From Glasshouse Mountains to a River of Mirrors - Finding our Mojo on the Sunshine Coast


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November 16th 2015
Published: November 15th 2015
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After spending the weekend with my parents, Linda and I left Brisbane on Monday morning to continue our northward migration along the Queensland coast. After taking the Gateway Bridge over the Brisbane River, we then took a quick detour over the Hornibrook Bridge to check out the Redcliffe Peninsula; before later turning off the Bruce Highway and onto the Steve Irwin Way to see the Glasshouse Mountains.

So named because Captain Cook had been reminded of the glasshouse furnaces in his native Yorkshire when he first saw them, the Glasshouse Mountains are actually volcanic crags that have been left standing while the earth around them has eroded away over the past twenty million years or so. In any case they are a startling sight, rising straight up out of the otherwise relatively flat coastal plain to the north of Brisbane. And while they may not be particularly large (the highest, Mount Beerwah, rises 566 metres above sea level), what they lack in size they make up for with their unusual and distinctive shapes.

After enjoying a shady lunch at the picnic area beside the Glasshouse Mountains Lookout, we decided it was time to climb one of the oddly-shaped sentinels,
Head in the CloudsHead in the CloudsHead in the Clouds

Taking in the view from the top of Ngungun
so we headed to the base of Ngungun - which despite being one of the shorter mountains (at just 253 metres) offers a terrific view of the other Glasshouse Mountains from it's rocky summit. After snapping a couple of obligatory pictures from the top, we then made our way along Roys Road to the Coochin Creek campground in Beerwah State Forest - where not for the first time on our trip bush turkeys seemed to outnumber campers!

With the sun having finally come out on Tuesday, we headed back into the Glasshouse Mountains to this time tackle the much tougher climb to the top of Tibrogargan, which at 364 metres was not only significantly higher than Ngungun, but also involved climbing - as opposed to hiking - up a 60-degree slope, with no trail to speak of beyond the base of the rocky cliff other than the occasional arrow painted on some of the rocks!

Thankfully the rocks themselves offered plenty of footholds and handholds, though we still required a fair degree of flexibility (not to mention nerve) to negotiate the tricky ascent. The question we most often found ourselves asking was not so much 'How do we
Perilous DescentPerilous DescentPerilous Descent

Linda inching her way down Tibrogargan
get up?' as 'How do we get back down?' “The same way you came up” was the predictable reply we were given by a much older gentleman (who resembled Santa Claus and must have been in his sixties at least) when he overheard Linda asking that same question!

Onwards and upwards we struggled until finally we arrived at the top, where despite the views being somewhat obscured by the vegetation, the sense of achievement was worth the effort alone. Knowing that our job was only half done, however, we soon gathered our wits and began the tricky and painstakingly slow descent of the mountain - one that arguably tested our mental strength as much our physical strength, as we were constantly forced to assess the obstacles and steepness of the path ahead (or should I say below!) and having to back our judgment by putting our bodies on the line... this time without the benefit of a wise and helpful local, as we'd had on the way up!

Eventually though, after carefully lowering ourselves down the steep incline (and overcoming the shock of nearly stepping on a snake that had come out to sun itself!) we found ourselves
Rising to the ChallengeRising to the ChallengeRising to the Challenge

Enjoying the flat ground on top of Tibrogargan
back at the base of the cliff, where the winding switchbacks on the mountain's lower slopes brought us back to the safety of the car park. Rarely have I felt so relieved to have made it to the end of a 'hike' - and I use that term loosely, as it was far more of a climb than a traditional hike - though there was no questioning the excitement we had both felt during the climb (and descent), nor the unmistakeable buzz upon our successful completion of what was by far the most challenging trek we have yet attempted together.

No sooner had we made it back to the van than we were setting a course for Caloundra, where our first taste of the Sunshine Coast was a refreshing swim at Kings Beach, just around the corner from where the Pumicestone Passage rounds the northern tip of Bribie Island and empties into the sea. And with just enough waves rolling in to keep us entertained, our swim soon turned into an extended bodysurfing session, as Linda picked up from where she had left off on the Gold Coast with her 'surf education'.

A lazy lunch beside Pumicestone Passage
Nature's StairmasterNature's StairmasterNature's Stairmaster

The steep trail scaling the cliffs of Mount Coolum
followed, before we hit the road again and followed the coast north to where the towns of Mooloolabah, Alexandra Headland and Maroochydore all sit side-by-side on a scenic stretch of coastline bounded by the Mooloolah and Maroochy Rivers. Having checked into the Riverside Caravan Village in nearby Bli Bli (just upstream from Maroochydore) we then followed the Maroochy River back into town for a late afternoon swim at Alexandra Headland's main beach, before stopping off on the way back through town for dinner in the evening.

Wednesday brought yet another hike up a mountain, as we headed about twenty kilometres up the coast to climb Mount Coolum. Unlike Tibrogargan the previous day this was a more traditional hike, though the countless steps leading up through the forest to the plateau on top still provided a decent workout! And with Mount Coolum situated much closer to the coastline than any of the Glasshouse Mountains (it's probably no more than a kilometre from the beach), we were greeted by magnificent views from the top - as the entire Sunshine Coast was laid out before us, stretching from Caloundra to the south (just visible beyond Moooloolaba's spit) all the way through to
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Sheltered bay at Coolum Beach
Noosa Heads in the north.

After soaking up the views from the top of Mount Coolum and then rewarding ourselves with a nice cold smoothie from a mobile juice van upon our return to the car park, we then headed straight to Coolum Beach for a refreshing swim. From there we knocked off the remaining twenty or so kilometres to Noosa, where my first sight of the beautiful, crystal clear water at the town's main beach was enough to entice me in for another swim - though this time without the benefit of any surf to keep me entertained.

A lazy riverside lunch was followed by a trip to the office of Noosa Discovery Tours, to book ourselves onto a guided canoe and overnight camping tour in the Noosa Everglades the following day. With that done, we headed straight back past the town's main beach to Noosa National Park, where we ditched the van and followed a coastal walkway along the shoreline to Tea Tree Bay; before continuing on around the point to Granite Bay - which with it's granite boulders and forested backdrop reminded me of the beaches at Wilsons Promontory from the first week of our
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Tea Tree Bay in Noosa National Park
trip.

Though the swell was small the combination of sparkling water, beautiful scenery and rolling waves was enough to keep us amused for an hour or so; before we eventually headed back along the coastal walkway to retrieve our campervan and then drove out to the Boreen Point campground about 20kms north of Noosa on the shores of Lake Cootharaba. Arriving just before sunset, we parked the van right beside a small beach on the edge of the lake, from where we were able to not only enjoy the sublime view but also the cool breezes blowing in from across the lake. I was in heaven, and couldn't have imagined a better way to finish the day than by simply sitting back and basking in the serenity of this oustandingly picturesque location.

I also couldn't help but feel as though we had finally turned a corner, as for the past couple of weeks we had put up with some pretty lousy weather; and with so much of what we had recently seen having already been familiar to me (in particular Brisbane and the Gold Coast) I had found it increasingly difficult to recapture the feeling of awe that
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Granite Bay in Noosa National Park
I so often had on the West Coast last year. While I realize this may sound like a classic case of 'first world problems' it had been slowly eating away at me that despite our best intentions we had seemed to be incapable of recapturing the magic from that unforgettable first road-trip of eighteen months earlier. This was until we made it to the Sunshine Coast, where the combination of beautiful weather and stunning scenery was irresistible; and where we also managed to strike a perfect balance between our active pursuits (such as our daily morning hikes) and more relaxing afternoons spent at the beach.

All of this was soon overshadowed however, when we woke to the sound of heavy rain on Thursday morning, knowing that we would be spending the next twenty-four hours in the Noosa Everglades without any of the relative comforts we took for granted in the campervan. Nevertheless, having already paid our money we were left with little choice but to scoff down a quick breakfast at the campground and then head back into Noosa, only to be picked up in a 4WD van that looked more like a monster truck and then driven straight
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On the beach at Boreen Point campground
back past where we had just come from!

But though the road between Noosa and Boreen Point might have been smooth and scenic, the dirt roads we encountered further along as we made our way towards the Noosa Everglades were the exact opposite, and left both Linda and I bouncing around uncontrollably as we regretted our decision to sit in the back row of the van. Our discomfort was made even worse by the combination of leaden, overcast skies and the ugly surroundings of levelled forest that greeted us on our way into the Cooloola Recreation Area within Great Sandy National Park; and though as soon as we had entered the national park the denuded countryside immediately ceased, the bumpy ride along potholed dirt roads certainly didn't!

Why this particular tour no longer travels to Harry's Hut (the starting point for the self-guided canoe trip) by boat - crossing Lake Cootharaba before winding up through the lower reaches of the Noosa River - as they used to is beyond me; but suffice it to say that after starting the tour with this ridiculously uncomfortable 4WD ride neither Linda nor I were particularly looking forward to the rest of
The lesser-known EvergladesThe lesser-known EvergladesThe lesser-known Everglades

Calm waters on the Noosa River for our canoe trip
the trip! The fact that we were actually relieved when we found out that we would have to get out and walk the final 1.5km along the muddy road to Harry's Hut - as opposed to continuing on in the 'monster truck van' speaks volumes about the situation. The only saving grace was that just as we arrived at the campsite at Harry's Hut - located right on the banks of the Noosa River - the sun started to come out, filling us with hope that the worst part of the trip might already be over!

So after chilling out at the campsite with our guide Cory (who would be staying behind to try to fix up the campsite from the rains the night before, rather than joining us for the paddle upstream) and getting to know the other folks on the tour (there were eight of us in all) in the process, we finally packed our lunch sandwiches and swimmers into our dry packs and set off upriver in our two-person canoes. By this time the weather had cleared, and though Linda was soon nursing tired arms and a blister on one of her hands, I quite enjoyed
Arid OasisArid OasisArid Oasis

Cooloola Sandpatch
the experience of slowly paddling upstream on the tannin-stained river, with forest crowding the river banks on both sides and extending right down into the water; and with not a sound to be heard other than the calls of birds in the trees and the gentle splashing of our paddles in the water.

Eventually, after about an hour-and-a-half of paddling, we arrived at the National Park's campsite 3, which was our cue to tie up the canoes at the landing site and head overland on foot on the 6km hiking trail to the Cooloola Sandpatch. Onwards and gently upwards the eight of us trudged along the sandy trail through the forest, until eventually we arrived at the top - where we were greeted by the most peculiar sight of a mini-desert crowning a ridge in the middle of the forest, with the sand having been blown slowly but steadily up from the beach over the previous half-million years.

Another 6km of walking and 6km of paddling (which each took about the same amount of time - around an hour and fifteen minutes) brought us back to the campsite at Harry's Hut, where we greedily scoffed down our cold
River of MirrorsRiver of MirrorsRiver of Mirrors

Noosa River at Harry's Hut campground
meat and salad wraps for dinner, before turning in for an early night in our already set-up tents. It might not have been the most amazing wilderness experience of our lives, but it was nonetheless both a challenging and rewarding day; and one that provided us with a different type of adventure to that which most backpackers would experience on the East Coast of Australia. And the weather had certainly been a lot kinder than we had initially feared!

The fine weather continued on Friday, as we headed back to civilization in a smaller 4WD van - which combined with the fact that Linda and I had snapped up seats near the front this time meant that the drive out of the Everglades was a far more pleasant experience than the drive in had been just a day earlier! Before long we were back in Noosa, and after a quick cooling dip in the river we were on our way up to Rainbow Beach, where we checked into a caravan park directly opposite the beach; and where we met a nice couple from Germany whom we joined for drinks that evening.

The following morning brought my most enjoyable
Beachfront LocationBeachfront LocationBeachfront Location

Our campsite in Hervey Bay
bodysurfing session of the trip so far - but one which Linda sadly missed out on due to the eternal conundrum of 'girl with long hair who swims in saltwater must shower, wash and blow-dry her hair to feel human again' - as the glassy seas produced perfect curling right-handed beach breaks, which rolled in one after another with little fanfare and kept me entertained for well over an hour!

From Rainbow Beach we headed to Tin Can Bay for an early lunch by the sea, before continuing on straight through the rural towns of Gympie and Maryborough and onto Hervey Bay. Once again we found ourselves a waterfront caravan park - this time ending up with a site directly behind the main swimming beach in town! Unfortunately with the waters of Hervey Bay being relatively shallow and sheltered it meant we were deprived of surf, but we were at least able to enjoy a cool dip before hurriedly setting up the campervan for the night as a threatening storm front closed in.

Waking to the familiar sound of rain on our roof on Sunday - and with further showers and storms having been forecast for the rest
Not your average fishing jettyNot your average fishing jettyNot your average fishing jetty

Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay
of the day - we were surprised to see the clouds clear away soon afterwards, revealing a beautiful blue sky that immediately lured us the ten metres or so from our campervan to the sea! It wasn't long however before the clouds started to close in, though we did manage to go for a short drive to the nearby Urangan Pier, which extends out over a kilometre into the sea - and which I had a fleeting memory of visiting in my childhood days.

No sooner had we arrived back at the caravan park and sat down to eat lunch than the expected storm finally broke, and with lightning flashing and thunder crashing all around us we sat trapped in the sheltered dining area as a torrential downpour turned the ground around us into a giant, rapidly rising puddle! The sight of drains swelling into small rivers and the floor of the dining shelter itself turning into a duck pond was quite extraordinary, but even with the forecast predicting better weather over the coming days it was a little disturbing to know that we were planning to embark on a three-day tour to nearby Fraser Island the next day!
Lakeside SerenityLakeside SerenityLakeside Serenity

Lake Cootharaba at dusk
Though with the tour company in question's website having crashed - and therefore been unavailable all afternoon - we had no idea whether we would actually be able to secure a place on the tour if we did decide to go... and even that was far from a foregone conclusion!

Ultimately though it was the manager of the caravan park who came to our rescue, simultaneously solving our problem of where to leave the van parked if we went away for three days (out of the way at the caravan park) and managing to get through to Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island to successfully book us onto a 3 day / 2 night guided tour of the island with the Cool Dingo's tour company - which unlike the majority of tours that only offer tent camping (as I had done on my one-and-only previous trip to the island nine years earlier) would enable us to spend both nights in a 'wilderness lodge' at the resort. Now all we had to do was pray that the terrible weather would pass, or we'd be facing the prospect of spending three rain-soaked days on the largest sand island in the world...


Additional photos below
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Mountain ConqueredMountain Conquered
Mountain Conquered

Standing atop Ngungun in the Glasshouse Mountains
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Glasshouse Mountain View

View from the top of Ngungun (with Tibrogargan on the left)
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Glasshouse Mountain View

View from the top of Ngungun (with Coonowrin and Beerwah on the right)
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Sunshine Coast Sunset

Alexandra Headland Beach at dusk - take one
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Sunshine Coast Sunset

Alexandra Headland Beach at dusk - take two
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Sunshine Coast Sunset

Alexandra Headland Beach at dusk - take three


18th November 2015
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