Girraween National Park, south of Ballandean, is a majestic place. If I hadn’t seen the rushing rivers, colourful wildflowers and massive granite boulders myself, I’m not sure I’d have believed Girraween was really in Australia. The name means ‘place of flowers’ in the Aboriginal language, and it was a riot of colour when I was there: a spectacular display of purple, pink, white, yellow and red illuminating the brown landscape.
The park has multiple trails that take you to points of interest and through lovely landscapes. I only had the morning, so wasn’t able to do the longer hikes, but the walks I did, covering around 10km of trails, gave me a good idea of the park. Close to the car park, easily accessible pools and boulders attract quite a few people. Further away, I hardly saw anyone and those I did see only brought bad news.
On one trail I met two women coming the other way. We exchanged ‘hellos’ and, almost as an afterthought, one said to me, “By the way, we just saw a red bellied black snake on the path.” A voice inside my head screamed, “A what? A red bellied black what? Run, run for your life.” It must be remembered, snakes don’t exist where I’m from, and my reaction was perfectly normal. As calmly as I could, I asked if it was a dangerous snake.
Clearly my eyes gave me away, because with more glee than was entirely necessary she said, “Oh yeah, very dangerous. About a hundred yards ahead.” This, it turned out, wasn’t the entire truth. They can be deadly, and are not to be taken lightly, but the red bellied black snake has the decency to avoid humans if at all possible. Not that I knew that at the time.
A little further along I met a woman walking alone and thought I should pass on the snake warning. She didn’t seem too worried, and said the very worst thing anyone could have said to me at that point, “The red bellies aren’t so bad, it’s the brown ones you need to be worried about. Don’t go into the long grass, they won’t thank you for stepping on them.” Long grass? There and then, I decided to stay away from all grass.
She was talking about the eastern brown snake, considered to be the second most deadly land snake known to humanity. It’s also known for being highly aggressive and notoriously fast. I’m not sure a stick is good protection against snakes, I picked one up anyway, but only after carefully checking it wasn’t a snake. It’s amazing how many sticks look like snakes.
There are eleven types of snake in Girraween, a fact they deliberately underplay in the tourist literature. To add to my sense of trepidation, there’s no mobile signal in the park. Get bitten by a snake – brown, black or any other colour – and you’re on your own. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle I’m still here to relate this tale.
Dangerous wildlife aside, Girraween is a fantastic place to hike. I was surprised by the amount of water in the park, there were several rivers, one of which I followed down to The Junction, where two rivers meet. The scenery along this route is beautiful, and for the first time on my trip I realised just how different Australia sounded and smelled. The bird song is unfamiliar, the plants and flowers have an unknown smell. Wonderful.
Making my way back from The Junction I completed the Bald Rock Creek Circuit, before heading to the Granite Arch and the Pyramid. It was a hot day, and by this time I’d run out of water (despite the many warnings at the Visitor Information Centre). I decided it was time to head north on stage two of my journey to Cairns. I had a long drive ahead to reach Crow’s Nest, and onwards to Hervey Bay.
Before that though, I made a quick visit to Dr Roberts Waterhole, where I saw an eastern snake-necked turtle. It seemed like a fitting end to my time in Girraween.