experience 05

14-15dec13 — d+e — neurum creek

We finally got everything right for our fifth expedition. Nothing missing, nothing left behind, nothing broken — we didn’t even have to stop for firewood on the way, as we had been collecting bits and pieces over the previous few months. We were planning our first two-kid, two-night trip but K decided she doesn’t like camping any more, so it was just the smelly boys for the first weekend of the school holidays.

Neurum Creek is one of two vehicle-accessible government campsites in D’Aguilar National Park. This time last year E and I stayed at the other one — Archer Camp — which is also a beautiful spot with numbered sites. On that trip we were assaulted by the loudest cicada choruses I’ve ever heard and this trip we had another awesome cicada encounter of a different kind — more about that in a moment.

From Brisbane, we went through Samford and Dayboro towards Woodford along Mount Mee Road, turning off onto Sellin Road before Mount Mee. We stopped off for lunch at the site of the old timber mill — The Gantry. The last leg into camp is 6kms of pretty good dirt road.

(you can click on any of these galleries to see a larger slideshow)

As usual, first priority was to get the billy over some heat for a cuppa. E was in charge of fire lighting and did a top-notch job first go. It’s a good idea to get kids ‘playing with fire’ — they learn a lot about the beauty, power and danger of fire just by watching and interacting with it in a safe way. It’s also good fun. This time we had our first go at damper — we made the dough in the morning before leaving and just plonked it over the fire. It was pretty good. But damper is heavy-duty stuff and we could have easily got away with one half the size.

Then it was time for a quick scout around to see what we could see. There’s one short walk on the far side of the creek, but the highlight is the creek itself. The waterhole is not huge and not deep enough for ‘swimming’ but it’s very cool and refreshing on a hot day. It butts right up against a rock face with a few underwater ledges — perfect for cooling off some drinks. The only critters we encountered in the waterhole were thousands of water bugs, thousands of tiny fish (which like to nibble at your toes if you stand still long enough) and one big black leech (unfed).

We again decided to forego the tent and just sleep under the cool tarp. We had no drama with mozzies and, although we saw a bunch of march flies, we didn’t get bitten. About three hours after I reassured E that we were unlikely to get any rain that night, we were surrounded by a quite impressive thunder storm which, somehow, E managed to sleep through. Luckily it was all crash and bang with very little rain and no wind — so we stayed cool and dry all night.

In the morning we played some footy, cleaned up a ditch which some feral-bogan-idiot-wankers had used as a rubbish tip (E actually suggested the cleanup), and ‘rescued’ a cool looking bladder cicada from the creek. If you look close, you can see it’s looking happy for our help (but that wasn’t our awesome cicada encounter — more about that in a moment).

E says : At Neurum Creek Dad and I went for walks and to a good waterfall. At the water hole dad and I jumped off a cliff and into the water! I saw a lace moniter, it was a metre long. At the camp site Dad saw a cicada hatching out of its shell. I wish I could go back again.

E's drawing of Rocky Hole

E’s drawing of Rocky Hole

2km further along from the campsite is the awesome Rocky Hole. Last time we were here, Rocky Hole was a bit manky and not great for swimming, but this time it was very cool (in both senses of the term). After seeing a few other people jumping off the rocks, E decided he wanted to have a go too. This is a very risky practice. The water wasn’t all that clear, so there was no certainty at all that it was completely free from submerged danger. But after watching much bigger people repeatedly jump in and around the same spot I decided the risk was acceptably low. Some will say I was silly to be so cautious, and others will say I was crazy to risk the welfare of my son. But this is the nature of life, any worthwhile experiences involve some kind of risk. The sense of joy and power that E got from this simple pleasure was well worth the calculated risk.

For the first couple of jumps I was standing on a (quite visible) submerged boulder a couple of metres from the splash zone. Later, when I jumped myself, I found that my skinny six-foot body still didn’t touch bottom. Lesson 10 — when jumping from a high point into a waterhole, always hold your nose to prevent the in-rushing water from washing your brains out through your ears.

And here’s an animation (click to view) :
E jumping at Rocky Hole

Now for our awesome cicada encounter …
Adult cicadas are beautiful, amazing and LOUD creatures. Eggs are laid in slits made by the mother in tree bark. After a couple of months the nymphs hatch and drop to the ground. They dig down and live off the sap of the tree roots — for years! They moult several times underground before finally emerging for the final moult and transformation into a winged adult — then they live for only another few weeks. So, cicadas live most of their lives underground, which is just as well because the nymph stage is not nearly as attractive as the adult.

Usually the final transformation occurs at night but WE got the chance to photograph one transforming from a nymph into an adult during the day! Lesson 11 — if you’re even remotely interested in half-decent photography, get yourself a tripod. If only I’d had a tripod …

Not to worry, the results are still fantastic. I thought the emerged adult would simply pump up its wings and take off to complete the metamorphosis somewhere safe. But this thing stayed put for hours and hours. Changing gradually from that pink and green monstrosity to the fully developed adult. I particularly love the changed from 12:47 to 2:29pm.

Judging by the fine white hairs and the dark spots near the tips of the wings, I’d say this is a floury baker cicada :

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I chose Neurum Creek because it has numbered sites (16 in total, we chose site 11) and I was dreading a packed-out campsite, but the school holiday camping extravaganza must be delayed til after christmas. There were only two other campsites occupied on our first night, and one other on our second night — peace.

Signs and the website suggest that this is 4WD territory only but unless there are really heavy rains, or it’s been a long time between gradings, there’s no real problem getting a 2WD in. The trip takes less than two hours from Brisbane’s western suburbs.

The site has clean flushing toilets and hand basins (cold water only). Plus a whole bunch of taps (boil before drinking). Open fires are permitted in the fire rings only.

This is a beautiful, secluded, heavily vegetated camping area. Not really suited to big groups who like to spread out a lot, but perfect for us. We’ll definitely be back. And best of all … after our awesome experience #05, K wants to come with us next time.

Close-up section of D'Aguilar National Park
click to view Neurum Creek Camp map
click to view full D’Aguilar National Park map

camping around brisbane billy icon


experience 02

08dec12 — d+e — archer camp

So, we got lucky with the choice of campsite for K’s first camping trip. How would we go when it came to E’s turn? Thankfully, we got lucky again with Archer Camp in D’Aguilar National Park. Well, it’s not quite true that we ‘got lucky’ — extensive research was really the key to the success of our first two adventures — this made it easy to choose sites that the kids would love.

Unlike K, E doesn’t get car sick, so we decided to go the back way — through Samford, Dayboro and Mount Mee. This beautiful drive is so much nicer (and actually quicker from Brisbane’s western suburbs) than barrelling up the highway. The easiest way to get to Archer Camp is from the northern end, via Woodford — there are only a couple of kilometres of dirt track. Whereas coming up from the south along the Mount Mee Forest Drive is a bit hairy for 2WD’s. Certainly doable in dry weather, but not a particularly relaxing trek.

The thing that grabbed our attention the most as we descended the last km into Archer Camp was the noise of cicadas. Now, we all know cicadas are loud — the summer din can seem deafening until you get used to it, and then the sudden silence seems numbing — but this was something else — this was LOUD. Archer is exactly the type of campsite I love — cruisy, uncrowded, pristine — and no mozzies. There are only nine numbered campsites and we had chosen number one, so we only had neighbours on one side. This was fortuitous in another way too — most of the creek front had been fenced off for rejuvenation when we were there — so you could only access the creek from our end and the far end, where the swimming hole is.

The first two priorities were the same as last time — get the tarp up for shelter, this time from the sun, rather than from the rain — and get the billy boiling for a quick drink before a look around. You can’t drive onto the campsites at Archer, but the individual carparking spaces are close to the sites, which are quite big and well spaced :

There’s an excellent waterhole at Archer Camp — good size and easy access. But we’d forgotten to pack our togs and were disinclined to go skinny dipping with so many others around. This taught us our next two lessons : Lesson 04 — always remember to take your swimming kit — you never know when you’ll find an oasis. ; and Lesson 05 — for sanity’s sake, make yourself a camping checklist.

So we went off on another adventure instead. This is where you really find out how much your six year old son doesn’t trust your driving prowess. E was quite anxious on the drive south along Loveday’s Road, and fair enough too — ‘road’ is a bit of a stretch, but I guess ‘Loveday’s Bush Track’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. There were heaps of trail bike riders testing their skills along the way — yes, that type of track. A sensible driver in a 2WD with reasonable clearance will have no trouble with this road in dry conditions, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Exploring is almost always rewarding — just being in amongst the green and rock and smells and sounds is awesome enough, and you’ll almost always see, smell or hear something new if you’re paying attention to your basic senses. But sometimes your exploring will lead you to a real ‘wow’ location. After twenty minutes of driving through dust and gravel and dust and bumps and dust we arrived at the oasis known as Rocky Hole.
(click to get a larger slideshow)

On the way back we stopped off at the day use area just across the road from Archer camp — this is another beautiful place to explore. As with all the watercourses we saw this weekend, it would have benefitted from a heap of rain and a good flush through.

Next was the real ‘camping’ bits of the day — setting up the tent, lighting the fire, getting dinner and, of course, roasting marshmallows. I think the marshmallow attraction is probably more about playing with fire than about the sticky mess that results. I know it’s a cliché, but there really IS something magical about fire — this non-living thing with a life of its own — this pure destructive energy-animal that can so easily turn into a rampaging beast if it’s mishandled.

E says : We saw a bushfire when we were driving to Archer. We were in the first campsite and there were lots of gum leaves to throw on the fire. At Archer I liked seeing the platypus and turtles. I didn’t like going on the dirt track. The cicada shells were cool but they were annoying when we were sleeping. I went skinny dipping at Rocky Hole but dad was too scared to. We had noodles for dinner and for dessert I had marshmallows. I give Archer Camp 100 out of 100.
I made a funny video to show you guys.

Before heading off in the morning we went down to spend some time just watching the creek and saw kingfishers and other small bush birds, turtles and platypus. Then we headed back south to spend a couple of hours in the area around The Gantry — the site of an old sawmill that’s been transformed into an awesome day use area. Close by are a number of walks of varying lengths and difficulties. First we did the Piccabeen Palm Walk — an easy half hour circuit. We saw a few little bush critters and heard the eery catbird — being green, it’s hard to spot, but the sound is unmistakable and explains the name, but we thought it could just as easily be called the crying-baby bird. Next we did the Falls Lookout walk which is, again, an easy stroll. The walk itself is underwhelming but the destination pays big dividends.

Getting to Archer can be a bit confusing, and I wouldn’t want to try it in the dark on the first go. Coming in from the northern end is definitely easier than up from around The Gantry. I missed the Delaney Creek Road turnoff and ended up going through Woodford and back down Stanton Road — no big deal. Once you’re on Rasmussen Road you just follow it until it turns into Lovedays Road at the entrance to the National Park — then you’ve only got about another kilometre or so down to the campsite.

Close-up section of D'Aguilar National Park
click to view Archer Camp map
click to view full D’Aguilar National Park map

camping around brisbane billy icon