Had I known there might be crocodiles on my walk I would have taken precautions. In a scene from a famous UK “reality” TV show, celebrity contestants swam through a crocodile invested swamp with marksmen ready to shoot any creatures that attacked. However, the location used for that episode was in Springbrook, inland from the Gold Coast, about 100km south of Brisbane, and a guaranteed crocodile free habitat. It also happens to be the topic of this post.
Springbrook National Park is a destination I’ve been before, having walked the Warrie Circuit, Twin Falls circuit and visited The Best of All Lookouts. My last visit in spring left me with a paralysis tick embedded in my scalp and orange sized welts from an allergic reaction to the most persistent and ferocious marsh flies I’ve ever encountered. The rainforest was teeming with other more enjoyable wildlife though, so this time, hoping to avoid the bloodsuckers, I returned in winter to walk the Purling Brook Falls circuit and visit Natural Bridge. The area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia and has one of the highest average annual rainfalls in Australia. Receiving more than 3000mm (118inches) per year, Springbrook always promises an abundance of green therapy.
On this occasion, the effects of a polar vortex were being felt all the way up into sunny Queensland, with even a snowfall by the border at Stanthorpe. This thrilled me as it meant I wouldn’t have to carry as much water or drown in my own sweat. I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with the sweaty gene. At a hint of warmth my body turns on the waterworks. This may be okay in dry conditions but in humid weather it transforms me into a walking waterfall.
On the first morning there I woke to the sound of a currawong tapping on frozen water and the sight of an impressive frost.
So how did I find walking in early morning chilly conditions? Surely I didn’t sweat? Don’t underestimate the power of the super coolant gene. After five minutes I had my thin jacket off. When I stopped to take photographs or passed through heavily shaded areas, my sweat started to freeze. Thus began the game of “jacket on, jacket off” which continued until I decided that being chilled was preferable to my brain melting so it remained in my backpack. My new cunning plan is to walk in a much colder place with biting winds so I never have to take my jacket off. I need to issue the sweaty gene with a stronger challenge. Perhaps I’ll just end up frozen inside my jacket?
So, what was the rest of the walk like? I should stop waffling and gush about the magic of the rainforest.
Purling Brook Falls circuit is a class 3, 4km walk with the option of an extra 2km to visit Warringa Pool which is what I did. The walk takes you from the top of the falls down through a mixture of open eucalypt forest and subtropical rainforest to the base of the falls, crosses a new suspension bridge above the water and then takes you back up again on the other side. There are lookouts on either side of the top of the falls and many people visit these without doing the walk. The walk begins at the Gwongorella picnic grounds and there is a camping ground (no showers though) available nearby.
Despite the cold and it not being school holidays, small tourist buses filled the carpark. Hoping to spot birds, I would let a group go past but when this happened again and again, I gave up and focused on plant-life which doesn’t fly, slither or scurry away at the sound of 20 people talking. In the carpark I did manage to capture a blurry image of an eastern yellow robin and saw the remains of the bower of a satin bower bird.
A beautiful hairpin banksia across the road from the entrance also grabbed my attention.
Soon after beginning the walk I arrived at the first lookout. The water flow can vary from a trickle to a torrent depending on rainfall. At the top left hand side of the photo are people at the second lookout.
The scenery along the paths changes depending on how exposed the paths are to the sun. It started with open eucalypt forest.
But as I travelled further down, the track entered subtropical rainforest.
Many varieties of epiphytes and fungi were in evidence.
While googling the Queensland Mycological Society site, I found a poem compiled by Nigel Fechner which fungi fans may enjoy, particularly the Australians as it is a parody of the famous poem, “Core of my Heart” (aka “My Country”) by Dorothea Mackellar which many of we oldies had to learn as school children. I will only share a small excerpt due to copyright reasons. For the full version please visit the site.
“I love a fungal bounty,
A land of floating brains,
Of mycorrhizal partners,
Of spores and hyphal strains.”
Nigel Fechner ©2014
Lichens also left interesting lignographs on tree trunks.
Eventually, I came to the base of Purling Brook Falls, a spot best appreciated in the heat of summer.
The track behind the falls was closed but this didn’t stop these young men from testing it out.
I took the 2km return detour to Warringa Pool, another beautiful retreat.
Back at Purling Brook Falls I crossed the new suspension bridge across the water. I am not a fan of suspension bridges. I don’t hate them. I’m just glad to get to the other side. In fact, I am not the most comfortable on any bridge. My brother is not afraid of much but he also has a similar, if not worse feeling. I love to admire the architecture of a bridge from the distance but when I am crossing them I have to fight the feeling that it will collapse beneath me. It is most likely due to a terrifying experience we had as young children. My brother remembers it as a dream as he was only about 3 at the time, while I was about 8. It’s not something that probably belongs in a hiking post though. You’ll have to wait for the book…
For those interested here is what helps hold the bridge in place. It looks solid enough… perhaps.
The rest of the walk took me through more open, drier forest as it was more exposed to the sun and heat from the west. It also involved ascending to the top of the falls again so it’s a little more physically demanding. I saw few people on this part of the walk so I assume many returned the way they came rather than did the complete circuit.
Overall, it’s a beautiful walk, especially if you’ve never experienced rainforest before. It only took me about 2 ½ hours of actual walking time. It’s very popular though so don’t expect to find solitude. I got up at daybreak again the next day to have another go in the hopes of capturing more wildlife but many others had the same idea.
I also made another trip to Twin Falls and Warrie Circuit and the Best of All Lookouts. They are fantastic walks so check out the posts if you are new to my blog and/or interested in visiting the area. Here’s a reminder of the diversity of tree species you will find in Springbrook National Park. These are 2000 year old Antarctic beech trees from The Best of All Lookout.
On my way home from Springbrook, I took the Nerang/Murwillimbah road to visit Natural Bridge where water flows down through a hole in the roof of a small cave that is home to thousands of glow worms (larvae of the insect Arachnocampa flava). At night they can be seen as small green lights. Torches and camera flashes are not to be used inside the cave, so this is all I can show you. I also noticed a colony of tiny bats hanging from the roof of the cave. The walk has now been reduced to a short 1km circuit as too much damage has been done to surrounding areas by visitors. Swimming in the waterholes is no longer allowed because of the harmful effects on the wildlife.
The hoop pines, Araucaria cunninghamii, on the Natural Bridge circuit made me feel tiny.
There is a sense of pleasant familiarity or comfort for me in some surroundings, as though I belong. While I do take delight in rainforests, they also feel a little foreign to me, a little alien. I can’t imagine living in one. They are interesting places for me to visit but there is always a sense of relief when I exit the gloom and feel the sunshine. Most of my life I’ve lived in places that were not thickly forested. In fact, some of them were arid and exposed. I got used to seeing a sky, a distant horizon. Perhaps this is why I also enjoy the sea and the view from a mountain top. It may be that I find the power of a rainforest – the untamed vegetation – a little intimidating. It’s possible I just don’t feel comfortable with the sense of confinement it gives me. These thoughts have me wondering how my reader friends feel about different landscapes. Where do you feel most relaxed?
I hope to head back again and attempt the 54km Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk which you can start from the Settlement Camping Area at Purling Brook Falls. I won’t be doing that one on my own though and it will definitely be a winter walk so I don’t have to carry my own weight in water. For more information about Springbrook National Park check out the Queensland National Parks site.