O’Reilly’s, Lamington National Park, Queensland
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt” – John Muir
I’m standing under a tree in a paved area. It’s starting to drizzle. Above me are a dozen crimson rosellas, iridescent red against the grey rain-soaked clouds. They’re looking down at me. Expectantly. They want a feed. Nearby a few scrub turkeys scratch around for anything they can find. There’s one or two King Parrots, quietly watching proceedings, slightly aloof. Today is not their day. I’m here for hiking, not bird feeding.
Hiking in ancient Gondwana rainforest doesn’t get much better than this. With restrictions lifted in Queensland to allow hanging out with up to 10 people and the ability to explore within a 150kms radius of home, getting out to do one of the best bushwalks in SE Queensland was an opportunity not to miss. Even with a 5am start, rain pushing north over the border, and no cafe open at 8:30am to feed my caffeine addiction, nothing was going to spoil a good walk.
O’Reilly’s is one of two ‘resorts’, that are nestled within the Lamington National Park, with Binna Burra further east on another equally isolated ridge. O’Reilly’s was founded in 1926 and for several decades, nature lovers needed two days of travel to reach it: via car, train and horseback. Today, it takes two hours easy drive from Brisbane, although the last 35km from Canungra are up twisting shoelaces of single track road under towering gum trees and beside eye-watering drops.
Lamington National Park was established in 1915 and forms one of the many national parks across two states that make up the Gondwana Rainforests, now a World Heritage Area. These national parks mostly lay around the rim of a massive volcanic caldera roughly 40 km in diameter. Known as the Scenic Rim, the circular cliff line is a relic of a more volatile era, around 20 – 30 million years ago. Tuesday’s hike was along the Toolona Creek Trail and back along the Border Track, a trail of around 18km in total which took us out to the border between Queensland and New South Wales.
The trails were wet, slippery, and unusually quiet. In 4 hours of hiking, we only met two other hikers. Mid-week hiking in a COVID conscious world does have some advantages. Our route took us past or under numerous waterfalls, across rocks so slippery that hiking boots with soles that normally stick to everything, just can’t find grip on. And while the rain gently strummed through broad rainforest leaves above our heads, we heard a soundtrack of whip birds, currawongs and parrots all around us, which sometimes echoed through the mists and forest.
We spot several lyrebirds during the walk, which scuttle quickly off the path as we approach. Today, however, the normally vocal mimics, are subdued – maybe the rain has dampened even their enthusiasm. The Toolona Creek trail had us climb a rollercoaster of creeks, waterfalls and ridges towards the highest point at 1100m, into the clouds and rain. Then we walked quickly for a few km along the Border Track where on a good day you can stop for lunch and admire Mount Warming / Wollumbin – the volcanic plug at the centre of the Scenic Rim caldera. Today there is just mist. And drizzle.
We followed the main trail back towards O’Reilly’s and walked past several stands of antarctic beech, trees so old that they could easily have been saplings as the Romans were introducing paved roads to the barbarians in Britain. Meanwhile, the road back to post-COVID normality will hopefully mean that National Park cafe’s remain open a little longer than just for lunch so that wet, cold hikers can warm up with strong coffee and sweet cake.
With luck, I’ll be back, on a day when the rain has paused, the clouds have lifted, and my stop for lunch will perhaps provide views from one of the Border Track lookouts across the caldera, across farmland, to steep forest-clad escarpments to the west and golden beaches to the east.