Getaway among the Dunes of Cooloola

Arriving back in Australia after an inspiring 11 months living in Fiordland National Park in New Zealand, I was quickly overwhelmed by human development. The Sunshine Coast is a wonderful sub-tropical piece of Queensland. Attractive suburbs dotted with cafes and esplanades just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. A warm spring had already arrived upon my arrival at the Gold Coast airport. With the sunshine out, an ocean swim was nothing but invigorating.
The lifestyle and beauty of the region thus attracts many other humans. That was something that I am still adjusting too. The sounds of bird life, as loud as the lorikeets and magpies are, are drowned by the groan and hum of motorised traffic. A few days in and I recognised that I am in suburbia, surrounded by affluent humans. Overwhelmed. Going straight from the disconnected life in Milford Sound with occasional trips to the town of a few thousand in Te Anau, to a densely populated region ripe during school holidays brought on feelings of anxiousness. There was no medium, no transition period.
So when Chelsie’s dad, Harley, had the idea of trekking on one of Queensland’s Great Walks, my interest was aroused. Truthfully, though, I was hesitant to leave Chelsie for the 5 days. I had longed to just be near her during the two months I spent alone in Milford, and now here I was about to pack up and walk in the bush. Concluding that it would be good overall for my mental health in general, I consented and the next day, off we went.

selfie at the start
selfie at the start

Once across the Noosa River, the pace began to slow down. Incrementally I could tell as the sounds of nature slowly gained prominence over the sounds of civilisation. Adjusting to the walking pace of life takes time. I reckon that we are designed to move at that sort of speed. We miss so much speeding fast through places- its a sensory overload. Walking along listening to the wind blow the leaves and branches of the gum trees and noticing how similar that is to the sound of the ocean. Eventually the two begin to blend and its hard to tell the difference. Upon reaching the first designated walkers’ camp, the sun was sinking low. We were high enough in scrub land to view the sunset over the brackish Lake Cootharaba in the west, and see the turquoise Pacific in the east in the same view; as well as the specks of the holiday accommodations of Noosa in the far background.

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View from first campsite

Awaking on the second day to the sounds of bird life is such a pleasant alarm. Feels like a more natural wake-up as the sunlight permeates the nylon of the tent fabric, encouraging your body to be conscious. Up and over the forest covered dunes, with the sounds of little reptiles scurrying at your footsteps. Views of the Pacific at each crest, and walking under wind-bent gum branches.

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wind-bend eucalypts
The sand patch
The sand patch

Midday we crossed a patch of sand, unforested dunes really, some natural force of erosion stripped to flora, but it was slowly creeping back. Perfect lunch spot as the wind shooed away the mozzies. That evening’s camp was next to the brown, tannin-rich Upper Noosa River. Perfect for a swim to wash away the muck of the day; and only later did we find out that bull sharks are known to prowl that far upstream in the murky water- at least we were ignorant at the time.

Noosa River
Noosa River

In the evening, Harley’s keen eyes sighted a sugar glider, a type of small, Youtube-popular possum that uses skin flaps to glide from branch to branch. Just a glimpse into the big round eyes of that creature would have made that whole day of walking worth it. That night, prowling bandicoots kept me awake with their brave encroachments to my food sack. I was too amused at the hopping, small marsupials to get upset at the lack of sleep.
The whole of the Cooloola Recreation Area is in ecosystem fluctuations, any observant walker would note the change of micro-climates. Recently-burned, flat country with honeyeater birds keenly flying in and our of our paths. The third day of trekking is usually the one where you begin to find your rhythm, the pace of walking and slowness of time, with the focus of life around drinking and eating, and how quickly your body reacts to consuming sugar, protein, or carbohydrates. We decided before midday that we would cover some ground; 35 kilometres later we arrived in the rainforest camp. There were at least 4 species of mosquito there, each species very-well represented and each trying to compete for their fare share of human blood. After such a big day, dinner would be served in bed. Bandicoots in the rainforest I assumed must not have any predators because they were happy enough to bounce repeatedly (accidentally?) at my tent.

Rainforest heights

The fourth day we were very close to the Rainbow Beach holiday destination, and, much to my chagrin at the time, Harley suggested we walk an additional few hours to the end of the spit there, Double Island Point. Trailed by the large brownish mosquitoes, and feeling exhausted from the previous day, I was sluggish. Then arriving at the end I was demoralised. There we encountered hundreds of holiday-makers on the busiest weekend of the year, Queen’s Birthday, all in their utes having a great time on the beach, partying, driving, creating beach traffic-jams. Having only seen one other person the previous 2 days, I was flabbergasted. Harley encouraged me to continue up to the lighthouse, and I was so appreciative that we hiked up there. That was the highlight of the trip. From Double Island Point we could see, through the haze, where we began days before, all the way to Fraser Island and Rainbow Beach at the other side, and straight ahead, the migrating whales put on a show. In the distance the breaches were barely visible above the massive splashes they would create. Amazing that creatures are making such displays, I was impressed that it was so impressive from such a distance. Sunset approached and illuminated the beach in hues of purple and orange that mellowed me back down to hikers’ bliss.

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View North and toward distant whales breaching
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View South toward Noosa from Double Island Point

Camp was set up in the evening light on the beach, I happily slept staring at the Milky Way.
In the morning, just minutes after topping up our freshwater reserves and setting off on a walk along the beach to Rainbow, an old army Land Rover pulls up the driver, Andy, and offers us a ride to town. Joining him, his partner Becky and young son Charlie, we happily accept and the offer Rover cruises through the challenges of high tide; including a romp through the surf to avoid a recent dune landslide. The Rover didn’t flinch as the waves jostled us only slightly.

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Rover along with owner Andy and son Charlie

Mid-morning and there we were, back among the civilised world. I enjoyed the perk of barista coffee to the utmost. Contentedly tired and happily blissed from the immersion in the natural world, I returned to Chelsie later that day. I was probably a few days away from a revelation that trekking can produce; but who knows. Often enough what is learned is not as tangible or comprehensible as we humans attempt to make our world to be. Overwhelmed I am less of now, but as with each trip into nature, I crave more of it.

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