Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sundown NP - the last and most challenging

The last stop on my Spring camping trip was Sundown National Park. Sundown is west of the Granite Belt, and is more suited to hard-core campers and walkers than Lamington or Girraween. Most of the 'tracks' are really just suggested routes along valleys and ridgelines, many with walking times listed in days rather than hours. The camp ground facilities are more basic, too - the 'shower' was a bucket with holes in the bottom!

Sundown's geology consists of sedimentary units with granites intruding from beneath. Typically when this happens, fluids from the hot granites deposit mineral ores in the surrounding rocks, and Sundown is no exception. Before being gazetted, ore bodies were mined for arsenic, tin, copper, molybdenum and tungsten. The mining wasn't always done cleanly, and some streams still have dangerously high arsenic contents.

Here's a quote from Sydney BJ Skertchly, the first government geologist to visit the area, in 1897. It comes from the Geological Society of Queensland's 'Rocks and Landscapes of the National Parks of SE QLD":

"So interesting, and I believe important, is this district that I would fain have seen more of it: but I had only brought two days' rations, and we had horrible weather, fog and rain, and though we stayed a day after we had eaten our last bit of food, and the river wouldn't give up its fish, we were obliged to return to Ballendean, as the rain showed no sign of abating. My horse drowned himself in a waterhole, one of our men had to be sent back ill, and altogether it was geology under difficulties, yet I never enjoyed myself more. I shall long remember our last night. Four of us had dined on less than half-a-loaf of bread, and we sat round the camp fire sipping second-hand tea, while a stockman recited Gordon's poems as a substitute for supper."

When I arrived, the Park had just received 68mm of rain overnight, and Skertchly's descriptions of the weather seemed very accurate. It was cool, overcast, wet and windy, and reminded me of camping trips back in New Zealand. The weather soon cleared though, and the next couple of days were warm enough to make the various waterholes seem tempting, leeches or no.

I'll have to go back to Sundown with a proper 4WD one day, as the northern campground, which acts as a gateway to many of the most interesting areas, isn't accessible by car.

A Bottlebrush. These plants are popular in Australian gardens.

Some sort of orange tree fungus.

Permanent Waterhole. It has Platypuseses!

A Monitor lizard. I didn't get his name.

Queens Mary Falls, on the road back to Brisbane.

The way home. Looking north towards Wilson's Peak from a cafe above Condamine Gorge. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lamington National Park - volcanoes and views

After wandering around Girraween NP and looking at granite, I headed back north towards Brisbane and a National Park closer to home. Lamington NP is on the north-facing outer slopes of an extinct volcano. Like Girraween, its elevation means that it's cooler than on the plains. However Lamington is near the coast and so gets a lot more rain. Instead of dry eucalypt forest, Lamington is covered by dense, damp rainforest and beech forest.

Because it's only a couple of hours drive from Brisbane, the park is popular and the camp ground was full. Fortunately there's also an old and very posh lodge (O'Reilly's Retreat) which had a room. And a restaurant and bar and spectacular views. Nice!

There are dozens of walks in Lamington. I did two 'day' walks in one day, covering at least 25km. Why? So I could see more waterfalls and lookouts!

Looking south into the old caldera from Wanungara Lookout. Old lava flows can be seen in the cliffs.

Echo Point Lookout is further west on the crater rim. Mt Warning, marking the approximate centre of the old Tweed Volcano, is on the right. 

A friendly Lorikeet at O'Reilly's.

One of the many falls on tracks from O'Reilly's to the crater rim.

Sunset from O'Reilly's Retreat. Spring and early Summer are the driest times of the year in Australia and are when most bushfires happen. The smoke reduced visibility a bit, but made for some nice sunsets!

I stopped at Undercliffe Falls on the drive from Girraween to Lamington. The falls are hardly marked on maps, the signpost is tiny and there's only a very rough track down from the carpark. But after all that it was worth it - the falls are beautiful.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Granites of Girraween

"As hard as granite." It's a saying so common it's almost a cliche. Granite's a hard rock, made of large, interlocking crystals. Granite bodies form when hot material from deep in the Earth's interior melts the underside of the crust. The semi-liquid mass of minerals rises into the overlying crust and cools slowly, over millions of years. When erosion wipes away the weaker host rock, the granite is left. Granite can form mountain ranges.

But over time, even granite is worn by water and ice. The minerals decompose, and with little cement between the crystals, the rock flakes away.

The southeasternmost portion of Queensland is called, with typical Australian directness, the Granite Belt. The granite was formed in the Triassic, and was first uncovered in the Jurassic. It's been slowly rising and being eroded ever since, and so the landscape we see today is in truth an ancient one. However, despite the long period of erosion, the rolling landscape is still about a kilometre above sea level. As a result the climate is typically hot in summer and cold in winter. The native vegetation is adapted to the conditions, and European settlers quickly saw the potential of the area for fruit and wine production. The Granite Belt's valleys are famous for their vineyards and orchards, but granite forms poor soils, and so large swathes of hillside are entirely bare, like ribs poking through the skin. I've just spent a few days walking around Girraween National Park, admiring the geology, the landscapes and, not least, some of the local Shiraz.

The rock in question - granite. This granite is composed mainly of quartz, pink and white feldspar, and black biotite.

Spring means wildflowers, and Girraween means 'place of flowers'. They're not big and bold, but the pink, white, purple and yellow flowering shrubs added touches of colour to the Australian bush. And the sound of bees!

The first big balancing rock had me grabbing for my camera before it fell over. By the time I'd seen a few hundred more, they didn't seem so remarkable. The boulders have been left as the surrounding granite flaked away along planes of weakness. Eventually they do roll downhill, but it's a rare event.

The Pyramid is one of the most fun climbs in Girraween National Park. It's not high, but the final stretch is steeeeeep.

The view from the base of the exposed rock face.

About halfway up, looking east. And no, the camera is not on its side!

A dyke crosses the face of the Pyramid, a good place to stop and catch your breath.

And when you get to the top, you can see the Second Pyramid. It's not climbable without rock-climbing experience.

Balancing Rock, on the peak of the Pyramid.

And more boulders, seemingly perched ready to roll off the Pyramid into the valley. Not today, though.

A Cunningham's Skink, enjoying the view, or the sun. He didn't say.

The next walk was to a formation called the Sphinx. I thought it looked like a koala, but Koala Rock doesn't have the same ring.

Someone's made a pretty decent sleeping platform at the base of the Sphinx. No idea how old it is - could be last week, or hundreds of years ago.

You think of underground streams being cut through limestone, but here, a stream has managed to undercut a granite bluff. You can hear the water but only see glimpses through the cracks.

Another dyke, this one above the Underground Stream.

The longest walk I did was up Mt Norman, down the far side and along a firebreak to Underground Stream. This is the northern face of Mt Norman, showing how the topsoil has been washed from the smooth face of the rock.

There's a good little campground tucked into the boulders beside the peak of Mt Norman. Here's the chimney.

 And this is the southern face of Mt Norman. It's quite a walk to see this, but that meant I had it all to myself. I did the main walks in Girraween, and plan to go back and explore more of the park.

Just for fun, a 360 view from the Pyramid.