Wallangarra Ridge is a little visited section of Girraween National Park in Queensland’s Granite Belt. It is a spectacular landscape of granite domes, extensive rock slabs and giant balancing tors. The dominant vegetation is a low Eucalypt woodland still showing the fire scars from 2019 bushfire season. As the bulk of the walk is off-track , some navigation skills are needed.
Girraween means ‘ Place of Wildflowers ‘
The Wallangarra Ridge sits at 1100 metres, while predictably cold in winter it was still quite warm during the day. Late March, 29 degrees centigrade. The scrubby vegetation made long-sleeved shirts and trousers a wise satorial option.
The Parks website provides this irresistible description of the Wallangarra Ridge : “… breathtaking views sweep over to the Wallangarra township and distant rolling hills. Soak up the vistas of nearby Mallee Ridge, the giant monolith known as The Turtle and Girraween’s highest peak, the majestic Mt Norman…On a hot afternoon, cool breezes waft through the lush gullies between Mallee Ridge and Wallangara Ridge . Listen out for the rustling of bell-fruited mallee…You’ll soon forget the gruelling climb! “
The geology of Girraween is not particularly complex. The area is the remnant of a pluton of Stanthorpe Adamellite ( a quartz monzonite ), which is a major unit of the New England Batholith, intruded as a molten mass in the Early Triassic, some 225 mya.
As the overlying rock was eroded the granite mass expanded setting up stress fractures forming regular rectangular joint patterns. These rectangular erosional jointlines had a strong influence on the development of Girraween’s landforms. Girraween’s domes, tors, rock slabs and rectilinear drainage pattern are typical of granitic landform assemblages throughout the world.
After a long five hour drive from the coast we pulled into the Park HQ on a pretty warmish afternoon. A hurried lunch and we were heading south on the Castle Rock-Mt Norman track, more uphill than I wanted. Neither my fellow hiker, John, nor I were keen to haul in water supplies for two days of walking and camping so the plan was collect some on the way to Wallangarra Ridge. Finding said water supply proved elusive as most gulleys and creek beds were dry,. Surprising given recent rains in a strong La Nina season . But a little bit of detective work and some scrub bashing unearthed a trickle hidden in a glade of ferns. Enough to provide an initial five litres each. Tomorrow we would have to replenish the supply. But our 1:25000 topo map showed nothing in the way of perennial streams in our intended camping zone. All we had to do now was to haul the additional five kilograms on the 250 m climb to the The Sphinx and then to the track terminus at The Turtle. From here it was all off-track.
Navigationally, it was simply a matter of following our noses around the eastern cliff line of The Turtle and heading SSW along the 1100 m contour line. This involved a fair bit of bush-bashing and picking the easiest route between and around the large outcrops of granite. To avoid too much bush-bashing, we took to open rock slabs whenever the opportunity arose.
By late afternoon, our enthusiasm waning, we propped at a rare flattish patch of sand nestled between rock slabs and boulders and relatively clear of burnt out scrub. It was too late to go galivanting around looking for the Wallangarra Ridge Remote Campzone still some one and a half kilometres to our South-West and 100 metres down in a decidedly scrubby looking valley. I’m not sure why camping down there would offer any positives.
After several cups of black tea to rehydrate, we ferretted out all our warm gear, donning trousers, thermals, fleece coats and beanies and wandered out to take in a spectacular a red sunset .
Our rocky eyrie looked out over the Queensland /New South Wales township of Wallangarra, some six kilometres to the south. In the far distance was the Roberts Range, marking the boundary of Girraween’s sister park, Sundown.
The Roberts Range
The Roberts Range is a 1000 metre divide that separates the Severn River to the north from its southern neighbour, Tenterfield Creek. Both are tributaries of the Dumaresq River. It is named after Francis Edwards Roberts, the Queensland Government Surveyor who was involved in the 1863 border survey together with his New South Wales counterpart , Isaiah Rowland. There are plans afoot to expand the Protected Area Estate in the Granite Belt to include the Roberts Range area and help link Girraween and Sundown National Parks. Another concept under consideration is a Border Walking Trail along the easement of the Qld – NSW border.
This easement is a well maintained 4WD track that parallels the border fence, technically a Dog Check Fence. The walk along the fenceline easement is a classic high range roller-coaster, up and down…up and down. A winter walk without parallel. Believe me when I tell you that it is best avoided over summer. Read more about the Roberts Range walk at the end of this post.
Back on the Wallangara Ridge we had no campfire. A cold WSW wind sent us scuttling off to our tents, lulled to sleep by forgettable podcasts and the occasional hooting of Boobook owls.
5.30 am . Rolled out to another crispy Granite Belt morning. John was already up, cranking up the billy for our coffee followed by a substantial bowl of thick creamy porridge. I my case, a tried and tested mixture of rolled oats, raw muesli, sultanas, plump dried apricots, shredded coconut and lashings of powdered milk. Fuelled up, we were up and running ( walking ) by 8.00 am.
Today was off-track to reach the high point of Wallangarra Ridge SSW of our campsite, as the crow flies. If only we were crows. We had read somewhere that the summit is marked by a small rock cairn, from which we were promised extensive views across the park and down to Wallangarra township.
But first… find some water. Our thought bubble of siphoning and filtering stagnant water from shallow pits and pans ( sometimes referred to as gnammas ) in the granite didn’t appeal.
But the gods smiled. Several La Nina seasons meant that we should stumble across a trickle in nearby swales. Which we did. In a swale no more than 500 metres downhill from our camp. Pretty unusual.
The swales are clothed in ‘Gully’ open woodland which develops in sheltered run-off situations. I identified a few of the scorched dominants: Banksia spinulosa, a Callistemon , Eucalyptus brunnea and a dense regenerating understorey.
From the scrubby swale our line of travel took us out and up onto our morning tea vantage point where we propped in the shade at the top of a series of rock slabs stairs. A short distance to the west we could make out the highest part of Wallangarra Ridge . John scanned along its skyline with his telephoto lens until he located a mini summit cairn. Behind us and off to the north were easily the best views of The Sphinx and Turtle in the whole park.
Twenty minutes later we stood on the summit boulder at about 1140 metres. To our south was Bald Mountain ( 952 m ) and six kilometres in the distance was the border town of Wallangarra.
Wallangarra is a small town of 500 0n the border of Qld and NSW. It grew up close to the site a 1859 border survey marked tree, indicating the border between Qld and NSW.
It is on Ngarabal country with Wallangarra said to mean ‘ lagoon’. I have read that wallan means water and guran means long. Long water as in billabong or lagoon.
Meanwhile, back on Wallangarra Ridge, we drifted off northwards down the toe of the ridge in search of the mythical official Wallangarra Ridge Remote Bush Camping Zone. Unsucessfully. After an hour of thrashing around in the dense regrowth in the vicinity of the GPS coordinates provided, we gave up. Anyway, there was no chance a slotting a tent in this stuff. Bit of a navigational mystery actually. According to the Parks website … ” there is no defined camp site and access is via difficult cross country walking “. We turned for home, intent on finding enough water to see us through another day.
Back at the ranch we settled in for a decidedly leisurely and late lunch, several brews of hot black sweet tea and a nanna nap in the shade. Though the latter was moveable feast as we searched for the deepest shade.
Come late afternoon, John sloped off, camera on alert. No doubt off to hunt down any unsuspecting Lyrebirds and Button Quail which he was convinced were scratching through the heaps of leaf litter. Meanwhile I wandered around checking out all the nearby rock slabs hoping for anything of geologic or botanic interest .
The Superb Lyrebird
( Menura novaehollandiae )
On a previous trip to Girraween we had been fortunate to see and hear Lyrebirds at nearby Mt Norman, so weren’t surprised to hear them again close to our campsite.
The Lyrebird is one of nature’s best mimics. It can imitate a variety other bird species such as cockatoos, butcherbirds and whipbirds. But it doesn’t draw the line at bird calls. It can reproduce the sound of saws, guns and engines.
One Lyrebird story I read happened at a Victorian timber mill. The mill used three blasts of a whistle to signify an accident and six blasts to notify a fatality. One day the local Lyrebird blasted out six whistles, no doubt creating considerable workplace disruption.
I have been tricked by a Lyrebird mimicing the sound of a ‘reversing’ truck. Our hikers’ camp in Sundown National Patk was hidden in scrub with a small 4WD campround nearby. The sound of a ‘reversing’ vehicle at the 4WD campground attracted our attention as it had persisted for well over fifteen minutes. I waddled up to check things out, thinking perhaps a 4WD had bogged or some such problem. No vehicle in sight but the ‘reversing’ sound continued from the undergrowth. The mystery of the phantom 4WD camper was solved. Lyrebird.
Interestingly, scientists know that some mimicry is of now extinct species, passed on from parent to chick over the generations.
Another sunset worthy of the ABC TV weather report , a decent feed, a chin wag and it was all over for today. My Macpac micro green tent beckoned.
5.30 am. Time to roll out into the pre-dawn twilight. My pocket thermometer hovering on 10o C with a cool Southwester riffling across our campsite. A bite to eat then we struck camp, packing our gear and leaving tents out to dry.
Our walk today was off to our east onto an unnamed adjacent ridge, aligned in the same NE/SW configuration as the Wallangarra Ridge. At 1220 metres it is nearly 100 metres higher than Wallangarra Ridge and more densely vegetated. The attraction was that from its summit we should be able to see across to the complex that makes up Mt Norman ( 1266 m ) and the Mallee Ridge ( 1230m ). Maybe our Girraween sojourn for next year.
Our line of travel took us initially over lower rock slabs then climbed into mature stringybark forest, habitat for a Wallaroo, a large furry macropod, which took off when we disturbed it. We wound in and out of huge granite boulders before fetching up on a narrow summit plateau at 1200 metres. Perched on the plateau were jumbles of huge tors topping out at over 1220 metres. Naming rights… Wallaroo Ridge.
Wallaroo aka Euro
Our Wallaroo ( Osphranter robustus ) was, as the specific name implies , sturdy ( and shaggy-coated ) . They are generally solitary and nocturnal. The Eastern Wallaroo is not on the threatened species list and has an extensive territorial range in Australia’s Great Dividing Range.
We scrambled to the top of the highest tor for morning tea. Now we had impressive clear easterly views to the domes of Mallee Ridge and Mt Norman. Mt Norman was named after Sir Henry Norman, Governor of Queensland from 1889 to 1895. Getting to the Mallee Ridge and thence to Mt Norman from here looked like a hard slog. Maybe one for the future. Fortunately, there is an easier way, from the Mt Norman track. Although the twin domes ( 1230 m ) at the SW end of the ridge looked a tad formidable. My Hema Girraween map describes the walk as… ” easy rock slopes “. I live in hope .
Bell-fruited Mallee & the Mallee Ridge
While traversing the lower rock slabs, we had spotted a line of Bell-fruited Mallees growing in a jointline which had retained a bare minimum of mulch that was enough to sustain a viable pocket of Mallees. These were the mallee Eucalyptus codoncarpa , that also grows on the nearby Mallee Ridge, and after which it was named. In Girraween, the Bell-fruited Mallee is only found on Mt Norman and rocky outcrops to its west and south- west. Despite its somewhat restricted distribution in Girraween it is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as being of ‘least concern.’
Morning tea rest over, we backtracked to our campsite where we polished off our lunch leftovers and the inevitable mug of tea. With a final check of the campsite, we hoisted up the monkeys and waddled off for a leisurely afternoon’s walk back to our overnight camp at Bald Rock Creek campground.
One of the attractions of poking around offtrack is that little surprises form part of the experience. This time we chanced on a high ledge festooned with a mass of rock orchids and then futher on, an unusual find, a Bootlace Orchid.
The Black Bootlace Orchid
The Black Bootlace Orchid ( Erythrorchis cassythoides ) is a leafless climbing orchid. It has thin, dark brown to black stems that climb up to five metres up tree trunks. It has displays of 10 to 30 yellow to green flowers. Surprisingly, a Bootlace popped up in my suburban native garden in SEQ, lasted several years, then died back for no reason that I could figure out.
The Bootlace was first described by Richard Cunningham who sent his specimen and descriptive notes to his brother, the explorer Alan Cunningham. Alan Cunningham forwarded the description on to the the English orchidologist, John Lindley. Richard Cunningham had originally named it Dendrobium cassythoides but it was later renamed as E. cassythoides.
By 4.00 pm we were setting up for our final night in the civilised surrounds of Bald Rock Creek Campground. Although this had been a short visit to Girraween, we had explored a littled visited section of this outstanding granite park which I had always been keen to investigate. Coming up next year … the Mallee Ridge.
A description of one of my walks on the Roberts Range
The walk is the classic high range roller-coaster starting at 1067 metres, dipping and rising: 973 m, 1039 m, 1030m, 1015m, 1087m and reaching 1120m at our final climb before turning off and descending to the Sundown Road.
Climbing up to our first high point, Hill 1067 we passed into a special habitat, a high altitude forest, restricted to the very highest parts of Sundown and the Granite Belt. This is open forest, dominated by Silvertop Stringybark (Eucalyptus laevopinia), Yellow Box (E. melliodora) and the best name of all, Tenterfield Woollybutt (E. banksii). Silvertop Stringybark and Tenterfield Woollybutt are interesting in that they are disjunct populations of the same species growing further east at Lamington and Mt Barney. It is likely that they survive here on traprock because of the cooler, misty micro-climate on the highest points of the Roberts Range. Further along the range, on the summits of the highest hills at 1087 metres and 1120 metres, we passed through more small patches of high altitude forest.
As we climbed to the final high point at 1120 metres we entered a designated ‘essential’ habitat. These are areas meant for the protection of a species that is endangered or vulnerable. In this particular case the species was the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) neither seen nor heard by our party. The Superb is the King of Karaoke and is such a good mimic that the bird being copied cannot tell the difference. The male Lyrebird has a repertoire of 20-25 other bird songs as well as mimicking car engines, chain saws and even barking dogs.
When Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony on 6th June 1859, Surveyors Roberts from Queensland and Rowland from New South Wales were sent to define the boundary between Queensland and New South Wales from Point Danger to the Dumaresq River. They started work in 1865 and worked separately using their own instruments. As their traverse lines were different the defined border appeared in different positions. Ultimately the Roberts survey was accepted and this was the line depicted on our map and that we were following today. I was keen to find any relics of their traverses such as rock cairns or horse-shoe blazes on trees. I found one old blaze, indecipherable, so there is no evidence that it was part of the border survey. It would be interesting to do the entire Roberts Range traverse with data from Robert’s original field book.
Roberts, an Irishman, trained as an engineer and in 1856 he became surveyor of roads for the Moreton Bay District later gaining a post as a surveyor with Queensland’s Surveyor-General’s Department in 1862. Colonial surveyors were tough, capable bushmen able to endure considerable hardship: life under canvas, poor food, heat, flies, arduous travel and isolation. Unsurprisingly, it was a constant struggle to stay healthy. Queensland colonial surveyors could be struck down by any number of health hazards: Barcoo Rot, Bung Blight, Sandy Blight, Dengue Fever, Malaria, snakes and crocs. Francis Roberts escaped all these only to die prematurely of sunstroke in 1867, aged 41.
Today, the border is marked by a Dog Check Fence; an outlier of the mighty 5,412 kilometre Dog Fence that runs from Jimbour in Queensland to the Great Australian Bight in South Australia. The Dog Fence is said to be two and a half times the length of the Great Wall of China and is easily visible from space. Our 1.8 metre high Dog Check Fence or Dingo Fence is a relic of an intricate maze of some 48,000 kilometres of interconnecting vermin fences built to keep dingoes and bunnies at bay. Unsuccessfully.