Off road: Conondale NP
Your expectations of some places are so high you are almost bound to be disappointed; other times, you go somewhere on a whim, with little or no information or recommendation, and you get a wonderful surprise.
We fancied a couple of days away last Easter but not the whole long weekend. Knowing we would be able to stay for just two nights (many accommodations insist on 3- or 4-night-minimum bookings on holiday weekends), in a comfortable cabin in beautifully peaceful surroundings, we returned again to Coolabine Ridge near Mapleton. We also wanted some off-road practice, having not long since acquired a 4x4. I'd found Conondale National Park, barely half an hour or so from Mapleton through the beautiful Obi Obi Valley to Kenilworth and then south seven kilometres on the road to Maleny. You could visit in a day from Brisbane, leaving the Bruce Highway for Landsborough and Maleny – with great views of the Glass House Mountains along the way – and then taking the Maleny-Kenilworth road.
Either way, you pass through the lovely Mary Valley before turning off into Booloumba Creek Road. Don't be deceived by the sealed surface: the creek soon prevents further progress for those without higher ground clearance.
The rugged Conondale Range has a variety of magnificent forests that are home to many forms of wildlife, some of them threatened and only found here (Cascade Treefrog and Red Goshawk). We didn't see either, needless to say, or the seldom seen Yellow-bellied Glider. But the remarkable Bell Miners were something else. We passed in and out of forest areas where their crystal 'tinking' was loud, mesmeric and magical. We could see them flitting about but not close enough.
We chose the Booloumba Falls walk, which wasn't hard-going (about 3km return; two hours), through fairly open forest and alongside a very picturesque creek, with cascades, waterfalls, rock pools and the junction of the Peters and Booloumba creeks by what is called The Breadknife rock. I couldn't see the resemblance.
Back on the track, the dappled forest delights continued.
We'd planned to complete a circuit by joining Sunday Creek Road and heading back via the Imbil State Forest to the Maleny-Kenilworth Road. But Sunday Creek Road was closed to the right, so we turned left in the direction of Jimna. Once we were off the DERM National Park map, it was down to satnav and a way-too-small-scale road map of Southeast Queensland, on which there's a great big empty space to the north of Conondale National Park.
Being an off-road newbie, I was ever so slightly spooked by not really knowing exactly how we'd get across to Imbil. After Jimna, in which nothing stirred, it seemed an awful long way north on the Murgon-Kilcoy road before we could turn east, in the right direction for 'home'. Eventually we did, but was the rough and bumpy track going anywhere except an out-of-way station? We couldn't see any signs of habitation or livestock, and for a while no other traffic. I didn't even photograph the wild until I was feeling more reassured that the satnav knew the way.
The following day, emboldened by having made it back from nowhere, we headed north from Mapleton deep into the forest. The track was almost rocky in places: 'we could have never done this in the Audi' became a mantra. We came across my favourite blue grass by the Cooloolabin Dam; an impressive view of the Sunshine Coast hinterland from Point Glorious viewpoint (it was); and a plant my friend randomly named Poison Dwarf's Beard.
The Murgon-Kilcoy road was the track we were unable to take on our return from the Bunya Mountains at the end of last year, although I didn't remember it at the time. We couldn't do it then, but we can now.