‘Eua – Day 1 – ‘Eua National Park

Of all the islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, ‘Eua is the one with the big national park you can walk around. This was one of the main reasons for coming here, so today I arranged to go on one of the unguided walks through this natural paradise.

Everything is closed on Sunday in Tonga, so this is the perfect day for a hike. There are several hikes on the island, some guided and some unguided. While I am pretty confident with hiking unguided, after several incidents of travellers getting lost and falling into sink holes, the resort prefers that the guided tours are guided. Also, since the guides do not work on Sunday, I arranged to be dropped off for one of the unguided ones.

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I was driven to the edge of ‘Eua National Park and Forest plantation and given a roughly hand drawn map. My driver – the owner of the accommodation – highlighted the path I should take, and some of the points. I then headed off on my way.

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The initial part of the walk is along a gravel road to and old forest nursery. It’s a disused house, but it’s hard to tell as many of the homes on the island look in worse condition. The path splits off and heads to a place called the Hafu Pool. Hafu Pool is a mini dam made with a concrete wall. A small stream runs down the hill in the pool and then beyond via a couple of channels. This would be a good place for swimming.

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Beyond the pool the trail continues for a hundred metres to Big ‘Ovava – a giant Banya tree. The tree grows out of sink hole and you can follow a path down to the bottom where there is a cave. The cave is fairly large with a hole in the ceiling.

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There is a crack in the wall at the base where you can follow the cave in further, but I decided not to follow it, as it was rather slippery and I had a while to go. To exit the cave, you can climb up the Bunya tree and out.

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I was told the path to the west from the Banya tree was overgrown, but I went that way anyway and yes, it’s overgrown, about half way up, I turned back. No point getting lost. I headed back to the old forest nursery and along a 4×4 track that lead up a steady climb into the forest. I followed the designated ribbons and cut through some over grown but obvious paths until I came to the cliff tops at a place called the rats cave. It’s a small, waist high hole in the rock.

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I crawled in and it goes for ten metres before dropping down into a cave. The cave is small, but it opens out onto the cliff face and the views out into the Pacific. Climbing out of the cave is not the cleanest. It’s more of a scramble on your stomach. I emerged covered in dirt.

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Walking through the forest again, I quickly came to the Lokupo lookout, a wooden platform looking out to see. Brilliant views of the Pacific, the beaches and the forest at the base of the cliffs. I walked along to the Louua lookout, a similar platform looking out more to the north. I hung out here for lunch and a rest in the sun.

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I walked back to the start point, mostly downhill, and instead of ringing for a lift back to the resort, I decided to walk – it’s only an extra 3-4km and I’ve been walking anyway, so what’s another 45 minutes?

Dinner at the resort is a Umu – like a Hangi but more Tongan. I was joined by a couple of girls I’d met at Toni’s Guest house for dinner and beers.

Tomorrow, a guided tour.

The Trail Wanderer.

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‘Eua – The Arrival

Today I took the ferry from the Island of Tongatapu to ‘Eua. (said ay-oh-a)
Not much in the way of photos today…

I hung out at the resort for the morning before being driven to the Ferry terminal at 11am. The terminal was a mess of people all wanting to go to ‘Eua, with only 5 of us non-Tongan. Finding any instructions as to how to pay was not the easiest, but we found the lady sitting on a bench hidden among a throng on people.

We were jammed onto the ferry for the 2 and a half hour trip and I dug into a book for the first time this trip. Other people around me found any spot they could to go for a sleep including leaning on me. At one point a Tongan guy in a blue jacket arrived with another chap wearing a primitive life jacket. They spoke a bit – in Tongan – I guess about how to wear the life jacket, but I had no idea what he was saying. Guess if the boat capsizes, I’m gonna die!!! Ah well. Worse ways!

The arrival was a case of grabbing my bags and getting off the boat before the mass of passengers charged for the door. I was picked up and driven to The Hideaway, my home for the next three nights. The place is pretty spacious and right near the beach.

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While today has been a fairly quiet day, tomorrow I will be off hiking through the forests and caves on this wilderness island.

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I settled in for the evening at the resort with a lovely island dinner. I won’t bore you with the details except the crayfish were massive!

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Trail Wanderer

Tongatapu – Day 2 – The Tour

After a long Kava drinking session last night, I slept well into the morning. Unable to get a rental car, I decided to take an Island tour with Toni, the guy who owns the guest houses. We started at 10am at the guest house and headed to the western end of the island. The drive was entertaining enough with a fairly good road built by the Chinese. One thing you notice when driving around the Island is that Tonga has a lot of churches. A LOT of churches. On this trip alone, there are 36 mormon school/churches. In most villages there are at least two churches, often right next to each other. It’s surprising when you think that there are only a handful of people in each village, and the churches are so large. Anyway, the views from the western tip of the island are pretty good and there were flying foxes sleeping in the trees.

From the tip, we headed south a little to a beach where the two young lads with us could swim. There are few actual sandy beaches on Tongatapu island and this fact will become apparent as we made our way further around the island. The tour group enjoyed a short break at the beach before heading on.

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Next stop is the blowholes. Most the southern end of Tongatapu Island south are cliff lines and below them are a secondary, smaller set of cliffs. The crashing of the waves against the lower cliffs sends great waves of spray and water splashing onto the top of them. Over time, holes have formed in the rock plate atop the lower cliffs and as water crashes spray pumps through the blowholes. It’s rather spectacular, especially if the waves strike at an angle, the spray going along the coastline. The blowholes span pretty much the entire of the south side of the island.

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We stopped off at Keliti Beach Resort for lunch, and sat on the verandah watching the bow holes out front. There is a beach out front of the resort, with about 5 metres of sand out front. The food was pretty good.

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Further down the island, we came to Hufangalupe, also known as the Pigeon Doorway. This is apparently where Maui threw his spear at a pigeon and missed forming a hole in the ground and a natural arch where the water rushes in from the sea. The Irish story is slightly different. This is where St Patrick dug his staff to rid the island of snakes.

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Further around the island is Anahulu cave, a stalactite cave that you can walk down into with a pool in the bottom where you can swim. To get it, you duck through a low entry and follow steps cut into the ground. The cave is fairly large and is lit in places by a jury rigged lighting system and dark in others. The pool is quite large. One of the lads in the group went for a swim among the Tongan kids that were there. For T$10 it was worth seeing, even though I didn’t swim.

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At the eastern end of the Island is the Ha’amonga Trilithon. A ‘man-made’ structure built about 800 years ago, that on the longest day of the year apparently the light shines through it on a certain angle. It was also used as a calendar. There are still disputes of how it was constructed and like the egyptian pyramids, the great 30-40 tonne blocks were lifted and placed in perfect alignment. How humans did this in those days there is much speculations, but the trilithon stands.

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Lastly, on the drive home around the bay, we spied fishing pigs. That’s right, pigs out in the bay fussocking for food. The will eat whatever the can find, sand worms, bugs, small fish, crabs etc. But the can be seen all the way around the bay. Amusing.

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This evening I’m off to Friends cafe for dinner with a lady and her sons from the tour. Tomorrow I ferry over to ‘Eua for some hiking and climbing.

Trail Wanderer

Tongatapu – Day 1

The flight from Brisbane to Auckland was 2 and a half hours, arriving at midnight. With the check in time at 5.45am, there wasn’t many options. My parents live in Auckland, so they came and whisked me off home for the evening where I sat chatting with them through the wee hours until it was time to head back to the airport.

The flight to Tongatapu – another 2 and a half hours – had barely taken off when I lapsed into a well needed sleep. With 30 minutes left in the flight, I awakened to a blanket of clouds below. Shortly after, it cleared leaving blue waters as far as I could see from the plane. Then, within moments, the Island of Tongatapu appeared magically from the great span of blue sky and puffy white clouds.

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The roaring waves of the beaches crash against the rocky beaches, but there is not a speck of sand as far as I could see. Palm trees are sprinkled lavishly across the entire island. The International airport is small, as you would expect from a small antisocial set of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and I met the man who would drive me to my accommodation on the island – Toni’s Guest House.

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The weather is warm – for winter, although there aren’t really seasons here. It’s muggy, and coming from a Brisbane winter – where the muggy has gone – it’s good to feel the heat again.

About 70% of the main roads on the island have been sealed, mainly from the Chinese influence in the Kingdom, but the most common site on the trip to the guest house is the Chinese shops along the way, small brick buildings with grills on the from that are filled with all manner of packaged goods. There’s would be one on every street corner, if there were indeed streets to have corners.

Toni’s Guest House is well set up. Several houses alone a dirt road run by an Englishman – Toni – and his Tongan family. The blue room, where I am staying, is a lavish and spacious area to stay. There aren’t many tourists around – they don’t get too many of those here. But even so, all of the rental cars have been taken already – there is a Mormon festival here at present. That is somewhat limiting for what I was intending, but will just go with the for and see how it goes.

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Every visit to the island should include the Friends Cafe, supposedly the best place in town to each at a decent price. I’m only here for two nights before moving on, so without a vehicle to move around in, I am dependant on Toni’s tour tomorrow.

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This afternoon I went for a walk around the main city of Tongatapu. Small when compared to pretty much any other city in the world, but it’s still quaint. Plenty of markets and the occasional flash building. The city is being rebuilt after it was put to the flame during the 2006 riots.

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This island is not know for it’s natural scenery, but am hoping to see some of that which it does exhibit tomorrow on the tour. Until then.. The islands in the bay…
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The Cougals – Cougals National Park

The Cougals National Park is a section of the Springbrook National Park on the border of Queensland and New South Wales. It’s a pair of peaks that rise out of the rainforest, rocky and beautiful.  Note, this is different to the Mount Cougal Cascades, which is not connected to the peaks hike.

The East Peak is the most commonly climbed and is a 8.5km return trip with a moderate grade. The West Peak has a hard grade and is a further 750m across a saddle, giving the total hike of both peaks 10km return.

There is no formal trailhead for the Cougals walk. To get to the beginning of the trail from the Gold Coast cross the border into NSW and then back again along a dirt road named Garden Of Eden Road to a gate where there is room for several cars to park. There are local’s driveways nearby, along with a handmade sign announcing the beginning of the walk and demanding hikers to stay on the track.

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The trail heads west along the fence line between QLD and NSW. The fence has barbed wire along it, but whether it is designed to keep the New South Welsh out of Queensland is unknown. The trail climbs uphill through brush with low branches.

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It had rained this last week, so the dirt here was a little slippery. The brush gave way to tall grasses along the trail, which in turn gave way to thin bamboo growths. The grass overhanging the trail sometimes contained thorny branches. I probably should have worn long pants as I sustained many small scratches by the end of the day.

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The grassy path explodes into rainforest with tall trees and the typical Strangler Figs everywhere. The trail follows the fence line, climbing and descending gentle hills. It’s fairly obvious when you reach the first of the Cougals, the trail climbs steeply with dirt and tree root steps making it slippery after the recent rains. While slipping is the ever-present danger, being snagged on the barbed wire makes climbing even more dangerous.  Caution is suggested.

Atop the steep climb, rocky outcrops stand tall above you with dark brooding caves along its face. We walked along the base of the major outcrop until we found our way to a path that climbed through it. The trail up the rocks was obvious as someone had tied a rope to aid with handholds.

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Once above the rope line, it was an easy climb to the top of the East Cougal and fantastic views of Mt Warning to the South,

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…the rocky face of West Cougal to the West, out to the coast towards the city of Tweed Heads out to the East and Springbrook National Park to the North. On this sunny day, the climb was well worth the effort.

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My companion and I did not stay long, however, deciding to push on before lunch. We climbed down to the saddle between the peaks with only one steep troublesome and slightly precarious climb. The trail crossed the saddle, but unable to find a suitable place to stop we proceeded around the great rocky outcrop known as the West peak, looking for an easy path up.

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The West peak looks to be a hard climb with its many rocky faces. We skirted around it passing a couple of rocky climbing places marked with pink ribbons until we found a dirt path through the undergrowth. It was a little slippery but surrounded by plants that gave plentiful handholds. While finding the route up was not the easiest, climbing up it was fairly straight forward.

Unlike the summit of the East peak, which is small, the West Peak has a large area with meandering pathways and what appeared to be a camp site. We stopped for lunch at the fire pit.

 

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The descent passed quickly, as it always seems to, and before we knew it we were slogging our way through the tall grasses and back to the car.

The Cougals is an awesome hike and I would recommend it to any fit and capable walker. It’s going down as one of my favourites in this region.

The Trail Wanderer.

Mount Mitchell Peaks – Main Range

The Main Range National Park is a section of South East Queensland’s Scenic Rim – a quarter circle of mountains attributed to the prehistoric Tweed volcano that existed here over 23 million years ago. The Main Range is about 115km inland from Brisbane and has plentiful walking tracks along its length.

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This last weekend, while passing through the Main Range, I had a free morning so stopped at Cunningham’s Gap – the location where Cunningham Highway cuts through the mountains. Cunningham’s Gap is the starting point of several well-defined and more casual walks.

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The Major Mitchell Peaks is a 10.2km, 3.5 hour walk, perfect for the time I had. The beginning of the trail starts opposite the car park and meanders its way up the side of the mountain along a forest path.

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The closeness of the forest gives the illusion that the trail is fairly flat, but it’s not.  It’s only the last few hundred metres that the trail begins to climb more steeply, with steps cut into the rock.

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The views to the east are fantastic with the road winding through the forest.  Lake Moogera can be seen between Mt Greville on the right and Mt Edwards.

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To the north, Mt Cordeaux.

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The trail heads back into the forest as it rounds the Western peak and emerges at the top of the Eastern peak, a short pinnacle of rock that’s been paved to prevent further erosion. I basked in the winter sunshine eating lunch with views in both directions.

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I would have stayed longer but the occasional icy gust quickly chilled me. The return walk passed quickly and the tranquillity of the trail was broken by the harsh sounds of trucks going past on the Cunningham Highway.  On reaching the highway, I returned to my car and continued on my trip.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Mount Tunbubudla East

Glass House Mountains National Park – again.

After spending 3 days wandering the trail of the Glass House Mountains, I’m back to climb one that doesn’t have one.  This time I’m walking with my hiking group and the mountain is Mount Tunbubudla East, a 300m tall, off track climb and is rated hard, mainly due to it being trackless.

Getting to the mountain is a mission in of itself. The old ‘major road’ that it’s off is actually a boggy dirt road and is untraversable without an off-road vehicle.  We parked at the entrance and as a group walked about a kilometre to the muddy starting point. We waited for others to arrive and find us before we headed off into the untracked grass at the base of the mountain.

I led the way, pushing a path through the long grass for the others to follow.  At the beginning there was a vague track, but this soon disappeared. The initial portion of the climb was up tree laden, broken ground. With no track, I had to evaluate each step and find suitable gaps between tree branches.

The climb became steeper before flattening out the higher we got, but because of the thick tree cover we were unable to see the views. As we approached the top we came to a large rocky area which did allow us a better view, north across the other Glass House Mountains.

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We reached the top and sat for lunch at the rocky cairn. I surveyed the route leading towards the West peak but found it too steep to descend. Alone it would have been fine, but with a large group in tow I made the call to return the way we’d come. This disappointed some, as the climbing down in that direction would have led to the climbing of the smaller,  steeper twin.

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The climb down held the same issues as the climb up – a lack of trail – and it’s also harder to see where you’re putting your feet. I again led, picking our way down the side of the mountain. We arrived at the base in short order and walked across the needle covered grass until we reached the muddy road. We could have climbed the other peak, but the mutual decision was not to. A kilometre later we were at the cars and headed off for a well-deserved beer at the Beerwah Hotel.

Trail Wanderer