Where have I been? Walking in circles for weeks lost in the Australian outback or lying paralysed in a hospital bed after falling off a cliff whilst taking a photograph of an ant? Maybe I’ve been spending my $70 million lotto winnings or perhaps working undercover for ASIO?
Unfortunately for you dear readers, the real reasons are far from exciting and rather than waste time with a boring and complicated explanation I’ll jump straight back in the saddle and share a completely new destination with you. Thank you to the kind folk who sent me supportive emails in my absence. I appreciated your concern.
Each year I spend time visiting relatives in the Burnett region of Queensland, about 500 km north west of Brisbane. This year, I decided to spend a couple of days exploring Cania Gorge National Park on my own before returning home. It was a vague plan and I wondered if I was being foolish walking solo in mid-summer without phone reception. I am mildly extreme though and sometimes a good adventure is the best antidote for a struggling mind.
Cania Gorge National Park has towering, vividly coloured sandstone ridges and a variety of vegetation including dry rainforest and eucalypt woodland. The vibrant colours on this walk reminded me of looking through toy kaleidoscopes as a child and I’d have to agree with others who’ve described it as a hidden gem.
The first surprise of my journey came a couple of hours after leaving home. At a road-side rest area between Esk and Yarraman I noticed a group of people staring up at a tree and my koala alert beeped. Closer inspection revealed a healthy looking specimen snoozing in the fork of a broad-leaved apple, Angophora subvelutina. Can you see it?
I was thankful for the eagle-eyed travellers as I doubted I would have spotted it. I was also thankful for my Canon Powershot SX60 zoom which enabled me to be able to share these close-ups with you.
Some of my overseas readers may not think this is an unusual find but contrary to media representations of my country, seeing a wild koala is a rare event for many Australians. It depends where you live. This was only my third sighting.
Upon researching the tree species, I made a surprising discovery. Koalas, at least some of them, do eat foods other than gum tree leaves. Koalas have been observed eating termites, bark and the leaves of other tree species. In captivity, koalas will even eat fruit and vegetables. To see photos and a video of koalas eating alternatives to gum tree leaves please check the Koala Tracker site, article We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know.
I was to see more iconic Australian wildlife on my trip including hungry cockatoos and galahs feasting on a sorghum crop near Monto and these kangaroos lazing about behind a motel.
Eventually, I found myself gearing up to begin one of the many short walks which start at the Cania Gorge picnic grounds. After applying copious amounts of sunscreen and insect repellent, loading my backpack with water, a medical kit and other essentials and hanging my camera on my chest for maximum access, I set off on the Dripping Rock and Overhang 3.2 km walk first.
The sky had been overcast all day and so of course the heavens opened as soon as I took my first steps. Off came the backpack and out came the waterproof cover and I packed away the camera in a waterproof zip lock bag. Five minutes later it stopped and the sun came but I’ve been fooled before so I waited.
Finally I pulled the camera out again and of course it started to shower immediately. Regular hikers/photographers will know the drill. I played the pack-unpack game for a while and eventually gave up after the first rumblings of thunder. I headed back to the car unwilling to be squashed by large tree limbs during a storm.
An hour later after a thermos of tea and eating snacks meant for my hike, I set off again. This time when another storm came over I sheltered in a vividly coloured sandstone overhang and enjoyed the peace and isolation of being totally alone without any phone contact . Actually, that’s not completely true. Plenty of mosquitoes kept me company as by this stage I’d sweated off my insect repellent in the heat and humidity.
A female rock wallaby with a joey in her pouch bounded in and attempted to seek refuge with me. I’m not sure which of us was more shocked but I managed to get a blurry photo of her as she moved off. It made me ponder what other shelter-seeking creature I may encounter suddenly. Are there hiker-eating dingoes at Cania Gorge? At least I don’t have to consider bears or wolves unlike my northern counterparts.
After the mosquitoes had finished draining my blood, the storm dissipated and I headed off to the official “Overhang.” The rain had disturbed hundreds of insects which brought skinks up to a foot long out to feast. I spent a long while enjoying their behaviour and marvelling at the glowing patterns on gum trees after rain.
The startling colours of sandstone were brightened by the downpour also.
A few insects caught my attention, especially robber flies which appeared in high numbers.
Native Kurrajong shrub (Brachychiton bidwilli) flowers, decorated by glistening water drops halted my plodding.
A grazing swamp wallaby distracted me as well.
After completing the other short walks, it was late afternoon and time to find accommodation and phone reception. At the caravan/camping ground in Monto I was reminded how far I was from home when this little critter eyeballed me from a toilet seat. A fat green frog gobbled insects under an outside light while I ate my dinner.
The next morning I was treated to another surprise – an amazing misty sunrise. The rays caught the crops and trees at just the right angle to make them glow.
The 5.6 km Giant’s Chair – Fern Tree Pool circuit and the 1.3 km Two-Storey Cave circuit were in my plans for day two before I set off on the six hour drive home. I decided to leave the hot and exposed 22km Castle Mountain walk for another trip when my daughter could accompany me.
The GC-FTP circuit begins by meandering through eucalyptus woodland and dry rainforest. There are a number of creek crossings which were all bone dry on my visit.
Reaching Fern Tree Pool was a relief as the day was heating up fast. Continuing on towards the lookout wasn’t appealing so I spent an hour enjoying the moving reflections of ripples on the overhang and of trees in the tannin-stained pool.
Eventually I dragged myself away from this oasis and headed up to Giant’s Chair Lookout. More colourful tree trunks took my mind off the heat and snake-like branches across the path kept me alert. I did wonder from time to time how long it would take for someone to find me if I had an accident or been bitten by a snake as I had no phone reception.
Close inspection of a Kurrajong bush yielded exciting entomological discoveries – a native bee, a case moth and a beetle. Enough thrills to get any critter enthusiast’s heart all a flutter – well, mine anyway.
Insects are always a good excuse to take a breather and create a puddle of sweat.
Grass trees were a familiar sight but I didn’t spy any large old specimens. Fires had been through offering an interesting contrast between blackened stumps and fluorescent green regrowth.
After the hot climb the lookout view was a little disappointing . A blue sky would have made for prettier pictures but I was glad to be there on my own enjoying the space and the quiet. The last part of the circuit down to the carpark was extremely steep and rocky and I would probably call it a class 4 rather than the class 3 walk it’s been labelled. I’ve been on many class 4 walks that were easier than this section.
Next I was eager to see the insectivorous bats on the Two Storey Cave walk. It’s only a short circuit near the picnic area carpark but it’s hot and exposed and a little steep to begin with. There were plenty of interesting geological features on this short walk to keep the camera out.
I spent a few minutes resting in King Orchid Cleft and was joined by curious skinks who wanted to share my water bottle.
I may not have been able to see the bats at Two Storey Cave as they were too high up in the second storey area, but I could hear their movements and definitely smell them.
My walk finished with a another iconic Australian creature, a couple of laughing kookaburras in the carpark. They must be polite specimens because they remained quiet. They should have been cackling at me considering my bright red sweaty face, burnt because the sunscreen had sweated off and I had taken too many photos staring up into trees and ridges. A minor price to pay though for the exceptional couple of walking days I’d experienced.
Due to time constraints I missed visiting Cania Lake further along. Apparently, it is one of the most scenic lakes in Queensland and popular for boating and fishing enthusiasts.
I could rave about this place but I think the photographs show what I thought about it. The colours and the wildlife offer a very special, uniquely Australian experience. It was just what I needed after a mentally and physically draining couple of months. Please check the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife site for more details as there is no point in me trying to duplicate their excellent site.
Thanks for reading and belated New Years best wishes to you all. I hope 2016 brings you many special moments, good health and fulfillment.