Sundown, on the Queensland/New South Wales border, is largely trackless. The northern entrance is four-wheel drive-only; the Broadwater end where we entered has a small camping area on the banks of the Severn. Further exploration is via the banks or the side-creeks snaking through narrow gorges into the hills.
EASTER SATURDAY, 2011
I haven’t realised how much I miss this. In our borrowed car we head south-west of Brisbane, clear the traffic and after a brief hold-up at roadworks cresting Cunningham’s Gap, are soon gliding through the Granite Belt: stone-fruit, grape and apple country.
A late lunch in Stanthorpe, site of the lowest temperature ever recorded in Queensland (-10.6C, in 1961) is rendered even later by a half-hour wait for our order. We’re in the country now:
We reach Sundown, appropriately enough, in the last hour or so of good light…
..the time the local fauna deems it prudent to emerge and graze:
The campground is full: Easter, which this year adjoins Anzac Day. Five days of freedom. I prefer Easter to Christmas: milder daytime temperatures. It’s notorious for killjoy rain, but this year we are very lucky indeed.
It’s our first time here, though we’ve explored nearby Girraween, famed for its granite boulders. Today we waste little time, with the sun sinking fast, trotting down to the Severn River, where the manmade pathways end.
Permanent Waterhole is aptly named. Two guys pass with fishing rods, heading back to camp, the last humans we see today. We turn left at the first side-creek, Ooline, named after a threatened rainforest tree, and start walking.
Walking? Well, rock-hopping and pool-skirting — the favoured local variant. I’ve been stuck in my suburban bunker far too long. Great to move the legs again with all my essentials snug against my back.
We gain gradual height, walls narrow and steepen. Flat spots for camping are petering out fast. Scrounging around near a big rock pool, we find something acceptable. Still pretty full from that country lunch, I make some soup and we talk in the dark listening to the water trickling into the pool.We turn in early.
Sunday is spent following the creek: in it, across it, around its numerous steep-sided pools:
When the sun peers insolently over the gorge rim, it gets hot and bright. All day, and the next, we come upon scattered bones and skulls. “We could assemble a complete skeleton,” Chris observes. We could, but we’ll never get to Blue Gorge Creek. Our plan involves following Ooline to the north-western boundary, then a fence to the next creek, down it to the Severn… Well, plans are best kept malleable.
Lots of remnant prickly pear in Sundown, a feral cactus that once ravaged much of the country. It almost looks like it belongs here:
Pretty soon we enter a Lost World of gigantic arachnids, their nets stretched between trees and gorge walls, well-situated to ensnare through-traffic, including hikers. Most are golden orb-weavers, which were a part of my childhood in the mangrove forests of coastal Queensland. I’ve never seen so many inland.
Wikipedia says that: the Australian golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila edulis) has been observed on windy, rainy days dismantling the lower part of its web to allow strong wind to flow through a large opening in the web without breaking it. Golden Orb Weavers are known to occasionally eat prey as big as small birds.
A Conan-Doylish fantasy of spiders dumping those discarded bones. Creepy shudders busting through webs, eight little feet pitter-pattering on your scalp…
We’re occasionally forced by tightening gorges to climb up and around forested bluffs…
These detours and the constant spider jams slow us down. The creek tightens to a thickly vegetated stream…
Frustrated, we decide it’s time for some bush-bashing, and leave the creek way too early to attempt to find the fence. This costs us an hour. I miss the security and purpose of a trail; I miss the rhythm of real walking. It’s hot. We follow a gully down to the creek again and stay on it.
We stop for lunch, and again, later, for some water. It’s brownish and not too pretty, and I dose it with iodine. Mmm, iodiney.
At last we exit the creek and luck upon a crumpled old fence. Fallen trees have maimed it, and local marsupials seem to have constructed their own underpass:
At last we reach a fire trail and a bigger, better-maintained fence. First, though, we have to negotiate a midget version:
This, I now know, is Gasteracantha fornicata, a type of spiny orb-weaver. Apparently, in 1775, it was the first Australian spider to be named and classified. Well, it would arouse interest.
We follow the fence south-west in the late afternoon. The prickly pear has the apt Lost World or King Kong quality shared by the spiders. I’m wearing gaiters for snake protection, but we don’t see one all weekend:
We camp near this broken cup. No, I don’t understand it either.
Another evening of conversation in the fireless dark beneath a glorious swathe of southern stars.
Time to hit the sack. The lyrics of Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s Sundown in my head as I curl up with a book, headlamp, and an assortment of delicious snacks…
There’s no one in this world for me
There’s never gonna be
There’s no one in this world needs me
There’s never gonna be
Yet sometimes in my dreams I hear…
I miss you, sundown
I need you, sundown