In search of koalas

27 to 28 August 2019

Main Beach to Binna Burra Lodge via the Hinze Dam, 56km

The Tamborine Mountains had given us a taste of the isolation we could find away from the coast and after a couple of nights in the tent we were feeling more intrepid. We found a campsite in the nearby Lamington National Park and decided we were ready to try bush camping.

Climbing up behind the Gold Coast we stopped for lunch at the Hinze Dam. Full of 311,000 mega litres of water, it would take 60,000 years to empty through a single kitchen tap. It is the main source of water for the Gold Coast region.

Our campsite at Binna Burra Lodge was amongst the trees. We had the tent up this time in 28 minutes. We’re getting the hang of it! For a short time our only company were the many Bush Turkeys strutting around in search of scraps.

But before long our peaceful forest spot was shattered by the crash and buzz of 24 students from a Queensland Steiner School and they would be staying the two nights we were there. Their noisy, gangly teenage antics were more entertaining than irritating in the end.

That night we cooked a Thai green curry in the pitch dark – it gets dark at 6ish here – and we’re starting to get used to cooking with head torches on! Whilst sitting out after dinner we had a visit from a very friendly possum who sniffed around before moving on.

Contrary to our fears our teenage neighbours were well behaved over night. No doubt exhausted by their 20km hike during the day they were all in bed and asleep by 9pm. We even got a “Goodnight, random people” when one of them shouted goodnight to everyone in the style of the Waltons before bed.

Hearing that the teenagers were also intending to walk the Caves Circuit Trail the next morning we gulped down our breakfast and headed off before them. We walked first through ecalypt forest where we were promised koalas but saw none. (We are starting to think wild koalas are a myth.) As we descended deeper into the rainforest the path became quite vertiginous, falling away steeply to one side.

We found lots of different lychen and moss

and more enormous trees.

Shortly before we got the caves we met a couple walking the trail the other way round. They had just seen a couple of koalas about 500m further along the path. We were determined to see them too.

But first we found ourselves at the caves. More like overhangs in the cliff faces they towered above us. The Kweebani cave was used by the local Yugambeh people for cooking and shelter. Their descendants invited us to pause and imagine the smells of the wood fires but another sign warned of rockfalls and against stopping so we didn’t linger too long.

We emerged back into more open ecalypt forest – koala territory and the area the couple had seen the koalas cross their path. Clearly they had hidden themselves in the trees because try as we might we could see no evidence of them.

In the tea hut at the end of the trail we caught up with the koala spotters and they showed us their photos as proof. So we can say we saw koalas in the Lamington National Park – just on the screen of an iPhone!

Another great disappointment to me was that the tea hut in the Lamington National Park did not sell lamingtons – that classic Australian cake which I have yet to try since getting here.

After lunch we took a shorter trail closer to the old lodge buildings. Still as vertiginous and with endless varieties of trees, the path circled the lodge, and when the trees gave way, gave great views down to the valley and the coast. After the morning’s koala disappointment we disbelieved the kangaroo caution sign on the road but were in fact rewarded by a sighting of this little wallaby not far from our campsite.

At 800m above sea level, it was freezing in the tent overnight but I countered it on night two by wearing my newly acquired Binna Burra hat and all of my clothes all at once!

The forecast was for more cold temperatures and even rain so we decided to play it safe and book ourselves into an Air BnB back down on the coast. And that meant crossing the State border into New South Wales…

Post script: early on in this trip we started to get a very real sense of the environmental challenges Australia is experiencing. Talk of drought and forest fires is never far away. We had seen and smelt fires burning from a distance. A fire on Bribie Island shortly after our recent visit saw dozens of kangaroos die on the beach trying to escape the flames.

But we were just devastated to hear that, only a week after our visit, the Binna Burra Lodge and trails we had walked had been destroyed by fire. Everyone had been evacuated safely beforehand but we are heartbroken to think of the destruction of those beautiful trees and plants and all the wildlife, the possum who visited, the pesky Bush turkeys, the koalas we didn’t see. We are just so grateful to have spent a short time amongst them.

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