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 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

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

Scenic Rim weekend day 2: Boonah

We made a tactical error last night and didn’t bring enough blankets. While I was warm enough with a jumper and sheet, poor Paul froze because he forgot to bring a jumper. We even put the picnic blanket from the entrance door over him but it didn’t help. So while Paul slept in after the sun warmed the morning, I went out for a walk.
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Mt Maroon looks out over Flanagan’s Reserve camp ground like a guard. The twin peaks can look majestical or sinister, depending on the weather. Today rain clouds hung around the twin summit but parted just long enough for this photo.
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After a walk along the road I went down to the Logan River, which runs past the camp. I have lost some of my zen since working full-time and I found it difficult to just immerse myself into the moment. I can’t explain the difference I feel from when I was living the gypsy life. But I also know it will come back.
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I had moments of my former self, such as when I noticed this small red flower a log by the river.
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And when I saw this path and couldn’t help but ponder what it would be like to just follow a random path along a river. My mind started to ponder bigger picture things … like longer term travel and adventure. The path and river called me.
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By the time I returned to camp Paul was awake. The wind was swirling through camp so we packed without eating and drove a little way down the road to Maroon Dam. The dam is on the opposite side of Mt Maroon as the camp. Here we cooked up an omelette on the free electric barbecue and talked about our idea of buying a campervan and hitting the road for a year or two to explore this vast continent. We have a few things we need to do to make it a reality (like buy a campervan and save some money). But we both now work in disability support and hope to both be studying to be primary school teachers (me majoring in health & physical education and Paul majoring in special education) so there is scope for us to work anywhere in future.
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It must be the fresh air and natural surroundings that create possibilities in my mind.
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Our next stop was Boonah. I’ve driven past signs to the town many times but never had cause to stop there. But Paul is with me and together we often stop in tiny towns and find something of interest. Boonah was no exception with it’s lovely art gallery. Janine Gibson, an artist who works with tea bags, recycled fabrics, doilies and tea staining, was hosting an exhibition. She was actually on site because an art tour group was visiting. I liked her work, which is slightly abstract, and we actually bought a piece. Unfortunately, it is part of the exhibition so we will have to wait until we return from Cambodia in late November to pick it up. Not that this is a hardship because it’s a good excuse to head back out. We took a photo of the artist with the piece too 🙂
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After a naughty sweet treat at the Sugarloaf Baking Co bakery we started the drive home only to get side tracked by a sign pointing to a motorcycle museum. As a keen rider myself, I had to check it out. The Panorama Motorcycles and Memorabilia Museum is a great little find. There are lots of cool old bikes, a couple of classic cars and some other items on display. It’s the bikes that really captured my attention though. Apparently most are rideable too, having been lovingly restored.
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For example, there are apparently only ten of these bikes in the world and this one actually runs.
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And this was one of the first Harley Davidsons that wasn’t painted olive green (which was apparently the only colour they originally came in).
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This Wippet Truck was used by the butcher to deliver meat almost 90 years ago in 1927.
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And these pianola rolls hark back to an era before racial equality and discrimination were part of the common tongue. I doubt the person who boxed them up even considered the historic message of the black face images.
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But let’s get back to the main event: the motorbikes. This one is by far my favourite. As a child I watched a movie that I think was called Scrambler or Scramble back in the 1980s or 1990s about a group of kids who rode dirt bikes. All I wanted was a scrambler bike. I did buy a Honda XR250 road-trail bike when I was 18 years old, followed by a Kawasaki KLR250 road-trail bike a few years later but I never quite managed to find a cool old scrambler like this one that was at the museum (I now ride a Suzuki GS500 road bike). So this is my favourite bike in the whole museum.

I loved being away for the weekend with Paul. It was like being where I am meant to be – out exploring the world slowly. I can’t wait to explore more. Watch this space …

Scenic Rim weekend day 1: Rathdowney

It’s been months since Paul and I went camping. Oh how I have missed the freedom of packing the car and hitting the road. With only one week left in my job as a lawyer, I am finally starting to feel like myself again so when I saw that the Rathdowney Rodeo was on this weekend I suggested we head down.

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We set off fairly late in the day because I had to do some work. So we arrived at camp at Flanagan’s Reserve just south of Rathdowney around 3pm. It was fairly good timing though because it meant we were able to enjoy the cool air conditioning during the heat of the day (the temperature was about 33’C – summer is going to be long and hot).
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I love Flanagan’s Reserve. It’s one of my favourite camping grounds because it’s so relaxed. It’s a bush camping reserve with toilets and showers. The cost is $10/adult/night. It’s rarely crowded and you can select your own spot under the gum trees to call home for your stay. We set up camp then laid out a picnic blanket that we lay on for a few hours enjoying the serenity.
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We drove down the road to the Rathy Rodeo around 5:30pm. Fortunately, we had left the camping chairs in the car because the small renta-grandstand seating was full. The best seats in the house on the good side of the ring were taken but there was still space on the pen side of the ring. So we settled in. What we didn’t realise was that it would get very cold later in the night.
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So cold that I ended up wearing the bag from the chair as a hat. I didn’t just wear it for the photo. I wore it all night. Haha.
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The rodeo was a good show. It had all the usual events: saddle bronc, bareback bronc, barrel racing, roping, team roping, steer wrestling and bull riding.
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The cowboys and cowgirls battled it out valiantly. At the end of the night, though, the livestock definitely had more wins on the board than the competitors. And the star of the show was definitely the comedy rodeo clown who had us laughing more and more as the night went on. I haven’t been to a rodeo in about five years. We used to go regularly as children so it was a nice walk down memory lane.