The Pyramids, the Big Apple and a Little Taste of Italy – Hiking Girraween National Park

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

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.

wildflowers

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…

Girraween and surrounding parks.

Girraween and surrounding parks.

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.

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Still waters

 

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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.

kangaroo 1

kangaroo2

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The easy paths continued  past flowering wattles, eucalypts, peas, daisies, sundews and banksias as well as giant weather-sculptured granite rocks.

path rocks

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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.

pyramid.

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.

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Compulsory view from top.

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!

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blog steep slope

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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 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

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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.

bView of the second pyramid from the top of the first.g

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.

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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.

 

Gazelle-girl under The Archway

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.

 

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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.

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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

9 thoughts on “The Pyramids, the Big Apple and a Little Taste of Italy – Hiking Girraween National Park

  1. Oh the memories! It’s like you’ve written this for me and I don’t have to bother at all!
    The first time we went as a family (can’t remember how old I was, but fairly young), I started climbing straight up the pyramid instead of following the path around to the left. Part of me still thinks it’d be easier and safer to just go straight up & down the front!
    The Sphinx and Castle Rock are fairly easy walks so definitely give them a go next time. I was wondering whether to compare Ruined Castle in the Blue a Mountains to the Sphinx, but it’s not *quite* as impressive…
    We stayed at a placed called The Vineyard Cottages (I think?) in Ballandean, a few k back up the road for a couple of nights. Lovely option if you are flying from interstate without camping gear (which we don’t have anyway).
    We visited in August, so had cold, dry, windy weather too – but having grown up in Brisbane you learn to expect that around that time of year 😉
    Beaut photos and another great post. Thanks for sharing Jane 😊

    • Thanks for such kind feedback, Dayna! I just love that place. I can see myself going back again and again. It’s just amazing. I’m hoping to get back there this spring and do The Sphinx and Castle Rock. I’d planned to last weekend but it didn’t work out. Now they have a painted line trail to mark the walk up the Pyramid but I wonder if there is a better way. Yes, I can imagine as a kid I would have been fearless and much more agile and just zoomed up it. Now it’s a little different! I love how cold it can get there as I don’t cope well with the heat and humidity. I have neck problems so I have to keep the weight of a backpack down which means carrying a lot of water in summer is painful. I’m glad I brought back some good childhood memories for you. Thanks again for such great support. 🙂

      • Yeah, the heat and humidity is why I like the southern states so much. I’ve no idea why everyone wants to move north. I’ve certainly had enough of those long, hot, sweaty summers!

    • It is one of my favourites and I hope to return again this spring. Thanks for reading my rambling post and making a comment! It’s lovely to hear feedback.

    • Australia is a very diverse country. Snowy Alps down south, hot, humid tropical rainforest up north, rugged wilderness coastline, the outback and also some very special scenery in the island state of Tasmania. I have barely explored my own country really! I hope you get a chance to visit Australia again. It’s a very long plane trip for you though and unfortunately we aren’t a cheap country to travel in unlike our SE Asian neighbours. Thanks for reading and commenting, Steve. 🙂

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