Leeches and laughs: walking at O’Reilly’s

“If you find a fallen tree on the path, don’t try to climb over it,” the guide at O’Reilly’s on the Queensland/NSW border tells us earnestly. “I’ve seen those things shoot down the hill. You don’t want to be on one, when that happens.”
IMG_8333No. I definitely don’t want to fly down a gully clinging to the mossy bark of an Arctic Beech and have to wait to be rescued at the bottom with a broken ankle (and that’s a best case scenario).

I won’t be climbing over any fallen trees. In fact I’m wondering if I should leave the comfort of the lodge at all. Perhaps a day in the library with a cup of tea might be a good option. The spa also looks inviting.

Box Circuit, Lamington National ParkI’m on a walking weekend with my book group, but a wave of thunderstorms have hit the Lamington National Park leaving countless hazards in its wake. We’ve had to cancel our planned 23 km walk along the Main Border Track and we’re looking at alternatives. The resort guide is keen to make sure we understand the risks before we set off anywhere. She advises us to take warm clothes and food in case we get stuck in the bush. OK. Now I’m getting nervous.

Tree Top walk O'Reilly's, Lamington National ParkWe download an emergency app, sort out a packed lunch and plenty of water and bravely head off for the Box Circuit – a track on the more protected side of the mountain that should be a reasonably safe option.

The route isn’t really important. For me, walking is all about the journey. The chance to enjoy the rainforest, catch up with friends, find out what’s really going on behind the happy-family snapshots on Facebook. Maybe even talk about books.

It’s a foggy morning and light drizzle is falling, but once we’re on the track, the towering Booyongs protect us from the rain. Light filters through the fog, hanging among the fern trees as we wind our way down to Canungra Creek. It’s damp and there must be a thousand leeches per square metre, but the rainforest couldn’t be more beautiful. It feels so pre-historic that I wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur strolled out of the mist. A hobbit wouldn’t be out of place either. But I get a nasty shock when a snake decides to join us on the track.

Box Circuit, Lamington National Park“Watch out for the red-belly black,” one of my fellow walkers calls calmly. “It’s much more scared of you, than you are of it.” That, I doubt.

I’ve only just recovered from the snake encounter when an enormous blue crayfish gives me the shock of my life, snapping its pincers menacingly from the side of the track. You don’t see that every day. Luckily.

We eat lunch standing on a wet boulder at Picnic Rock to minimize our interaction with leeches. It’s not entirely successful, the little buggers don’t just jump off the track, they also launch themselves from the trees. Someone finds a leech in her belly button. Not cool.

We make it back our gorgeous villa without having to resort to the emergency app. I’ve transported a sock full of leeches on our 20km walk and my feet are aching. But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Walking with friends is therapy for the body and the mind, no matter where the track leads.

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