by Jodi Panayotov
Bushwalking in Brisbane isn't something you need to join a club, get kitted out by Kathmandu or put aside a whole day to participate in. Thanks to some rare and commendable foresight by the powers-that-were, scenic tracts of easily accessible bushland around the city have been preserved so residents of all ages can enjoy another side to their city.
Giant fig trees, a 19th century reservoir, an Aboriginal art trail and an abandoned gold mine are just some of the features waiting to be discovered on the paths through these bushlands, all of which are within a half an hour's drive from the CBD. Most have before or after picnic and barbecue facilities or otherwise a café for refreshments.
The native bushland of Toohey Forest, with its ancient sandstone boulders, is a reminder of how large areas of Brisbane looked before white settlement. A tangle of paths cut a swathe through it but the most popular are the Sandstone Circuit, an easy half hour circuit incorporating boardwalks and a couple of southern vistas (which also connects to other tracks) and the Toohey Ridge Track, a wide paved path ideal for wheelchairs and prams of about 5km return. The start of the Sandstone Track has a couple of picnic tables although these are a catchment for hungry walkers rather than a destination in themselves.
Exclusive city views are the reward at the top of this hill, where, over a century ago, there was an opulent tea house owned by the White family as part of their home and estate. Today nothing remains of the house or iconic venue which drew crowds with its telescope and camera obscura but it's still a worthwhile trek to get away from it all, with circuits of 1km and 2km respectively.
Perhaps the most varied of walks, this one meanders through a series of flora precincts, from glades of exotic grass-skirted Xanthorrhoea (in less PC times known as 'black boys') to banksia covered hillocks and clusters of acacia and is at its best in late winter when all of the native wildflowers are in bloom. All paved paths begin and end at the picnic area and car park where there's also an impressive info centre and a Senses Trail. Suitable for all ages and abilities, wheelchairs and strollers.
Walkers can take their pick between the high road or the low road here, with the starting base the scenic gorge dotted with picnic tables at the end of the car park. The child friendly low road is a rugged but easy grade path of about 20 mins that is privy to a series of Aboriginal art pieces by contemporary artists and, in the wet season, a fantastic view of the falls themselves. The more intrepid can take the high road which veers off the Art Trail and heads for the Mt Coot-tha Summit,where the reward for the 30- 45 minute hike are the best views in Brisbane.
With the Walkabout Creek Wildlife Centre as a base, two circuits lead into Brisbane Forest Park, one a strictly bush walk of 45 mins and the other a 1 ½ hour affair that heads along the picturesque shoreline of heritage listed Enoggera Reservoir (which dates from from 1866 as the city's first established water supply). Extra attractions include the excellent Wildlife Centre with its menagerie of native animals and the treehouse-like Green Tree Frog Café, a great place for a refreshment, or, for the buffet-inclined, a Sunday morning breakfast.
Named after the bellbirds that grace its forest with their distinctive tinkle, this is the base for two interesting walks, both roughly an hour in length. The Turrbal circuit features a clearing of replica gunyahs of the original Turrbal tribe inhabitants while the Golden Boulder circuit winds through the relics of an old goldmine dating from the late 19th and early 20th century. A couple of mine shafts are still visible and a rebuilt prospector's shanty hut hints at the conditions that led to some losing their minds. Back near the Turrbal track is a substantial picnic and barbecue spot with plenty of kookaburras and car parking.
This one may be a bit further out of town but the scenic nature of the drive up and the prospect of a rainforest as opposed to bush walk make it more than worthwhile. The main circuit here is the all-age friendly Pitta Circuit, which takes its walkers via path and boardwalk on a 40 min return walk via an enormous ancient fig tree. For more of a challenge there is a 4 hr return path from here to Jollys Lookout. And bring some marshmallows because there's an open fire pit alongside the barbecue area, otherwise the excellent Boombana Café is a 10 min drive up the road.
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