A week before I left Australia for the third time, I went to the Brisbane Exhibition with my friend, Michelle. Although Michelle had lived in Brisbane for seven years, it took a foreigner coming over to get her into the Ekka. During our day there, she told me how much she really liked viewing the country through someone else's eyes. She was seeing a lot of things she normally wouldn't notice. When I was looking for something to do on the last day before I left, I thought I would throw an odd idea out and see what she thought.
"Would you like to climb Mt. Ngungun (one of the smaller Glass House Mountains, located north of Brisbane) on Friday?", I asked in my email. I was amazed when her response was, "Sure! I've never even thought about climbing a mountain before!" We decided to leave relatively early so we could enjoy the trek without rushing.
Michelle picked me up, we made our way north through Brisbane, on the Bruce Highway, then along the Glass House Mountains tourist route. We drove past what looked like a crowded regional sports day and found ourselves in the Glass House Mountains township. Here, we stopped in the small shops in search of a picnic lunch. We got drinks and fruit in the little grocery store and went next door for some freshly-made sandwiches at the bakery.
After another couple minutes in the car, we were at the beginning of the Ngungun trail. This led us into the trees at a low grade. Since it wasn't a weekend, there were very few people, so we were left to nature. As we listened to the leaves brushing together above us, we stopped and looked at rare plant life, fallen down trees, and the view of Mt. Tibrogargan, that, every once in a while, could be seen towering in the distance. The path slowly wound up the mountain, going back and forth, with each higher portion of the path giving us a great view of the section we had just climbed. Michelle pointed out, and I agreed, that it was great to be immersed in such a beautiful landscape, that it was very convenient for God to have created so many even stairs for us to walk up.
A few hikers who passed us on the way down told us that "the next part is the most difficult". I had to laugh when I saw this "difficult" tract, comparable to the hike to the base of Mt. Tibrogargan. However, it was good not to be completely petrified of what I was about to do, which is how I felt before climbing Mt. Beerwah (the tallest of the Glass House Mountains) the second time. Plus, since Michelle had never climbed a mountain before, it was a perfect starter for her.
The trail led between forested area on the left and a huge rock face on the right. It was a bit steep, but not enough to involve doubling over and grabbing handholds and footholds, at least most of the time. The biggest difference between this trail and the trails I’d encountered on the other Glass House Mountains was how gravelly and dusty it was. This was the cause of our two concerns – slipping on gravel and grabbing a piece of rock that wasn't quite as attached to the mountain as you'd like it to be.
About halfway up this portion of the mountain are the Ngungun caves. This is where the rock wall on the right turns into an overhang with a few stalactites. We sat near the sign telling people these caves were not for rock climbing because of the instability of the rocks above – no huge loss for us.
We made it to the top of this section, found ourselves standing on a plateau with a beautiful view of Mt. Tibrogargan and the town nestled underneath, After a few snaps, we made our way up the final stairs through some bushes, zigzagged over a few small rocks before coming out into open air and out of the forest. From there, we only had to follow a short two to three- minute trail to the summit.
The summit offered a beautiful 360-degree panoramic, spectacular view of Crook Neck Mountain, overshadowed by Beerwah behind. We got a nasty surprise. The topmost rock on the mountain – the one both Michelle and I wanted to stand on so we could truly say we'd stood at the top of Mt. Ngungun – was covered in bugs. On closer inspection, we found that these bugs were flying ants. They had a unique ability of enveloping any living being that tried to get near them within a matter of seconds.
We quickly retreated, hopped around trying to clear our faces and hair of the creepy-crawlies. We found a couple of rocks that were far enough away from the ant rock. We decided it was time to complete our "full Ekka experience" (referring to the Brisbane Exhibition we had gone to a couple days prior). We pulled our giant fuzzy hats out of our backpacks. Why not? No mountain climb is complete without a giant red or blue fuzzy hat.
Wearing our hats, we pulled out the sandwiches, ate and chatted. Michelle was ecstatic. She'd made it to the top, regardless of what her amused relatives had said. We had an enjoyable time eating, talking, taking pictures, singing songs having to do with mountains. I'm sure the townsfolk of Glass House Mountains approved of the strains of "Climb eveeeerrrrrryyyyyy mountain!" floating down from the top of Ngungun.
After lunch, we decided to conquer the ant rock, really standing on the top. Armed with only my hat, I climbed a couple rocks, slightly past the ant rock. We hadn't realized before that that the path continued past the ant rock, but it only continued a short distance downhill, so we hadn't missed much.
Michelle followed, we commenced our Ngungun dance, which had little to do with our happiness in being on top of the mountain. We swung our arms in the air, trying to clear our faces to keep the ants from crawling all over us. We didn't conquer the top of Ngungun for long. Soon defeated, we returned to our safe place and picked the ants out of our hats.
Three people joined us. We laughingly pointed out not to get too close to the swarming ant rock. One of the ladies knew there was some sort of bug problem up here, since she had seen us dancing several minutes earlier.
We had a great chat with these people from Whistler, Canada, staying in nearby Caloundra for a few weeks. They liked our hats, asked why we were wearing them. We pointed out the different Glass House Mountains, Caloundra and Mooloolaba on the coast, Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, and the faraway, glinting skyscrapers of Brisbane to them.
As we were starting to get ready to leave, two mountain climbers appeared, having just scaled the face of Ngungun. One of them asked if we'd been to the Ekka recently when he saw our hats (he was kind enough to take our picture in front of several different scenic landscapes). Since it was already two o'clock (we sure did take our time on what was supposed to be a 20-30-minute walk), we started making our way back down.
We had planned the rest of the afternoon, but I convinced Michelle to go to Mt. Beerwah to show her the challenge she was up for in the future. Before we made it there, though, Michelle saw some sugar cane, grabbed a stalk, snapped it, sucked out the goo inside – only to make a horrible face. She reacted the same way as I do with Vegemite!
After charging down the gravel roads through Glass House Mountains National Park, I once again found myself in Beerwah's shadow, just as I had been less than two weeks earlier. We made our way into the clearing before the beginning of the Beerwah track. Michelle was impressed.
As we stood underneath Beerwah, I pointed out the track, with a few dots moving along it still. I wanted to take her to the base of the mountain, but we didn't have time. Fourty minutes later, we were standing in front of Scoopy's Ice Cream at Bongaree, Bribie Island – an amazing place to have an ice cream and watch the sunset. Clearly visible from the door of Scoopy's was the jetty, bathed in orange light. It seemed an idyllic scene, complete with children running around and fisherman looking for a bite.
As the birds squawked in the trees lining Bongaree's beach, we walked out to the very end of the jetty. We could see the Pumicestone Passage stretching away from us on both sides, and the mainland of Australia rising to meet the sunset in front of us. To the right were the Glass House Mountains. Beerwah and Tibrogargan obviously the most visible, but we could pick Ngungun out in the fading light as well.
I enjoyed this sunset morre than the last I'd witnessed on Bribie, I had a friend to share it with. The few clouds on the horizon were tinged with pink and purple, fishermen in their boats buzzed past on their way to shore. We snapped pictures, and got some friendly people to take one of both of us.
I can't imagine a more perfect way to end a great day. As sad as I was to see the sun disappear (which made me realize I would only see that happen one more time before I had to leave the country), the scene made me realize how lucky I was – in a beautiful, diverse land I loved, speing time with a wonderful friend.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the sunset, even as the colors faded and night set in. Michelle promised she would return to Bribie. I'll definitely take her up on that!