Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Giraween National Park with Paul, Catriona and Aaron

Look who's van is fullest!

On Friday morning we drove south back to Paul and Cat’s for the planned weekend away in Girraween National Park, another approx. 250km south-west of Brisbane right on the NSW border at the northern end of New England. It was a pretty miserable drive back as it was raining and we wondered whether they would cancel it - we’d be OK in our van, but they will be in their tent!

Our camp on Saturday morning
Paul had checked the weather forecast and assured us the weekend would be great, so we began the task of packing for an Aussie style camping weekend, where everything is taken. Our little van was crammed with camping stuff, leaving Cat’s 4x4 (I don’t know what sort it is, maybe a Honda or something – very nice car!) (It’s an X-Trail, but I still don’t know what that makes it!) for Cat and Jackie to pack with food and stuff later.(I thought that was the plan, but they’d still managed to half fill it before we tried loading food, bedding, clothes, us…..) Cat was working on Friday so would follow us down with Jackie and Aaron later (Jackie had to collect Aaron from school and apparently he trotted out, waving to Jackie and happily grabbing his scooter from the bike sheds and scooting home with her), so Paul and I left around 2:00pm to set up camp.

All ready for our walk on Saturday
It’s a 3.5hour drive and it gets dark around 5:30pm, so we got there as the last glimmer of daylight faded and in the pouring rain. Following Paul’s instructions and getting as many torches and lights on the space we had chosen, we assembled a 24’ x 20’ tarpaulin (7.3m x 6m) on 7’ high poles to form a roof, lit his charcoal fire can to try and keep warm (it was not much above freezing point) then erected his 6m long 2 bedroomed tent with huge living area in the middle (they don’t do things by halves!), got out the chairs, table, thick duvet jackets, satellite phone (there was no mobile phone coverage), opened a bottle of wine and awaited their arrival.

A King Parrot in our campsite
Aaron leading the way over the granite slabs
They arrived about 8:15pm, after the rain had stopped and the moon came out and accused us of being tipsy (the very idea!), warmed the sausagemeat risotto Jackie had cooked and had a great evening eating and drinking. (We had no rain from when they left to us arriving on site, so were they going for the sympathy vote or what?)

Aaron and Jackie share a moment
Its no good, it won't budge
The night was very cold, the coldest we had experienced in Australia, but it dawned clear blue sky and warmed quickly when the sun came up, to the dizzy height of at least 17 C! We had set up camp in the Castle Rock camping area, right in the middle of the park which is an 11,800 hectare area of massive granite outcrops, precariously balanced boulders, colourful rock slabs and soaring stone arches all covered with a eucalypt forest, sedgelands and heathlands, (guess who’s been reading the brochure?) it was an amazing place, a scrambling and walking paradise in fantastic scenery, what more could we ask! (But it was an amazing place!)

The pyramid
The very delicate ascent
The Pyramid was our target for the day Paul told us. The three of us would do it direct, Cat and Aaron would go up the side, so off we went in blissful ignorance through the forest, over granite slabs next to the creek with every turn producing a great photograph of perfect reflections in a still water and occasionally rapids over the granite, until we came to the pyramid. That’s what it is, a huge granite pyramid about 300m high with sides angled from 45⁰ to at least 60⁰ (maybe more).
Were we glad to reach the top!
The granite was very grippy, but there were almost no holds, except the odd depression and it was damp from the rain the day before! Some younger ‘go for it’ lads told Paul they were going to do it direct, but one by one they moved out to the sides (still very steep and exposed, but less so). 

Paul, Aaron and Jackie on the summit
Paul however, followed by us (without us really thinking this through) went straight up through the middle. The first part wasn’t too steep and we walked steeply up. Then it got very steep (and damp!), we were now a long way up on nothing but a rough surface angled at 60⁰! Paul slipped a bit, but steadied himself and it slowly dawned on us that if we slipped we would take each other out and slide 300m down a rough granite surface!

Cat and Jackie on the summit
The best hand holds were like holding a coin glued to the ground and it was necessary to place the feet onto the bumpiest bit, hoping it doesn’t slip while looking for the next bump to hold with fingers. What kind of an insane idea was this!?! No wonder we were virtually the only people to go ‘direct’! Paul did admit afterwards that that was the wettest he had done it direct and I think he was probably a bit worried!  Only one of the ‘go for it’ lads made it fully up the direct approach looking quite ashen faced, ‘are you climbers?’ he asked, ‘yes’ we said, ‘that explains it’ he said. ‘Look up and smile’ Paul said after announcing he had got to a relatively safe bit, mmm! 

Amazing boulders around the summit area
Still around the summit area
Anyway, we got to the top without incident making a mental note not to go down that way and heading onto the summit where the views were spectacular. We were looking over to a second pyramid and the granite landscape beyond where improbably perched boulders and outcrops called ‘The Sphinx’, ‘Turtle Rock’, ‘Castle Rock’ and ‘Mount Norman’ all looked fantastic. There is so much to do here, you could go back time and time again and still not do it all.

The view of the second pyramid from the cave. There's climbing on that flake apparently
After scrambling around, following Aaron, who seemed totally unfazed by the exposure, we had a snack and headed down the ‘normal’ route, which was just as exposed, but perhaps slightly less steep with rocks here and there you could hide behind to take away the continual exposure of the ‘direct’ route. Aaron was in the lead, ambling down sometimes with his hands in his pockets prompting Paul (and us) to tell him to be careful! 

The natural rock arch
It was quite nice to get down, taking a detour through the forest to look at the natural stone arch and then heading back to camp greatly exaggerating our stories! (nothing new there then?!)

A camp kangaroo with her little loey. Can you see its legs hanging out of her pouch? Its in the wrong way round, normally the head pokes out, but not in this case. Jackie got a picture with its head out, but it was too blurred
We saw this outside the pub while shopping
Catriona’s ready prepared Chorizo and lentil stew needed no attention, so while the boys went off looking for new charcoal and white wine, (not to mention giving the van its little ‘boost’) we had a quick spritzer each to tidy up the remains from last night, what do you mean it’s only 15.30? Aaron went and introduced himself to the boy next door, who despite probably being only 6 months older than him was twice his size, but they seemed to get on famously. On the boys arrival back, nibbles and mulled wine were on the cards (well we had bought Queenslands last packet of cinnamon sticks on our journey down the previous night, so rude not to use it, but yes mulled wine in June, decidedly odd, but yummy and good for warming the hands!) 

Night badminton. The blue light is the moving shuttlecock
A game of boule followed by a quick game of badminton with illuminated, colour changing shuttlecocks was enjoyed by all (well us, but possibly not the neighbours!) obviously helped by the mulled wine consumption. Once darkness had fallen we decided to go to the creek looking for Platypus (again) however we were too noisy and too cold to really make an effort though, but we were then ready for dinner and yummy it was too. 

The walk out on Sunday morning
A slightly earlier night, warmer too due to the addition of our third sleeping bag (and the loan of a hot water bottle) meant a slightly earlier start. Heading off to Castle Rock with the intention of some climbing, another great walk with fantastic views from the summit, however not really suitable for climbing (even on a top rope as the roundy razor sharp granite would have trashed the rope) we set up to teach Aaron to abseil. Three different routes were done ranging from a very gently slope to a vertical drop. Aaron loved it, everyone else had a go (except me) and onlookers were very impressed. 

In front of the 'Devil's Backside'
Aarons first abseil
Aaron did really well, full of confidence, so that is all to the good. Back to dismantle camp and start the journey back home, it felt just like being at home – dashing away on a Friday night and dashing back on a Sunday afternoon. ‘SuperCat’ had cooked bolognaise in advance so once the vehicles were unpacked we all just collapsed, until it was our turn to read to Aaron who apparently had been very upset on the way home, not wanting us to leave! (We’ll miss you too sweetie). 

With a bit of encouragement from dad...
What a great way to spend a day!
Now its getting serious for Aaron


Paul packing up his tent

At that point also had to say farewell to Cat, the only one amongst us going to work Monday (up at 05.30!), that was really hard as she has been such a star, looking after us so well, Paul also put in a lot of effort, recce ing our first w/end away, and organising someone else to do his open houses on the second Saturday. We’ve loved being with them, it’s been a real home from home.

Bye bye Paul, Cat and Aaron, we're going to miss you!
After abusing the washing machine, and getting a little bit organised, our flights Cairns to Melbourne are booked, along with a hire car and a hotel for our last night in Oz, we finally left, heading inland, to try and see some ‘outback’. Toowoomba last night and Roma tonight, after a long drive (to us) today, only stopping briefly in Miles at the information place for a coffee, where there was…… a cat! My second in 5 weeks!

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