Conondale Great! Walk

The Conondale Great! Walk is a hike within the Conondale National Park north of Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

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The hike is a 4-day, 56km forest hike. In my planning, I compressed it into 3 days, walking sections 4 and 1 together and beginning the hike from the car park of section 2.  The weather was clear and warm.  I estimate my pack weight at about 22kg.

As this Great! Walk is set up by the Queensland Government, campsites must be booked in advance on the website for specific days with camping permits to be displayed.

Day 1 – 30km 

Planning for an overnight hike is important and this is somewhere I failed.  On my topographic map I failed to plan for the three river fords between the park entrance and the beginning of section 2.  I do not have a 4WD vehicle and thus had to park my car at the park entrance.  Because I’d booked the campsite at the end of the 2nd section that’s where I had to go.  This meant my planned 17km walk for the day became a 30km one.  (Section 1 = 11km, Section 2 = 17km, walk from ford = 2km).

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Section 1 is popular with day walkers and I saw a few along the river at various places and walking to the abandoned gold mine.

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The walk itself was a moderate grade 3 and enjoyable.  I reached Booloumba Falls at around 1.30pm and stripped down for a swim and some lunch.

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I started section 2 at about 2.30pm.  17km to camp…

Not long after the falls, there was a side trail with no markings.  I decided to follow for a short time and found it led to a small clearing with an unlabelled monument in it.  I stopped only briefly before heading back to the junction and continuing on.

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In my research I was made aware that there might be leeches on the hike but what I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer amount.  When hiking I like to take rest breaks every hour or so.  But whenever I stopped for 30 seconds anywhere along the trail, leeches would begin crawling up my boots.  The only leech free places were the large stones at the edge of stream crossings and there weren’t many of those on section 2, so I just powered on without rest.

Section 2 is grade 4 and a tad slower going.  Night fell with still 10km to go before camp.  Night in the forest is dark, even with a head lamp.  With no one around all I could do was march onwards.  A portion of section 2 is an old fire track.  After walking 6km along it in the dark with no markings I began wondering if I’d missed something.  But when I eventually found a marker I was relieved.  With 4km to go I turned down it and walked on 100 metres before having the sudden urge to look behind me.  When I did I found that I had missed another marker in the dark and returned to it.  It sent me off along a thin trail.

After 11 hours on the trail I finally reached camp and sat on the camp table to rest away from the ever-present leeches.  Setting up my tent was interesting.  Leaping off the low table to set up part of it before leaping back on again to flick the leeches from my boots before leaping down to do the next part.  Eventually I got the tent erected and zipped myself in.  I didn’t bother cooking dinner, instead just having some fruit and a salmon pocket.  As I lay down to an exhausted sleep, I discovered a leech on forehead!  I removed it from the tent before finally falling asleep.

Day 2 – 15km

A spontaneous 30km walk with a pack tends to push one’s body, so my sleep was not the most comfortable.  But early in the next morning, I was awake and ready to go.  I brewed a coffee and got to packing. While the leeches were still prevalent, I worked around them, packing up my tent like I had erected, leaping back and forth onto the camp table.

Once I set off I found it impossible to plan for my breaks because of the leeches.  Thankfully there were more creek crossings so I actually got to rest several times on this section.  There were two other variables introduced into the mix today.  Snakes and goannas.

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This 2 metre Carpet Python was a bit of a surprise just lying there across the track but easily avoided.  The few small green tree snakes were cute, but it was the red-bellied black snake sunning itself on the track that caused the most concern.  While only a meter long, I wasn’t going to stay near the aggressive bugger so cut a wide berth around it and continued on.

A red bellied black.  I was not pleased to see him and got away very quickly...

The goannas were generally fairly small and gave away their presence as soon as they heard me by crashing through the undergrowth and climbing a tree.

I arrived at the next camp in the early afternoon and after setting up my tent with few leech incidents, I took lunch and a book to the Summer Falls, right near the campsite.  The tall set of falls have a flat rocky area at the top, so I stripped down, bathed, ate lunch and languished for the afternoon in the warm autumn air.

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Day 3 – 13km

After a brisk morning climb, the trail grew drier and the leech problem went away.  Still, I chose my places to rest.  Once bitten, they say, but in my case more like 10 times bitten…  I think I did well only to be bitten that many times considering the amount of leeches I flicked from my boots and pants.  Rubbing DEET on your boots definitely slowed them down.

Day three seemed less wild, with more vehicle tracks, horse tracks (with plenty of recent poo) and the occasional vehicle.

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Towards the end of the day, there was a steep climb Mount Alan where I was forced to stop every 20 metres or so to catch my breath.  The view from the top of the fire tower was well worth the climb.

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The final hour back to my car was easy and being a Tuesday, was fairly human free.

Overall an interesting three days in the wilderness, a great learning experience and a lot of sweating, but still enjoyable.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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