A night at the Gold Coast (Queensland , Australia)

Our flight to Vietnam departs at 9am in the morning. The airport is a two hour drive at the best of times, let alone during Monday morning peak hour. That’s all the excuse we need to justify a pre-trip night at the Gold Coast.
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The 27th floor of the Novotel Surfers Paradise has a stunning view. I’m glad Paul organised us a high floor.  The shapes of the mountains are familiar – I’ve spent a lifetime looking at and hiking the range. But I digress.

We take a walk along the waterfront. It’s late afternoon and the beaches are quiet. Only three surfers brave the cool winter afternoon in the shadows cast by highrise development.  This is the hour between holiday makers playing on the beach and party animals hitting the bars. The hour where couples promenade, families ride bicycles and fit people jog.
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Dad has recently moved to the Coast and invites us to take in the sunset from his balcony. His famous creme brule awaits as a pre dinner treat. There’s a reason I consider Dad’s creme brule famous: the taste is divine with smooth vanilla custard and crunchy top that cracks when hit with a spoon.
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He knows a place that sells burgers and beer. We step out into the yellow lit streets and walk a few blocks to Longboards. It’s a cool casual bar overlooking the Q1 swimming pool. We eat burgers and fries while talking the night away. There’s much to tell and hear. The perfect start to our adventures in Vietnam.

Gheerulla Valley hike day 2

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I didn’t even need the bivy last night, simply sleeping under the stars in my sleeping bag. It was warm and no dew set in. I enjoy some time staring at the sky framed by trees; the sky changing from a star studded black through grey to blue. We eat breakfast and pack casually before hitting the trail around 8.45am.
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We start by descending back down to Gheerulla Creek. The descent on fresh legs is much easier than the climb was yesterday.
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We reach the creek quickly and are soon dropping our packs at the junction leading to Gheerulla Falls. The falls slither down the face of a slabby rock face before dropping like a veil into waterhole. I can only imagine the thousands of people who have swum and drunk in and from this pool over the millennia.
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Leaving Gheerulla Creek we start the long climb up the range. We take it easy, stopping to eat snacks and take photos. There’s loads of mushrooms in white, purple, red and yellow. There’s also a random old Catepillar tractor sitting in an overgrown driveway (part of the trail follows a gravel road).
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And then we’re at the top of the ridge walking. It’s sensational up here where the forest is open and views can be glimpsed almost constantly. When we come to lookouts we can see where we’ve walked and where we’re going; I love this type of walking best.

We reach Thilba Thalba Walker’s Camp around 2pm and settle in for a relaxing afternoon. I love this particular camp. There’s a lookout and open forest. Around 4pm we are joined by a group of school boys and their teachers.  It’s interesting to watch their interactions. The boys are 17 years old and in their final school year. They are respectful and friendly. Their teachers talk loudly long after the boys have crashed out in their tents.
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Again I sleep outdoors. A cool breeze blows so I lay inside my bivy. Stars twinkle as I close my eyes. Another wonderful day with my mum.

Gheerulla Valley hike day 1

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I wake in my bivy looking at stars through tall gum trees. Mum is sleeping nearby in the tent. It’s early but I’m keen as mustard to get hiking. I’ve been looking forward to this trek since we agreed to go about a month ago. We’re camped at the Gheerulla Trail Bike camp near one of the trail heads for the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk.  I completed this hike in March over two rushed days but am back now to trully savour the area with my favourite hiking buddy: my mum.
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We hit the trail around 9am to properly start our adventure. The valley is deep but fairly wide at this point, allowing open forest and rocky outcrops to dominate the landscape. Despite the heavy rains last month, the creek is only flowing sluggishly with a modest volume of water. But it has obviously been washed through since the last time I walked through here just two short months ago.
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Mum sets a cracking pace. She’s an experienced bush walker who has spent most of the past three decades exploring South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales on foot. Before long we are deep in the narrowing Gheerulla Valley walking through palm trees and other rainforest species; stopping to eat morning tea on a small concrete bridge over Gheerulla Creek.
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As we near the head of the valley the trail turns away from the creek. We rest here before starting the 1.8km (1 mile) climb to Ubajee Walker’s Camp far up above us on the top of the escarpment. The trail zig zags from the rainforest-lined creek bed through increasingly drier forest dominated by gum trees and she-oaks. We are both happy to arrive at camp and dump our packs. It’s only 11.45am so we have all afternoon to enjoy the serenity.
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This is one of my favourite things about through walking: relaxing at camp. We while away the afternoon reading, eating, taking in the views at the lookout and snoozing. A dinner of satay chicken amd vegetables with noodles makes the perfect end to a long day before Mum hits her tent and I slide into my sleeping bag to sleep with just a canopy of stars above me.

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 

Kilcoy and Yarraman (South Burnett, Queensland)

I love that Paul loves exploring new places as much as I do. And that he’s willing to compromise by sleeping in a tent sometimes because he knows I love it. We have a small window of opportunity from 9am Wednesday until 3pm Thursday so we pack the car and hit the road. Our destination is the Bunya Mountains, about three hours drive from our house.
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Our first stop is Kilcoy. We visit Kilcoy Quality Meats, which is an amazing butcher shop where steaks are cut fresh instead of precut and stored. The bacon is thick and water-free so it actually browns when we fry it for breakfast. And the sausages are made of meat not filler. We end up stopping in again on our way home to pick up a bit more meat.
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We eat a picnic lunch in yowie park. Ducks waddle around on the grass and swim on the pond. We have ham, salad and cheese in the esky so make sandwiches. In the words of a character from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, “food always tastes better in the outdoors”. There’s nothing quite like a picnic lunch. I rate it far higher than just about any other meal.
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Next door there’s a craft shop. Paul and I have developed a bit of a thing for craft shops with their quirky local works of art. This shop is quirky and cute. We buy a cute little yowie doll. A yowie is a mythical creature that lives in the Australian bush. The doll is cute and will make a nice addition to our collection of crafts.
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We spend the night at Dandabah campground at the Bunya Mountains. We arrive after dark because of our hike on the western trails. Fortunately our tent is easy to pitch and it’s not long before we are eating our barbecue dinner while watching wallabies and other night marsupials doing their thing.

In the morning I walk the eastern tracks before returning to camp for breakfast. We break camp thinking we have hours before we need to be home. This will change with a phone call in which Paul is called in for a 3pm start. But for now we are blissfully unaware so take our time.
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We almost drive through Yarraman without a second thought. But a sign points to a museum. And we do love a country museum. “We’ll just stop in for 15 minutes”. Two hours later and we are finally getting back on the road having learned about the district’s history from a well versed guide.
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Our walk through the European history of Yarraman includes stories of the boys’ school intended to ensure young men would be educated, not just farm hands for their fathers.  Nuns lived here too – first in a convent and later on retreats.  Timber cutting was a catlyst for development and the now defunct railway line was a lifeline to the outside world. There’s even an old sewing machine that might have been the first portable electric sewing machine in Australia.
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There’s an old ambulance display, a range of buildings and, naturally, the military exhibit. I know it sounds terribly unpatriotic but I often find military displays distasteful because they appear to glorify war and call modern day men and women to arms at a time when the world needs peace. A war memorial  should not show soldiers smiling.  It should show the dead bodies of the innocent who are caught in the cross fire of those shooting the guns. That said, the flight uniform of the Roullettes aerobatics pilot is awesome.

The call to return home comes while we’re at the museum so we race off down the highway.  But we’ll be back because we want to see the stone huts at Moore, the new museum at Blackbutt and eat a meal at Linville’s pub. Stay tuned for our next adventure in the region.

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