From May 16th, some restrictions are easing in Queensland. One relates to the distance we can travel from our homes for recreation. Instead of 50km from home (which we’ve been able to do since May 2nd), we’ll be able to venture 150km (though we must remain within our state).
This, of course, significantly broadens our range of potential destinations. But we still need to practice social/physical distancing – which is much easier if we choose uncrowded paths. And in my experience, longer hikes and trails tend to have fewer feet on them than shorter ones.
So here are three spectacular day hikes and walks within 150km of Brisbane – all within national parks that are part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. I'm not suggesting they're the only beautiful walks within this 150km parameter (there are plenty of others), but I've found their views and other highlights particularly inspirational. And while I've always encountered other people on them, these routes have never seemed crowded to me. But if they are crowded when you go, seriously consider walking away and finding another, less-populated trail in that park.
Whenever you encounter other hikers, please be considerate and practice social/physical distancing, moving to the edge of the trail (but only as far as is safe) to allow others to pass. While it’s always nice to smile at fellow hikers, try not to breathe heavily (and definitely don't cough or sneeze!) if forced to pass one another at close range. And if you need to touch rocks or other surfaces while hiking (while rock scrambling or resting, for example), sanitise your hands as soon as possible afterwards – definitely before touching your face or eating.
Finally, be sure to review descriptions of these walks (and safety information) on the respective national park websites as well to help you assess whether the walk is suitable for your fitness, ability, and comfort level. And please check the park websites to ensure the walk is indeed open before you set out – as we all know by now, things can change quickly during a pandemic.
119km from Brisbane's CBD, moderate difficulty, 17.4km return, allow six hours
Sub-tropical rainforest, waterfalls, dramatic lookouts, ancient Antarctic beech trees, and the possibility of hearing songbirds such as the ground-dwelling Albert’s lyrebird are among the highlights of the Tooloona Creek circuit, which begins at the Green Mountains trailhead in Lamington National Park, on the western side of the Lamington Plateau.
After ambling a few kilometres along the Border Track (the backbone of the Lamington trail system), you’ll veer onto this circuit. Passing a number of waterfalls, you’ll walk up through Tooloona Gorge and re-join the Border Track near Wanungara lookout, which overlooks the Limpinwood Valley and Mt Warning. As you trek the final 7.6km to your starting point, you’ll reach Mount Bithongabel, home to some particularly lovely stands of Antarctic beech trees, which are similar to flowering plants that thrived 100 million years ago.
O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, near the Green Mountains trailhead, is planning to re-open its accommodation on June 12th.
121km from Brisbane's CBD, difficult, allow six hours return
Mount Maroon, a result of a shield volcano that erupted 24 million years ago, is one of seven peaks in Mount Barney National Park.
Like other popular summit routes within the park, this isn’t a straightforward walking track and is unsuitable for children and anyone who can’t climb without assistance. In addition to a high level of fitness, this steep adventure requires an abundance of caution. Potential dangers include vertical cliff edges and a steep, rocky gorge with a high risk of rock fall. (You must ascend the gorge by rock scrambling.) Make sure you read the park’s safety information, including the part specifically for summit routes, and don’t go if storms, high winds, or wet weather are predicted, as the route is exposed and rocks will become very slippery when wet.
That said, the 360-degree views from Maroon’s 966m, bald southern summit – which include 1359m Mt Barney’s rugged twin peaks and tiered, wedding cake-shaped 1175m Mt Lindesey – are phenomenal and make the arduous climb well worth the effort. It’s a magnificent spot to cautiously linger for a snack or packed lunch and marvel about how fortunate we are to have such beauty here in Southeast Queensland.
I’ve stood upon this summit twice – first as a guest on a bushwalking club outing and later with a few companions. The first time, we reached it without incident; however, the second time, we lost our way for a short spell on the way up, before the descent into the gorge, and had to backtrack to rejoin the path. Please be careful and make sure you stick to the route.
Mount Barney Lodge is planning to resume its guided walks in the national park starting June 12th.
109km from Brisbane's CBD, moderate difficulty, 17km, allow 5-6 hours
Waterfalls are the star attraction along the Warrie (which means ‘rushing water’) circuit in Springbrook National Park. But please be cautious: in addition to waterfalls, this hike includes dangers such as sheer cliffs, slippery areas, and possible fallen trees and rock falls. Refrain from walking after heavy rain (creeks could be impassable), and mind children closely.
Start from either Canyon lookout or Tallanbana picnic area, following the base of the Canyon cliffs past a few waterfalls. Descending through rainforest, you’ll reach the Meeting of the Waters, a lovely spot for a picnic. When you're feeling energetic again, tackle the long ascent up the gorge's western side, past more fetching waterfalls, back to your starting point. When you've finished climbing, pause and admire the views, which extend over the rainforest and out to the ocean.
Wishing you a peaceful, inspiring, safe, and physically distanced hike!