An Uncompleted Hike

Gold Coast high-rise through haze

During our almost 40 years of residence in South East Queensland, Ruth and I have visited Springbrook Mountain in the Gold Coast hinterland perhaps half a dozen times. But our activities have never taken us further afield than the town and the several spectacular lookouts along the lip of the impressive (by Australian standards) precipice, much of which overlooks the Gold Coast coastal strip.

Rush Creek above the falls

Encouraged by the rating of the Twin Falls Circuit walk as “easy” and the enthusiastic writings of Springbrook devotees on a Facebook walking sight that I follow, I decided to give my almost 82 year old legs a bit of a workout. The circuit is 4.3 km in length with an elevation gain, or loss in this case, of 179 metres. Time to complete is stated on the All Trails app as 1hr 29min. My daily walk to Moreton Bay and back is about the same difference but with much more gentle and less change in altitude.

View into the valley

I had mistakenly believed that the Twin Falls Circuit was so named because within its length you encounter two waterfalls. I knew that the second was Blackfellow Falls but when I researched the name of the first I discovered that it, or perhaps they, were called Twin Falls. More in that later.

Twin Falls

We parked at the Tallanbana picnic area and with Ruth settled in the car with her knitting I slipped into my back pack and headed down the path, very conscious that I would need to come back up the path at the end of the walk.

The pool at the foot of the falls

Twin falls are on Rush Creek which rises in the highest part of the range near the NSW border and ultimately, I think, joining a number of other streams in Little Nerang Creek which then flows into the Hinze Dam.

The track is easy with most areas smooth going

The track is easy, well formed and well maintained. Streams that intersect the track are bridged of have concrete stepping stones. Hand rails are provided in most places where steep drops into the gorge would cause death or serious injury. Stairs, timber, stone and steel, are provided in a number of places. There are a couple of formed concrete ramps.

A very pleasant walk through the rain forest

The trail soon crosses Rush Creek immediately above Twin Falls, then continues on a slowly declining angle along the ridge to a point where is switches back on itself to start the descent to the bottom of Twin Falls. At this point you take a narrow path between two huge boulders and then follow a number of changes in direction until the falls are reached.

The track runs between two huge boulders

There, falling into the edge of a pool was the single fall of Twin Falls. It seems to only become twin falls after heavier rain, so when I saw it there was a single fall of water. That did not detract from its scenic beauty, but I would like to see in in full flow.

The track emerges between the boulders and is assisted by some steps

From the falls and pool the trail continues at the bottom of a cliff face to the left and a steep timbered slope to the right. The distance between the two sets of falls is about a kilometre. About halfway the track looses altitude via a succession of switch backs. It was at this point that I encountered a hiking couple coming in the other direction.

Part of the track runs along the base of a cliff

So I asked about the track ahead, as you do, to be told that it descended a fair distance, distance down that would ultimately become additional distance up later in the walk. I had been on the track for about an hour and had come about half way so concluded that the walk was going to take me about an hour longer than planned.

Considering the situation I decided to retrace my steps and leave Blackfellow Falls and the other half of the track for another day.

A look into the rain forwst

I spent the first 15 years of my life in the bush and have never lost my love of it, despite having spent the latter part in cities. This walk is a mix of rain forest and timbered ranges. Tall straight tree trunks emerge from rain forest thickets. Small streams and bubbling springs are located along the path. Stop and listen and you hear the calls of birds. Paradise!

This large nest may belong to an Eagle

Eating places close early in Springbrook because most tourists visit in the AM, but the Springbrook pub/café was open and had not run out of food. A couple of pies with cold fruit drinks hit the spot.

Purling Falls

After lunch we drove down the street to the Purling Brook Falls lookout. Later, and on the way home, stopped off at Wunburra Lookout for its panoramic views over the Gold Coast high rise, before taking Pine Creek Road for a drive past the Hinze Dam before descending to Nerang and the highway to home.

The upstream limit of the Hinze Dam

Destination Tasmania – Part 4 – Strahan, Queenstown and Zeehan

10th & 11th February, 2020

Heritage Tours boat “Harbour Master” at Sarah Island jetty

I suppose tours of Macquarie Harbour and The Gordon River were operating 45 years ago when we were last at Strahan, but I have no recollection of them. But that was well before the issue of the Franklin Dam and all of the disputes over Lake Pedder gave this area such prominence. We had become aware that the cruise was one of the attractions that draw tourists to Strahan. We booked in advance to make sure that we had a good seat.

The day started overcast and cool but improved to produce sunshine by mid afternoon. We were not affected by the morning chill as we were on board the “Harbour Master” our Heritage Tours cruise boat, protected by its broad glass windows.

Departing Strahan cruise terminal
Strahan Railway Station at Regatta Point

The cruise boat headed directly to Hells Gates, the entrance through which ships had to pass to reach the convict settlement on Sarah Island. The entrance is narrow and dangerous, particularly when a sea is running. In the days of sail, ships would anchor outside of the harbour, wait for slack tide and be towed through by sailors rowing the ship’s longboat.

Old Macquarie Heads Signal Station
Coloured rocks at Hell’s Gate
Hell’s Gate passage from the ocean side

There was no sign of Hell at the gates. The sea was like a mill pond. Not only did we proceed through the heads at full speed but continued out past the Cape Sorrel lighthouse into the Indian Ocean for a look both ways along the coast. Such conditions only occur about five times per year, we were told.

A breakwater and the coast outside Macquarie Harbour heads
Cape Sorrel Lighthouse at the south of Macquarie Harbour entrance
In the open sea. View south past Cape Sorrel Light
View from inside Hell’s Gate out to sea. Ships entering and leaving port had to pass between the channel light and the point on the left.

I had read about Sarah Island as a convict prison but for some reason thought that it was located near the heads. But it is at the other end of this rather long harbour. On our way to Sarah Island from Hell’s Gates we stopped to see the salmon and trout farms where the fish are grown to eating size in large circular mesh cages that are anchored in the waters of the harbour. There is nothing to see other than the nets but the skipper of the boat gave us quite a bit of information about the husbandry practices. In short, they feed the fish and the fish grow to eating size. What else is there to known?

Fish farms in Macquarie Harbour
View to the east in Macquarie Harbour

Sarah Island had the worst reputation of any Australian convict settlement. It was established to gather Huon pine from the surrounding forests, but when the difficult harbour entrance restricted the transport of the timber, shipbuilding was established at Macquarie Harbour at the Sarah Island convict settlement. Well over one hundred boats were built with over half of them ocean going ships.

Walking ashore at Sarah Island
Sarah Island landing

A solid path has been built linking the ruins to the jetty for ease of access. Guides are on hand to tell tourists all about the settlement. You can still see remnants of the construction slipways embedded in the shoreline. There are ruins of buildings with information signage throughout. It is all very well done.

Remnants of boat building slipways in the shore line of Sarah Island
A larger ship building slipway and an alternative landing jetty
Information shelter

As we departed Sarah Island, the crew prepared a delicious buffet lunch of cold meats and salad including slices of Camembert cheese so large that you would think the stuff was made in Tasmania.

Cruise passengers with a guide at convict prison ruins
Ruins of Sarah Island Bakery
Information plaque showing layout of Sarah Island administration building

From Sarah Island we motored directly to the mouth of the Gordon River where speed was reduced to a sedate 5 knots or so. The destination in the river was Heritage Landing, where berthing facilities have been built for the boat and a board walk constructed to provide access to the rain forest that covers the steep sides of the Gordon valley. Particularly, it gives access to Huon pine in its natural setting. Huon pine is not only resistant to rot but also to the marine worm that destroys lesser timber. It is a slow growing tree. Large specimens are thousands of years old.

Excellent reflections are sometimes viewed on the Gordon but the wind had come up by the time we reached it so the surface was a series of ripples instead of a mirror.

The placid Gordon River near where it joins Macquarie Harbour
Boardwalk to Huon pine viewing area at Heritage Landing

As we cruised slowly up the river the skipper retold the story of the Franklin River protests of thirty or forty years ago when the Tasmanian Hydro Electricity Commission wanted to build a dam on the Gordon River downstream from where it is joined by the Franklin River. If you are over 60 you will no doubt remember all the fuss.

Mature Huon pine
The “Blue Boat” from the other cruise operator at Strahan

On the quayside at Strahan there remains an operating sawmill that processes Huon pine. The cruise boat completes the tour by berthing at the mill to enable passengers to see the Huon pine being worked. The mill sells completed timber products including a range to appeal to tourists with spare money. I would rather spend the money on the finished product of the fish farm.

The sawmill that works Huon pine at Strahan wharf

Our second day in the South West was set aside for a driving tour in the area. We did the triangle Strahan-Queenstown-Zeehan-Strahan, about 125 km. But before heading off on the 47 km first part of the trip to Queenstown we took a closer look at Strahan.

We first visited Regatta Point to look at the Strahan end of the Queenstown to Strahan tourist railway. This service operates on the railway built to get copper ore from the mines in Queenstown to the port, to be shipped to the world.  Because of steep inclines on the route, part of the track uses a rack and pinion system where drive cogs on the engine engage with teeth in a track that is positioned between the normal rails.

Strahan historic railway station
Cafe tables at Strahan station
Strahan waterfront area viewed from Regatta Point station

The station building in Strahan is the original, built in the late 1990s. It now contains a cafe and gift shop and normal tourist facilities.  We were a bit early for coffee, but the view from the tables on the old platform is such that you would not want to finish your coffee too quickly.

Historic buildings over the street from the wharf at Strahan
Tourist cruise base at Strahan
Strahan main street
Tourist accommodation overlooking Strahan waterfront

Queenstown occupies one of the most dramatic sites that you can imagine. It is totally surrounded by rocky mountain ranges, much without vegetation. Some naturally lack vegetation, but hills were denuded in a clearing frenzy to feed the copper smelters in the early days of mine operation.  It is a town where I would prefer not to be on a hot day.

Rocky mountains approaching Queenstown
Queenstown sign approaching from Strahan

We drove around to get a feel for the place and then walked around the main streets of the commercial area. We then located the nearest street access to the Spoin Kopf lookout which is conveniently located near the CBD, almost in the centre of town. I climbed the steep track to the summit and I am glad that I did. The view was spectacular. The lookout was built as a memorial to its namesake, a battle for a hill during the Boer War in South Africa.

Main business area of Queenstown from Spion Kopf
Queenstown suburbs to the east of the central business district
Mine workings and the corner of Queenstown where the highway passes through
Hills surrounding Queenstown were stripped of vegetation to fire refinery furnaces. The area is slowly re-vegetating.

Queenstown’s history has long been tied to the mining industry. This mountainous area was first explored in 1862. Later alluvial gold was discovered at Mount Lyell, prompting the formation of the Mount Lyell Mining Company in 1881. In 1882 the company began searching for and discovered copper. The Mount Lyell company ultimately became the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company.

Queenstown’s Empire Hotel. Completed in 1901.
View along Orr Street towards Mount Owen
Queenstown Post Office. Built in 1902.

The Queenstown end of the railway has a smartly rebuilt station that offers the same facilities as its counterpart at Strahan, but on a larger scale. We had lunch in the cafe and then waited a few minutes to watch the train come huffing in from its return trip to a point about half way to Strahan.  There was a good number of people on board who seemed to have enjoyed the experience.

Queenstown Railway Station and engine turn table
Queenstown Railway Station. New building for the West Coast Wilderness Railway
A steam engine at the end of its days work
Tourist cafe at Queenstown Railway Station. You can watch the train through the glass wall on the right

We then drove the 35 km or so to Zeehan, another mining town, but this time a producer of silver and zinc.  I am not sure of the status of mining in Zeehan but the town appears to be partly closed down. But it had its days of grandeur, demonstrated by the fine buildings that line its main street. The West Coast Heritage Centre is in Zeehan, housed in the ornate School of Mining and Metallurgy building.

Gaiety Theatre and Grand Hotel, Zeehan
Zeehan Post Office
Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy is now the West Coast Heritage Centre
The Railway Museum is part of the West Coast Heritage Centre
One of Zeehans banks

Returning to Strahan, we were on the same road as we had travelled two days before. We had noticed mining residue beside the road but we now had time to stop and take a look. Some old pieces of equipment were strewn over the area but it was not clear what kind of mining activity had been conducted there.

Mining area at Zeehan on the road to Strahan
Four wheel drive access to the beach at Henty Dunes

With time left in the day, before we returned to our cabin, we took the opportunity to drive out to Macquarie Heads, to see it from the land as well as having seen it from the boat. It is Strahan’s closest surf beech with a reasonable drive over sealed and dirt roads. There is also a caravan park and on the way out, a neat little picnic area with a boat launching ramp.

Jetty at Macquarie Heads
Swan Basin near Strahan