All most people wanted this Australia Day was for it not to be like the last one. Do you remember ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald? It was rather less an 'ex' cyclone and more a category 2 in parts of Southeast Queensland and northern New South Wales, but it hadn't travelled over the ocean so weatherpeople couldn't call it a cyclone. The flooding resulting from it meant a ten-hour journey back to Brisbane for us, from Ballina.
In early October 2012, we intended to walk to the Lower Portals on Mt Barney at the end of a weekend exploring the Condamine gorge and Spicer's Gap in the Scenic Rim. A series of delays – including a hangover, the mistaken belief that you can still drive through that particular Gap, and getting lost back and beyond Lake Maroon – meant we reached Mt Barney at teatime, and in oppressive grey weather.
Last weekend we tried again, leaving Brisbane about half past nine on Saturday morning, in constant rain. It takes only about an hour and a half down the Mt Lindesay Highway to get to the Scenic Rim. We stopped in Beaudesert for a little look around. The coffee was good at ….bean to?, and we sat and watched the world of utes and trailers and horse transporters go by. The weather was improving.
I love small-town shops. Do all good Queensland fashionistas know what Smoky Mountain boots are? Should I have picked up some pagan supplies for a friend?
Further down the Mt Lindesay Highway towards Rathdowney, we did what we like to do when there's no pressure to reach a destination: just turn off down some random road and explore. In this instance it was Kooralbyn Road. We found lots of birds on Boomerang Lake – including Red-kneed Dotterels which were new to us – roos and wallabies, and good views of the Scenic Rim. It's cropping and cattle country down here, and it looked lush following recent rain.
Mt Barney National Park includes several impressive peaks – Maroon, May, Ballow, Ernest and Lindesay. Mt Barney itself is the second-highest mountain in southern Queensland (at 1359 metres; Mt Superbus in the Main Range to the west is 1375 metres), and has an East Peak and a West Peak, which is 3 metres higher. It is not an easy mountain to climb: all tracks are class 4 or 5. The easiest route to the top is via South Ridge: this is a class 5, and takes about 10 hours there and back for experienced, well-equipped bushwalkers. There are no constructed tracks and a lot of scrambling up rock faces and over rock slabs is required, so you need to be fit.
We chose the Upper Portals track. We mistakenly thought from the name that this might take us up the mountain (although not to the top). From the Boonah-Rathdowney Road, take Newman Road just west of Maroon, and then Waterfall Creek Road. Beyond the campsite there's a pretty arduous climb up to Cleared Ridge where the walk starts, but you need a 4WD because it's uneven, rocky and steep. Don't be put off by the landowner's impolite notices before you reach the National Park.
The Upper Portals track descends, in fact – also very steeply in places. After two kilometres or so, it follows Yamahra Creek which flows into a boulder-strewn Mt Barney Creek. The walk there and back is eight kilometres: it's supposed to take about three hours; but that doesn't take into account scrutinising every bug on the path and every bird in a tree.
We met no one along the way, which was great. Rather like in Carnarvon Gorge, the birds seemed to occupy their own zones: first were the Kookaburras; then the parrots – King, Crimson Rosellas (below) and Black Cockatoos; then Tink Tinks (Bellbirds); and Red-browed Finches. There were also Currawongs, Fairy Wrens, Wagtails and another new one for our list, the Black-faced Monarch.
The standout wildlife feature on this day, however, was the number and variety of bugs we came across: four colours of butterfly; a black grasshopper-type; an extraordinarily shiny copper beetle that dazzled in sunlight; damsel and dragon flies; a bright turquoise bug; and an innocuous-looking flying thing that, believing itself to be under threat, displayed brilliant red and blue stripes*. We surprised a Monitor Lizard that quickly took to a tree trunk thinking we wouldn't see him there; and in Mt Barney Creek a shy freshwater crayfish popped out intermittently to see what was what.
Much of the time we were buried in World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest, but the Cleared Ridge had more open dry sclerophyll (eucalypt) forest that revealed far-reaching views, and the forest opened up occasionally to casuarinas and banksias.
We stayed in Barney Creek (Vineyard) Cottages; specifically in the Hill Station, moved to this peaceful location and refurbished to resemble an old-style railway carriage. It had great views and some nice details; we could pre-order meals (the food was good and accompanied by local wine) so we didn't have to venture far if we didn't want to; and there was no mobile or internet coverage. I didn't know Stan Wawrinka had won the Australian Open Tennis final until 24 hours after the event.
I like Scenic Rim country. The original vegetation might be long gone, but there are gently rolling curves as well as craggy peaks; dilapidated, corrugated outhouses; and a pleasing mix of patchworked crops and beautiful brown cows.
On Monday there was more unfinished business to attend to. This time last year we tried to flee from Oswald by returning to Brisbane via an inland route, namely Kyogle and Lions Road into Queensland. Lions Road has many creek crossings and it was impassable following massive rain. This year, we decided to return home that way, in the opposite direction – and what an interesting journey it was.
The road is so-named because it was built by the Lions clubs of Kyogle and Beaudesert after requests for a connecting road through the Richmond Gap in the McPherson Range were turned down by the New South Wales government in 1969. The project inspired the communities which donated money and manpower. Linking shire roads in Gradys (NSW) and Running (QLD) creeks, Lions Road was opened at the end of 1970, and the last section sealed in 1995. Contributions towards its upkeep are still gratefully accepted on the border.
The contrast between the cleared land on the Queensland side of the border and the forest of New South Wales was marked.
A few kilometres down the road was the Border Loop Lookout. The Cougal Spiral railway links the two states through the Richmond Gap. To reduce the length of the tunnel beneath the border at the summit, the line circles back on itself by means of two short tunnels in a small hill, enabling it to climb 100 metres without progressing forwards, before reaching the border tunnel. Unfortunately there were no trains to be seen.
As we drove down towards the Summerland Way there were many creeks and rickety rackety bridges as the railway shadowed the road. Ultimately, we reached the crossing where we had been unable to proceed last year. It was shocking to realise how deep the water must have been: in the picture below right, taken from the other side, there is no sign of a bridge.
Similarly in Kyogle, we were surprised to see how far beneath the Barry McPaul Bridge the waters of Fawcetts Creek were: last year they lapped at the sides of the bridge, threatening to inundate the road.
Only one cafe in the high street was open this Australia Day, but that was all we needed: the coffee was good and strong and they sold my friend's favourite ice creams.
We left town on the Kyogle Road, climbing the Border Ranges towards Murwillumbah. Unable to resist further detours, we discovered a dark and brooding Lillian Rock. On the other side of the watershed, we picked up the Tweed River. At Terragon we turned left, where there was a turtle on the Tweed. We followed Byrrill Creek Road past secluded properties and through part of Wollumbin State Forest to Tyalgum. We were circling Mt Warning, but it remained true to its Aboriginal name, meaning cloud catcher, and I only caught the briefest of glimpses through low whispy cloud. It troubles me when I should be able to see Mt Warning but I can't.
We headed back east following the Oxley River, through pretty country with intriguingly named places such as Dum Dum, Doon Doon and Dunbible. We skirted Murwillumbah through it western suburbs – if indeed it is large enough to have suburbs – and climbed up and over the state border once more. The road follows Currumbin Creek and the border, distinguished by a no man's land between a vermin fence on the Queensland side and another fence close by. From Tallebudgera you can't access the Pacific Highway at West Burleigh, please note. It flies overhead, so you have to turn back towards Reedy Creek, and the inevitability of Brisbane.
* A reader informed me this is a Mountain Katydid, a bush cricket (or long-horned grasshopper).
This post was last edited on 11 February 2014