Australia, Hiking, Mountains
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A Leisurely Stroll and a Hasty Retreat on Mt Coolum

My excursion to Mt Coolum on the Sunshine Coast, 101km north of Brisbane, on the afternoon of my climb up Tibrogargan

MAY 14, 2011

These are rugged, charismatic peaks, but small ones. I reach relatively level ground much earlier than planned and find myself in a lovely part of the world with several hours of sunshine and a rented car at my disposal.

Glasshouse Mts from Mary Cairncross

But a little taste of freedom is never enough; I’m hooked. First off, though, I think another addiction needs my attention. Caffeine.

The tiny car (should’ve splashed out the few extra bucks for a grown-up model) shows signs of impending cardiac arrest as we crawl up into the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. We both sigh audibly creeping over the crest and into the town of Maleny, perched at 450m among rolling hills once densely clothed in subtropical rainforest. That rainforest, regrettably, was full of valuable hardwood — a pitiful remnant of it remains, and those charming, denuded hills are nowadays the scenic backdrop for the milking of dairy cows and tourists.

I stay off the main drag with its inevitable throngs of weekenders shuffling between cheese shops, crystal-mongers and tie-dye emporia. It’s still early and I have Mary Cairncross Reserve almost to myself. A coffee and one of the classic South-East Queensland panoramas:

Expensive real estate

Hard to believe that just an hour earlier I was on the top of that big guy on the far left…

I kill some more time descending to the little township of Mooloolah, trying to find the place where my parents used to live years ago. Then I head coastwards in the bright afternoon, quickly swallowed by the tide of traffic sweeping towards the beaches.

A quick stop at the surf beach of Mooloolaba and there’s my quarry, the rounded volcanic hump of Mt Coolum, a few kilometres north beyond the sand and apartment blocks. Mudjimba — Old Woman Island — is the flattened outcrop offshore.

I feel like an imposter just walking among these tanned and well-shaped torsos, and quickly retreat to the car.

Mt Coolum from Mooloolaba

Surfers a-frolicking

Not long now…

Approaching Coolum

I fluke the approach road at the edge of Coolum to the parking area at the mountain’s base. A 20-minute stroll leads to the summit and its ugly-but-necesary aircraft warning light (there’s an airport nearby).

Mt Coolum is a national park. Although only 208m high, 700-odd plant species have been recorded here. One of them, the Mt Coolum she-oak, Allocasuarina thalassoscopica, is found nowhere else. Thalassoscopica, apparentlymeans “overlooking the sea”. The lords of this little volcanic dome, however, are the wind-stunted thickets of Banksia covering much of the crown.

Near the summit, looking south

Banksias overlooking the blue Pacific

I always hope, ascending a popular peak, that the steady trickle of descending walkers I pass will mean a quiet, lonesome summit. But it’s a gamble, especially on a sweet winter’s day like this one. Today, I’m doing alright, and there are fewer than 10 of us up there. No doubt many of them snorted derisively as my approach compromised their own solitude.

The Maroochy River, and the far-off outlines of the Glasshouses:

Maroochy River & Glasshouse Mtns, far left

Unlike its volcanic cousins to the south-west, Coolum is a volcanic plug that never busted through the surface. According to some smart-arse on Answers.com, it arose around the same time as the rest of the Glasshouse Mountains but unlike Mt Coolum they breached the surface and became towering volcanic plugs inside their central lava tubes. 

But full marks for trying, Coolum.

Lunch

I perch with my sandwiches on a rock and slip into a hazy languid gaze. I spy one of the mountain’s famed residents, a peregrine falcon, hovering with deadly concentration above the eucalypts below. Further south, the beach-house strip jammed between surf and the mercifully marginal wetlands.

My grandparents used to have a small suburban block down there. I dimly remember a gathering of aunts, uncles and cousins doing a weekend working bee. These days that little block undoubtedly lies beneath an expensive beach-front dwelling. But it’s a pleasant memory.

Not far from the mountain’s base, golfers amble along a sliver of manicured turf among the melaleucas. Big red jet aircraft float in silently from the north to a dead stop on an impossibly small strip of tarmac. It’s developed down there, like any seaside area cursed with impressive views, but it could be a lot worse. And it’s good to know this little island remains safe — for now at least.

Of course you can’t take anything for granted when there’s the stench of money in the air. Says the Sunshine Coast Environmental Council:

One of the most significant battles was the Save Mt Coolum campaign when a proposal for a chairlift and restaurant on the top of the mountain was supported by Maroochy Shire Council in 1986. A five year campaign culminated in Mt Coolum becoming a national park in 1990. 

But for that campaign, I could be sitting underneath a Fourex Bitter sign right now, with a conveyor belt dumping a never-ending load of lazy tourists and their wallets and cellphones on the summit.

Looking south from the summit

The timeless silence and my melancholy musings are abruptly machine-gunned into submission as a group of rowdy teens emerge from the trees, shouting, guffawing, swearing, being classic dick-head teen males. Ugly and unnecessary. Heads turn as we death-glare the intruders. Somebody needs to teach these obnoxious shits respect — to the wildlife, to other people, to the mountain itself.

I turn and begin to rise; I feel something-I-will-regret building in my throat.

Then I suck in a deep, soothing lungful of Coolum’s calm and begin to descend, holding it inside me like a view I don’t want to forget.

Retreat

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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