The whole eastern half of Australia has been in the grips of a crippling drought. Farms have been devastated as the big dry stomped cracks across the land. A close ally of mine works in mental health and recalled a story of a farmer who’d lost everything. The bank told him to liquidate his stock as it wasn’t worth taking to market. He took his rifle down to the dusty paddock where his cattle were corralled, shot them, then turned the gun on himself. The cost of this drought has been horrendous.
Just recently we’ve had rain! Up and down the coast there has been some relief, with torrential rain hammering the land. You could say life, and with it her sister hope has returned to the land.
Purling Brook waterfalls are cradled in the Gold Coast hinterland. It’s a world of giant trees, majestic cliffs, oceans of greens, creepies, crawlies, peaceful waterholes and powerful waterfalls. To be honest, the last time I was at Purling Brook this drought really had it’s hand around the neck of the country. The usual free-flowing creeks and rivers had been reduced to a trickle. The mighty Purling Brook falls were as a leaky tap, drip, drip, dripping downstream. I knew this recent rain would breathe life into this wonderful part of the world.
One of the things that makes this waterfall particularly appealing is that it’s off the usual tourist road. The entry point is too steep for 21 seat mini-buses full of snap-happy, loud tourists. It’s not as widely known as the lovely Natural Bridge or Springbrook. It’s a little piece of paradise in an ocean of beauty. Being classically introverted, this place suits me perfectly!
So with an afternoon to myself, a mind clouded with the noise of life and a camera just itching to be used I headed to Purling Brook. To be honest, I’ve been going through my own personal drought, the details important to those know know and love me. I was all in knots, angry, scared, tense and worried. Johnny and June kept me company as I wound up the mountain, ready to answer the call of the wild. It’s just over an hour from my place, half an hour on the rat-race freeway, the other half swirling up and down those steep, windy mountain roads. Without a doubt, getting there is a particularly enjoyable drive for anyone who loves a path less traveled. I kept peering at the peaks around me, some covered in clouds, some basking in golden glory. I selfishly prayed that the rain would hold off just for me! In my small backpack I added a brolly and a plastic bag (one that the government forced me to buy!) just in case everything went pear-shaped and the heavens opened once again.
I parked in the waterlogged, muddy carpark. Attune your senses to this: you open the door and feel a wave of cool, humid mountain air filling your lungs. It’s perfectly still, a calm after the storm. The chime of crickets and croak of frogs surrounds you. That hot southern sun seems so much friendlier up here, and it’s a welcome relief to your previously air-conditioned skin. Feel your shoes sink slightly into the soft, fresh mud. Hear the squelch as you trundle across the sparsely populated carpark. The trail to the top of the falls is covered by a cathedral of trees. It doesn’t take long for the sound of crickets, frogs and birds to be drowned out by the roar of the falls!
The entry point to the falls is at the summit. The gentle path runs parallel to the brook. Waters rush and gurgle over rocks, then rest in seemingly still pools. This irregular pattern continues as the path runs down to the final drop down the roaring falls. There’s a lookout just to the right of the falls and boy, it does not disappoint. Undulating valleys weave into each other, leading to the coast. In the far off distance, the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise remind you that you’re not meant to be anywhere but here. All you can hear is the rush of water as it gallops over the precipice. It’s unrelenting. It’s fluid motion contrasts against the unmoving cliffs. Your eyes are both fixed and darting, as if you can focus on a single drop of water as it pours downwards. All I can do is stop. Stop. Take it in. Be. Be thankful. Be grateful. A trickle of sightseers skip down the stairs, taking selfies and videos before heading back to their cars in search of the next lookout or falls. Me however – I just pause. I’ve got no schedule to keep, save for the nightly schedule of the setting sun. The rains had meant the park rangers had closed off the path to the bottom of the falls, and I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to take the trek down. My disappointment turned to joy however, as on my way back to the car the rangers had arrived to unlock the gates and give the ‘all clear’!
There’s something perfect about walking alone in a rainforest. My ears were caressed by the sounds of birds, the scuffles of unseen critters in the undergrowth and the ever present rush of the waterfalls. My skin was cooled by that cool mountain air. Gentle breezes sift through ancient rainforests and glided over my skin. I find myself in quiet contemplation. I utter short but heartfelt prayers – confessions, requests for forgiveness and gratitude. I find myself freed from many of the chains that bound my soul. Like the sunlight peering through the canopy, rays of heavenly light warm my spirit.
My pleasurable amble continued down the mountain until I hear an unusual shuffle in the undergrowth! It was too slow to be a reptile and too ‘shuffly’ to be a kangaroo or wallaby. My interest was instantly aroused. I stopped, turned, paused and listened. ‘Shuffle shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle shuffle’ I listened intently. I focused my eyes on the undergrowth, looking for movement until there it was! Something I’d never, ever seen in the wild before. There, shuffling about in the undergrowth it was. An echidna! Long spines slicked backwards, covering a wombly yet strangely agile body. My camera is on. I snap. And snap. And snap away! I get as close as I can, clearing away some of the undergrowth to get a clearer shot. I try to stay still, and my patience is rewarded! This peculiar creature revealed its inquisitive head from it’s makeshift burrow. I’m about a foot away and it sniffs the air nonchalantly and pauses just long enough for me to take a snap! It was a truly memorable moment!
My walk continued downwards. Fallen tree trunks became beds for bright green moss. Creepers inched up towards the canopy. Twisted roots from mighty trees snake across the path. The lower I get down the valley, the louder the sound of the waterfall becomes. My excitement builds. The humidity increases. Mist from the mighty fall seeps into the valley floor. I turn one more corner, and there is is. The foot of the serenely violent falls comes into view! The spray can be felt over 50 meters away. It refreshes my body, covers my glasses and feels just perfect. I only took a handful of snaps, sometimes a memory captures a moment better then an image. I’m alone, it’s peaceful, it’s perfect. After perhaps ten or so minutes, a pair of university students emerge from the track and share this perfect moment. A somewhat cheeky grin rippled across my face when they both asked me to take a few snaps of them in front of the waterfall, then announced that they’d be taking a dip in the pool below the falls. They stripped down to their bikinis, I gave a wink and headed back up the trail.
The walk to the bottom of the falls is a ring track. Down one side of the falls and up the other. The decent is much more severe – a few hundred steps, much steeper and unforgiving. The trip back up is much more leisurely. I find I’m still cooled from the spray of the waterfall and the walk up is done at a brisk but enjoyable pace. Glimpses of other waterfalls and those beautiful valleys punctuate the lovely mountain trail. The afternoon sun slowly turns brilliant greens to gold. I’ve found a few hitchikers along the way – small leeches are flicked off my ankles, leaving trickles of blood running an irregularly shaped path down my leg.
I find my way back to my car. I’m slightly puffed, sweaty, smelly and hungry. I also feel like a different man, compared to the one that got out of this very car not a few short hours ago. My soul feels restored and my spirits lifted. I feel like I’ve been given spoonfuls of grace, light and love – the very remedy that I needed for such a time as this. Once again I feel an immense sense of gratitude – thankful for what I have and no longer envious of what I do not. I may have spent a few hours, but there were immediate returns on the investment. Time well spent alone, in this pristine wilderness, wrapped in the safety of the All mighty – what a way to spend the afternoon!