The rain is coming down hard and the woman behind the counter at the Visitor Information Centre in Canungra is worried about our eagerness to walk the 10.6km Box Forest track through Lamington Park in this weather. “You make sure you’re careful,” she says. “Have you got wet weather gear? And you’ve got your dry bags?” We were kicking ourselves for not bringing our jackets but yes, dry bags we have.
With full bellies, thanks to the tasty breakfast from a cafe on Canungra’s main drag, we make our way up to popular wedding spot and boutique lodge O’Reily’s in the Gold Coast Hinterlands. The rain seems to keep most holiday-makers, loved-up newlyweds and families indoors as we set off to explore the national park’s walking tracks which are accessible through the lodge grounds.
A group of friendly couples pass us, saying hello in various accents, and a well-prepared man in his rain gear walks by, his hood tightly bound around his face. I look at him enviously. He stops us and warns of the brown snake he’s seen on his walk and by the looks of things, it’s not just snakes we have to look out for. While his coat may be protecting him from the rain, there is little one can do to escape the wrath of the leeches and he has four suckers having a good feed on his face. After giving him a hand plucking them off, the man carries on with a smile and streams of blood dripping down his wet face. We realise what we’re in for.
We make our way along the Box Forest Track which is said to be one of the most rewarding of the circuit walks in this area. With a lush canopy of Piccabeen Palms, Brush Box and dangling vines overhead, we walk along the wide and stable track which follows Canungra Creek. We may have started out cursing the rain for bringing out the leeches, but once we reach Wajinya and Darragumai Falls it’s a different story and we’re happy to walk through mud to reach it. The cascades are flowing particularly hard today and it takes some sure-footed wading to reach the other side of the creek without being swept away.
Careful foot placement becomes a game a few hours into the trek, and my mind wanders while I attempt to make it across the rocks to the other side of Canungra Creek on the way out. My friend gasps as I slip on the rocks but somehow manage to stay upright – not unlike my first experience ice skating, really. She reminds me of three-point balancing and I make more of an effort to watch where I’m going.
There are about seven leeches hiding under my sock at this point and the air is starting to chill, but the waterfalls are spectacular. As well as Darragumai and Wajinya Falls there is also Elabana Falls on the way home and Picnic Rock, which is a great place to stop for lunch. We walk straight through Picnic Rock but food is on the brain now. After 5 hours of walking quietly and not seeing a fellow trekker, apart from the friendly folk at the start of the circuit, we come to the end of the trek and wade our way out and back into the grounds of O’Reilys. Here a friendly staff member invites us to use the lodge’s warm showers, obviously feeling sorry for us with our lack of wet weather gear, and offers us salt sachets to get rid of the leeches still latched onto our skin. With salt sprinkled over our legs and with our feet pruned and wrinkled, we make our way down back to Canungra and visit the local pub where a pint of Cider and a wood fired pizza goes down a treat before the drive back home.