Sunday, 4 February 2018

Witches Falls & Witches Chase (Tamborine National Park)


The longest constructed trail in Tamborine National Park and the park's oldest section, the combined Witches Chase and Witches Falls Circuit walk provides a decent 5.8 kilometre alternative to the short walks in the park. Starting at the North Entry of the park and descending to the falls, the trail then follows the main loop of the Witches Falls Circuit. A pleasant but non-essential walk in the Gold Coast Hinterland

Distance: 5.8 km ('tadpole' loop)
Gradient: Largely gentle over its length with some steep sections.
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained.
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow signage at trail junctions along the Witches Falls Circuit, but very limited signage along the Witches Chase trail
Experience Required: Some Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 90 Minutes
Steps: Many steps leading up and down from the main car park, and some leading to and from Witches Chase
Best Time to Visit: All year.
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: The trail starts at either the main car park on Main Western Road (for the circuit) or off Beacon Rd to start at the Witches Chase car park - if doing both, then the Witches Chase car park is recommended. At the northern end of Main Western Road where it meets Geissmann Drive, head west onto Beacon Rd. When it branches right, continue straight onto Witches Chase. The car park is located at the end of the road.



If you're anything like me, the ideal hike is something that is both spectacular and of a decent length. When you have to compromise on one of the other, it becomes something of a balancing act; how short do you have to go before it is more a glorified path to a place than a trail, and how much less spectacular are you willing to put up with for a bit more of a decent length? Given the shortness of the trails in Tamborine National Park, this is a question I asked myself repeatedly when picking a trail for my second visit to the area. Having thoroughly enjoyed the short but spectacular Sandy Creek Circuit, I wanted to tackle something a bit longer for my second visit. The 5.8 kilometre combination of the Witches Falls and Witches Chase trails was easily the longest option available, and I spent a lazy afternoon exploring this section of the national park. 



Starting at the lesser known Witches Chase car park, signage indicated that I was about to tackle a walk in the oldest National Park in Queensland. This particular entry point to Witches Falls seemed pretty run down, with the wooden part of the entry gateway having been completely removed and no real indication that there is a walk trail at this point. From the car park, the trail immediately descends along a switchback, which provides good views of the surrounding landscape. 



The switchbacks continue as it makes it way down the mountain and into the lush and dense subtropical forest typical of South East Queensland. 



Having decided to walk in the afternoon due to a much lower chance of rain, I was prepared for fairly warm weather. A consequence of this was my first snake sighting along a trail in Queensland, with a snake slithering away into the bushes as I approaches a fallen tree branch across the track. Given the narrow nature of the trail and the fact I had to walk over the tree, I stomped my feet a few times and gingerly made my way over with a cautious eye towards the bushes to my right. 



Not long after the fallen tree, I entered a shady area of forest as the formed trail turned into a series of boulders. Advertised as a boulder field, I had imagined this being something like the boulder field on Toolbrunup Peak in the Stirling Range or Cradle Mountain on the Overland Track, but it was actually a fairly flat and easy section of track that was just a little uneven. 



Beyond the boulder section, the trail reaches the Witches Falls lookout. Having seen some amazing waterfalls in Tamborine National Park such as Cedar Creek and Cameron Falls, I was expecting something more impressive that the rather underwhelming view of the insipid looking Witches Falls. John Forrest National Park in Western Australia is the oldest national park in the state, and while it is not quite as impressive as other parks like Karijini, Stirling Range and Fitzgerald River National Park, you can see why the spectacular waterfalls within John Forrest resulted in it being protected at a time when the concept of national parks was in its infancy. That the then-named Witches Falls National Park was set up to protect this particular waterfall ahead of others seems like a strange choice as its not really anything special. 



Continuing along, the trail passes over the top of the waterfall across a wooden bridge as it leads to the main loop of the Witches Falls Circuit. 



At the junction with the Witches Falls Circuit, I had a choice of continuing along the walk in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Thinking that the walk would probably take me to the base of the falls if I continued anti-clockwise, I decided to get the climb to the car park done first so I could finish with a bang before having to return back up via the Witches Chase Trail.



The forest along the ascent was the typically stunning subtropical rainforest that is so common in the Gold Coast Hinterland area, and was an enjoyable walk in spite of the near constant ascension.




I would later discover that this is the faster and steep ascent of the two, and there was a seemingly continuous series of steps leading up to the car park. 



After following steps and a few easy switchbacks, I found myself at the main car park for the Witches Falls Circuit, with a bitumenised path leading through the grassed parklands near the top.



An interesting sight along this stretch of the track is a cemetery adjacent to the grassed parklands. Given the small size of the cemetery, I assumed that most of the graves were for the loved ones of the pioneering families in the area, however with a fence all around I decided to keep going rather than investigate further.  



Heading through the park, I spotted a much grander sign indicating that Witches Falls was the site of the first National Park in Queensland. As a Western Australian, I couldn't help but feel a bit of snarky pride that we had them beat by 6 years and that our first national park is arguably better than theirs in spite of the subtropical rainforest being generally superior to the dry burnt Jarrah common to the Perth Hills. 



Other structures at the main Witches Falls car park included a shelter with information about the sights along the walk trail, including kilometre measurements. Many of these seemed abandoned by the time of my visit, with the signage for the lagoon having been completely overtaken by overgrown bushes. 



Leaving the bitumen path, the circuit leads down via a continually descending switchback. Given the high chance of landslips in Queensland due to heavy rains, some fairly scary signs warn of the dangers of the area and advise to avoid this section of trail in wet weather. 



Given the dry weather and the fact I wanted to document the continuous switchbacks, I may have ignored the part about walking through without stopping.



Once at the bottom of the switchback, the circuit passed through the most stunning section of subtropical rainforest along the trail. This area clearly gets pretty heavily inundated during the wet season, as there was even signage indicating an alternative wet weather route. 




With fallen trees and a lack of clarity, the provision of directional signage - a rarity in Queensland - was a welcome addition as the trail made its way through the beautiful rainforest. 



I was really getting into the walk and looking forward to reaching the foot of the falls when I found myself at the end of the Witches Falls Circuit and back at the junction with the Witches Chase section of the trail without the trail leading to the bottom. This was a bit of disappointment given how uninspiring Witches Falls were from the top and the fact that all the new parts of the walk were over and I would be once again ascending via the Witches Chase trail. I found it strange that Witches Chase is not marked as such on the signage, with the only reference to its existence being the sign indicating a 'North Exit' at the main car park. Walkers need to make a note of this as the signage will not help them find their way back to the car. 



The Witches Falls and Witches Chase Trails were pleasant walks, but they were easily the weakest trail offerings I'd undertaken in South East Queensland since moving here for work in January. Up until now, I'd found the South East Queensland day walks to be uniformly excellent and filled with stunning vistas. While Witches Falls had elements of the quintessentially Gold Coast-type subtropical rainforest beauty, it was far less impressive than the nearby Sandy Creek Circuit and the walks in Lamington and Springbrook National Parks. This wasn't a bad walk - it is certainly streets ahead of something like the Channel 10 Tower Walk back home in Perth - but there are so many other better walks in South East Queensland that it would have to be a bit further down the list of recommended trails. Certainly a bit of an example of why the Long Way is sometimes - just sometimes - not better. 

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