The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time. – David Henry Thoreau
“I can’t believe we’re really going!” I had to agree with my daughter. It was September, 2011 and it was difficult to believe that after the prolonged stressful events of the previous months we were finally on the road and escaping the city for a few days. It took a couple of hours of driving but slowly, like heavy fog rising to reveal a dazzling blue sky, our tension lifted and we were laughing and sighing with relief. We hadn’t even reached our destination but the anticipation of being immersed in nature was already having a therapeutic effect.
Our destination, Girraween National Park, is about 260 km SW of Brisbane in the Granite Belt region near Stanthorpe. Girraween is an Indigenous word meaning “place of flowers” and it certainly lives up to its name in spring when the display of wild blossoms is spectacular. The author and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, wrote, “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” It is interesting to ponder a world without flowers. She would have been impressed by Girraween’s offering.
The park is also known for its massive exposed granite formations including the two Pyramids, Castle Rock, The Turtle and The Sphinx. Nature has sculptured balancing rocks, archways, underground caves and spherical boulders throughout the park. The two Pyramids were originally called “Terrawambella” by the Indigenous inhabitants of the region. I noticed a dearth of information about Indigenous history on travel and national park sites so for more information read HERE. In one article I read, parts of Girraween were regarded as neutral ground and different groups would meet together for important ceremonial events as well as to trade. The wildflower displays, impressive granite features, peaceful creeks, waterfalls, wildlife and well-maintained walking tracks make Girraween a great destination for people of all ages and interests. There are many tracks of varying difficulties to choose from and when you finish these you can head to neighbouring parks such as Bald Rock Mountain. For information about the many walking tracks and wheelchair accessibility see HERE. Two camping grounds are available but sites must be booked ahead. Remote bush camping is also possible. Whether you want an easy walk, a challenging climb, remote wilderness hiking or just want to take some great photographs, Girraween will satisfy. It is such a popular destination that it has some very fancy National Park signage…
A bonus for food loving hikers (like me) is that there is plenty of great tasty produce to sample in the Granite Belt region. Apple and stone fruit orchards, wineries, dairies and cheese makers add to the attraction. Vincenzos offer some great local and also imported tastings. So you can partake of all this healthy food to build those much needed reserves before your hike and then after your walking and climbing, indulge again to replenish the energy! That’s my excuse anyway. The Stanthorpe area can be quite cool with a very light snowfall not an unusual annual occurrence so take warm clothing. Winter is when I do most of my hiking as I don’t cope well with the Queensland heat so the cooler temps at Girraween are another plus in my eyes.
I’d better get back to writing about our day before I start sounding too much like a tourist brochure! When we arrived at the park it had dropped to O C overnight and the day was overcast, so we weren’t going to overheat in a hurry. We chose to walk to the first Pyramid to attempt the climb and then take a side detour to see the Granite Arch. In the end we took quite a few side tracks but my memory fails me as to what they were now. The class 3 and 4 Pyramid walk is only 3.6km but takes about two hours as the steep granite slope of the giant dome can be very challenging. Once you get to the top you’ll probably want to sit back, enjoy the view and be thankful you survived before attempting the steep descent but more on that later!
The beginning of the walk took us past a freezing cold creek surrounded by exposed granite and flowering wattle and heather. It was at this point that Tough Cookie said the place felt strangely familiar. After giving birth to my daughter in a tiny remote hospital, I was brought a bunch of freshly picked wildflowers. The bunch consisted mainly of sprays of pink and white heather. In springtime, the outback region where we lived came alive with wildflowers including heather. My daughter was only three when we left the region but I assume these strong childhood memories gave her this feeling of déjà vu.
Being so early in the morning, some of the wildlife were still out grazing. Tough Cookie made a comment that it’s a pleasure to see kangaroos and wallabies alive these days and know they aren’t about to be shot during a property cull or be an accident risk to us on our long dusty road trips into town when we lived for years on remote properties. Having my radiator damaged by an enormous red kangaroo was something I dreaded as back then we had no mobile coverage and properties were huge so our UHF radio would not always pick up help. The middle of an Australian summer was not the best time to be stranded with young children.
The easy paths continued past flowering wattles, eucalypts, peas, daisies, sundews and banksias as well as giant weather-sculptured granite rocks.
We caught our first glimpse of Pyramid number 1 through the trees. It looked quite daunting with its steep smooth face and ant-size climbers.
Continuing on, we came to some steps which one forum commenter described as “the steps of doom.” As I’d been ill and had a dodgy knee it certainly wasn’t my favourite part of the walk but fortunately I had my camera to use as an excuse to take breathers. For some reason I can’t seem to find pics of the steps that aren’t blurry… With my super short legs I couldn’t bound up the steps, however Tough Cookie is built more like a gazelle so found it easy going. I didn’t count the steps as I think I was too focused on trying to breathe.
Once the step torture was over we came to the smooth granite climb. The picture of me was taken on my second trip when there was a bitterly cold wind.
The steep granite slope seemed to be covered in loose fine rock particles. The surface wasn’t wet but still felt very slippery underfoot. When writing this I had a look at a hiking forum to see what other people thought and I must say I was a little deflated and perhaps somewhat concerned to read that one person saw toddlers at the top! On both occasions I have attempted the walk, it left my legs wobbling. It’s not so much the physical effort required that provokes the response, but the image of myself tumbling all the way down without anything to stop me. If you have good balance, no problems with vertigo, non-slippery footwear (I actually think bare feet might be better) and have a high level of fitness, you’ll probably find it okay. The comments I read varied from those fit, agile people saying it was easy to others who did not feel safe at all so elected not to climb. On my second visit an adventurous elderly couple in their 80s were completing the climb for the last time. As I nervously watched them ascending, I saw the woman slip and scramble to get her footing. Here’s a pic I took just after. They made it to the top and back down again safely though and I saw them later cycling energetically into the distance! I hope I have as much energy if I make it to their age!
If you don’t fall to your death on the attempt, these are some of the views you will see from the top. The balancing rock is formed from this geological process.
The second pyramid looks like it is so close you could touch it. It doesn’t have a track up to the top though and requires technical rock climbing skills to scale.
From the top on a clear day you can see The Sphinx, Castle Rock, Mt Norman and the distant Bald Rock. It does give you a great sense of achievement to conquer the first Pyramid but as the wise elderly female hiker told me, “Don’t do it if you don’t feel comfortable.” Life is precious.
On our way back along the trail we stopped to look at the Granite Arch formed by balancing rocks which have toppled over. It’s a much photographed feature. Sadly, the cloud cover and my poor photographic skills do not show how impressive it really is.
We didn’t see much wildlife apart from the kangaroos and wallabies but we could hear plenty of little birds in the scrub. Unfortunately, there were quite a few people about, including a large school excursion group of noisy young lads so most of the wildlife was in hiding. I don’t blame them! Queensland National Parks has a great service where you can email a species list request for an area you want to visit. Within an hour I had a seven page list of all the flora and fauna species sighted in the area. I was surprised to read that there are wombats there. Girraween is apparently the most northern region for the common wombat. There are also bandicoots, gliders, platypus, possums, koalas, echidnas and other mammals. This is a great reason to remote camp so you have the possibility of catching sight of these creatures, away from the more popular walking tracks.
After the walk we indulged in a deliciously rich hot chocolate of soup-like consistency from Wisteria Cottage Heavenly Chocolate Cafe about 4km from the information centre. The café offers about 30 different flavours including Cabernet Truffles, Heavenly Lemon Myrtle and Countreau Madness. This warmed up Tough Cookie and added to my cuddly dimensions. At the Big Apple we indulged heavily in the free cheese samples from Vincenzos and were very impressed and possibly slightly intimidated by the size of their sausages! At Sutton’s Farm the apple trees were in flower and we tasted varieties of bottled juices.
I wondered if the local dogs had been partaking of the alcoholic samples as these two appeared to be shirking their guard dog responsibilities. After all that walking and eating, I felt like joining them on the floor for a good snooze.
Overall it was a wonderful escape and I’ll be writing more posts about the park in the future when I explore the many trails and try some remote camping. Vanessa and Chris Ryan have an extremely useful site dedicated to Girraween National Park if you want more detailed information.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace
will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will
blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
– John Muir