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

Point Cartwright (Sunshine Coast, Australia)

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Blue water edged with white comes in contact with yellow sand lined by green trees. This is the view south from Point Cartwright when we arrive at the car park ready for our walk.The walk around Point Cartwright is quite short and easy. There’s a sealed pathway to follow that flows along the least steep route. In the past I always thought I had to do the difficult walks to make an outing worthwhile but now I just enjoy where I am.

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Point Cartwright has a water tower and lighthouse. The water tower has been painted with a seascape of local marine life. The work is striking and visible from a distance. I think it’s far better than having an ugly white or grey tank. At 32m high the lighthouse was built here in 1978 here after the original lighthouse at Caloundra was obstructed by high rise development. The lighthouse itself is not accessible to the public but the grounds are.

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This is pandanus country where spiky leaves frame the view and tubular roots line the path.

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Rounding the lighthouse we take in the views north before walking down to sea level.

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On the way we notice many signs honouring people who have passed. We wonder whether locals pay for this honour or just attach the signs themselves. We have noticed these plaques on other Sunshine Coast lookouts so maybe it’s a local thing.

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At sea level we explore the rocks. Some are smooth and others rough. I like the ones with holes. I wonder whether it’s natural or created by the traditional owners in times gone by. Either way, this is a stunning place to spend some time.

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We hang out a while watching the surfers and paddlers enjoying the sea. I often wish I had been born into a surfing family because it looks like such an amazing sport. I took lessons about ten years ago but was not comfortable in the ocean and was a bit afraid of the waves. So I guess I’ll just enjoy watching the surfers. Besides, I grew up in a hiking, camping, cycling and traveling family, which has had a positive impact on my life as an adult.

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We return to the car and drive back south to Dicky Beach at Caloundra. Fish and chips make the perfect seaside lunch. A short swim and laze in the shade of a tree round out our day at the Sunshine Coast.

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.

Blackall Range tourist drive (Queensland, Australia)

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I’ve driven through Woodford and along the Blackall Range tourist drive countless times but never like a tourist. I’ve never really stopped in the small towns along the way nor stopped to take photos of the scenery. Today that will change.

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The Woodford museum and art gallery is a hidden treasure. The local artists have created an eye-catching array of works. There’s portraits and landscapes in water colour, oils and acrylics of all shapes and sizes. The artists are all in residence working away at a large table. The works are all reasonably priced so we buy two small paintings to add to our collection. The creativity doesn’t stop here. There’s a whittling display, models of historic buildings and other historic information.

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Our next stop is Maleny. It’s another town I’ve raced through so many times I have lost count. But today we stop. The town is a popular tourist destination and it’s time to see why. The town is a mix of coffee shops, op shops, second hand book shops and art galleries. The prices are jacked up compared with other areas. But we still manage to find some affordable art to hang on the wall and some fun stuff at an op shop. We also spend some time in the old style lolly shop where I buy drop (Dutch licorice), which is sold by weigh.

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We leave Maleny headed towards Kenilworth through rolling farmland. The towns of Witta and Connondale are tiny dots on the map and even tinier in real life. The landscape is relaxing to drive through.

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Kenilworth arrives before we know it. We visit the cheese factory and taste all the cheeses. All are delicious. There’s Dutch Gouda, bush tucker flavours, sweet chili and chives, mature cheeses and cheeses I wouldn’t have heard of if we hadn’t come here. We eat a picnic lunch in the park. We came here last week with work but it’s different being here just the two of us. More relaxed and I feel more like I’m in a country town picnicking in a park. Our desert is fudge from the lolly shop in Maleny.

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The Obi Obi road up to Mapleton climbs steeply out of the valley and to the mountain top. It twists and turns sharply with views into a deep farming valley and over to the mountains disappearing off into the distance.

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It’s a Wednesday so Montville is quiet. We’ll continue our adventures from here another day. It’s worth the drive anyway because the road out of town follows a ridge line with views east and west.

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All that’s left to do is stop at the farm stalls amidst the Glasshouse Mountains.

North Pumicestone Passage paddle (Queensland, Australia)

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It’s been ages since Mum and I went paddling together. And I’ve never paddled at the northern end of Bribie Island. A friend of mine recently shared some photos of a paddle in the area and it inspired me so I invite Mum along for a day on the water. We launch at Golden Beach, Caloundra. Fortunately, a local warns us about the need to paddle a hundred meters north into the boating channel rather than having to walk a long way across sand banks on the more direct route to the island.

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Right from the word go I am struck by the clear water. It’s stinking hot (35’C) and humid. The clear water almost feels cool just looking at it.

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After entering the boating channel we turn south and drift / paddle with the tide and wind pushing us along. I am a little surprised at how quickly we are pushed along. It’s like being on a water slide without the crazy bends.

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Black lumps rise form the water. At first I cannot identify what the lumps are. But on closer inspection it turns out to be a huge flock of black swans with bright red beaks. I don’t have a reliable zoom lens on my phone camera so have to make do with a quick shot before the swans fly a short distance away from the boats.

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We drift and paddle for about an hour along the Pumicestone Passage. I had intended to travel towards Bells Creek but it’s so hot and Mum hasn’t paddled in ages. So, instead, I stop when I see a small patch of sand between the mangroves. We have to wade knee-deep through thick mud to get to shore but it’s worth it because it’s dry on the sand on a narrow ledge between two mangrove forests. I hang two hammocks, lay out a picnic blanket and we pull out some books. We chill in the wilderness for almost three hours. It’s a random place to rest so it’s kind of special.

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On setting off we thought the tide should have changed. Certainly the tide chart I used said it should have but it was still dead tide with a head wind. The paddling is still relatively easy though. Particularly because I’m enjoying time with Mum in nature.

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We stop at the Lions Park on Bribie Island to walk to the ocean side. It’s only a few minutes walk across the island here. All the while we can listen to the sound of waves crashing on ocean beach. Over on the beach we lay in shallow water for a swim. It’s great to finally cool off properly from the heat. And the clear water just demands entry.

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Leaving Lions Park we paddle across the Passage back towards Golden Beach. The water is so incredibly clear over the sand banks now that the tide has come in.

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Kite surfers zip across the water. And one of their dogs swims happily in the shallows. This is incredible!

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We beach the kayaks, take a swim, load the kayaks on the car and jump back into the water. It’s been a wonderful day.

Noosa National Park (Queensland, Australia)

Paul and I have a day off so drive up to Noosa to walk part of the Coastal Track at Noosa National Park. I haven’t been there since childhood and have no independent recollection of that visit. After my recent exploration of local places I am hungry to see more. It’s only a 90 minute drive from our home to Noosa so we decide it’s a great idea to check out this popular tourist destination.

The first thing that strikes us when we arrive in Noosa is how touristy the town is. There are scooter and bicycle hire shops everywhere. Young European tourists walk with sunburned shoulders wearing swimming clothes. At the other end of the scale are the older generations with preppy clothes and stiff hairstyles. These are the financially well off living the Noosa experience totally differently to the backpackers. One thing that they have in common is that they are in an incredibly beautiful place.

We struggle to find a park up at the National Park. There are very few parks in the National Park and the few parks outside on the street have a two hour time limit. This will become a problem later when we have to cut our walk short to avoid a heavy fine.

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But it’s worth it even to be here for two hours. As soon as we step out of the car we notice Noosa’s beauty. The sea is a deep blue green. Waves roll gently in to shore. Surfers paddle and bob on the water.

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The Ocean Track is a ten kilometer return walk but, due to the relatively short parking time limit and extreme heat, we decide to walk out to Hell’s Gate and back. This will be about six kilometers. The first part of the walk takes us through tea tree forests. The trees are soft with peeling bark trunks. The ocean makes an amazing background to the off-white flaking trunks. This leads us to (you guessed it) Tea Tree Bay where families are resting under the trees and swimming in the sea.

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The track is well maintained and easy to walk. I wouldn’t call this a hike at all. It’s more like meandering through the seascape.

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The shore of Granite Bay is covered in large rocks. It is a beach that would be at home anywhere in Europe. People have built cairns, which add some mystical atmosphere.

Hell’s Gate is quiet today. There’s not much hell in the water today. I can imagine that it gets scary though when the wind is ripping in. Paul spots a turtle from high up on our cliff-side vantage point. It’s a testament to the clarity of the water that we can see it from our vantage point.

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We walk around the headland and then retrace out steps back to the car. The six kilometer (3.5 mile) walk has taken just under two hours because we stopped so often to take photos. We might need to come back another time.

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After the walk we drive home along the coast, stopping at Coolum Lookout from which we look south at surfers and swimmers enjoying the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. In future I would start the walk around Noosa Heads from Sunshine Beach where parking is slightly easier to acquire.