Saturday, 3 February 2018

Lower Portals (Mount Barney National Park)


A stunning return walk in Mt Barney National Park, the Lower Portals trails takes walkers to one of the area's best loved swimming holes. Passing through beautiful eucalypt woodlands, the trail crosses a series of shallow streams through the undulating landscape before leading to the stunning swimming hole at Lower Portals. An excellent walk and swim, this is well worth the trip from Brisbane or the Gold Coast

Distance: 7.4 km (return)
Gradient: A mix of gentle, level walking and steep descents and ascents
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail with constructed steps in places
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow trailhead, but no markers along the way. Trail junctions are clearly marked
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Recommended
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Many steps, particularly leading up and down from the creek crossings
Best Time to Visit: All year round
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at the Lower Portals Rd car park. From Upper Logan Rd, take Seidenspinner Rd west over the Logan River and then turn left onto Lower Portal Rd. The car park is at the end of the road. 



With wet February weather upon us, our plans for a day hike close to the Gold Coast suddenly became a whole lot more academic than simply typing an address in Google Maps and driving out to the trailhead. Days of constantly checking the weather on the Bureau of Meteorology website revealed that our options were slim; my wish list of walks trails in Lamington, Springbrook, Nightcap, Main Range and Glass House Mountains National Parks were off the table. Further inland however was another story, and with clear weather forecast for the afternoon, this was the perfect time to check out the Lower Portals of Mount Barney with my housemates Simon and Zach, and our workmate Alessandra.



Starting at Lower Portals car park at the end of Lower Portals Rd, we were immediately struck by how different the forests were here. While subtropical rainforests dominate most of the national parks near the Gold Coast, Mount Barney's drier climate supports some beautiful eucalyptus woodland species that bore a strong resemblance to the beautiful Wandoo close to the Perth Hills and the rarer eucalypt species of the Dryandra Woodlands.



At the start of the walk is a boot cleaning station. Unlike the one we had encountered the week before at Binna Burra, this one was actually working and allowed us to do our part to ensure that we did not spread any pathogens along the trail.



My dislike for rough barked eucalypts like Jarrah and love of smooth barked species like Wandoo and Karri is well documented, so it was no surprise that I found many of the smooth bark examples along the trail to be stunningly beautiful trees. 



While less dense and wet than subtropical rainforest, the forests here were just as beautiful in their own way and made for very enjoyable walking in an ecosystem I'd never experienced before, but yet had strong similarities to forests I love back home in Western Australia.



While not overly difficult, the Lower Portals trail is continually undulating. Much of the walk from the car park is an ascent up the ridge. While it is mostly a slow climb, the trail frequently dips down to cross the many creeks that crisscross the area



Most of these creek crossings were dry or shallow, but I can imagine many of these swelling up with water after a heavy downpour. 



With Simon and I coming from Western Australia, we both had been keeping an eye out for koalas along our walks. While we are yet to see these iconic animals on a trail, we did appreciate the graffiti pictured above. I don't always appreciate graffiti along a walk trail as it completely goes against Leave No Trace principles, however this particular example had some artistic merit and put a smile on our faces. 



After passing the koala graffiti, the trail reaches its steepest point - an almost continuous ascent up the hill. The trail showed clear signs of erosion, with many exposed roots along the way.




As we reached the top of the ridge, we saw a lot more exposed rock that has a similar appearance to the laterite-dominant landscapes near Perth.



At the top of the ascent, Zach and I waited for Simon and Alessandra. I was about to sit down on an exposed granite boulder when I realised that the area was overrun with bull ants. The bull ants, the ascent and surrounding trees gave me flashbacks to the infamous big ascent along the Numbat Track in Paruna Wildlife Sanctuary back in Perth.



From the top of the hill, the trail descends towards one last gully. After this, the trail continues along similar woodlands before reaching the main creek flowing from Mt Barney.



As we reached the final creek crossing, it was initially unclear which way to go, however a sign on the other side of the river indicated that we had to cross over to reach the Lower Portals.



The creek crossing is over a series of stepping stones that are mostly underwater. As such, this meant getting our boots a bit wet while getting to the other side, but at least I can say that the stepping stones were not slippery. 



Once on the other side, the trail runs upstream on the other side of the creek. A large rocky outcrop is the first obstacle that walkers will need to negotiate, and unlike the creek crossing this was very slippery. Care should be taken when clearing this particular formation.



Continuing along, it was only a few hundred metres before we reached the end of the formed walk trail. From here on, it would be a matter of following the granite boulders upstream to reach the main swimming hole of Lower Portals.



These last 50-100 metres of walking are the trail's most spectacular, with the four of us scrambling along the boulder as we made our way up the stunning gorge, with the summit of Mt Barney towering in the background. 



Zach's monkey-like agility was on full display along this section as he climbed over the boulders with great speed and confidence. 

Lower Portals in Mt Warning National Park - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


The trail ends at a spectacular swimming hole surrounded by towering walls of granite. This is a such a remarkably beautiful area that it alone would be worth the price of admission. 



Being a somewhat humid day, Simon and I jumped in for a dip in the Lower Portals swimming hole. Unlike the warm waters we had encountered on the Twin Falls Circuit, the Lower Portals were a freezing cold but ultimately refreshing swim. 



Being late in the day, we had a short amount of time to swim and have some fun before having to head back to our car. The return trip was straightforward given that it was a return walk through eucalyptus woodlands we'd already seen on the way in, and we were back to the car in good time to drive back to the Gold Coast for dinner. 

Although not quite as epic as actually summiting Mount Barney, the Lower Portals were a fantastic trail in the mountain's foothills and featured one of the most beautiful waterholes I've had the pleasure of swimming in since our trip to Karijini last year. The drier eucalyptus woodlands were a nice change of pace from the subtropical forests that have dominated most of the walks in South East Queensland, and I would thoroughly recommend this walk as being worth the drive from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. 

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