Overlooking the backpacker mecca of Airlie Beach in sunny North Queensland, The Whitsunday Great Walk meanders over the Conway Range. According to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife website about this walk, there is the chance wander through majestic rainforest, splash through seasonal creeks and overlook the coastal townships, watch for the flash of the Ulysses butterfly and the haunting call of the wompoo fruit dove. There are a selection of tracks throughout the area, for different time spans and abilities. For the great walk, meandering through Conway National Park for about 30 klicks, and intended to take 3 days, there is two main camps: Repulse Creek and Bloodwood. Both camp sites have self-composting toilets and water tanks. It is recommended by National Parks to still purify water from these tanks.
Trail head is easily accessed by car or taxi from Airlie Beach or Prosperpine, and finishes in Airlie Beach itself.
Since I’ve been working on this new job on the coalfields in the Central Highlands of Queensland, and allegedly working on a 4 on, 4 off roster (which I’ve unfortunately only seen once in the 3 months I’ve been on the project) I saw this walk as an excellent chance to get away from civilisation. Let’s just say I’ve had some “interesting” times working with some absolute muppets up here, and have been perpetually on “stand-by” on my alleged rostered time off, so a chance at disappearing for a couple of days was greatly welcomed. Because I have been on some strange shift work, I broke one of my cardinal rules of bushwalking: I walked alone. Normally, I’m a staunch supporter of walking in at least a pair (as my previous trip report shows, a triplet is great), but due to:
- My non-regular roster (no other bugger can get time off in a hurry) and
- A lack of fitness lifestyle amongst the local population. All the exercisers in town know each other enough to nod and say g’day in passing now, I look like a distinctly strange individual when I strap my DG-6 on and go for a stomp.
So due to the above reasons, it wasn’t feasible to find or organise any walking partners in such a short space of time at such an odd part of the week. So I decided that with sufficient planning and preparation, and a little of that risk assessment training that the mining industry is so big on, I decided to conduct my first solo walk. Let me assure you all, it was a big decision for me. Not necessarily in that I didn’t think I had the requisite skill level, after all, I had done a fair bit of solo work when I was serving, and I’ve always been an outdoors type since I was a boy-scout, but I was very concerned about emergency situations. ‘Specially since I couldn’t get my hands on an EPIRB in a hurry (try living in a regional area when you want kit in a hurry). But I sat down with my ‘actions on’ and decided I had enough control measures. See, all that induction training for the mines has left something in my mind besides boredom. What I did do was leave very specific instructions with the local cop shop, my boss (an old army mate), the backpackers I was staying at and my darling sister (who joined me in Tasmania last year) for a very tight time-line if I didn’t call in. I also made mention in my very specific instructions that I wouldn’t be straying more than 1000m off the great walk track itself. This last one was a big one for me, since I really like just swanning off the track to really get away from it all. But we all have our crosses to bear as one of my favourite female vocalists croons.
I drove from Moranbah into Airlie Beach on Tuesday afternoon (30th Oct), booked into the backpacker accommodation that I had previously checked out (with VERY good results) and started my final preparations. Previous visits I have booked an entire dorm room to myself, since I don’t play well with others when I’m intoxicated or relaxing away from work. Beaches Backpackers on the main street of Airlie Beach gets the 22F seal of approval since the rooms overlook the beer garden and the main drag and lagoon of Airlie Beach. Picture for a moment, this little knuckle-dragging grunter drinking beer and drooling into the beer garden as he gets eyes on target. Talk about key terrain and tactical height!! I love the place.
It was the first time I bothered to get myself put into a dorm room sharing with others since I was only waiting until I could get out and commence walking. After all, with my advancing age and lowering threshold for fools nowadays, it’s better if I have my own room away from the innocent children. Me getting done for chest poking perceived idiots is a little bit uncool nowadays.
So anyway, there I was being the paranoid little boy that we all know and love, just conducting a last minute kit check making sure my gear’s all squared away and ensuring I don’t suffer from an idiotic and/or catastrophic “Oh Sh!t!” moment when I get out scrub, when in walk my fellow room-mates.
Impressive. Really, really, impressive. 2x Icelandic lassies (blonde and brunette), 2x yankee girls (both brunette, great personalities, if you know what I mean), 1x pommie lass, and a bloke from Sydney. Let me tell you now, I had real problems trying to prevent myself from tripping over my own jaw and drowning others with drool. And before you even think to make a comment, no, it wasn’t over the bloke from Sydney. B@stards.
But I was faced with a major moral dilemma: would it be considered strange if a young lass was to wake up with me drooling over her…
I still haven’t worked out if it would have been kosher, so, luckily in my advancing age, thought it might not be such a great idea to actually do it. Maturity, who would have thunk it, eh?? Although I haven’t completely handed in my man card. Various times during the night, I’d make d@mn sure to [in a very subtle manner] get an eyeful. Hmmmn, I likes tasty women.
To be honest though, I was tired of them about 30 seconds after they walked through the door and opened their mouths. The American girls seemed a little stuck-up, which was a real surprise after meeting all my American friends on the Contiki bus through Europe a couple of years ago. The Icelandic lassies were at least talking to me, but were somewhat stand-offish, which I have heard is normal for them. The pommie lass was amazed that I was going to be walking for a couple of days by myself in a big scary jungle!! I’m not sure how seriously she took my reply of why I was traversing the jungle alone as “Because I don’t like people”. Bugger ‘em if they can’t take a joke.
Then the petty arguments started between all these oestrogen-fueled airheads, so I reconvened to the balcony with the bloke from Sydney, who happened to be stoned out of his head, flying somewhere in the vicinity of 35000 ft and suffering exploding pack syndrome *click, click, BOOF*. His sh!t was scattered throughout the room. Great start to my week off!! Why in the hell do the Dark Gods have a need to introduce me to every weirdo and fruit loop in the AO whenever I think to go walking?? Memories of my trips to The Overland Track in Tasmania kept flashing up before me. No wonder I normally get a room by myself, or surround myself with the team in defensive formation whilst frequenting these places!! At least I had the time-honoured traditional fallback of any digger before setting off on a bush trip: I sat in the beer garden and got drunk.
The Main Event
Day 1, Wednesday 31st Oct:
The next morning dawned hot. Bl00dy hot!! I was sweating profusely before I’d even finished putting my pack down on the kerb waiting for the taxi to turn up (15-20 min ride to trail head, take about $50 cash since the EFTPOS won’t work without mobile reception in the national park). Hell, I thought a couple of months working outdoors on the coalfields would have acclimatised me just a little bit more. Perchance the slight over-consumption of high grade booze may have unduly affected me. It wasn’t until I strapped my trusty DG-6 on at 0730 at trail head that I realised just how hot it was. Ah well, it’s been a loooong time since I was last in the jungle. The first day was only 8 klicks to the first camp site (Repulse Creek). The track itself was more of a dual carriage freeway than a track. It left me with the impression I was observing a jungle from afar rather than actually disappearing into it like a fish in water. Nice walk despite this though, the camp site was surprising. It comprised a well-cleared glade in the middle of tropical rainforest, with self composting toilets, food lockers and small tables for each tent area. I set up my Hennesy Hammock on the toilet block (hey!! Minimal impact bushwalking, alright??) and waited for sunset. This was where I saw my first and only other human being for the walk. Heard the annoying buzz of a small capacity internal combustion engine, awoke from my afternoon siesta long enough to see the park ranger whizz by on his 6×6 Polaris ATV. A couple of hours later, he whizzed by again, unfathomable task completed, cold beer obviously calling to him. I didn’t see anyone else until I walked into Airlie Beach.
Watching the sun go down was a moment of quiet genuflection for me as I thought about Beersheba Day.
Day 2, Thursday 1st Nov:
The next day was similar, pack up my gear, strap on the old faithful DG-6 and just keep walking to the next camp site (about 12 klicks). Fortunately for me, the track really turned into a better representation of being back in the jungle, being far more “intimate”. It was a good walk, excellent opportunity to cleanse my soul by sitting for long periods in rainforest just waiting for the jungle to get used to my presence and eventually come out and show itself to me. It was a great feeling to know that there was no other human being for at least 15 klicks in any direction. After all the rushing about for the last couple of months for work, it was just what I needed to calm down and re-focus on the important things in life.
Walking into Bloodwood camp site is where the first spectacular views of Shute Harbour were revealed. Just for the practice, and since I’d been re-hashing my nav skills for this trip, I shot a bearing to the major features in Shute Harbour and conducted a re-section. Comparing my results with the GPS showed I was only 200m out, which I attribute to pure sloppiness on my part. My old instructors would be hitting me with boot and stick for that little boo-boo!!
Who ever put the signs up in Bloodwood camp site should be shot. The sign proclaims the water tanks to be 200m further from the central point of Bloodwood. I walked more than 500m, cursing those who can’t measure accurate distances. Compared to Repulse Creek, Bloodwood was definitely in the middle of the rainforest, with some great views of Airlie to tempt the weary traveller. Dinner was particularly pleasant, and filling, as I had the classic 22F morale feed. Consuming most of the rations I’d dragged along in the most extravagant manner I could concoct simply because I can.
Day 3, Friday 3rd Nov:
I packed up my bongo’s in the little jungle camp that was Bloodwood camp site, with some beautiful views of Shute Harbour and the back end of Airlie Beach from the mountains, and finished the last 10 klicks into town. The national park actually opens onto a posh suburban street on top the hill overlooking Airlie Beach (heaps of Toorak Tractors, fancy boats) and Vic Hislop’s Shark World. This is where I bumped into my second human being for the trip, a female German backpacker getting herself ready to do some day walking at the Airlie end of Conway National Park. There was a certain chemistry (desperation maybe??) immediately from the lass, but I realised I hadn’t been out scrub quite long enough whilst I was conversing with her, actually took a second look at her and decided to throw her back. I consoled myself with two salient facts:
- I am no longer bound by oath (or a big brass hat badge) to wake up with ugly women anymore
- There was much better prey… um, young lassies at the backpacker’s I was staying at.
Just wandering around the Lagoon in Airlie (my self-appointed finishing point) dressed as I was dragging my jaw on the ground behind me whilst perving on backpackers sunning themselves in tiny little bikini’s. Ah, thank Brian that he loves us grunters enough to put women on this earth!!
Post Walk Movements
Funny moment for me, I arrived back at Beaches Backpackers at about 0930hrs, closely resembling the last of the real adventurers (or so I like to think). Ok, the reality is, I walked into this backpackers smelling quite horrible, looking like some sort of weirdo wearing my 100% cotton rip-stop clothing (no fancy nylon for me thank you!!), wearing my black & white shemagh around my neck (which is now classified as a trendy-trendy fashion accessory in certain menswear shops like Roger David, who the f#ck thought of that??), with an impressive looking military styled, semi-custom pack and Danner boots. I cut an impressive figure, ‘specially if you had to come closer than 6ft downwind of me It was quite unbelievable just how many strange looks I managed to accumulate in such a short time waiting for my room to become available. Copped even more strange looks when I started stretching the kinks out of my back in the little fenced off area for the swimming pool. What’s up kids?? Never seen a broken, tired old digger groaning and grunting from old joint injuries??
It also made my morning when I was reacquainting myself with the modern world to find out that the Darling Sister was suffering from tonsillitis and had just received a big shot of penicillin into her ar$e. This funny little event had kind of put a crimp into her intended plan to fly into Melbourne for that little equestrian event they run there every so often. The cleaning ladies thought I was a downright mean person for laughing at the mis-fortunes of my siblings. Hey, I can afford to laugh, it’s family
Turns out the big boss was wondering where I’d disappeared to, since an ‘emergency’ had come up at work and I was ‘really needed’. Sorry boss, I’m currently intoxicated, and unable to drive for another 24hrs
So another successful walk completed, I retired to the bar for a decent counter meal and copious amounts of booze. Here’s the other reason I prefer to walk in company: I had no-one to share the triumph of such a great trip. Most of the backpacker lassies were too busy trying to chase after pretentious pretty-boy twits who had no idea of what real men do. I was sorely tempted to test the effectiveness of the local mating call that several work mates assure me is quite the goods: “HEY!! I’m on the mines, I’ve got sh!t-tins of money!!”
I just couldn’t bring myself to do it L
Admin & Log:
For this trip, my load was no more than 15 kg’s (can’t be any more accurate, I didn’t weigh my gear, just guestimated). That’s 4 days worth of food, 4L of water, my Hennessy hammock, MSR internationale stove and other bits and pieces. To be honest, I was carrying a little bit more than I intended simply because I was travelling solo and didn’t want to cause myself too many problems if anything untoward happened.
I found my Hennesey hammock extremely comfortable for this trip. It was very light to carry, gave good resting sleep, and was very cool (not fashion wise, well, maybe a little). Perhaps a little bit too cool, since I didn’t have a sleeping bag (as I normally don’t in the jungle, normally just relying upon a silk liner and a mozzie net). Such that I ended up having every stitch of clothing I was carrying on, which turned out to be not much!! I solved that problem by dropping the hammock down to ground and using it as a one man tent. Extremely flexible design, very impressive.
Clothing was from 100% cotton rip-stop from Propper. I really like this clothing, tough, light and pretty quick drying.
Map used was the Prosperpine 1:100 000, last printed in 1982. So the Great Walk itself actually isn’t on the map. Nor are a lot of the new developments in the coastal towns, funnily enough. At this time, it is accurate as far as land forms in the national parks though. With the amount of major development that’s been going on in the coastal communities in the last few years, don’t rely too much upon the map for anything outside the national park.
As the name implies, it’s a great, short little multi-day walk that I reckon would be useful for those with time constraints (as I was) or an introduction to multi-day hikes. Fixed wing access is from the Whitsunday airport just outside of Prosperpine, with shuttle buses into Prosperpine and Airlie Beach.
I would suggest a better time for southerners would be more towards the winter months, when heat and humidity is significantly lower. Even though I’ve been acclimatising myself by working outside and plenty of pack walks during the mid mornings and afternoons, I still felt the impact of the conditions. There’s also the consideration of cyclones if you wish to walk this in the wet season. Just another thing to keep in mind.
However, the views are spectacular, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Questions, queries or doubtful points?? The floor is now open.