Sand Dunes, Strangler Figs and the Indestructibility of Kauris


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June 19th 2021
Published: June 25th 2021
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Footprints in the SandFootprints in the SandFootprints in the Sand

Crossing the Cooloola Sandpatch
Having returned to Noosa after my four-day kayak trip up the Noosa River, I then took a coach a couple of hours north to the tiny town of Rainbow Beach, from where I planned to walk back to Noosa by following the 88km Cooloola Great Walk. So after passing a relaxing day doing not much at all in Rainbow Beach on the Sunday, I hoisted my backpack and headed off on Monday (14th June) to re-enter the Cooloola Recreation Area section of Great Sandy NP. After walking through the bush for less than ten minutes the track emerged at the wide, golden expanse of the Carlo Sandblow, where for thousands of years sand-laden winds have been carving a swathe through the coastal forest, creating a saddle-shaped mini-desert about five hundred metres wide and over a kilometre long. If there's one thing I don't appreciate at the start of a long walk when I'm carrying a fully loaded backpack it's having to scale a steep slope in soft sand in blazing sunshine... but at least the views were impressive!

And if I felt like taking an extended break as soon as I re-entered the forest on the far side of the
Sand and SeaSand and SeaSand and Sea

Carlo Sandblow, just outside Rainbow Beach
Sandblow, then I had the perfect excuse to do just that, as a good friend of mine named Frank just happened to be coaching his football team (the Launceston United women's team) in their Statewide Cup final down in Tasmania, with the kick-off due at the ridiculously early time of 11:30am - which was precisely the time I reached the top of the sand dune! Now I wouldn't usually take a 45-minute break only 15 minutes into a hike, but with the game being live streamed and my phone still having full reception (due to the fact that I had barely left Rainbow Beach) that's exactly what I chose to do - and was glad I had when only seven minutes into the match Launceston United opened the scoring! In fact they completely dominated their opponents (Olympia Warriors) for the entire first half, only to concede a coach-killer of an equalising goal just three minutes from half-time.

At this point I hit the trail to squeeze out another kilometre during the half-time break, before finding a lovely fallen tree trunk beside the trail that would provide the perfect perch for watching the second half, so once again a 45-minute
Trail-side Pit StopTrail-side Pit StopTrail-side Pit Stop

Stopping for lunch (and to watch the second half of the football) about 2km into the trail
halt was called which would double as my lunch break. Unfortunately though, for all of Launceston United's first half dominance they soon found themselves trailing 2-1 after a defensive mix-up resulted in a 48th minute goal to the Warriors, and despite throwing everything at their opponents the girls eventually went down 3-1. Still, they had done well to make the final in the first place, so Frank could hold his head high even in defeat.

I, on the other hand, had no choice but to put my head down and start pounding out the miles, as with my first campsite still 13km away and only three-and-a-half hours of daylight remaining the race was well and truly on to reach the campsite before dark! Unfortunately this meant that I couldn't stop for long when I came upon the lovely Poona Lake just over halfway through the day, with the glistening water taunting me as I sat down on the sandy bank to devour an energy bar, whilst wishing I had time to indulge in a refreshing swim.

But sadly it wasn't to be, so before long the pack was back on and I resumed my march through the coastal
A Little OasisA Little OasisA Little Oasis

The sandy spit at Poona Lake
forest, where I was amazed by the proliferation of strangler figs slowly engulfing their host trees. But the undisputed highlights of the forest were the giant kauti trees, whose trunks rose gunbarrel straight for twenty metres or more before spreading their first limbs. Even the bark of those magnificent trees looks impenetrable, and I couldn't help thinking that you could probably crash a Sherman army tank into the trunk of a kauri without doing it any damage! It was also noticeable that for all of the trees I saw being slowly throttled by the latticework embrace of strangler figs, not once did I encounter a kauri that had suffered that fate. In any case, eventually my haste would pay off, as I reached the Kauri walkers' camp just fifteen minutes before sundown, where I immediately set about raising my tent in the dwindling daylight.

The following day brought more of the same scenery as the trail continued to meander it's way through the forest, with the soft sand underfoot constantly infiltrating my shoes and socks. But without any sand dunes or freshwater lakes to provide variety, it certainly wasn't the most exciting day's walk. In fact the one lake
Tree vs TreeTree vs TreeTree vs Tree

A strangler fig slowly squeezing the life out of it's victim, with a kauri in the background that has avoided the same fate
that lay beside the route - Lake Cooloomera, located just a few hundred metres before the campsite at the end of the day - was bypassed completely, thus dashing my hopes for a refreshing swim and a scenic viewpoint from which to watch the sunset. If it hadn't have been so damn humid all day I mightn't have minded so much, but ever since I had woken to the sound of raindrops hitting my tent the humidity had been stifling, so that I was almost drowning in my own sweat by the time I arrived at Litoria campsite after knocking off the day's 20km in just over five hours.

In a slightly more pleasant surprise I was greeted by a group of four young women when I arrived in camp, who were walking the trail in the opposite direction to me. Given that I'd not seen another person since leaving Poona Lake halfway through the previous day, I had assumed I would have another campsite to myself, so I was glad for the company - even if the girls mostly kept to themselves. They did mention that on each of their previous two nights on the trail they had
Palm Tree CanopyPalm Tree CanopyPalm Tree Canopy

A stand of piccabeen palms in the midst of the forest
shared the campsite with a group heading in the opposite direction, so it was nice to know there were people up ahead of me also walking the trail, even if I was unlikely to catch up to them.

By the time the sun went down the group of women had already retired to their tents (one of whom had told me it was her first ever multi-day walk - and admitted that she had underestimated how tiring it would be to walk 15-20km each day with a full backpack!) so I was left alone to savour the experience of an approaching storm filling the night sky with flashes of lightning, while thunder rumbled steadily closer before passing uneventfully overhead.

The next day dawned clear, with just a hint of fog lingering among the trees on either side of the ridgetop campsite. But it wasn't long before the sun had burned it off, allowing me to (partially) dry my sweat-soaked clothes from the previous two days - how on earth I'm going to deal with the humidity once I reach the tropics I have no idea, if this is merely a taste of what is still to come! With
Early Morning MistEarly Morning MistEarly Morning Mist

Waking to a fog-shrouded Litoria campsite on day three
the group of women having gotten underway by 8am I had the campsite to myself for my usual leisurely breakfast, before I finally managed to hit the trail myself at 10am... it's just as well I've been blessed with long legs and reasonable fitness, so that I can maintain a fairly quick pace while I'm hiking - otherwise I would never make it from one campsite to the next during daylight hours!

But in this case I had nothing to worry about, given that the distance to my next campsite was only 15km - which I figured would only take me about three-and-half hours to complete, which in turn would negate the need to stop for lunch along the way. So apart from a thirty minute break early on to take advantage of a rare window of phone recetion atop a ridge, and a couple of ten minute drink and rest breaks (taken, as always, whenever a suitable fallen log was found beside the trail to sit on) I powered through the day's walk in one go. I also passed a pair of women going in the other direction, one of whom alerted me to a 'tusked frog' that
Standing Tall and IndestructibleStanding Tall and IndestructibleStanding Tall and Indestructible

Kauri tree soaring into the canopy
she had spotted just up ahead on the trail. I had no idea what a tusked frog was, but was nonetheless very disappointed when I failed to spot it myself - though there was a strange blob stuck to the bottom of my shoe went I arrived at the campsite a couple of hours later...

As the trail wound on through the sandy forest it eventually led up the side of another ridge before dropping down again and emerging from the trees into low scrub - where a black snake of indeterminate species slithered away as I passed - which in turn gave way to a stretch of grassland as I neared the Noosa River. And then just as hunger was starting to strike, I re-entered the scrubland (where most of the trees were no taller than about three metres in height) and soon reached the Dutgee campsite, which is named after the local indigenous name for a type of flower endemic to the area.

After indulging in a leisurely lunch and refreshing dip in the river whilst enjoying having the campsite to myself, I was eventually joined by a couple who had walked in from the opposite
Crossing the FloodplainCrossing the FloodplainCrossing the Floodplain

Emerging onto the grasslands near the Noosa River, towards the end of day three
direction. Aside from providing some pleasant company, Geldof and Naema's presence also offered me the reassurance that if there happened to be any dingos around (it was only a few kilometres further down the river that I had heard a dingo howling in the middle of the night during my kayak trip the previous week) I wouldn't be encountering them alone. The main benefit of this was that it gave me the (possibly misplaced) confidence to indulge in my traditional dessert ritual of coffee and an energy bar enjoyed inside the comfort of my tent, rather than having to consume it at the communal platforms where all food is supposed to be prepared, eaten and stored.

This presumably explains why the communal areas are located well away from the tent sites on this walk - at this particular campsite it was a two-minute walk between the two - so that if any wildlife is attracted to the smell of food, they aren't likely to come anywhere near people's tents. The main threat from wildlife isn't so much the chance of a camper being injured - even dingos are more scavengers than predators, at least where humans are concerned -
Reflected SunsetReflected SunsetReflected Sunset

Watching the sunset from the banks of the Noosa River at Dutgee campsite
but damage to their tent or other belongings... as I witnessed on the Overland Track in Tasmania when a hiking companion had both his new tent and backpack chewed through by a ravenous rat while he was sound asleep inside!

With the skies having well and truly cleared by the fourth morning of my walk (resulting in a drop in the overnight tempertures from the previous nights) it was under the full glare of a blazing sun that I made my way through the low scrub of the Noosa River's floodplain, before tackling a series of switchbacks rising up the vegetated slopes of former sand dunes. And while the trail wasn't steep at all, the switchbacks served to stretch out what was no more than a 200m rise in elevation into a prolonged climb of more than half an hour - in softish sand - which with the lack of shade had me once again sweating proverbial bullets. Thankfully relief appeared in the form of a fallen tree trunk set at a perfect height above the ground for me to rest both myself and my backpack on, tucked into one of the first patches of proper shade I had
Just Bush and SandJust Bush and SandJust Bush and Sand

Threading my way through the woodlands not far from the Noosa River
encountered for the day.

By the time I got going again I was feeling well and truly reinvigorated, and it wasn't long before I emerged from the bush to the startling sight of the Cooloola Sandpatch - where a sandblow about 3km long and 1km wide has created a mini-desert amidst the coastal forest. And thankfully, unlike at the Carlo Sandblow three days earlier, I got to traverse this sandblow heading downhill rather than uphill. I also had the opportunity to finally put my compass to use for the first time on this entire trip, as there is no defined trail across the soft, shifting sands to the point where it re-enters the forest a kilometre-and-a-half away.

So after a brief fiddle with my compass to make sure it was pointing in the direction that I wanted it to (160.5 degrees) I headed off diagonally across the full expanse of the sandblow... whilst trying to ignore the half-dozen or so sets of footprints that could be clearly seen traversing the exact same route I had to follow! Still, at least they offered me the reassurance that I was most definitely heading in the right direction - which was
Mini-Desert CrossingMini-Desert CrossingMini-Desert Crossing

Heading out onto the Cooloola Sandpatch
much appreciated given that the dead tree trunk in the middle of the sandpatch which was supposed to have offered a navigational aid halfway across (according to both my paper map and the trail signpost) had long since been blown over, and which I only caught sight of as I got within about twenty metres of it! Further assistance was then provided when I caught sight of a pair of hikers emerging onto the sand from the far side, so that I could see exactly where I needed to end up! Still, I was confident that even without the footprints or the passing couple I would have been quite capable of finding my own way...

Having passed the halfway mark for the day I was then keen to find a decent place to stop for lunch, and was hoping to find a fallen tree trunk beside the trail to use as both a seat and kitchen table. But never could I have imagined that I would find anything as elaborate as the fallen tree (with large branches still intact) that lay just off the trail about five minutes past the Cooloola Sandpatch, upon which I could empty out the
The Perfect Lunch StopThe Perfect Lunch StopThe Perfect Lunch Stop

Enjoying the comforts of a leisurely lunch on day four
contents of my backpack - a rarity indeed on a trail that runs through sand for the entirety of it's 88km distance - and which would ultimately serve as kitchen, dining room, living room and clothesline all rolled into one! It's funny what you can find pleasure in while spending an extended amount of time in the great outdoors, and that particular tree, on that particular day, had me walking with a smile on my face long after I had polished off my Mexican Chicken and tea.

But the smile would grow even wider about an hour later, when after spending an infuriating twenty minutes walking uphill in a north-westerly direction - which I found inexplicable given that the general direction of the trail is due south - I eventually emerged on the crest of a ridgeline to find both the slope of the ground and the height of the surrounding vegetation dropping away until I had an unimpeded view of the coastline, from up near Rainbow Beach in the north down to Noosa Heads snuggled in the embrace of Laguna Bay to the south, and extending around to the vast expanse of Lake Cootharaba in the west. After
Coastal CurveCoastal CurveCoastal Curve

View of Laguna Bay from the trail, late on day four
walking for the best part of four days without having any grand views to speak of, this was a particularly special moment - and I couldn't resist the urge to use my backpack as a makeshift tripod and set the timer on my camera to capture the moment accordingly.

With the trail continuing downhill and the best of the views stretching out directly in front of me, I again thanked my lucky stars that I had chosen to walk the trail from north to south rather than vice versa, and deliberately slowed my pace so as to soak up the scenery as much as possible. When I then came upon a stretch of forest where the trees were all leaning in the same direction (a result of the prevailing south-easterly winds) the self-timer was put into action again, and the final few kilometres passed by in a blissful reverie brought on by the sudden (and entirely unexpected) upturn in my prospects.

When I reached the campsite for what would be my final night on the trail and discovered that it possessed a grandstand view out over Lake Cootharaba in the direction of the setting sun - and met
Last Light of DayLast Light of DayLast Light of Day

Watching the sunset over Lake Cootharaba from Brahminy campsite
a group of six older hikers who provided excellent company for the evening - my day was complete, and I knew that it was one I would remember fondly for a long time to come. I even had enough phone reception (and battery power) to finally watch the replay of the France v Germany football match at the European Championships that I had missed two days earlier, whilst again enjoying my favoured 'sleeping bag dessert' as a sky full of stars sparkled overhead. Who says you have to 'rough it' all the time in the outdoors?!?

The fifth and final day brought more of the same glorious scenery as the previous afternoon, with the trail initially offering expansive views over Lake Cootharaba and the Noosa River floodplains, before a side-track led to the top of Mount Seawah - which despite rising to no more than a hundred metres above sea level provided a grandstand view of the Laguna Bay coastline. Marking the southern end of Cooloola's modest coastal range - all of which is made up of sand dunes that have eventually been re-colonised by vegetation (apart from the Carlo Sandblow and Cooloola Sandpatch) - Mount Seawah also provided
Sunlit SeasSunlit SeasSunlit Seas

Looking back up the coastline towards Double Island Point
me with my first marsupial encounter of the walk, as the unmistakable 'thwack, thwack' of a kangaroo (or wallaby) could be heard bounding through the bush.

Passing the incongruous sight of a bright orange digger left in the middle of the track, it wasn't long before I had dropped down to sea level at the tiny, isolated collection of holiday homes beside Teewah Beach. But with the entire stretch of coastline from Noosa's North Shore to Rainbow Beach - and the equally-long stretch of 75-Mile Beach on Fraser Island beyond that - also serving as a recognized road for 4-wheel-drives, the walking trail kept just back from the beach, weaving it's way through dense coastal scrub where my passing flushed out countless birds who clearly weren't expecting any human company.

But then just when I was starting to long for a change of scenery, I emerged from the bush beside a tranquil pool of tea-coloured water directly behind the beach only twenty metres from where all southbound traffic was diverted inland off the beach - meaning that walkers and fishermen on foot had the rest of the beach to ourselves. Even the absence of anything suitable to sit
Beauty SpotBeauty SpotBeauty Spot

Swimming/Lunch stop on day five
on couldn't dissuade me from taking my lunch break beside that little reflecting pool, and as I waited for my Beef Teriyaki to rehydrate in it's packet I couldn't resist the temptation to go for a swim in some of the clearest sea water I have ever encountered. And despite the lack of a sizeable swell I was at least able to catch a few waves, which may well be the last opportunity I have to do so for quite some time, given the lack of surf further north due to the presence of the Great Barrier Reef stopping any Pacific Ocean swells in their tracks.

Relishing the chance to leave my shoes off as I made my way down the beach for the final hour of the walk, I eventually took a right hand turn and headed due west along a delightful track through a serene nature reserve - where no more than a hundred metres from the end of my walk I had my one and only wallaby sighting for the week - before emerging from the bush at the southern trailhead for the Cooloola Great Walk... which, as luck would have it, sat directly opposite the
Beautiful BeachBeautiful BeachBeautiful Beach

Looking bck up Teewah Beach from where the trail turned inland
Noosa North Shore Tourist Park where I had booked a campsite for the night. And with that my walk was done. While it may not have been the most memorable hike I've ever done, the last couple of days had provided some moments of pure magic; and the route that I had followed along the coast had provided the perfect counterpoint to my recent kayak trip up the nearby river, giving me a thorough sample of the various ecosystems to be found in the aptly-named Great Sandy National Park.


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6th July 2021
A Little Oasis

Oasis
Beauty comes in all forms.

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