Karawatha Forest – A Refuge From the City.


“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.” – Dave Pelzer, A Child Called ‘It”

I’ve been planning to write about my visit to the Glasshouse Mountains, but last weekend my brother took me for a wander through Karawatha Forest and while it’s still fresh in my marshmallow brain, I should share all the gory details. Actually, I’m going to disappoint fans of blood and gore as other than mild heatstroke this walk was more about having fun than any real suffering. Hiking with my brother usually involves some hilarity and detours are compulsory. There was an element of déjà vu on this walk for me though as we passed a water-filled quarry, mountain bikers, burnt bushland and paperbark swamps. Readers of How to Torture a Hiking Partner may recall that these elements featured strongly in that tale. On this occasion, however, my hiking partner had already experienced the terrain and was eager to show me its highlights. This time there was the potential for me to be the “tortured” hiking partner! My brother is an avid mountain biker but he also appreciates the slower pace of walking as it enables him to see more details than when he is flying down slopes and around corners on two wheels. This wasn’t an extreme adventure far from home, but an introduction to a nature escape right on our doorstep.


Like many people, we didn’t have a lot of money as children and sometimes home was not actually the safest place to be. Most of our entertainment involved exploring the outdoors, playing cricket with the neighbourhood kids, reading books or watching the few kids’ programs on our two TV channels. No computers or mobile phones back then! We live in a vastly different world today, but my brother and I haven’t lost our desire to “play.” Even though he’s a bit of a jet-setter with his work, flying to Europe, Asia and the US regularly, he loves to get out on a bike or a hike. After being in glitzy Las Vegas the previous week, he was extremely keen for some nature therapy. I am midget-sized while he is over 6 foot tall so we look an unusual pair. I’ll refer to him as LB until a more suitable name springs to mind…


And now to the walk! Karawatha Forest is 18 km south of Brisbane’s Central Business District and is a refuge for many species of wildlife, including the highest diversity of frog species in Brisbane. Covering 900 hectares, it is one of the largest areas of remnant bushland in the city and is made up of wet heathlands, melaleuca wetlands, freshwater lagoons, dry eucalypt bushland and sandstone ridges. At a time when bushland is being voraciously consumed by developers, Karawatha is a real success story for the wildlife movement. The area is linked to bushland in the west, creating a wildlife corridor all the way to Flinders Peak, totalling 60km in length. The passionate work of local community groups has ensured that not only will many species of plants and animals now survive but we city dwellers have a place right on our doorstep to escape from the concrete jungles and traffic jams. It means city children still have a chance to experience the simple pleasures that my brother and I did when we were young.


The region was originally used as fishing and hunting grounds by Indigenous groups and the name is derived from Indigenous words meaning “Place of Pines.” With lagoons, rocky outcrops and caves, it offered protection from the elements as well as a good food source for the traditional owners. Europeans settlers removed much of the tall old growth timber and the building of a quarry also destroyed a large system of natural caves. I wonder what the area looked like before white colonization.


The area contains many short, easy walking circuits that are very suitable for families with young children. One of the short trails, Ironbark Circuit, is rated as suitable for prams, the disabled and wheelchair users. However, there are longer walks and extensive mountain bike trails for the more adventurous. We covered about 10.4 km in less than 2 hours on a hot dry morning.  The maximum temperature reached 35C that day and we finished our 2-3 litres of water very quickly. Despite a dry winter and spring there were still water-filled lagoons and some remaining swamps. I can imagine the deafening chorus of frogs and birds after the summer rains and I’ll definitely be visiting in early autumn when the wildlife will be more abundant. This wasn’t the best time of year to appreciate what the area has to offer, but if you go early in the morning you will see plenty of wildlife. Once again I didn’t spot any elusive koalas on my hike, but apparently they are there so look out for the three pronged markings on trunks and droppings at the base of trees. For more information about the tracks to choose from read here .

We began at the Illaweena Street carpark where there are picnic grounds, including toilet facilities. I was immediately transfixed by tranquil Illaweena Lagoon. The stark white trunks of dead trees reflected in the glassy water surface with a dazzling blue sky above had me wishing my photographic skills were better.


After crossing the bridge over the lagoon we turned left and followed the Casuarina Trail which passes through paperbark swamps, ferny undergrowth and dry eucalypts.

forestWhile wandering off the trail we noticed a few exotic trees. I’m not sure what their species names are…


Some knobbly trees also caught our attention and LB offered to model for me so you can have an idea of scale. Much of our bushland in Queensland can look tortured, twisted and messy. There is not much of a tidy country garden look about it.

knobbly tree

We spotted this bearded dragon that seemed to look at me with disdain. I’m sure it was thinking what strange creatures we humans are to be walking around in the heat of the day annoying reptiles. I wonder that myself sometimes…


This lace monitor was just as startled as me and sped up a big old gum tree. I am quite a scary sight…


At some point along the trail, my brother decided to leave the path and follow a mountain bike track. We eventually found ourselves at a large water-filled quarry. Australians can be a funny bunch. I’ve noticed that many of us aren’t exactly sticklers for the rules unless it suits us. The quarry gate had an enormous chain and padlock on it, but someone had cut a neat doorway out of the wire fence right next to it. The sign said no swimming but up on the cliff edges we could see a few flotation rings. There didn’t appear to be any plant life growing in the water though and it was suspiciously devoid of birds which made us wonder if it is contaminated. It actually seemed to give off that artificial blue-green glow of a chlorinated swimming pool. Perhaps algae growth? My brother and I got to talking about an Australian version of Godzilla – a crocodile that lives in the strangely fluorescent blue water of the quarry and emerges at night to terrorize the locals… Yes, we tend to return to our childhood imaginations when we walk together! Along with the risk of spinal injury from jumping into the quarry (there appears to be a few submerged items) I’m not sure I’d want to swallow any of the water, given the unusual glow on the day. But perhaps I’ve just watched too many Dr Who shows as a child and I’m depriving  myself of a possible  magical experience  like a scene from the Blue Lagoon movie…


We headed along another road that took us past severely blackened bushland. A warning sign about arson nearby had us wondering if this devastation was the result of irresponsible behaviour. As I write this we are experiencing maximum temperatures around 40 C this week and there are severe fire warnings. I find it hard to understand why someone would deliberately light fires. Here’s a picture of our Black Forest. It’s  not quite as enchanting as the one in Europe!

burnt forest

After  more directional changes we found ourselves on the track to Poets’ Rock. I was anticipating a few moments of quiet contemplation at this spot, the title of which suggested something Keats-like. On this particular day I was destined for disappointment as a group of mountain bikers were having lunch and chatting about their 29ers. The view was also obscured by forest growth. Still, I can imagine on a quiet early morning it may well be a nice place to reflect in solitude.

Poet's Rock

We came across this huge termite nest and once again my tall brother provided some scale. Years ago I used to assist an entomologist with research and I spent some days digging out nests searching for queens. Not today though!

termite nest

The day was heating up and cool shaded waterholes and swamps offered welcome relief. The temperature difference between the open track and the tree lined waterways reminded us of how important it is when designing cities and towns to retain green spaces. Green areas provide natural air-conditioning.


Readers of How to Torture a Hiking Partner will remember that I like to photograph water lilies but am often frustrated by their distance from the bank. On this occasion I stepped on what I thought was solid ground covered by flattened reeds. As my foot rapidly sank, I realised my mistake. In my haste to get back onto dry land I lost my sunglasses…again! Luckily my non-blind brother found them hiding in the grass. Obviously the shenanigans in Las Vegas the previous week had worn off and his super senses had returned.

Lily and native bees

As we stood under these swaying paperbarks we could hear eerie creaking so we decided to head back out into the sun rather than risk becoming pancakes.


On one of our MANY detours we had “fun” walking through scratchy scrub. Being taller and wearing long sleeved clothing gave my brother a distinct advantage over me. A hike isn’t a hike without a few branches slapping you in the face though!

walking through scrub

LB enthusiastically described the features of some mountain bike trails. Here is the “Buster”. I’m sure he derived pleasure in detailing the possible ways he could be severely maimed on his rides. It’s just what a motherly big sister like me wants to know. I wonder how many cyclists will be sliced by the sharp edges on that metal sign. Yep, I’ve had kids and it means I spot health and safety issues immediately! Apparently on our Karawatha Part II trip he’ll be showing me the “Tonka” trail. I assume it is more suited to a tough Tonka truck than a hiking snail like me.

signI can’t tell you exactly which tracks we took as my adventurous brother took me on so many detours I felt like I’d been in that party game where you get blindfolded and spun around. My directional sense is not fantastic at the best of times. Luckily LB had a good phone mapping app so we didn’t get lost unlike a walk we did in the White Rock Conservation Park some time ago when our 19km hike turned into 30km! All I can be sure of this time is that we went on the Casuarina Trail, saw the quarry, went on a few mountain bike tracks, visited Poets’ Rock, followed a swamp, and finished up on the Wild May Track to return to the carpark.

Here is what our walk looked like on Strava. As you can see, we weren’t in any danger from altitude sickness! At one point I experienced a sudden headache, no longer felt thirsty and actually felt chilled. Apparently these are signs of mild heatstroke. Late that night my face was still burning and I’d lost my appetite. Unlike bears which hibernate in winter, I tend to hibernate in the middle of summer. Despite living in Queensland most of my life (including outback areas) I have never acclimatised to the heat. Most of my outdoor adventures are squeezed into the cooler months or I choose locations which give some respite. Overseas readers from cool climates may be interested in house swapping with me to get a taste of an Australian summer? On our next walk at Karawatha we plan to start at the Acacia Picnic Area carpark and explore the short tracks on the other side of the Forest.


Not all walks have to be epic adventures. Karawatha is a very convenient spot for residents living in the suburbs to get their dose of nature therapy. You don’t have to carry huge amounts of water on the shorter circuits and it’s also a great spot for birdwatchers and mountain bikers. To have such an area for the community to enjoy so close to the heart of the city is something to be thankful for. I am glad that the opportunity exists for children to still experience the simple pleasures of outdoor adventure that my brother and I did.

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.” – Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

18 thoughts on “Karawatha Forest – A Refuge From the City.

    • I expected you would. I can just imagine you enjoying the mountain bike trails and the wildlife. I’m looking forward to going there after the rains to listen to the frogs. 🙂

  1. I enjoyed the hike, your photos and your narrative immensely! Australia holds a great deal of fascination for me although I’ve not been there.

    It would be interesting to trade places with you for a brief time during your summer. If I’m correct, your summer corresponds to our winter. I’m sure that your summer heat would do me in. How would you do in -29C (which we saw several times last winter)?

    • Thank you for such encouraging feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m never quite sure how much personal or straight hiking information I should put into them so it is lovely when I do receive comments.

      I’ve coped comfortably with -10C in one place I lived, but -29C would certainly be a struggle for me! I think I’d be spending cosy times by the fire interspersed with very short crazy excursions outside. I read the Laura Ingalls-Wilder series as a child and the stories of the intensely cold winters fascinated me. We have friends in Nova Scotia who keep us up-to date on their bitterly cold winters as well. I have friends here who love the Queensland heat and hate our “cold” winters but I’ve always coped better with maximum temperatures in the 20s. I’m always keen to try something new, if only to help me appreciate what I’ve already got! 🙂

  2. We lived quite near here and I never once visited, which is simply terrible. But how lovely to discover, through you, all these places I never knew about in my own home town!

    • Well my brother has lived near the area for about 17 years and only discovered it when he started mountain biking this year (word of mouth from other cyclists) so don’t feel bad. I never knew it existed until he told me about it. I have lived in a few places in QLD and NSW where I didn’t take advantage of some great spots. Now I want to visit them but they are a long way away! I think we were too busy back then or kept saying, “We must visit that place some time…” but never got around to it! 🙂

    • I was hoping to give the heat away actually, but you don’t want it either? 😉 I am taking a little hiking break at the moment. With temperatures in the 40s, there is just a little too much weight in water needed to take. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. 🙂

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