Queensland's National ParksJanuary 31, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C
Planning for two days exploring some of the huge and incredibly varied national parks, we based ourselves in a small town called Nerang. It's central to the two parks we wanted to visit - Lamington and Springbrook.
We arrived at the home of our Airbnb hosts Phil and Vieng at lunch time as we had been invited to their Australia Day BBQ. It was a very hot and humid day so their other friends and guests were gathered under a canopy next to the pool. We enjoyed chatting with the others, including a Malaysian lady who entertained us all with stories of her varied and exciting life as an investigative journalist, like when she was happy to speak out against the government in Malaysia that led to her asking police to put her in prison! After we had our fill of the delicious spread the pool became too inviting and half of us ended up swimming, while the others took some fun Australia Day themed photos.
The afternoon and evening blurred together, and before we knew it we were falling asleep and we'd thoroughly enjoyed a very Aussie Australia Day!
We got up early the next day to head into Lamington National Park. The park is over 200sq km in size, so we aimed for the centre where there were a number of walking tracks, about 1 hour from Nerang. The road wove it's way higher and higher, often right on the edge of huge canyons and falls so much so that Beth couldn't face driving it anymore! We arrived safely at the central car park though and decided on a 4km track that would take us to the Bellbird Lookout.
As we had driven to where we had parked we'd ascended to a considerable height and the walk we wanted to do took us deep into temperate forest, with a cool rain hanging in the air. We equipped ourselves with an umbrella and our walking boots and set off, eventually finding ourselves surrounded only by lush green growth and the sounds of the wildlife. Unfortunately just as we arrived at the lookout the rain started to pick up a bit, and to be honest the lookout didn't serve it's purpose too well as the view was blocked by a dozen trees and bushes, so we couldn't see much of the area after all.
We stopped briefly, thinking we'd find shelter and eat our picnic at the lookout however the two leeches working their way up my leg changed our minds, so we trekked back through the woods to a middle-of-nowhere type cafe. After eating our picnic (inside thanks to the now torrential rain) we chomped on the Aussie favourite of Lamington cake - vanilla and chocolate sponge cake, coated with chocolate and sprinkled with coconut. It's very appropriate that we really enjoyed our Lamington cake in it's namesake national park!
As the rain settled in for the afternoon (and I found another 3 leeches!) we called it a day there and headed back to our house to sort out a few jobs, also hoping it would be sunnier there so we could swim again...it wasn't!
Our final day in the Queensland area began with another early start as we wanted a full day in Springbrook National Park. We made a slight detour to another beauty spot, named Natural Bridge. Here we walked paths down hill a few hundred metres before catching a glimpse through the trees of a tiny stream. Another hundred metres or so and we arrived at a viewpoint over the GIANT waterfall that appears suddenly from the stream. The water has such power that it has - over millions of years - carved a hole down through the rock, then out the side of the rock face which is how the 'bridge' has been formed. It's a very spectacular sight and we walked down into the cave that surrounds the waterfall. At night in this cave you're able to see thousands of glow worms, but as we were there during the morning they were invisible to us, however there were small bats flittering about over our heads although their recognisable squeaks and calls were inaudible as the waterfall thundered next to us. We enjoyed walking around the rest of the area, experiencing the peacefulness of the woods.
A while later we continued the journey into Springbrook. The drive there was a similar distance as the day before and with similar roads, so when we arrived 3000ft above sea level we were immediately greeted with an incredible view through the mountains and all the way to the city of Surfer's Paradise on the coast.
We picked up a map of the area that showed 5 recommended view points and beauty spots, some with a walk/hike and others right next to a car park. We'd already experienced our first and wanted to visit the rest throughout the day so next we drove about 30 minutes further into the national park. We were ready for a walk about with the end goal being a 50m waterfall, but once again a torrential downpour held us under shelter. Similarly to Lamington the temperature here was much cooler but once the rain had lightened we started walking into tropical rainforest and the humidity began to climb - if you imagine what a typical rainforest would feel like then you'd be about right for the area we were in at that point.
The walk was through forest and across the river a couple of times but wasn't too taxing and took us about 20 minutes before we arrived at the top of the cliff edge, just along from where the top of the water was cascading over the edge and down into the valley. The sky had cleared by this time so we and the previously-cloudy valley were blasted by the sun, giving us a need for some shade but also incredible views of the picturesque landscape ahead of us. There were a few other viewpoints we walked to and they all had incredible views and we could see a path leading down into the valley but decided against this as the signs marked it as an 8km round trip... instead we had a leisurely lunch at a cosy cafe, sat on a veranda overlooking their garden.
We were ready to continue a couple of hours later and whilst driving we mistakenly bypassed two lookouts and ended up at the highest point of Springbrook at the aptly named Best of All Lookout. This was a few hundred metres higher than earlier and again the temperature dropped. We walked along a path through temperate rainforest, a thick tree canopy high above our heads sheltering the ground from the sun. This meant that a heavy fog drifted between the trees and across boulders, deadfall and the occasional downed tree trunk and everything was covered in thick algae or moss. The sun kept breaking through though in thin beam-like bursts, giving the whole forest a very mysterious feel. The cherry on top? The sounds of the rainforest - birds singing to each other and who-knows-what calling out. This was a little ruined by a rowdy young family who were also walking the path, screaming, shouting and even blowing a whistle...! Kids!
Anyway the walk only took 10 minutes before we found ourselves at the Lookout and boy were they right when they named it! We could see over nearby mountains, towns looked tiny and the ocean felt almost within reach - we could even see the crescent shaped beach at Byron Bay nearly 50 miles away! We were both amazed and spent a good time there taking it in. When we went back to the car we decided to skip the two other lookouts altogether, partly due to time restraints but mainly as we knew they wouldn't be impressive after Best of All!
Weaving our way back down the mountain we then took the M1 highway 20 miles south of Byron Bay to Ballina, a gentle holiday town on the coast. We knew we'd arrived when Beth started shouting excitedly "THE GIANT PRAWN, THE GIANT PRAWN!" I'm sure you'll be as confused as I was to see a 20m high prawn appearing ahead of us and of course we stopped for a few photos - bizarrely it's in the car park of a DIY shop and simply recognises the Ballina area's exceptional quality of seafood, although otherwise it is as random as it sounds, and has become a bit of a tourist landmark!
The giant prawn signalled our arrival as our motel was only down the road, and by this point we were ready to be out the car and to explore the area.