Butterflies and Thistles – Goolman Lookout via Rocky Knoll Circuit

Monarch on thistle

“Butterflies are self-propelled flowers.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Why didn’t I ask Carol?  Although she may seem like a quiet, conservative, middle-aged grocery store check-out operator, don’t be fooled. Carol is a hard-core weekend adventurer. Whenever she serves me we always manage to squeeze in a conversation about our latest hikes. When I told her about my Goolman Lookout walk, she chastised me. “You did that in summer! It’s much too hot. There’s not much to see anyway. It’s all dry scrub.”   As I said before, why didn’t I ask Carol first? She always seems to know the most up-to date information about walks. I’d been waiting for Mt Cordeaux to open for months and was checking the website regularly, but it was Carol who first informed me it had reopened.   She needs to set up her own hiking guru website or maybe “Carol’s  Hiking Hotline”?

When the highlight of a walk revolves around the car park  you know it’s  probably going to be difficult to sell  as a thrilling hiking destination. Unfortunately this hike was immediately preceded by one that involved glorious views and lush green rainforest so it really faced very strong competition. If you add a stinking hot day to the mix, then the Goolman Lookout via Rocky Knoll circuit trip was  handicapped from the start. As I peruse my album many months later though, it actually doesn’t look quite so bad now. The passage of time and a selective memory can be a wonderful combination! Maybe I can even persuade myself to make a return visit.

This walk is one of several that begin at the Hardings Paddock Picnic Area in the Goolman-Flinders Conservation Estate near Purga on the Boonah-Ipswich Road in Queensland. It’s a multi-use area, being shared by horse riders, mountain bikers and walkers. This brochure gives you all the information you need to know about getting there, the facilities and the track details.

My initial plan was to use this class 4, 7.5km circuit as a test trip to help me decide whether to attempt the more arduous class 5, Flinders Peak Hiking Track that requires a full day and rock scrambling skills.

It was already 28 C by the time I started  and I managed to polish off most of my water by the half-way mark. Most of the track looked like this. It’s mainly a wide multi-use open path through dry eucalypt bushland that passes through Rocky Knoll Lookout before finally ascending to the Goolman Lookout. The track then returns to the car park via another very similar looking route.

Goolman Track


There were obvious signs of it being used as a horse trail with hoof prints and this old shoe. I was going to take it home as a souvenir but decided to leave it there for other hikers. There were few features of interest along the way so I thought finding a lucky horseshoe might lift another dehydrated, melting hiker’s spirits! Notice the perspiration  spots on the ground. I may have contributed to the salinity levels significantly after  this jaunt.


I’m a fungi fan but this is the only specimen I saw along the dry track.  I was reading Cameron and Maree’s Hiking in S.E. Queensland  blog about this walk and noticed the same pic so I’m wondering if it’s the most photographed bit of fungi in the area!


Information guides promised spectacular views along the way but most of these appeared to be obscured by forest growth. You’d think the trees would be more considerate of my needs!

Views obscured by trees

By the time I got close to the lookout, I’d really lost all hope of being able to see much of a view from the top. I’m happy to say I was wrong. It’s a shame I’d seen a beautiful view on another location just days before though. It seems compulsory for the human brain to make comparisons when we process the world. If I could have unseen the views of the previous walk, I may have been more impressed by Goolman’s offering! It’s a bit like eating fresh foods after having only eaten them preserved in tins. It’s hard to go back. You can’t un-eat the tastier version. In the same way I couldn’t un-see the more beautiful views of my  recent walk. Looking at the following pics, the views from the Goolman Lookout are  quite pretty though.

Mt Goolman in the distance

blog ivory

Ivory Towers in the distance

Ivory Towers in the distance

View of the Scenic Rim

View of the Scenic Rim

You may have noticed pics of me sitting on top of rocks in some of my posts. Being so short my neck gets sore from looking up most of the time so when I have the opportunity I like to balance this out with sitting in higher places  Hey, it’s a short person thing.  It also lessens the chance of picking up ticks while I rest.

Rock sitting

Rock sitting

Fortunately, the return part of the circuit was mainly downhill. I must admit by this stage I was fantasizing about my thermos and choc biscuits I’d left in the car. I’m a cup of tea and biscuit addict so it’s possible there could have been a rare two headed, winged wallaby with scales along that last stretch  and I wouldn’t have even noticed. In the end the 7.4 km uphill walk took me roughly two hours, however the recommended time is 2.5 – 3 hours. Not having much to photograph along the way kept my speed up for a change, as well as the knowledge that my thermos was waiting.

Having downed 3 cups of tea and stuffed my face with chocolate biscuits, I felt  much more positive and decided to take a look at the short Chalk Circuit and Harding’s Paddock Camping Ground. That’s when I spied the highlight of my trip…dozens of monarch butterflies feeding on Scotch thistles.

Monarch on Thistle


Scotch thistles are an exotic weed here but one of my  earliest fond memories is of walking hand in hand with my mother through a purple field of flowering thistles. They seemed as tall as me back then and I remember a brilliant clear blue sky beyond.


They also remind me of Scotland, a place I feel drawn to, perhaps due to some ancestral history. My ancestry is quite mixed. I found out recently that I have strong Spanish links. This prompted a friend to comment, “That explains it then!” When questioned about this response, the person just smiled and refused to elaborate. They must be referring to my Rafael Nadal moves on the tennis court…

I  took a short wander around Chalk Circuit where Indigenous bush tucker has been planted. One of the most interesting specimens was the sandpaper fig. Here’s a picture I took from another walk. The leaves are incredibly rough and were used by Indigenous people to polish wood. The inner bark was used to make string and the stems  to make fire sticks. They were also successfully used to treat ringworm. The skin would be abraded and then the milky sap  applied.   Apparently the fruit is extremely high in vitamin C and other nutrients and  tastes quite good when eaten at the point at which the fruit exudes a clear substance. Actually, the “fruit” are really syconiums – fleshy receptacles containing flowers that need to be pollinated by a specific wasp.

The tasty highly nutritious syconiums of sandpaper figs.

The tasty highly nutritious syconiums of sandpaper figs.

Just a few kilometres before Harding’s Paddock lies a cemetery devoted to Indigenous graves and memorials. I did not feel right entering the graveyard but I have since found out the world renowned Indigenous singer and activist Harold Blair, is buried there. Harold was born in Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve but grew up in Purga area. In fact, the federal electorate of Blair is actually named in his honour. I was ignorant of who Harold Blair was until researching for this blog.

After leaving the area I did the tourist thing and continued on along the Boonah-Ipswich Road. I  stopped by a little creek for some welcome relief from the heat.


There I noticed this weevil on ragweed, a serious weed in our country. I’ve heard there is a species of weevil that has been introduced to help control this plant, but after searching online I haven’t been able to find if this is the same one.

Weevil on ragweed

I also came across a rather cantankerous donkey. I’d recently been to the Destiny Boonah Eco Donkey Farm out near Boonah and been told how sociable these animals are. They are also excellent at keeping predators such as dingoes away from livestock. We were told that it is cruel to leave donkeys on their own in a paddock as they become too lonely and stressed.

This donkey was not particularly sociable though and snorted at me before running off. Perhaps if I looked a little more like a donkey instead of just acting like one, he may have been more interested.


This huge wasp nest lying along the same road caught my eye. The entire nest was about a metre long. I was sure it must have been used by an exotic species but it belongs to the native yellow paper wasp Ropalidia romandi. This species is actually quite unusual because  the nests can have multiple queens and the colony will swarm like bees. Apparently the stings are extremely painful and the wasp is highly aggressive so I was fortunate that the nest was empty of life when I came across it.

Nest of yellow wasp

Nest of yellow wasp

Nest of native yellow wasp

Nest of native yellow wasp

I also saw a few interesting mail boxes in that part of the world.

Cow mailbox

There are some lovely rural views to enjoy along the Ipswich – Boonah Road as well.

Rural View

After writing this I’m  feeling much more positive about this walk now although not quite enough to want to revisit it. I’m sure that in cooler months this would be quite a nice hike to stretch the legs. The picnic and camping area is  well set up with coin barbecues, toilets and showers and there is a small dam where waterbirds feed. I think an early morning walk on a cool autumn day after summer rains have greened up the area would be the best choice to leave you with fond impressions of this location. It’s not a walk I would drive a long distance for though, unless there’s a beautiful fog like this one I saw there recently.

A foggy sunrise on the road to Hardings Paddock Picnic Grounds, Purga.

A foggy sunrise on the road to Hardings Paddock Picnic Grounds, Purga.

I’d  planned a weekend of hiking as I wrote this, however maximum temps above 40C are expected so I may lounge about at home instead and type out a little story about a lifelong dream that came true…

The Quest for Snow

The Quest for Snow

 Happy hiking!

30 thoughts on “Butterflies and Thistles – Goolman Lookout via Rocky Knoll Circuit

  1. Extraordinary hike! I love your photos… and WOW that wasp nest is the most unusual one I’ve ever seen! When I find unusual (discarded) nature treasures like that I often take them home to use in my home decor. This nest, however, would have been difficult to transport on a hike! Great find!

    • I’ve seen a few wasp nests over the years but I must admit this one had me fascinated. Just the sheer size of the thing was amazing. The nests are often camouflaged high up in gum trees and are completely covered with a paper-like substance as well as pieces of bark. I wasn’t confident about taking it home. As well as the logistics, I was unsure if it was from a pest species and I didn’t want to risk transferring any live organisms that may have been deep inside the nest. It would have made a terrific wall hanging though!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the hike write-up. Once I started writing I realised there were quite a few interesting features to the day after all. I’m afraid my memory had been tarnished by the heat. Thanks for liking my photos. So lovely of you to give me feedback. 🙂

      • I find the same dilemma when I write about a hike to the river… or anywhere. There is SO much to include both in the writing and the photography. I thoroughly enjoyed this diversion over coffee this morning. You write eloquently, my friend. 🙂

    • How lovely of you to make that comment, John. Thank you so much. I’m pleased to be able to share my stories with someone who enjoys them. I’m also very glad to have discovered your beautiful writing. 🙂

  2. Ooh I love the pics! And, being an Ipswich native, I could SEE the heat! I did part of that walk once, but don’t remember much. So thanks!!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it although I wondered how you’d feel about being reminded of “Purga” – nicknamed “Purgatory” by some people I know who have lived out there! Yes, the sun was beating down fiercely that day. I hope things are working out for your upcoming trip. By the way it’s NORMAL for the last bit before the trip to be stressful, chaotic and full of doubts and fears. Most of the cycle tourers going on long trips experience it and you will more so as it’s your first time and are taking kids! Whatever happens it will be an adventure! I really admire what you are doing. It takes courage to move forward into the unknown. 🙂

    • Heheh…a woman with experience!! They are interesting to study but only from a safe distance. I had no idea they swarm like bees until reading about this one. I spent some years doing work with an entomologist. Luckily his research never involved anything that hurt! 🙂

    • Yes, looking back at the photos, there really were some interesting features. I do love being able to get up close to butterflies. Despite having living in Queensland most of my life I’ve never acclimatised to the heat. I function better under 30C, especially in the sun. Hence, my experience was a little tarnished! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. 🙂

  3. Great post Jane. The shots of the butterfly’s are beautiful with the back-lighting through the wings. Flinders Peak is a much nicer walk and well worth doing. It is also much steeper in places with a little bit of bare rock scrambling near the top. Definitely no more than mildly extreme though 😉

    • Thanks Cameron! I was amused to see your Goolman post also had a butterfly and what looks like the same fungus growing on the tree. Maybe we were even there on the same day. 🙂 I am glad to read that Flinders’ Peak is a much nicer walk. I only just found out from your highly informative site that I can approach it from another direction! It looks much better. I’ll only do it in cooler weather though. The rock scrambling sounds like fun! Every time I do a new walk I’ll be checking your site for handy info. Thanks. 🙂

  4. Hi Jane :), thanks for sharing another awesome blog post about your adventures. I just love the photo of the monarch butterfly on the thistle flower! I am wanting to delve more into photography: something of myself I left behind years ago and want to pick up again. What sort of camera do you have to take such wonderful pictures? Plus, you obviously have a good eye for a photo! Your blog comments about comparing views from one hike location to the next is so true. After just having returned from my hike to Mt. Speculation in the Vic Alps, I’m convinced I saw the best views ever on offer in Victoria! It will be hard to top that on the next hike, although I think I need to leave a gap of a couple of months so I can dilute it a bit in my mind. Cheers, Leah 🙂

    • Hi Leah,

      I’m glad you liked the pics! I was pretty happy with the butterfly ones but they were not so much a result of my skill. The light was good, the butterflies seemed to ignore me so I could get up close and the camera I use does take good pics on macro setting. It’s actually my son’s camera that I seem to permanently borrow these days. It’s an old Fujifilm Finepix S1000 and is good for landscapes and for macro. Not so good with bad lighting and portraits. The other little camera I use is just a $100 Olympus VG 160 which is surprisingly good for a cheap camera! I am saving us for a good Canon with a nice zoom for close ups of birds. I’m afraid I am not great with the technology side of taking pics! It does my head in.

      Yes, it’s hard to be as satisfied about other walks immediately after a spectacular one, isn’t it? You are right. A gap does help to dull the memories a bit, which helps in both ways. You can end up having really good memories of bad walks. Heheh

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback, Leah. Happy adventuring! 🙂

      • Thanks for the camera tips Jane! I am going to do a photography course soon, so I know I am going to need a good camera. I make do at the moment with a Sony Cyber Shot, but it’s not going to cut it for the likes of professional photography. It’s time to start getting my head around what constitutes a good camera! Cheers, Leah 🙂

  5. What a wonderfully expressive account of this hike! I think I might actually do this one when the weather cools a little. I think you should do hikes as a career…you have so much knowledge that would make the hike even more interesting…might have to steal you for one of my walks 🙂

    • Thanks for your encouraging feedback, Tammy. I must admit that most of my knowledge is gained post-walk when I am trying to write up a blog post and need to find something to fill up the space! Often I wish I had done the research BEFORE my walk…sigh. If you don’t mind walking with a snail I would love to join you on a hike one day. 🙂

  6. Hi Jane, Your opening statements confirm why it is necessary to retain the check out staff in shops. You are not going to receive useful information or a pleasant smile from the self serve check outs appearing in larger supermarkets.

    I like the way the most interesting experience during the day was the sight of the butterflies on the thistles. Experiences such as these are unexpected and unplanned but quite delightful.

    • I feel exactly as you do about the check-out staff. Unless I am in a desperate hurry, I avoid the self-serve ones. It’s my form of protest. If enough people keep lining up at the regular staff operated check outs they will have to keep employing them (I hope!) I hate to see humans replaced by machines in this way. I enjoy the service aspect and am happy to pay slightly more in order to keep people employed. Also, there are people who find the self-serve check outs difficult to use The disabled or very elderly may have difficulty packing their own bags and using the screens.

      Yes, it’s been interesting how many walks I have been on which my most happy memories revolve around unexpected small delights. Usually these involve wildlife I didn’t expect to see. The most exciting part of my Mt Mitchell walk was the tiny white-browed scrub wren building a nest by the path. Sometimes it’s an unusual piece of fungi or a lovely place I discover for coffee or tea along the way.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting Margaret. 🙂

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