I’m not in the habit of taking hallucinogens but what I was seeing in front of me made me wonder if I’d been slipped a few magic mushrooms in my morning omelette. Guarding the entrance to Crows Nest National Park was this.
I wasn’t in remote outback areas where it’s estimated a million feral camels roam. I was at Crows Nest National Park only about 150 km from Brisbane. I’d visited in the winter of 2017 in the hope of seeing my first platypus in the wild. Instead, I came across something else brown and furry, but considerably larger.
I knew feral camels were a threat to Australia’s ecosystems because they will consume around 80% of plant species, so it was concerning to see one in a national park. It was only when I got home and researched their status that I became aware of the extent of the damage. While contributing to the extinction of many native species, they also cause extensive damage to fencing, important cultural sites, and water infrastructure in Aboriginal communities. The estimated annual cost of feral camels to Australia is about 10 million dollars.
What was it doing here? Looking more closely, I spied an ear tag so it had escaped from a farm or had been allowed to graze within the park. Then I noticed camel number two.
I took a few photos as proof of my sanity and once they’d moved away from the entrance, drove in and began my walk. Later, I sent a picture to my ranger friend from the Department of National Parks who was thinking he’d have to get a group of people together to round them up. Fortunately, on my return visit with my daughter a few days later, the tall shaggy escapees were back inside a fenced area of farmland bordering the national park. I imagine herding camels in such a steep and rugged environment wouldn’t be a simple task.
Some long term readers may know that due to the remote areas we lived in, as well as being a mother to my three children, I was also their full-time school teacher. Keeping these roles distinct was often difficult. There was always a certain overlap, especially in the minds of my offspring. Maintaining enthusiasm was a challenge and over the years I developed (what I thought were) persuasive and encouraging little phrases which my adult children tease me about today. Apparently, I still use them in a variety of contexts and they recognise the tactics immediately. After hearing them so often, they’ve become slightly suspicious and liken it to hearing a dentist reassuringly telling you, “Not long to go now,” when there is still half an hour left of torture.
Classic Teacher Jane encouragements included:
“You’re going so well! Wow! I wonder how many more you can get done!”
“We’re almost finished now. We might as well keep going to the end.”
“Just one more page (or spelling word or maths problem.)” According to my children, I had an extremely liberal definition of “one.”
“If you do more today, you won’t have to do as much tomorrow.” I may have been guilty of repeating this comment on consecutive days.
Why am I telling you this? What has it got to do with hiking? Well, when it comes to enticing others to share a bushwalking adventure with me, it seems I still employ my teaching rhetoric. A small walk turns into a much longer one because it’s really “not much longer,” or, “how exciting it would be to see what’s over the top of the next hill,” or, perhaps my most used phrase, “Only a few more photographs.”
This time when I approached my daughter, Tough Cookie, about accompanying me to Crows Nest National Park, I had a new tactic. Since I had already done the walks a few days before, I assured her I wouldn’t need to take photographs and we could just enjoy the views, drastically reducing the total time it would take. Tough Cookie is also a smart cookie though.
“Mum, stop lying to yourself. You know you’ll see details you missed on your first walk and need to photograph them.”
Okay, she was right. I did take more photographs, but how could I not take advantage of having her as a “scale buddy”? Crows Nest National Park has some impressively tall trees, granite boulders, and steep rocky steps. My blog readers deserve to know their true dimensions. Sacrifices need to be made for the cause.
Luckily for my daughter she had her own secret weapon to combat my snail pace – her giraffe legs. While our torsos are the same length, she has been blessed with much longer limbs than me.
She easily walked over this log on the trail while here is my attempt. Notice I am touching the ground with only the tips of my shoes. I did try to walk over it. I didn’t think my actions warranted so much laughter from Tough Cookie though.
Knowing I have a strong maternal instinct to protect her from snakebites, cliff edges and creepy stalkers, she kept up a cracking pace to ensure I didn’t lag too far behind.
Apparently at my age, cardiovascular fitness is very important and taking photographs every few metres is not the best way of extending my life. She was really doing this for my sake. For my health. Just as her teacher/mother had pushed her when she was young “for her own good.”
Although we did this walk in the winter of 2017, the maximum hovered around 30C and shade was patchy. Trying to keep pace with my speedy offspring took its toll. Even when studying my album I struggled to recall a series of events. I seem to have spent most of my time collapsed on a rock catching my breath while grabbing shots of her back disappearing into the distance. Here, I’ll show you.
Faced with a patchy recall of events, I’ll start with the easy facts gleaned from the National Parks website.
Crow’s Nest National Park features rugged granite outcrops, open eucalypt forest, creeks, waterholes, falls and a deep gorge known as the Valley of the Diamonds.
During winter and spring it can be very dry so after heavy rains is the best time to see the creeks and falls flowing.
The Koonin Lookout walk is 4.5 km return and overlooks the Valley of the Diamonds, but you can make it more interesting by taking the Kauyoo loop creek section to Crows Nest Falls, either on your return or when heading out which only adds another 600 metres.
While only rated a Class 3 walk, there is a final short steep section leading up to the lookout that walkers need to be aware of and rocky steps down to Bottlebrush Pool could be a challenge also. When wet the granite becomes very slippery.
Tough Cookie and I completed these sections as well as some exploratory detours along the creek and down into the gorge, covering around 10 kilometres.
The warm, dry conditions and the enforced rapid pace meant a dearth of wildlife photos, but I did manage a few captures along the way, including this azure kingfisher. These small kingfishers line their nests with fish bones and scales and hunt for small fish, frogs, reptiles and small mammals.
Wandering along the creek provides the best opportunities for bird sightings. During dry seasons, small birds such as silver eyes, wrens and finches can be observed bathing in the remaining pools.
Despite the dry conditions, there was still plenty of fungi about.
Brush-tailed rock-wallabies peeked through the scrub and wouldn’t allow me a clear shot. I’ve a fondness for their large furry rear ends which I assume help them to balance and sit comfortably on the steep rocky terrain. I can attest to the comfort factor of an ample backside when seated on hard ground. At least I have my own in-built cushion.
According to the Australian Government fact sheet, as well as scaling almost vertical rocky cliffs, brush-tailed rock-wallabies can actually climb tall trees using their sharp claws and strong legs. Despite their acrobatic talents, populations of brush-tailed rock-wallabies have been drastically reduced by habitat destruction and the introduction of feral animals.
When I do manage to keep pace with my daughter or when we stop to eat a snack, the vibe of a place is frequently discussed. On this occasion we both agreed that on quiet days, Crows Nest National Park has a slightly sinister atmosphere.
There’s something about the proliferation of granite outcrops, the dry scrub, and the lonely sound of the wind through the trees that evokes thoughts of violence and buried bodies.
Sights like these resin stained trees and rocks don’t help to quell the imagination either.
This poignant warning at Crows Nest Falls added to the sombre mood of the setting.
The view from the Koonin Lookout over the Valley of the Diamonds brought some relief from dark thoughts.
Disappointingly, the Valley of Diamonds is not full of diamonds. That world tour will have to wait. It’s called this by some people because the granite gorge contains large amounts of feldspar which sparkles in the sunlight.
It was now time to attempt some groovy action shots like all those proper professional hiking blogs out there.
Trying to look super athletic and natural when your body is self-combusting actually takes a huge effort. My daughter achieved this with ease, whereas most shots of me were relegated to the trash folder.
Here’s one of me. Notice I am squatting down near the edge, peeking over, rather than embracing the view with a confident stance like my daughter.
Plenty of smiling shots to remember the day were managed though. I’m not sure mine looks very natural. There also seems to be a distinctly crazed look in my eyes, although according to my family, that’s not unusual. I blame the heat. My lizard-like daughter was still needing a jumper, whereas I was eager to shed everything by this stage.
After years of suffering through marathon school sessions, it was only fair Tough Cookie finally enacted a little healthy revenge on her torturer. Although, in teacher terminology, she was just trying to reveal my “true potential.”
“You can do it, Mum! Look how fast you can go! We’re almost there. You’re going so well.”