“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” I’ve heard this quote many times but my recent experience challenges the universality of this adage. While walking the 17 km Warrie Circuit at Springbrook National Park, south of Brisbane, my daughter and I managed to feel both “awesome and incredibly stupid” (her words). How is that possible? If you survive my preliminary ramblings, all will be revealed! It’s somewhat embarrassing but I’ll sacrifice my already barely existent hiking reputation for the sake of entertainment and the greater good! I also managed to feed my parasite phobia on this trip. A warning to those who find parasites disturbing. There is a graphic close-up at the end of this post which you may wish to avoid.
My first draft trip report was over 4000 words. Even I, the queen of waffle, found that astonishing, especially since I had left out a great deal. There are so many highlights from this trip that it’s difficult for me to keep it short. For the sake of your sanity and blogging etiquette I will try to curb my verbosity.
Let’s start with our accommodation, an old cottage made out of river stones, nestled on the doorstep of the Purlingbrook Falls section of Springbrook National Park. The owners have thoughtfully provided many useful items for the convenience of hiking guests – hats, trekking poles, head torches, and insect spray. Then there are the old book treasures – many of my favourite classics (including Russian novels) as well as a library of DVDs, board games, and a large sketching kit and paper. There is even a beautifully tuned piano with vintage sheet music. And as a bonus, you get to enjoy the company of parrots and a crazy bush turkey as you relax on the verandah.
We went for a quick wander across the road after arriving and within a short distance discovered an impressive bower built by the male satin bower bird to attract the female. This was just the start of the rainforest magic we experienced over the two days. Blue is my favourite colour so I was especially delighted. Among the collection were blue pegs and large aerosol can lids.
We also saw our first land mullet a little further on. These lizards are the largest in the skink family and can reach 50cm in length. Interestingly, they tend to keep their young about them in family groups for a while. These fat shiny black skinks often don’t move until you are almost upon them. Then they slide away, rustling the leaf litter. At first glance they resemble snakes as they move off. My daughter is not frightened by much but she’s been trained from an early age to look for snakes on the ground in bushland so her responses are quick. It was a little amusing to see my usually calm daughter squeak and stop dead in her tracks every time one of these was on the path. They have a rather unimpressed, possibly evil expression which adds to their appeal I think! The lady next door warned me not to leave the screen door open as they love to come indoors and tend to frighten you when you see a head or tail poking out from under a bed or while you’re in the bathroom.
My daughter’s snake training led to her discovering a large carpet python the next day on The Best of All Lookouts walk. It was camouflaged in the dappled light on the path and other less observant walkers just stepped over it, thinking it was a branch perhaps.
I haven’t even started to describe the Warrie Circuit yet and my word total is sprinting along!
This is actually my second trip to Springbrook National Park. When I visited it in January, Warrie Circuit was closed so I did the much shorter Twin Falls Circuit instead. Despite it being an Australian summer back then, the area was a cool 20C and the mountains were shrouded with mist. We’d been having maximums above 35C recently so my plan was to once again escape the heat and at the same time do a more challenging walk. The skies were clear and the day was 5C hotter than normal though, so my cool rainforest retreat turned a little sweaty…
There is really nothing to complain about though apart from things that could have been avoided if only I’d been less blasé and more organised. What did I do wrong?
Well, it’s highly recommended that you start this 5-6 hr walk early in the day so you finish before dark and can enjoy the scenery. We did the mildly extreme option of starting later at 11am. This was not by choice though. I had planned to start at dawn but an issue with our phone company requiring my attention meant my daughter and I started the 2 hour drive much later than planned. This immediately put some pressure on us to keep the speed up so we could finish it before sunset. This is not ideal when you have a dodgy knee. Here’s a map and a little info about the walk. The Warrie Circuit is in purple.
The track started at the Tallanbana picnic grounds. Not long after we began, my daughter made the comment that this felt like a real adventure because we were unsure of what we would come across. There are quite a few creek crossings and waterfalls so it was possible that we’d have to turn back at some point. There were a few unforeseen factors. Little did we know how “unseen” one of these would be.
After a short while we came to the first waterfall which has a path taking you behind it. Big clumps of papery stream lilies grow here. I would have liked to stop for a while and enjoy the tranquility but we had to keep moving.
We powered on past rocky outcrops and massive trees and saw glimpses of cliffs across the gorge.
Then we came to a stream crossing on a steep section below a waterfall. It’s here that our confidence was thrown. The path appeared to stop right at the edge. There was a steep drop and the rocky surface looked very slippery and wet so if we lost our footing we could end up in pieces at the base of the falls. We looked for the easiest path across the running water and after some breath-holding, tentative, half crawling efforts made it across. It was a little nerve-wracking but I think in our minds we thought it must be do-able because it was a class 4 walk. It is funny what you are capable of doing when you think it is the right path. However, once we crossed we were flummoxed by the lack of path on the other side. I found a spot that looked slightly promising but could have just been the result of heavy rain having carved a path. There were no signs to direct us.
Being the agile young sprite she is, my daughter climbed further up over boulders and told me about a beautiful clear pool and another waterfall area higher up. Apparently my short legs would struggle though and we couldn’t take our backpacks.
She returned and we decided to make the crossing back over to the other side again. We were both a little disappointed as we’ve never been foiled by a class 4 walk before. We’d only done 3km so far! We grumbled about the lack of signage and felt a bit defeated. It was only when we had recrossed the tricky waterfall area that we saw where we should have gone. From this direction the path was obvious! How could we have missed it? From the other direction it had seemed to stop at the waterfall edge and at the previous waterfall we’d gone through it so we had that direction in our mindset. In reality, the track went backwards sharply, and was hidden by foliage. Yesterday I read an account by a hard core hiker who had missed a path that was obvious also. It’s strange how the human mind can work. We see what we expect to see sometimes which means we can miss other crucial information. The previous waterfall crossing had influenced our behaviour.
We followed the correct path and as you can see, this is the easy crossing we were meant to use! And there was even a nice sign to direct us this time.
My daughter summed up our feelings, “Now that I know we weren’t supposed to cross there I feel awesome that I managed it but also incredibly stupid.” Always look back!
The next 7km was uneventful and we just enjoyed the sounds and sights of the rainforest. It’s incredible how noisy it can be. So much for the silence of the forest. We could hear regular rustling in the leaf litter and in the treetops. We heard bird calls constantly and the large skinks were out by the paths, sunning themselves in shards of sunlight. The grunting and snorting of a wild pig was slightly disconcerting though. We’ve both had close encounters with large feral pigs on outback properties and the mothers can be very protective of their young. Pigs can do a lot of damage and spread disease to our native wildlife so I hope this was a rare beast in the national park.
It was probably fortunate that many of the creek crossings were almost dry as it made it easy for us to cross. I don’t fancy boulder hopping when conditions are wet and slippery. We’d had enough excitement with the waterfall incident. It also meant we missed out on playing with leeches though. I’d been hoping for some nice pics of these creatures.
At the 10km mark we came to what was another highlight of the walk, The Meeting of the Waters, where several creeks join up in the wetter months. I can imagine spending a lazy hour here and having a picnic, except for one minor detail. The March flies! I have never experienced large groups of them attacking me like that. Apparently there have been larger numbers this year with more reportings of people presenting with reactions to their bites. My daughter described the bites as feeling like you are being flicked with a rubber band. Our exposed legs and arms were a feast to the blood sucking critters. It seemed our insect repellent had sweated or washed off. It was only the next day that I discovered that I am sensitive to the proteins in their saliva. I developed large 20 cm wide hard round swellings from the bite sites. My daughter seems mark free! Here is a bit of glitch art created by my daughter when she was trying to take a photo and a fly bit her.
I must admit the last 7 km uphill felt like a bit of a slog to me. It was an unusually sunny day at Springbrook and this section did not allow for much breeze. Hot, still and humid is not my favourite combination. My daughter enacted her revenge for all the years I taught her school at home when we lived in remote areas. I used to say, “Just one more page” or “Just one more spelling word” or “Just one more maths problem”. She was very patient with me on the walk but kept trying to encourage me by repeating the phrase, “Not many more steps to go now” for about an hour as we ascended the gorge. Kind of like when the dentist reassures you that there is not long to go…
It was a great walk though. Until the last 2km section where the Warrie Circuit joins the Twin Falls circuit we didn’t see any other hikers. To walk for 5 hours without meeting up with others is quite strange for us. Rainforests really stimulate the senses. We felt immersed in sounds, smells, and sights. Fortunately, I didn’t pick up the pinkish fruit from the giant stinging tree, as that could have had me immersed in a painful taste. The fruit are edible but the skin can still be covered in stinging hairs.
Before we headed home the next day we checked out The Best of All Lookout walk. We had passed this sign a few times and thought it must be disappointing. Anything which proclaims to be the best is sure to be over-rated. However, we needed to stretch our legs, so even though we were skeptical we decided to give it a go. We weren’t disappointed so perhaps I need to be a little less cynical about names in the future. The walk is only 350 m on level track to the lookout and passes through cool forest with enormous Antarctic Beech trees, hanging mossy gardens and just a sea of vibrant green. It was here that my daughter spotted the snake that others passed over.
Here are views from the lookout. Although it was a bit misty in the distance, we were impressed, especially since we could make out Byron Bay, a special place to both of us. Perhaps it’s not the best lookout in the world, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint. For a very short walk it had many stunning features.
During the drive home I ran my hand through my hair and felt a bump. It was a paralysis tick embedded in my scalp. Since I neglected to bring the fine point tweezers, I was going to have to wait until I got home to get my daughter to attack it with athlete ice spray and try to pull it out without leaving the mouth-parts stuck inside. For the next two hours I could feel it moving and burying deeper. It was a tad irritating and disconcerting while I was driving to know it was there piercing my sensitive scalp. Once again I had been complacent and neglected to bring some essential items. I know that the pictures may be disturbing to some, but I wanted to show those who may be interested just how deeply they burrow their heads and mouth-parts. Here are the before and after shots. Since ticks make my daughter feel ill I think it was a big accomplishment for her to pull it out of me. My son was very sympathetic. His words? “It’s a shame such a beautiful creature had to die.” He’s got more of a sense of humour than me! If you want to read about another encounter I’ve had with ticks (they seem to love me) you might like to read A Tale of Ticks and Other Terrors.
This is a long post but such a wonderful trip could not be easily condensed. For more information about the Warrie Circuit and walks in the area check the Springbrook National Park site.
I would highly recommend you don’t emulate my mistakes. Start the walk early, bring the insect repellent and tweezers, and always remember to look back when you think the path has disappeared! Also, check conditions first as after heavy rains it will be slippery and slower going. Be prepared to get wet and encounter leeches. 5-6 hours is the walking time but I can certainly see why National Parks recommend you set aside a whole day and leave early as wet conditions and the early setting sun in winter can add some extra challenge. You will enjoy it far more when there is no rush, particularly the last 7km uphill bit. There are too many sights to appreciate for it to be sprinted.