These hills lie but a little way inland, and not far from each other, they are remarkable for the singular form of their elevation, which very much resembles a glasshouse for this reason I called them the Glass Houses… ~ Extract from Cook’s journal, May 17, 1770
The Glass House Mountains towering above pineapple and macadamia plantations are an iconic vista here in South-East Queensland. A dozen or so imposing humps and spires and cones, remnant plugs of eroded volcanoes, jut from an otherwise level plain inland from the surf and sand and chai-latte-flavoured holiday strip of the Sunshine Coast.
Although only an hour’s drive north of Brisbane, you feel the very atmosphere change as these weathered hulks with their marvellous Aboriginal names — Beerwah, Beerburrum, Coonowrin, Tibrogargan — start to fill your windscreen. I always find myself transported back 20-odd million years to when this wondrous landscape was alive with gas and smoke and bubbling lava, valleys of fantastic fronds below quivering with the passage of resident megafauna…
I was born 20 million years too late.
As every Queensland school-kid knows (or used to know), the mountains received their modern name courtesy of Captain Cook, who, from miles out to sea, thought they resembled the glass foundries of his native Yorkshire. I’ve never seen how he made such a connection, unless they were really run-down foundries, or he caught the mountains on a misty day…but the name is a great connection to the founding of white settlement in this country.
The Aboriginal connection, of course, goes way back. The area, according to the National Parks website, “was a special meeting place where many Aboriginal people gathered for ceremonies and trading. This place is considered spiritually significant with many ceremonial sites still present and protected today…The people here planned large festivals and gatherings such as bunya nut festivals at times when local food sources were peaking…Early missionaries in this area saw gatherings of thousands of people.”
Size-wise, these peaks are babies. The tallest, Beerwah, is a minute 556m. But they more than make up for their diminutive stature with their individuality and presence. I’ve been thinking about climbing ape-like Tibrogargan for years. Unfortunately, as a quick Google reveals, this peak has been the scene of numerous rescues and accidents. The eastern side offers technical climbing, and the “walking” (western) side is very steep and, well, rocky. Cue the rescue choppers, the 6:00 news bulletins and the usual bleating about wasted rescue resources.
My goal, apart from enjoying some glorious early-winter sunshine, is not to feature in such a bulletin. I want to meet that Great Ape that’s fascinated me since childhood…
I pick up my tiny rented bubble-car and am on the road north at 7:30. It feels great to be moving again, busting free of my safe and predictable Saturday routine, a week of work blues blowing out the window. I plucked a few CDs from the shelves as I left home; for some reason classic rock seemed an appropriate choice along with the alt-folk (or whatever it is) I usually go with, and Alice Cooper’s comic-theatrics sound about right as my bubble floats out of the northern suburbs. School’s out for summer.
I quickly clear the ugly tourist rind of Go Kart Parks and psuedo-Australiana and turn onto Steve Irwin Way (his zoo is the most modern landmark in the area) far sooner than anticipated, into the shady expanses of Pinus radiata monoculture surrounding the peaks; rounding a bend, the first glimpse of the hulking shoulders of Tibrogargan is as startling as ever:
I pull in at a farm entrance for a good look at the big ape. Its Aboriginal name — Tibrogargan — reputedly means “biting grey glider”. I suppose I can see a vague resemblance, but it’s a lot easier to see a brooding King Kong gazing seaward. As kids with our faces to the glass on weekend drives, it was always “The Big Gorilla”. It seemed huge then, and it still does. The goal today is that sloping brow above the ape’s right eye:
Five minutes later I pull into a little parking area at the monkey’s rear, barely 60km from home. A dozen cars, and it’s still shy of 8:30. I pull on my day-pack and hit the trail running:
Five minutes of gentle slope and the bush ends as the rock begins. There’s a small group in front of me and I give them some space. When I reach them on a ledge grouping for a photo, I offer my services and move on ahead. The rock steepens and though it’s certainly not scary, you have to place hands and feet carefully.
Already the views of some of Tibro’s offspring are fantastic. In Aboriginal legend, Tibrogargan, the father, and Beerwah, the mother, had several children: most of the other peaks, including the Tunbubudla Twins, and Coonowrin, which as kids we always knew as Crookneck. Even on these sheer walls, plant life prospers. Grass trees and banksias thrive in ledges and cracks, waiting for the sun to swing around their host.
It’s a fun ascent, fingers and running shoes always probing for cracks and nubs. Hands, feet, and countless centuries of running rainwater have polished little runnels in the rock-face, and up or down in rain or darkness would keep you on your guard.
Too soon, the breezy summit, densely clothed in eucalyptus, banksia and grass-trees. No views here, but a short stroll eastward, through the hissing, swaying foliage, and…
..I emerge onto the gorilla’s forehead:
Three friendly teens from the Sunshine Coast have lugged a barbecue grill up here and are just finishing off a frankly disgusting-looking breakfast of greasy sausages?! At 8:50am? Gazing out at the 35km-long spine of Moreton Island, I tell them about my walks there; one youngster, intrigued, demands details.
I set up my tiny beer-can stove and put the kettle on; the kids are impressed. I see lightweight converts in the making…
The view encompasses 180 degrees or more, from other volcanic stumps including Mt Coolum, next on the day’s agenda, to the coastal townships with their glistening surf, cargo ships anchored in a patient row offshore, to the high-rise tombstones of distant Brisbane, just visible to the left of Beerburrum:
Wikipedia: in the language of the Indigenous Kabi nation, bir means green parrot and burru mountain. The explorer Matthew Flinders climbed Beerburrum in 1799 to take sightings; he tried and failed to climb this very peak the following day:
I sit up here an hour basking in the panorama and the peculiar peacefulness of mountaintops in good weather. I definitely need to get away on weekends more often. So many marvels, so accessible with a set of rented wheels. I don’t like myself much in my working disguise, but I feel at ease here. …
A few other walkers come and go, including this tanned local who’s clambered up barefoot:
I feel so overdressed:
A couple of walkers recommend Beerwah. Officially off-limits to walkers for safety reasons, it’s well worth risking the fine, they say. An hour or so of exposed ascent, even better views from the top. An early start is recommended or you’ll fry on that shadeless wall.
Maybe one day. Now, I suppose I’d better be heading down. I have a 300km limit on my rental car, and an appointment on Mt Coolum to keep…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote