Thursday, May 30, 2013

Where Does Time Go

When we left the Cave at the end of April for our around/across/over Australia trip, I thought there would be lots of time in the evening after the days activities were done to edit our trip database, process photos, write my blog, plan the next days/weeks trip, do yoga, bust out a few pull-ups, all before dinner. Wrong again. We seem to barely have time to scratch ourselves before our next adventure starts.

Fast forward a month, the way life always seems to, and we are on the “Sunshine Coast” (an hour north of Brisbane) where it seems to, perversely, rain a lot, even though this is the dry season, and, I have the time and internet connection to update my blog with, what will necessarily be a brief description of the last months adventures.

Our first stop, somewhat ambitiously (or mistakenly?) was the Blue Mountains as it seemed like we should get back into climbing shape – or at least some semblance thereof – after four months off the rock. We had four days climbing at the Bluey's, but the weather, at least for a couple of Canadians wanting to escape the cold, was not conducive to long (or fun) climbing days. Morning temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius, strong winds, and cloudy skies just seem too similar to Canadian climbing days to hold much appeal when you know that further north, the temperature is in the mid-20's (or 30's) and the sun is shining.

I did a fantastic hike while we were there, down the ledges, ladders and cliff lines of Govetts Leap with the amazing green wall of vegetation above, and under numerous small waterfalls, to the base of the big waterfall that tumbles down the escarpment. From there, meandering down Govetts Leap Brook past small waterholes and along rock ledges to Govett Gorge where the river had raked the banks clean in the January floods, then back up via an old horse track to overlook the wild Grose Valley with its big red sandstone walls from a rock perch on the escarpment, and finally, I ambled back along the escarpment edge past more waterfalls and overlooks to the car park.

You could easily spend a month at the Blue Mountains climbing and hiking each day and camped at Mount York where the sun sets in a red ball of fire every night through a screen of eucalypts and the green verdant Hartley Valley below slips into darkness, and, earlier in the year, I probably would, but not in May. So, we moved, at, for us, a rapid pace north. We stopped each day in the early afternoon, camping at various National Parks, and just having time for a walk around the area before the early winter sun set. Mill Creek by the Hawksebury River was empty with fog rolling in off the river in the morning. Indian Head was crowded until we moved to the second, strangely much less popular campsite, and completely empty campsite. Big kangaroos rested on the lawns and the waves crashed onto the headland further eroding the unusual sea arches that have formed.

When we reached the Queensland-NSW border, we slowed right down. In Sundown National Park, where it feels as if you are in the far flung west of Queensland, but are merely a couple of hours from the coast, we backpacked up Ooline Gorge along the timber covered plains above and descended Blue Gorge to the Severn River. This is traprock country, hard rock, worn flat by water. Ooline Gorge has a couple of steep traprock cliffs that are easily scrambled either directly or on the (climbers) left, and much of the walking is easy and scenic along river worn smooth traprock between canyon walls. Blue Gorge is steep, descending 1000 metres in a few kilometres down a steep sided gorge that requires some scrambling and route-finding skill to descend. We did the last couple of kilometres in darkness and scarcely had time to appreciate the big canyon walls and smooth traprock waterfalls. We scrambled down steep cliff lines sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, twice traversing out into side canyons and then back down the main canyon. In the dark at the Severn River, we scratched out a tent site on the sandy bank, made a quick dinner and slept soundly overnight. The next day, the walk down the Severn River on continually rolling river rock was weary on the legs at feet while scenic.

In nearby Girraween National Park, we walked through to Bald Rock National Park on trails that padded over long flat granite slabs, through massive granite boulders and down steep granite ramps among grass trees. At the end of the day, I scrambled up the easy slabs of Bald Rock to the summit and followed the white dotted tourist trail down slabs on the opposite side back to the parking lot.

We paddled on Glenyon Lake where huge cactus trees sprout round red fruits before driving over the Main Ranges to Frog Buttress. Along the way we hiked from Cunninghams Gap down to Gap Creek Falls descending from dense rainforest with huge bunya pines and strangler figs to open grassy country overlooking the Fassifern Valley.
At Frog Buttress, we got “schooled” on the steep, smooth crack climbs. I took a whipper off a grade 10 route and, a couple of weeks later, still feel the ache in my hip where I crashed into the wall. The climbing is different to any I've done elsewhere. All the routes we climbed felt like a series of big moves strung together on steep, almost overhanging smooth rock, moving from one awkward, out of balance hold to the next.

From Boonyah, we drove a winding mountain road to Lamington National Park perched up on the dividing range with waterfalls and creeks running through the dense green rainforest. Many trails were still closed from the massive rainfall associated with ex-tropical cyclone Oswald which came through in January, but we walked a loop that ran up Tooloona Creek past a series of waterfalls and along the rim of the rainforest escarpment overlooking the impossibly green coastal plains. Huge bunya pines and strangler figs draped with lianas and vines block most of the sunlight, while below the canopy, large and glossy leaved vegetation rustles with the sound of disappearing pademelons. Near O'Reilly's Hotel, a boardwalk runs through the rainforest and you can climb a series of ladders and suspended ramps up into the rain forest canopy, where you can look down into the dense rainforest below or out to the ocean and the coastal plains.

Out on the coast, we packed our kayaks with a weeks worth of provisions and set off from Redland Bay to paddle north up Moreton Bay. We weaved our way through the Russel-Macleay Islands, dodging frequent, bullish passenger ferries to the quieter shores of North Stradbroke Island, and, as the water gradually cleared from brown to clear green we worked our way up the coastline. At Peel Island, we floated over coral gardens, paddled past shallow mangrove lined bays where sharks, turtles, rays and assorted fish flashed past the boats and watched the sunset in a red ball of fire over Platypus Bay. At the north end of North Stradbroke Island, we breakfasted on a big sandbar where thousands of crabs raced over the exposed sands, pelicans cruised by, and sharks and rays swam under the boats, before we crossed to Moreton Island, weaving through sandbars over the clear turquoise water.

On the west side of Moreton Island, with calm clear water we paddled north past sandy beaches watching turtles slide past our bows to the Tangalooma Wrecks, a series of eight disused government barges which were sunk on off shore sandbars in the 1960's. These wrecks are now colonised by hard and soft corals, wobegong sharks, turtles and thousands of tropical fish. We spent long hours gliding over the wrecks in our boats or snorkelling gear watching the parade of marine life swimming by.

Our last full day on Moreton Island the weather changed and the familiar winds increased to 20 knots blowing strongly from the west. I walked to the north end of the island, lured into a 24 km round trip by firm sand as the tide fell and the desire to see around the next headland, but returned with blisters on the soles of my feet from walking on sand that was cement hard. We watched the dolphin feeding at nearby Tangalooma Resort but found ourselves more interested in watching the “handlers” - inexperienced twenty-somethings - trying to manage the metre high waves that were buffeting the tourists and keeping the dolphins at a distance than the flashing bodies of the streamlined dolphins. After paddling with dolphins in the wild, such a staged performance seems corny, and the “eco-talk” given by the handlers was ridiculous given the preponderance of fossil fuel burning activities offered by the resort. Recycling a few plastic water bottles does not offset ripping up and down the beach on a quad or flying a parasail behind a jet boat.

Which, brings us to the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane, where we have climbed and hiked the Glasshouse Mountains, travelled by train to Brisbane and, now await the end of the rain to paddle Pumicestone Passage along Bribie Island.

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