Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Un-tourist Coolum

I couldn’t wait to get off the suburban streets and into the bush, because really, what’s better than a summit on a sunshiney July morning on the Sunshine Coast?

I locked the car and started out on the dirt road. For about 2 seconds I considered whether or not I was safe, being an urban area and all, but instantly shrugged off the uneasiness with “it’s broad daylight….whatever”. It was a big blue sky day, crisp and clear and the mountains were calling me, and nothing would have kept me from skipping up something big and stoney with sloping sides that day.

I almost missed the turn off to the summit track as I was expecting the ubiquitous brown timber National Parks sign; instead there is a street sign, you know, the ones that indicate that there’s something touristy down a particular road. I stepped over the log that marks the (uninspiring, power-poled) trailhead to the summit and into the contrasting and welcoming world of Mount Coolum. Goodbye houses, bitumen and weedy dirt road.

Almost immediately the trail began to gently climb, through wet sclerophyll at first, brush box, casuarinas, and stately old bloodwoods. Beautiful. Thick lovely bracken fern created a cool lush feeling, and brushed my knees and thighs as I dawdled along. Some days I’m a regular little rock wallaby, itching to get to the summit; but if I have my camera in hand, well my pace is unhurried (shall we say), and it’s best to take a packed lunch.

I immediately liked this ‘anti-tourist’ track. What a gem, I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to get around to doing it. It was interesting, wonderfully varied and quiet. It doesn’t take long for me to get withdrawal symptoms when I’ve been away from the natural world, so the silence and dappled sunlight of the forest were deeply satisfying. The heart shaped leaves of macarangas were aglow above me and casuarina needles shimmered under the thin rays of sunlight filtering through.  I felt at home. My soul sings when I’m on a trail. And I was solo, I could run all the way to the top (hypothetically that is) or take it slow, it didn’t matter to anyone but me.

I would recommend stopping, as I did, at the overhanging buttress not far in, for a look at the brushbox tree that has grown in an arc around the rock. And to appreciate the pretty cabbage palm at the other end. What a special little spot, it felt sacred, quiet....and was a good excuse to pause and ‘enjoy the journey’.

As the trail ascended the vegetation became drier and more open and the understorey on the rocky slopes became dominated by hops bushes, with their distinct blunted leaves and “cluster of cherries” winged flowers. Fallen casuarina needles blanketed the ground along the track in some spots, while higher up bright green lomandras and straw coloured grasses offset the dark volcanic boulders.
When the trail gained the ridge I ducked off right to an outcrop with impressive views to the west – Mt Ninderry, Mt Eerwah and Mt Cooroy; and the checkerboard of farmland across the floodplains.

If you’re paying attention you won’t have any difficulty staying on the trail. Even if you stop off regularly, like me, at the fantastic open rocky viewing points along the way, to soak up the sun and capture the scenery via digital images. North, south and west, the views became better and better as I gained altitude. The sun lit up a stunning scribbly gum so I skipped over for a hug and to shoot some macros of their squiggles.

Just prior to the last leg, there is a lovely sort of saddle, where banksias, philothecas and acacias were already blooming, to my delight. I’m a bit of a plant nerd in training, and I was disappointed to have forgotten my reference books to i.d. them properly. Good thing I had my camera that day. I actually have no idea how long it took me to walk the trail as I spent so long photographing everything around me on the way. But I wasn’t wearing a watch anyway.
Reminiscent of the trails of the Glasshouse Mountains, the final section to the summit was rocky and surrounded by a tunnel-forest of casuarinas – I felt like a hobbit (ok, I always do, I’m 5 foot not-much) - then all too soon I was emerging at the fence that surrounds the summit tower….I was almost disappointed that there was no more trail, no more up.

I explored several of the paths leading off the summit but found some privacy on the southern end, away from the tourists, mums and dads, and teenagers wearing “I don’t discriminate, I hate everyone” and “Go away” t-shirts (funny yet annoying at the same time). I had only passed one other party on the ascent! I knew from previous hikes that the eastern side gets a lot of traffic, and was glad that the western trail is little-known even to locals.

At this point, enjoying sitting on a small bum-sized boulder amongst the banksias and leptospermums, I congratulated myself for taking the time to make chai that morning and to have brought it along in my old red thermos. A sunny summit, an ocean view, blossoming wildflowers and a hot cup of tea. What more could a nanna-hiker want? I lapped it all up with gratitude and peace in my (lil ole) heart. I thanked gaia again when a red-backed fairy wren showed himself off to me as I sat sipping my tea. Thanks little mate, because you know what, there aren’t any other males showing interest just at the moment..

The top of Coolum mountain (Mountain? Really? It’s only 200 metres high) is actually a plateau, long and wide and mostly covered in the wonderful wallum heath that flanks much of the mountain. The ocean vistas are truly spectacular, particularly on a Queensland winter’s day, so I captured a nice panorama of the view east and south, all the way to Mooloolaba and Point Cartwright. As I wandered I snapped a few more images of the peaks to the west, and the distant but distinct Glasshouse Mountains. Around about then I noticed, thanks to the angle of the winter sun, that p.m. must have crept up on me, it was well past nap-time. I wandered back to the tourists and disappeared behind the tower, grinning as I heard someone say “where’s she going?”, and started to descend.

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