It has always been on my bucket list to do one of the ten great walks in Queensland. I’ve done sections of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walks but never the real deal. So it just so happened that in mid-November I found myself buying a food dehydrator from Aldi for 40 bucks, cooking up a batch of spaghetti, buying copious amounts of chocolate and mi goreng and setting off on the walk a couple of days later.
Conondale National Park is located a couple of hours north of Brisbane, to the west of the Sunshine Coast. It’s beautiful countryside and everything is incredibly lush and green. A haven for leeches, but I’ll get to that later. The great walk is a 56 kilometre circuit, which is set up to be completed over four days.
Day 1 begins at Booloumba Creek, there are some awesome national park campgrounds along the creek, and if hiking’s not for you these are worth checking out. The first day is the shortest at just 11 km. But the walk is by no means flat, and I’m glad my pack was relatively light (12.5kg).
There is a defunct gold mine along the way and a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, named the Strangler Cairn. Goldsworthy is a British artist, famous for his unique land art, and without any sort of explanation there is a huge granite sculpture with a small strangler fig planted on top in the middle of Conondale NP. The idea is that in years to come the fig will eventually strangle the structure and it will become part of the land. I thought it was really cool that the Queensland Government invested money to bring Goldsworthy over to produce this piece of art, and if anything it is a good reason to return in years to come.
Artists Cascades is where we stopped for lunch and a dip. Being mid-November, the heat and humidity was sapping, so the swim was very welcome. It’s a beautiful waterhole, heaps of flow and nice and cool. We also spotted the first of many snakes – a red belly black slithering amongst the rocks.
After a long break, the trail then climbs relatively steeply up along the ridge. It’s a bit of a climb, but only a few k’s before the next set of waterfalls and swimming hole. Booloumba Falls and The Breadknife were definitely highlights of the trip.
Another half an hour or so and we reached the first campsite – Wongai Walkers Camp. Because it’s not at all far from Boolumba Falls, I would recommend spending the arvo at the falls as there is not waterhole around the campsite. The campsites are well equipped, with each site having a wooden platform to keep your gear off the ground. Plus there is a toilet and plenty of untreated tank water.
Day two is the longest day (17 km), and takes you along the main range, past Mt Gerald, Ramsden and Langley. As far as the day goes, there is not a lot to see, and the fire trails feel never ending. We found the most leech free spot for lunch on the fire trail, but spent much of the day just pushing on, as there are no viewpoints or waterfalls along the way.
We arrived at Talowood walkers’ camp in the early afternoon. The weather was fairly ominous and within 5 minutes of arriving it started to piss down. It absolutely poured some lightening was a bit too close for comfort. We sought shelter in the only covered area – the toilet. There is really only one way to describe the mood for the hour and a half the four of us stood huddled in the toilet – it was grim.
The weather ‘sort of’ eased and we quickly set the tents up and cooked dinner. Taking off our boots, there were a few surprises in store – some seriously fat leeches that had been feeding all day. Not for the squeamish. We were all pretty tired and demoralised so had an early night, hoping for better weather in the morning. Some heavy rain set in and we later found out a nearby town got over 60 mm!
Day three takes you from Talowood to Summer Falls camp with a few creek crossings along the way. The track is a lot nicer, it’s lush and tropical. The downside to all of the rain was that the leeches were out with a vengeance. I must have counted at least 50 in my socks, and no amount of swiping them off would keep them at bay. As well as leeches there were also a few wild pigs roaming around. Conondale NP has a massive problem with feral pigs and we spotted a few signs for live baiting. I did not want to cross a feral pig!
The creeks were in flood and it made the crossings fun. It took us about 4.5 hours to walk the 15 or so k and I would suggest leaving early because arriving at Summer Falls at about lunchtime made for a relaxing afternoon. The ‘unofficial’ campsite is the best by far. There are platforms, but you can also camp a bit closer to the falls were it is nice and cleared.
The falls are pretty spectacular and the roaring sound is incredibly loud. It looked like a good 100 metre drop to the creek below and the cliffs all around are quite sheer. It’s a great place to do a bit of exploring. There are a number of tracks down to the water and it was so nice to spend a couple of hours paddling about. The weather held off and it was a beautiful afternoon.
Day four, the final day is one of the shortest and completes the loop through Conondale NP, via Mt Allan. The first and last days were my favourites, just because there was a lot more to see. The vegetation changed from rainforest to more typical bushland and the weather cooled down as well, it made for a nice day of walking. The sidetrack to Mt Allan is about 7km into the day, and it’s just a short walk from the main track. The fire tower was built in 1954 is one of the oldest in Queensland. It offers the best views of Conondale NP, and I can’t imagine you’d be able to see better views from anywhere else in the area.
We also spotted a massive goanna basking in the sun. Some more wildlife to add to the list we had already seen. One thing I really enjoyed about this walk was the amount of wildlife. Heaps of birdlife, plenty of snakes, monitors and insects. We probably could have gone without the leeches though.
Overall Conondale Range Great Walk was a fairly easy going multi-day walk, only made more difficult by the heat. I think in the cooler and drier months it would be a lovely walk, and the daily distances aren’t too far either.