I blame the birds. I really do. I’m sure it had nothing to do with any lack of self-control on my part or my obsessive compulsive photograph-taking, or being too lazy to leave a toasty warm bed on a freezing morning. Yes, it was definitely the birds’ fault I started my official walk much later than expected.
Girraween National Park, near Stanthorpe in southern Queensland, is one of my favourite places but is best walked in the cooler months as it is rocky and exposed. Mid-winter to spring is also when the park comes alive with wildflowers.
I first wrote about my love of Girraween in the blog post, The Pyramid, the Big Apple and a Little Taste of Italy. Its fascinating rock features, including massive granite boulders and tors, make it attractive to geology buffs, and those who appreciate the spooky atmosphere of walking among towering monoliths. Who doesn’t love a good rock?
My Girraween walks in the past have always been rushed as it’s a three hour journey from my home and I prefer not to risk hitting kangaroos or to negotiate the steep winding roads of Cunningham’s Gap in darkness. To guarantee an early walking start and a leisurely stroll, this time I splurged on a cheap Stanthorpe motel room the night before. I would have camped but Girraween is so popular that sites needs to be booked weeks, sometimes months in advance. With this plan in place, I’d be assured a sunrise start to my walk…
Stanthorpe has the honour of being one of the coldest towns in Queensland. It regularly has frosts and sometimes even snow. I’m a fan of cold weather though and it’s usually not too difficult for me to get out of bed early. Unfortunately, the motel room had an electric blanket that kept me trapped in its cosy depths through repeated phone alarms. Never underestimate the tenacity of an electric blanket’s grip. They are evil. No-one, especially me, can escape their seductive delights. The sun rose without me.
Despite this, I managed to arrive at the day car park and picnic grounds at 8.30am, in plenty of time to finish my walk to Mt Norman and be home before dark.
It is here that the conniving birds began their onslaught though. It seems the car park area next to the creek is a favourite of many bird species and on this occasion they started to congregate around me.
Avian attractions sent me into a dizzying spin and before long I was trapped once again, but this time in a cycle of frenetic camera clicking. Just when I zipped my camera up to turn around and begin the walking trail, another curious bird would appear nearby or call out to tease me. Someone please put me out of my misery. Don’t let me walk alone to be hypnotised in this feathery fashion!
When I related this incident to my daughter – how nature thwarted my attempt to keep to a strict and sensible plan – she replied, “Awww, Mum, you’re like Snow White when all the creatures in the woods surrounded her and she started to sing.”
While that image does sound delightful, I can’t remember Snow White ever attracting ticks, mosquitoes or leeches. Nor can I picture her wearing a sensible floppy hat, a baggy old shirt and hiking pants, a thick coating of sunscreen and insect repellent, or being red-faced and dripping with sweat. If you want to test a potential partner’s devotion to you, drag them on a summer walk in the Australian bush. If they still profess undying love they’re probably a keeper. It’s a good test for all those years of bodily deterioration to come.
Now, where was I? Oh yes. The birds. While I’d like to think it resembled a scene from Snow White (and I wish I could look as enchanting in a corseted dress) I have a sneaking suspicion it was more like a bird’s version of funniest home videos – a comedy where I am the source of entertainment. If you’ve spent a lot of time with pet birds it is easy to believe they do have a sense of humour and spend their time laughing at us in their own fashion. I’m sure they spotted me, a perfect victim, immediately. How can we foil this silly human’s attempts to leave early for her walk? They also enlisted the help of the flowers and the interesting rocks around the creek line.
Here’s a picture of a black male satin bower bird and its bower area decorated with blue bottle caps. The greenish female (lower down) is quite different in appearance and sometimes confused with a catbird. The bower was right next to the picnic ground carpark, a handy spot for the male to turn rubbish left by humans into treasures.
With the whole of nature, living and non-living, plotting against me, it was no wonder it took me TWO HOURS just to leave the picnic area, creek and car park. As I said, I blame the birds. Oh yes, and the marsupials grazing with such furry appeal.
After deciding the Mt Norman Track would now take too long, I chose to limit the walk to Turtle Rock and the Sphinx, with a short side visit to Castle Rock. This class 3/class 4 trail is 7.4 km return but with the added 500 metre side track to Castle Rock is 8.4 km. While most of it is a comfortable walk in cold weather, I can imagine it being a very thirsty slog in summer with reflected heat coming off the granite.
I left my hiking poles in the car as they can be a little annoying. This was a stupid decision. Although the track is not too difficult there are plenty of steps, some rocky. It was inevitable the walk would end in knee pain for me.
This track quickly leaves the cooler vegetation of the car park creek behind and as it rises, the area becomes much drier. With few of those pesky birds to slow me down you’d think I’d be Speedy Gonzales, but that’s when those sneaky large rock formations foiled my plans to set a cracking pace. You can never trust a decent rock can you? It’s not that I have an obsessive need to record everything I see. I don’t have a problem, really. It’s nature’s fault for being so annoyingly fascinating.
This boulder reminded me of a porcupine…or maybe a hedgehog…a guinea pig…or a snail…or maybe just a rock?
Along the trail to Turtle Rock, I made a 500 metre side detour out to Castle Rock. As I pondered scaling a section of steep slippery granite slab at Castle Rock, I couldn’t help but envy those with normal length legs. One or two steps and it would be crossed. Me? Well, if the birds were still around, they’d have chirped their little beaks off in amusement at my awkward, bottom-in-the air scrambling. Oh well, what I lack in leg length, I make up for in derrière width.
From Castle Rock I was able to view Mt Norman and my planned destination – Turtle Rock and the Sphinx.
It’s unlikely I’ll make it to Egypt to see The Sphinx, so I took plenty of time to enjoy Australia’s own version before moving on to Turtle Rock. Take a close look at the nose of the Sphinx. Can you see the small balancing rock? Did someone put it there?
Below is part of Turtle Rock. Once you are next to it, it’s hard to photograph in its entirety. It’s easier to see its resemblance to a turtle from Castle Rock. By this stage there was no time for me to explore the surroundings of Turtle Rock or ski down its slippery slopes.This may have been a good thing as an encounter with a slithery beast later made me wonder how many venomous reptiles were hidden in the rock crevices.
As I predicted, the return walk was painful. My knees don’t like going down steps and before long I was cursing my stupidity at leaving the hiking poles behind. At this point I wouldn’t have cared if a rare bird hit me in the face. I was too focused on getting through each step without my knee exploding. In this heightened state of pain, I neglected to see a huge venomous red-bellied black snake lying by the path in front of me until it moved slightly and flattened its body in an aggressive/defensive stance.
Red-bellied black snakes are not usually known for being aggressive though. They generally slither off when they sense you approaching. But this one may have already been stirred up by previous walkers and my boots almost standing on it didn’t help. I backtracked and stomped on the ground hoping it would just slither off but it stayed put.
I couldn’t stay there forever waiting so I took a detour into the bush and made a wide path around it. As I did this, it decided to slither across the path towards me. I’ve read that when escaping, this species will sometimes appear to move towards you as if being aggressive, when they are actually heading to a place behind you for safety. As you can imagine, this can be slightly disconcerting.
If Shing Xiang’s words are true, that “At the end of your life it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away” then I strongly suggest a close encounter with a venomous snake to make your life more meaningful. I’m not sure how long I stopped breathing. From a safe distance I used my zoom to take a few shots. My photos don’t show how vibrant the beautiful black and red colouration was.
Shortly afterwards, I came up with a brilliant idea. Perhaps the snake appearance shocked it out of me. When you read this I am sure you will be amazed. Instead of my hiking poles, I realised that I could have picked up any one of the hundreds of suitably sized sticks along the path to use instead. I know. My intelligence and creativity are astounding. Who would have thought you could use a humble stick instead of a pair of $70 hiking poles for support. I mean, I bet no-one in human history has ever thought of that invention? I think I deserve the entrepreneurial award of the year. I always knew there were brains lurking somewhere in that predominantly hollow skull.
Anyway, I made it back in one piece. After some stretching exercises back in the carpark, and swallowing down a few magnesium capsules to reduce muscle spasms, my knee vastly improved. I said goodbye to my new stick buddy and began the three hour drive home. It’s strange how you can grow fond of an inanimate object. I missed my stick. It reminded me of Tom Hank’s affection for his coconut friend, Wilson, in the movie, Castaway.
Queensland National Parks site has detailed information about Girraween walks and camping areas but there is also a fantastic Girraween resource site which has extensive photographic galleries and identification of many species of plants, birds, reptiles and mammals as well as detailed information about geological formations in the area. Please check out this wonderful site to see what Girraween has to offer.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring