds that fall from the bunya trees. The nuts can be up to 10kg in weight – large enough to cause some serious damage if a person is hit by them. The bunya trees produce nuts every year but every three years there’s a bumper crop. For thousands of years before European colonisation, the Traditional Owners would come to the Bunya Mountains every three years to celebrate this bumper crop. Aboriginal men and women from all over northern New South Wales and South East Queensland would walk to the mountains for the festival. It often involved months of community activities. Unfortunately, the last of these gatherings was held in about 1880 after which time the European invaders started to force Aboriginal people to live on missions.
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I spend my morning walking through nature. There’s mushrooms, butterflies, scrub turkeys and bower birds. It’s glorious.
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There’s tall old trees with buttressed roots and gnarled strangler fig vines. It feels wonderful to be out here.
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While the western trails have expansive views over the flat farming lands to the west, the eastern trails have a few lookouts. The views are of the less steep eastern sides of the Bunya Mountains, the rolling hills to the east and the Tarong power station’s towers. Today wispy clouds roll up the hills as I stand taking in one of the view points.
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The other contrast between the western and eastern sides of the Bunya Mountains is that yesterday’s walk was through largely dry country while today’s walk includes some lovely cool creeks and waterfalls. Even on a dry day like today, there is water in the little falls and in other small falls I pass. Sure, it’s not a roaring thunder like it could be after heavy rains. But it’s still quite a contrast from the western side of the mountains.

Twelve kilometres later I am back at camp. Paul gets up and we cook a BBQ breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches on the camp BBQs. Unlike most public BBQs in Australia, these cost 20c each and are unclean. It’s my only criticism of the Bunya Mountains. While local councils all over Australia are providing free clean electric BBQs, the state government has failed to do it here. Breakfast is still tasty and we try to leave the BBQ in a better state than we found it.

Distance: 12.2km
Cumulative distance: 122.6km

If you would like to support me in this challenge, please donate to the Australian Red Cross through this link: https://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills

Walking for Refuges day 8 – Bunya Mountains west walk (Queensland, Australia)

The Bunya Mountains rise high from the flat South Burnett cattle country. It’s a place steeped in history, both happy and sad. A history intricately linked with the natural beauty of the bushland that covers this range. A history I will try to share in this and my next post.

We’ve come to the Bunyas for an overnight camping trip. And so that I can complete walks eight and nine of my challenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross. Of the three campgrounds we choose Dandabah camping area because it has hot showers and electric BBQs. This is my compromise to Paul who doesn’t like camping and does it because I do. The electric BBQs are a treat because it saves us lighting a wood fired BBQ when we arrive at camp in the dark after my walk.

We left home late so don’t arrive at Cherry Plain to start my walk until 4pm. I’ve chosen this start point so Paul can walk the first 6.2km with me as a loop to Westcott picnic area. I can then walk from Cherry Plain to Burtons Well while he drives there to pick me up.

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We set off onto the trail. It’s cool here at 1,100m above sea level. Much cooler than at our home by the sea. It’s perfect for walking. The path is wide and well marked with green timber national park signs. It’s not like walking in Europe where you follow a colour coded system of markings on trees and posts. It’s far more primitive in a way because if there’s a fire or storm the rangers need to come up here to replace the signs. But the nice thing is that the signs usually show place names and distance.

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The forest here is fairly young. There are some massive old buttressed trees along the path. But these are the exception, not the norm. This is where some of the sad history of the Bunyas comes into play. Not sad for all but I consider it sad. The timber getters worked hard here in the mountains, chopping down trees to build houses, railways and fences so that we Europeans could colonise the lands. While not all timber harvesting is bad, it was done in a greedy unsustainable way by people who probably didn’t yet know the environmental impact of their activities. Today, old trees with impressively huge buttresses are less common than they would have been.

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We wander along the trail, enjoying the flowers and landscape that nature offers. Some flowers and native while others are weeds. We don’t discriminate in our photography because sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. We get some good glimpses of views to the west as we walk. It makes us talk about the trip we took out here last Easter when we drove through the mountains and flat lands for three days. It’s funny how it’s taken until my late thirties to start to appreciate and explore these places close to home.

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We reach Westcott picnic area. It’s a small grassy area for picnics and tent camping. There are some composting toilets, picnic tables and wood fired BBQs. But the real treat are the wallabies that call this area home. With good grasses it’s no surprise they come here to dine.

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After our 1.8km walk back down the road to Cherry Plain I say good bye to Paul and set off back onto the trail alone. It’s now 5:20pm so I’m glad I’ve packed a headlamp. The first 1.1km of the trail is old ground. I walked here at the beginning of today’s hike so cover the ground quickly now.

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I had hoped for some spectacular sunset photos off the lookouts here to the west. However, it is overcast so the light isn’t as bright as I had hoped. The Cherry Plains Lookout gives a good impression of the landscape. It’s almost like taking a drone shot of the topography.

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I walk through open eucalyptus forest where snow gums reign. I love these white barked gums. They occur at high places where the weather gets cold. I think back to a trip I took seven years ago riding my motorcycle through the Australian Alps and Snowy Mountains where these trees are even more prolific. It gives me a sense of peace and calm. They are probably my favourite Australian flora. My second favourite probably has to be the grass tree. I walk through some areas where grass trees grow crazy.

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As I continue northwards the escarpment opens up and glimpses turn into views. The sun starts to set and some colours finally appear on the horizon. I stop to enjoy the views. Probably for a little bit too long – because stopping now will mean I complete my walk in the dark. Sunsets here in the sub tropics signal the coming of darkness, not the start of twilight as is the case in some other geographic zones.

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Of course there are benefits to walking at the end of the day when the world of men grows quiet and nature takes over. Benefits like seeing an echidna in the wild. I think I’ve only seen three in the wild in my life. These shy animals generally prefer to avoid contact with humans but today I am in luck. Unlike the porcupine there’s no danger of an echidna throwing its quills so I can safely take a photo then move on to allow it to continue it’s search for a meal in peace.

A headlamp lights my path for the final 2km of my hike. Paul is waiting patiently at Burtons Well and we drive together back to Dandabah to set camp. Our tent is pitched and bed is made within ten minutes. All that’s left to do is BBQ the amazing sausages we bought at the butcher in Kilcoy and relish the fact that they are made with real meat, not a load of horrible fillers. The night grows cool and we retire to bed to fall asleep listening to the nocturnal wildlife going about their business outside.

Distance walked: 12.2km
Cumulative distance: 110.4km

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

Walking for refugees – Day 3 – Sunshine Coast Great Walk Thilba Thalba to Delicia Road via Gheerulla Valley (Queensland, Australia)

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I wake to the sound of birds and the wind through the trees above me. I’m at Thilba Thalba walkers camp on the Sunshine Coast Great Walk. I’m happy to be eating my breakfast as the sun rises through the trees. Some cheeky birds are stalking my baked beans but I guard the food from them. My pack will be much lighter today given I’ve eaten most of my food and only have to carry water for one day.
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I also feel lighter metaphysically. My mind is more alert and at ease in the bush after spending the night out here. I think about one of my happiest times – when I hiked the Great North Walk some years ago. This 12km a day for 31 days challenge might just bring me back to that place through my planned overnight hikes during my weekends.
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The views from Thilba Thalba Viewpoint 1.5km down the trail are spectacular. I can see where I walked from and where I’m headed. I walked from the top of a ridge on the left lit up by the sun. I walked down into the valley and then climbed up behind the spur in the mid-right of the photo before walking along the mountain on the right. Today I will descend again into the valley before walking up back up the mountain from which I began this delightful adventure.
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Rangers are repairing the track at Gheerulla Bluff. I chat with them a while. The repair work is being completed from funding out of the 2011 flood relief funds but has only recently been approved. The wheels of government move like snails.
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I take on the views north towards Kenilworth. I’ve never seen this view before. It’s incredible. I have a new appreciation for the landscapes that Paul and I have been driving through these past few weeks on our outings. I never realised there were so many mountains up there.
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I drop down into Gheerulla Creek. Saying it like that makes it sound like an easy walk but it is steep with some slippery sections. Tall grass trees grow with their higgeldy piggeldy trunks poking out at all angles. It feels good to be in the bush at home. The creek is mostly dry with some pockets of water where the rocks are deepest. But it’s obvious that this can be a roaring watercourse after heavy rains. I wouldn’t like to be here when that happens, though it would be spectacular.
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I stop a while to enjoy the landscape but decide against swimming because I don’t feel like walking wet.
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I come to a rare flat section and savour it. Having walked the other sections of the Sunshine Coast Great Walk as day walks over the past twelve months I know that flat sections are rare on this walk. It is mostly an up and down affair that traverses a few ranges.

I reach the 12km mark just after I start the climb back up to Ubajee Walkers Camp. It’s a long 1.8km climb. It takes me about 40 minutes of steady walking followed by a lovely 40 minutes lazing in the shade eating lunch and reading my book.
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I retrace my steps the way I came yesterday. I walk beneath the tall trees and through the rainforest to my car.

Distance 18.6km
Duration: 5 hours 23 mins
Cumulative distance 49.7km.

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

Walking for refugees -Day 2 – Sunshine Coast Great Walk Delicia to Thilba Thalba walkers camp (Queensland, Australia)

I have two consecutive days off work. I’ve been protecting these days from the extra shifts I get asked to take on. These days are ear marked for a night in the outdoors.


I am late arriving at the Delicia Road (M4) entrance to the Sunshine Coast Great Walk. Mostly because I was talking with Paul but also because I hadn’t packed last night. I’ve realised on my drive up that I don’t have a torch. But I have an iPhone so that will do the same trick. And I could do with an early night, which a lack of light will ensure.

It’s been a long time since I did any hiking with a full pack. Maybe it was as long ago as 2014. I’ve done some hikes since but I don’t think I carried much for those. It feels good to be back in the swing and my body remembers the weight of a pack easily.


Rainforest surrounds me as I hit the trail. Birds sing. Humidity shrouds me thanks largely to the dense forest blocking any breeze. Everything is lush and green despite the lack of rain.


After about 2.5km I find myself on a wide multi use trail with cleared undergrowth. Tall gums rise above me. I feel like I am a million miles from my daily life.


I reach Ubajee Walkers Camp and the nearby view point. From here I can see the valley into which I will descend and the high range where my campsite is waiting for me. It always looks daunting to see mountains rising from deep narrow valleys when I know I need to climb them. But I also know that I just need to put one for in front of the other.


The descent into Gheerulla Creek is a steeps switch back path. It’s narrow again after the wide multi use trails. I push the realisation out of my mind: tomorrow I will return this way. Instead I focus on the freedom of being out here hiking. The luxury of living in a place where bombs are not dropping and the economy is not totally destroyed. Not so fortunate are those for whom I am undertaking this challenge.

Gheerulla Creek and falls are dry but for some small water holes. It must be spectacular after a good solid wet season. I fear we may have missed our’s this year.

The climb is as long and arduous as I feared. Not many have come this way yet since last season and grass covers the trail with reckless abandon. Palm trees grow in the reentrant to my right while drier shrubs dominate to higher left side. I focus on getting up the mountain.


Once up I can relax. My late departure had left me with a time crunch. But with just 6.5km left to walk and 5 hours of daylight I feel more secure now. I once again start to stop to take in the landscape around me. Particularly the smaller things.


I pass the 12km mark. Lucky for me there’s a sign.


Not far from the sign is the Gheerulla Valley Viewpoint. It’s magnificent to look out over the lands north where I will walk tomorrow. But I hear thunder rumbling on the western side of the ridge. Dark clouds have rolled in. I press on the final 2.6km to camp.


Naturally these are also the longest 2.6km of the walk. How better to pass the time than to take some photos. I am feeling my general lack of endurance fitness. Sure, I’ve been doing lots of Creek walks but these have been short.


Thilba Thalba walkers camp sits at the edge of an escarpment looking north east. There’s a small viewpoint where I hope to watch the sunrise tomorrow. If I wake on time, that is. For I have no intention of setting an alarm. I pitch my tent for the first time since my cycle tour of Japan in May 2015 and settle in for the afternoon. I have a good book, a cup of tea and patchy wifi service. A fresh breeze is blowing, birds are twittering, the dark clouds have stayed to the west of the ridge so far though I anticipate overnight rain. What more could a man want? Well, I do have an inflatable pillow and sleeping mat that have failed. But given the nature of my challenge, those are luxury problems.

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