The Lost World Plateau. The name says it all. The next mountain south from O’Reilly’s in the Lamington National Park, it’s a place visited by few. And so six of us set out to get there- a three-night traverse from O’Reilly’s to Kerry Road, encompassing Mt Worendo, the Black Canyon and the Plateau itself. Or so we hoped. Planning was done, campsites booked, transport arranged and so with great eagerness we set out from O’Reilly’s.
The first leg was to be easy- 5 kilometres down the Border Track then 3 more down the Albert River Track to Echo Point, where we would leave the marked trail and head for the summit of Mt Worendo. We found the start of the path up to the summit without much trouble: it begins from the Echo Point Campsite (which none of our guidebooks told us) and basically contours up to the summit, or at least it should have. The first 300 metres was fairly easy to follow (albeit slow going) but after that the track began to split and fork off into dead ends, the green and yellow tape which marked the path became more and more sporadic and eventually, with about 150 metres to the summit, we lost the path altogether. And so began the first hour of many spent bush bashing through dense rainforest. Thankfully the map I had loaded onto the GPS had the summit marked and as such we were able to make our way to the top eventually.
By this time, it was nearly two in the afternoon and we still had 3 kilometres to go before we got to the campsite. Not to worry, we thought, there’s a rough track that will lead us down the ridgeline and into the saddle were we were to stay the next two nights. My, were we wrong. For starters, there was no track visible in any direction from the summit (not even back in the direction we came), and the rainforest was as dense as ever. We started down the ridgeline, hoping to find the track, following the guidance of the GPS, doing our best to follow the ridgeline. Every hundred metres or so we would find what seemed like a path- a few vague footprints, a clearer route through the thick understorey- only for it to disappear again, plunging us back into the leech-infested underbrush. Eventually, the ridgeline thinned, the vegetation became slightly more open and we found ourselves beginning the descent down to the campsite. The ridge itself was very narrow, often less than two metres across, just a tad wider than the Razorback we planned to climb two days later. The descent was steep and slow going, but we managed to reach campsite just as the sun was setting, and just as the next misfortune showed up. Rain.
It being Easter time, and Easter being the time of rain, we had prepared for the possibility of rain, and the forecast had never looked overly great, but we had held onto the hope that Nerang experiences completely different weather to Lamington. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and as such we found ourselves rapidly trying to set up camp before the worst of the storm hit. Two of the tents were set up without hassle and dinner was prepared and eaten (pre-cooked spag bol, amazing after nine hours of tough hiking), but the third tent, the new, only-set-up-to-make-sure-it-works tent, decided to break. The knots which keep the elastic string holding the tent poles together all came undone, meaning I had the fun job of trying to re-thread the string back through the poles, a one-and-a-half-hour ordeal done in the rain. Not impressed. I did manage it, and the tent was not too wet after it was set up, and we all got to bed without too much further drama.
The morning of the second day dawned, and while the rain had stopped, it was still overcast, and more rain was forecast on the way. 15-40mm was predicted, all but dashing our hopes of climbing the razorback the next day (we didn’t want to risk it with our relatively inexperienced group). We made the decision, needing water, to head down as a group to the North branch of the Albert River and have a look around. We sort of abandoned the idea of getting up to the Black Canyon and Lightning and Thunder Falls when we realised just how tough the descent down to the river was and just how long it was going to take us. For whatever reason, when looking at all the topographic maps in planning, I’d ignored the contours showing me that it was a 120m drop down over just 300m horizontally. It’s tough. The ground is slippery, there are dead trees that look stable enough to hold your weight right up until the point where you land on them, drops of over 2m are not uncommon and a stumble could mean sliding down five metres or more. We managed to find a gully which led us down to the river, and my, what a river it is.
With cascades over rocks, water pure enough to not need purification (a rare find in South East Queensland) and rainforest all around, the Albert River has to be one of the best rivers I’ve been to. It’s truly picturesque, with one of our group noting that “it’s all been worth it just for this.” We stopped there, filled our water bottles up and decided to have a bit of a look upstream. Rather soon, not more than fifty metres on, we encountered a fairly large pool with a cliff on the south side and a narrow ledge just submerged under the water which enabled us to pass without getting too wet. We thought nothing of it at the time, but according to a group we met later on, this was in fact Red Rock Cutting, marked on all the maps and mentioned in all the guidebooks but never in any detail, nor to a great deal of accuracy (if it was in fact the cutting, it was about half a kilometre downstream of where it was marked on the maps). We kept exploring a little further, embracing the rugged and spectacular country we were in, stopping at a little fork in the river for a quick break before heading back to camp. The ascent up to the saddle took us just over an hour, meaning we were back in time for a lunch of hot beans and rice.
A discussion over lunch decided two things, the first being that we would pull out a day early and not do the Razorback as we had hoped to do (definitely because of the rain, and not because we had second thoughts about our abilities…). Disappointing, but such is life. Gives us another excuse to get back there too! The second decision was that two of us (one of which was me) would attempt to head down to the South branch of the river in order to ascertain what the descent was like and how good the river was, seeing as we had to get down there with full packs the next day in order to get out. It took the two of us, the fastest in the group, just under an hour to get down there with lightly loaded day packs, not a good sign for the next day’s walking. We filled up, had afternoon tea and conducted an impromptu tick hunt, in which I managed to remove 10 ticks just from the area around my shoulders- nasty little things. The trip back up took a similar amount of time, and we arrived back at camp to be told we had missed meeting a pair of walkers (the aforementioned group) who had come from Rat-a-tat that morning and were headed for the Lost World Creek campsite that night. The rest of the day passed without too much drama, the rain hung around (we never got the 40mm which was predicted) but otherwise all was good for the night.
The final day looked short on paper but in reality was probably the longest of the three. Anticipating the descent down to the South Branch to take the six of us at least two hours we got off to quite an early start (8 o’clock, we’re teenagers OK) and headed down the hill. The descent was even tougher with packs, and we found ourselves taking much of it sitting down sliding over the mud- a faster and easier alternative to criss-crossing back and forth down the side of the hill. As a result of this tactical decision we managed to make it down in just over an hour, easing the time pressure just a bit. After a relaxed morning tea and a swim on the river, we decided it best to just rock hop down the river to the end of Kerry Road instead of trying to stay on land and keep our feet dry, which turned out to be a very good decision indeed. While the route looked short on paper (once again, there’s a bit of a theme here), the actual river is much more convoluted than is shown on most maps and as such a 3km stroll down the river turned into a 7km, 7-hour ordeal. Not that we have any reason to complain, the scenery on the South Branch is equally spectacular to that of the North, and we had a whole day to soak it up. Views through the canopy of Mt Widgee and Mt Razorback (what could have been…) were highlights, along with huge boulders and deep pools, all of which were crossed in inventive and slightly insane ways. But there was one final hurdle to be jumped.
The topographic maps we were using (QTOPO) all marked Kerry Road as finishing at the border of the National Park, which, from reading other trip reports, seemed to be at a locked gate. Easy enough, I thought, I’ll just put the location into the GPS and away we go. Alas, whilst the road might be gazetted to go all the way to the border, it doesn’t, stopping quite a bit earlier at the Lost World Guesthouse. Not knowing this, our group left the river at the edge of the National Park and tried to find the road, a hopeless ordeal beating our way through lantana-infested gullies, nearly getting lost until we heard voices coming from what seemed to be the river. We followed them and got ourselves back on the river, downstream of where we’d left it and met a group of locals who gave us the right directions to get to the locked gate (keep walking down the river until you see an old fence line on the north bank, there’s vehicle tracks and a NP sign, follow the vehicle tracks and you’ll get onto the driveway which takes you to the road). And from there we were done, a two night, 30 kilometre hike through some of the toughest country in South East Queensland. But boy was it worth it.
Trust me, we’re all happy.