“Accept the abundance,” the Cormorant Bay Café waitress ordered with a bow after placing a complimentary freshly brewed coffee next to my meal. Abundance sums up my three explorations in summer of the Wivenhoe Dam area, 80km west of Brisbane. To be honest, I would have been satisfied with much less abundance of sunshine and sweat while attempting to walk the 16km of trails.
But first let me begin with the end… After exploring the dam slipway and wandering along Cormorant Bay on my final visit, my belly decided to investigate the café overlooking glittering Wivenhoe Dam. As soon as I entered, I realised I should have brought a little more cash in my backpack. The café doesn’t look like your local grease-splattered fish and chips shop.
I was embarrassed by my glowing, red sweaty face, dripping hair and filthy hiking clothes in such genteel surroundings and contemplated leaving but an eager staff member seated me before I could escape. I chose the cheap and safe option of chips and a much needed coffee to wake me up. When you’re gluten intolerant and you’ve neglected to bring much cash, your choices are limited.
Feeling like a cheap-skate for ordering something so simple, I mentioned my food intolerances and the waitress suggested the Thai fish cakes and salad instead. I then had to explain that I hadn’t brought much cash with me because I’d been exploring and hadn’t planned to eat at the café so I’d stick with the chips and coffee option. She was insistent though and said she’d pay for my coffee as someone had just given her a huge tip so the total cost to me would still be the same as chips and coffee. I protested but she was adamant and I didn’t want to offend her. The meal was delicious, the views over the dam beautiful and the service excellent. I accepted the abundance.
I have a great fondness for coffee shops and cafes for many reasons and they remain a special treat. My upbringing made me conscious that for the price of a freshly brewed coffee, you could feed a small family so I take my own thermos whenever I can. Some of my best memories involve coffee shops. I tend to gravitate towards them when I’m feeling contemplative. They’re a perfect place to be alone in a corner while observing the world.
I had my first bought coffee at the age of 19 and it was then I first met Mary, an elderly rather conservative woman who thought my non-tea and coffee drinking highly uncivilised. Being a polite conformist, I accepted my first cappuccino from her. Many years later I had my last outing with Mary, and we shared our final cappuccinos. She was in the last stages of breast cancer after having unsuccessful surgery, chemo and radium treatment and was staying with me for a few days. The night before our brief coffee outing to choose birthday presents for her grand-daughter, Mary expressed anxiety about appearing in a small country town with a bald head. Her bare scalp felt too sensitive to wear a wig or other head covering. We were seated around the dining table with my young family and her husband.
Now, sometimes I’ve been known to come out with very inappropriate or shocking comments. On this occasion I produced these reassuring words, “Don’t worry, they’ll probably just think we’re a hot lesbian couple.” The few seconds of silence seemed to last forever. I was mortified. Mary was a woman who grew up in very conservative times, a Christian lady with a posh grammar school voice who still used fancy starched cloth napkins at meal times, even for breakfast. She never swore, using the words “wretched” or “blessed” instead to describe frustrating situations or objects.
However, Mary surprised me by finding my comment hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing for a few minutes. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever heard her laugh so much before. For some reason it had been exactly the right thing to say and I found out later that she delighted in telling a few friends. Somehow Mary and I had a close relationship despite our vast differences in upbringing and interests. Coffee can connect people. She died a few weeks later and it’s her laugh that night that I like to remember most as well as our last cappuccinos together. What has this got to do with hiking? Not much really. It’s a sheer indulgence – a fond memory which was triggered by my free coffee at the Cormorant Bay Café.
Back to my explorations now… My first walk in summer at Wivenhoe Hill was to be a reconnaissance trip of the 16km trails. Not being sure it was a safe area to walk alone, I threw out some bait to occasional walking partner and crazy cyclist, Lycra Man, by mentioning the trails are also used for mountain biking.
On the subject of reconnaissance, I wonder how many parents have children who protest at their use of certain words. My daughter cringes at my use of reconnaissance, as she feels it is too military. Being a good mother, I continue to use the word because I enjoy her reaction.
Now if you’ve read about my walks with him before you’ll know Lycra Man and I never arrive on time. This was the case again. It would be touch and go whether we’d get even one trail checked out before sunset.
The first part of the Blue Trail is a wide bitumen road which doesn’t give any protection from the heat.
As usual I spent far too much time taking multiple photos of objects not really of much interest to anyone but myself. The heat and Lycra Man’s comments about my over zealous photography reminded me of our wanders in my post, How to Torture a Hiking Partner. He still doesn’t share my fascination for tree bark and insects.
I’ve seen this fungi before but still haven’t identified it. It resembles dry horse manure. In fact, Lycra Man gave it a kick (he may have been a little bored) because he thought it was manure balls.
After a couple of kilometres there is a horse watering point and this is where the trail becomes dirt and winds through eucalypt forest, up and down small hills and gives views of the dam.
As usual highly sensible furry creatures were staring at us from the shade.
There were also beautiful spiders to slow me down and cause Lycra Man to sigh again and again.
In the end we had to turn around at the 4km mark of the Blue Trail as the light was fading fast. Sometimes I talk to objects and this time the sun was my target. Apparently though, the sun doesn’t listen to dumpy, short legged hikers and it set despite my protests.
Lycra Man has this strange opinion that I can be rather bossy. I maintain it’s just a healthy assertiveness. His comment after my one sided conversations with the sun: “You may be able to tell me what to do but the sun isn’t going to listen.” I must say that he rarely does what I tell him to either.
Now I’d brought Lycra Man along in case there were strange people lurking about. This was probably a wise decision as while I was photographing a butterfly on a milkweed flower, I was shaken by angry shouting emanating from an old blue Kombi van parked nearby. I realised the male occupant thought I was trying to secretly photograph him. He sped off, gravel flying. I’m not sure taking a blurry picture of a common monarch was worth receiving the tirade of abuse.
And where was the long suffering bodyguard during this altercation?
Despite this little incident I returned on my own with a plan to complete all the trails in one day. Reassured that the tracks provided enough interest and putting my head firmly in the sand about the possibility of another encounter with the paranoid stranger, I confidently headed off. Unfortunately, I started late again and frittered away too many hours taking shots of insects, birds and trees so it proved to be a very long day.
Along the way I also added about 2 km to the Blue Trail by returning to retrieve sunglasses I’d left behind while photographing these mealy bugs.
Now they may only be cheap $20 sunglasses but they were the most comfortable ones I’d ever worn and by now you know I don’t like to spend money so I wasn’t going to leave them behind. Later that day on the White Track though, I lost them completely while photographing these birds’ nest fungi on horse manure. They aren’t even good photos.
There are 4 trails – Blue, White, Red and Black. How unimaginative you may say to just name them colours? Well, that’s what I thought too until the actual day. In the end, the colours seemed to represent my track experiences perfectly. The Blue Trail was shaded once you got past the initial sealed road and gave regular teasing views of water through the trees. If I wasn’t so stubborn/foolish about getting all the trails done in one day I would have enjoyed lazing about in the shade by the water.
I don’t know why but I’d got it into my head that the Blue Track would end at the top of a hill and give a magnificent view of the Dam. For this reason I delayed eating and drinking until I had finished it. This was my first mistake. Here is the view when I reached the end of the Blue Trail where it joins the Black and White Trails.
Now as far as toilets go this was luxury for a hiking track, clean and free of ticks and ants and not requiring a spade. However, after it had been shut up and baked by the midday sun, a woman could risk a burnt derriere using these flash facilities.
By this time I was ravenous so I sheltered in the dappled shade of a straggly gum tree, ate my lunch and took off my hat and outer loose shirt to allow some ventilation. This was my second mistake. My sunscreen had sweated off and the patchy shade was insufficient protection from the harsh midday sun. I wasn’t to know this until much too late.
I really don’t have much to say about the Black Track. It’s a straight, sealed black bitumen road – far too exposed and hot for me to enjoy at midday in a Queensland summer.
I walked along it for about a kilometre, gave up and returned to the beginning of the White Track, which seemed a little more shaded and probably more interesting.
I didn’t take notes but from my photographs I remember many white trunked gums on the White Track and it varied in shade level, with thick dry eucalypt forest and cleared hills overlooking the dam.
This hill was a bit of a slog as by this stage I was feeling the effects of sunburn.
The Red Track was really my undoing though as by the end I was suffering from mild heat stroke. The sunburn, lack of shade, my dwindling water supply and a breeze-less day meant my mind was fixed on getting back to the car so I could douse myself with extra water that I kept in the boot for emergencies.
There were interesting details to enjoy though in between brain damage and muscles melting. The vegetation was a contrast to the forests of the Blue Trail, with grass trees and termite nests being a common sight.
A couple of trees were being affectionate, obviously not bothered by differences in their trunk colours…
I felt a little dry and crispy at this point like this cicada exoskeleton.
And the bones on this sign seemed appropriate.
I wished I was small enough to hide away in the cool retreat of this termite construction like some creature had done.
A glimpse of shimmering blue tormented me from the lookout.
As the Red Trail just continued on and on…
At some point I began to shiver and no longer felt thirsty – another warning sign that I was overheating. I felt like these shrivelled blackened fungi growing out of a termite nest. Having lost my sunglasses again, my eyes were also bloodshot from the glare.
I briefly fantasized that these frosty looking puffballs were made of ice-cream…
And wondered whether I’d end up like this unfortunate mammal.
This was my fried brain by the end of the walk.
Wivenhoe Trails are probably best done in the colder months or at sunrise or sunset and in summer it’s probably not recommended you try to do them all in one go like I did unless you’re a fan of furnace torture.
Another day I returned to explore Wivenhoe Dam Spillway Common. Like parts of the walking trails, it provided little shade but the sight of flowing water gave some mental relief and I wished I’d brought swimming togs and a towel.
Basking turtles, waterbirds and enormous fish can be viewed from the Spillway Lookout.
Closer to the water, dragonflies persuaded me to stay in the sun a little longer.
On the walk back up to the carpark, rock patterns and reflections also caught my attention.
As well as tall things…
And tiny things…
I’m far too lazy to repeat the information about the dam workings in my own words so here are some educational boards for those interested. The spillway common is also a popular canoe drop off point. There are “No Fishing” signs but this didn’t seem to stop a few people.
Lastly, I walked along the Cormorant Bay section of the Dam on the other side of the highway. It was the weekend and picnic areas were packed with people enjoying the sunshine, the stunning views and companionship.
Large family gatherings seemed to be popular and I heard ethnic music and a few different languages being spoken. I wondered if some families were originally refugees and was glad that they could now enjoy the relative freedom and safety of Australia.
The teasing aroma of barbecuing steaks and onions induced me to visit the Cormorant Café where the abundance offered to me by the kind waitress summed up my three wildlife, scenery and sunshine packed visits to Wivenhoe.
Wivenhoe Dam is also a popular camping spot and with fuel powered boats not permitted, it’s a far more peaceful option than many other dams in holiday season.