Recreation in National Parks with Jolene Nelson

Transcript from the podcast “Speak Out Loud: Stories of Strength from the Southern Downs”

SEASON 2: EPISODE 7

GUEST: Jolene Nelson, Acting Senior Ranger – Visitor Management
South West Region, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships
Department of Environment and Science

PUBLISHED: 14th March 2022

Jolene Nelson Girraween National park

[00:00:00] Jolene: I guess what any National Park, or any protected area brings to people is that chance to reboot and reset and disconnect from everything, you know, the busy life that you might have come from. You’ve just got the sights and sounds of nature to enjoy. And it’s just a very simple and nice, easy way to just connect with yourself as well as with nature.

[00:00:34] Kathryn: Today’s episode is with Jolene Nelson, who is the Visitor Management Ranger for the South West Region. Jo chats with me about the National Parks in the region, the activities that are on offer, and she shares with us the recovery journey that she’s seen following the bush fires, particularly at Girraween National Park where she’s worked for over 20 years. The region has some incredible green spaces. And I really hope that this episode inspires you to get out there, to get active and to connect with nature.

Welcome to the podcast Jo. Can you tell us what’s your connection with the Southern Downs Region?

[00:01:13] Jolene: Well, I have pretty much been connected with this region for half of my life. I moved here when I was 28. I’ve worked out at the National Park at Girraween for the last 25 years. So yeah, I’ve kind of grown up here. I’ve had a family here. I love this community. I certainly found my niche. There’s so many different flavours in the region, as far as the environment and the culture and arts and food and wine and so on. I really do love this area. It’s something that I don’t hold back sharing with people.

[00:01:46] Kathryn: So you mentioned Girraween, can you tell us a little bit about the National Parks that are in the Southern Downs Region?

[00:01:52] Jolene: Yeah. So I probably talk about Girraween a lot because it’s kind of my favourite. But we are very lucky in this region. We do have a few different National Parks. We’ve got Girraween and Sundown National Parks on the Queensland side of the border. And then just a little bit across the border out of our region, of course is, Bald Rock and Boonoo Boonoo National Parks. But then we also have state forests as well. So where I live, I actually back onto Broadwater State Forest. And then just a bit further north is Passchendaele State Forest. So lots of protected areas, lots of places to play, lots of recreational opportunities, camping, walking, hiking overnight, mountain biking, a lot of bird watching, nature, just places to reset and enjoy and experience nature and in beautiful environments. And our climate is perfect, all year round, really, you can go walking, it’s not too hot. But there’s lots of places to swim if you do. So. So yeah, that’s what we’ve got around our region. We’re very lucky.

[00:02:48] Kathryn: In 2019 and 2020, there were some bush fires that came through the region. And that happened after several years of drought. And more recently, the region has had some flooding and we’ve seen lots of regrowth since then, but in general, how have all these different weather and climatic events impacted the National Parks in the region?

[00:03:13] Jolene: Yeah, look, I guess it’s the nature of our business. We do work in a natural environment and it’s shaped by, you know, what’s going on in the big picture. So the weather will definitely shape what’s going on down on the ground. In my time, like I’ve been there for many wildfires. We had a big one back in 2002, another one in 2005, another one in 2015, but the 2019 one was certainly odd being February. It’s not generally when we have our wildfires and it was kind of cold, like we were actually rugged up on the fire line. But that unfortunately was because we just had so much fuel because of the drought that, you know, leading up to that wildfire. And then Broadwater State Forest, was the big fire that impacted on Stanthorpe more so. That was also pretty crazy. Unfortunately it was, it occurred or started on an extreme fire danger day. Actually it was catastrophic, I should say. Yeah, it was, it was just horrible when it happened and, we knew that at some stage there would be a fire in Broadwater, but we just didn’t know to that extreme and threatening town like it did. But as far as these environments, yes, we do have these extremities. We’ve got the fires and I’ve also experienced a few floods in the region, 2011 and then again, last year, and even this year we’ve had the little sort of flash floods. And then drought. To experience the two year, 2018 to 20 drought, you know, that was the biggest for our region. Like they’re hard, you know, you fall in love with these environments and then I guess it’s like seeing a friend stressed and, and not at their best, you kind of, um, it touches your heart. You know, I would go out to Girraween to work and I would see ridges of trees dying. And yeah, it was, it was heartbreaking. And then I’d come home and I’d see my own backyard, you know, stressed. You would see populations reducing. It was really hard times, but I guess the recovery of these things is amazing, you know, and that’s nature is that you hope in the long run, yes at the time things might look terrible, but in the long run, you hope that they’re going to recover to some state where, you know, you can still go out and not see the ridges of trees dying and so on.

[00:05:29] Kathryn: You mentioned those fires that you’ve witnessed or, you know, are aware of in the last 10, 15, 20 years as well. So I’m imagining that you’ve seen recovery taking place from each of those over the longer term?

[00:05:46] Jolene: Yes, definitely. I mean, I guess after a fire, you do start to see the epicormic shoots and the regrowth starting to happen. It was a bit of a slower recovery process because of the drought. We didn’t have the follow-up rain that would generally help recover the bush. But eventually it has got there. I’ve had a few days where, I’ve kind of had a little cry, but of joy. And one of those was actually, it was exactly this time two years ago. I was at, down The Junction and finally seeing the creeks flowing. And it was like, this rain is pumping life into Girraween again. So, you feel really warm and fuzzy and hopeful that things are going to come back. And I can tell you that two years later, the bush is looking definitely healthier. We’re seeing species recover. I think we just had one of our best wildflower seasons. We’re seeing orchids that we hadn’t seen for a couple of years you know, come back out. We’ve got naturalists doing field studies, finding quolls. We’ve seen wombats on cameras. The bird life, the reptiles, everything seems to be coming back. So that’s, yeah, a really good sign of, um, better times ahead. Hopefully.

[00:06:54] Kathryn: That must be really exciting to see those changes.

[00:06:57] Jolene: Oh it is for me personally, um, yeah, beautiful. Like I go for a walk in the bush now and I’m not so kind of worried and stressed out. I just am now just back to enjoying it and getting back to discovering things about why I love being out where I am.

[00:07:12] Kathryn: Preparation for natural disasters like fires and, and drought and the floods as well can be really valuable, not just for survival, you know, surviving that particular disaster, but also for the longer term recovery for the land and the people. How do you prepare and plan for bush fires in a landscape such as Girraween?

[00:07:37] Jolene: Yeah, look a huge component of our jobs as Rangers is we’re fire managers. So it’s not just about being there as a firefighter. It’s about the years and months ahead, where you’re actually putting your thoughts and your learnings and your training into coming up with fire strategies. Now we develop fire strategies for our National Parks up to 10 years. Um, and then we’ll you know, narrow that down. It might be a year burn plan that you will come up with about where the best places need to be looked at at that time. We work with other agencies as well, so that we can at a larger level, look at our landscape and see what we need to do, to protect our communities as well as our environment. Through the year, like winter there’s a lot of work that goes into the preparation for the coming fire season. So that’s anything from slashing your fire trails to making sure your neighbours’ contacts are up to date. Your roads are maintained, so they’re ready and doing those prescribed burns, working with our First Nations People. Cultural burning and prescribed burning can be a little bit different. So combining the two definitely is more productive, uh, more effective we’ve found. And then I guess you go into the warmer seasons and it’s about being prepared and ready and trained and having resources and just waiting for those horrible extreme fire danger days and making sure your work plan is revolving around what’s going on out in the environment and you’re ready. And yeah just once you get those calls, just getting onto fires wildfires as soon as we can. So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot that we can do and that we do do, but there’s also, you know, nature that sort of will take its toll and determine how our days turn out.

[00:09:22] Kathryn: Natural environments like our National Parks are really valuable spaces for lots of different reasons. And from a mental health perspective, they give us the space to get active and have social gatherings and get connected with the natural world. What are some of the activities that people can do when they visit the National Parks such as Girraween and Sundown?

[00:09:46] Jolene: We’ve got many different types of recreational opportunities available in the different areas. So Girraween, it’s obviously very busy. But that’s because we’ve got the walking tracks that will cater for those numbers. We’ve got the small half-hour walks through to, you know, six hour walks if you’re prepared and want to, um, there’s the overnight hikes. We’ve got remote camp sites and we’ve got our camping areas as well. So, they’re kind of the main things that goes on. Lots of walking and camping. But then you’ve got rock climbing, you’ve got mountain biking, there’s orienteering. There’s a lot of birdwatching people. Naturalists love Girraween because it’s kinda like a little biological island. We’ve got a lot of species that you won’t find further north, south, east, and west. So it’ll bring a lot of your bird watchers, people that love reptiles, spotlighting at night for possums and gliders. You know, many go looking for wombats, but you gotta be lucky to spot one of those. But then you have Sundown, which is only an hour or so away from Girraween and it’s way more remote. So you’ve gotta be really prepared there. You can do remote walks and hikes. There is the Severn River, so you can go paddling, have a swim, you can even fish. And four wheel driving of course, because of its remoteness and ruggedness. So yeah, different opportunities, but I guess what any National Park, or any protected area brings to people is that chance to reboot and reset and disconnect from everything, you know, the busy life that you might have come from. You’ve just got the sights and sounds of nature to enjoy. And it’s just a very simple and nice, easy way to just connect with yourself as well as with nature. And yeah, I, I personally get a lot of calmness out of being in the bush, whether it is a ride or a walk or a climb or a swim, just to focus on yourself and just what’s important in life, I guess, you know, about looking after yourself.

[00:11:43] Kathryn: If anyone’s listening is interested in coming along to one of the National Parks and doing any of those activities, camping, for example, or bushwalking, where can they go for more information or to make a booking?

[00:11:57] Jolene: You can either just Google Girraween, and it’ll come up as the number one website, but for any of our National Parks, if you just go to the Department of Environment and Science and look for camping or booking online, you’ll just follow the links and you’ll find it.

[00:12:10] Kathryn: Jo, is there anything else that you’d like to share about the National Parks?

[00:12:15] Jolene: Girraween in particular again, the jewel of the crown, for me, it’s one of our iconic parks in Queensland. It’s actually going through a facelift at the moment. So yes. Had some hard days, but it’s having some funds injected into it to up grade our camping areas. So we’re closing Castle Rock, and that’ll be the first one to receive the facelift. And by the end of June, we hope to have three camping areas in Girraween that will cater better for the groups that we have coming. Big things happening for us, and I guess, with COVID we’ve seen that a lot of people have the need to go to these beautiful open places and be with nature. And, so I’m hoping that this is going to be a lovely way that we can get past this pandemic.

[00:13:01] Kathryn: Lots of opportunities for people to get out there and get active and nurture themselves.

[00:13:06] Jolene: Exactly, exactly. And yeah. Leave those gadgets at home. Bring some marshmallows, sit around the campfire with the kids and then just enjoy nature.

[00:13:16] Kathryn: That sounds beautiful. Thank you, Jo.

Thanks for listening to the Speak Out Loud Stories of Strength podcast with me, Kathryn Walton. I hope this episode inspires you to get involved and to get connected with your community. You can find the transcript and any links mentioned in this episode, in the show notes and please share the podcast with your friends. We acknowledge and pay respect to the past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders of this nation and the continuation of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Series Two of this podcast has been jointly funded under the Commonwealth and State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018.

How to get motivated to get outdoors

Today we’re diving back into the topic of motivation which is always a very popular theme when it comes to anything that feels like hard work including exercise. I’ve previously written about how to get motivated for exercise so this time we’re going to explore motivation from a different but related perspective – how to get motivated to get outdoors more often.

The outdoors can help you get more movement into your day

The thought of exercise can be overwhelming. Some people really don’t like it and some people struggle to get into a regular routine because of health, mobility or medical issues. Perhaps you’re one of them. Or maybe there’s another reason that you struggle with exercise. But ….. did you know that the most important thing – even more than exercise – is movement?!

Exercise is fabulous for so many reasons, and yes, I’m passionate about this topic, but it’s absolutely critical that exercise is built on a strong foundation of general movement right throughout the day. Here’s where nature can help you if you struggle with either exercise, or generally being active and moving around more. When you include contact with nature in your daily routine, you’ll get outdoors more often, move more, sit less, and you’ll find joy in life and joy in connecting with nature. Your body will also benefit from the boost of Vitamin D it gets when you get outside into the sunshine.

Find your own reason to get outdoors

If you do find it difficult to get outdoors and into nature, even though you know it’s good for you, try to find another reason or a purpose for going outside. It’s much better to feel positive and drawn towards it than feeling like you ‘should’ or ‘have to’.

Grow potted plants or a garden

potted plantsYou could try growing some plants in pots or in a garden if you have enough space. Or you could have a go at growing salad greens and herbs in your kitchen. Plants can give you a reason to get up and get active when you look forward to nurturing and harvesting them. Checking on your plants every day gets you into a habit of connecting with nature. It helps you to get a daily routine going. Over time you can watch your plant habitat expand and before you know it there’ll be insects, butterflies, birds, bees, frogs and even spiders all sharing the space with your plants (especially if they’re outside) which is a sign of a healthy micro-habitat.

Look Out and Up

If growing plants is not your thing, you can still look for another reason or purpose to get outdoors and connect with nature that’s meaningful for you. Even if going outside is not an option, you can create a routine of looking out a window, for example, at birds as they fly by. Perhaps they’re searching for food, nesting or calling out to each other. Or you can look up at the clouds and notice their movement. Clouds never seem to stay still. They constantly morph from one shape, colour and texture to another.

Nature Walks and Journals

Are you up for a little more activity than simply observing what’s around? You could aim for a daily walk to a nature strip or park and notice the changes in your surroundings each day. Some of them will be obvious, and others much more subtle. It can get you wondering what changes you’ll see tomorrow when you next come back. You can make a mental note of the changes, or you might enjoy keeping a journal of what you see and hear on your outings. In your journal you can use words, but you can also use images. You might like to take a series of photos of something growing or changing, or keep some audio recordings of the sounds you hear in nature.

Learn and Grow

Take your noticing and journalling one step further by tapping into the resources in your community or on the Internet so that you learn more about nature and the outdoors. You can use bird and plant identification apps and books, online interest groups such as the Outdoors is my Therapy Facebook Group, clubs and you can simply ask other people what they know about the things you’ve seen or heard.

Set Yourself a Challenge

Staying motivated with your habit of regularly getting outdoors can be helped along by setting a challenge for yourself. This could include committing to a daily garden check or recording the birds you see for a week. Set a specific time of the day to do this that will work for you. For example, if you’re usually up and about early or spend time winding down after a day at work in the late afternoon, these would be ideal times to do a bird check because that’s when many birds are most active.

Notice the Little Treasures That Tell a Story

glistening spider webDon’t forget that the little things in nature can also help you get motivated to establish a daily routine of getting outdoors. Have you ever been the first person to walk through a cobweb as you explore the park or bushland? I certainly have! I don’t like the feeling of sticky cobweb across my face and the panic of wondering if there’s a spider clinging to my back, but I am constantly amazed at how the spider can rebuild the web overnight and there it is the next day, stretched across the same bit of walking trail.

If you find something like this in your local area whether it’s a cobweb, a little cluster of flowers, an ant hole, a tree with buds, a creek weir, or whatever it is, check on it every day to see what you can see. You will discover the secret life of the natural world all around you when you take a few moments to pause and notice.

Over time, these little discoveries will tell you a story. A story that will compel you to keep coming back day after day so you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch the next chapter.

What motivates you to get outdoors?

Some of us are motivated to get outdoors simply for health reasons. Some of us are not. But perhaps you will be motivated to see what’s calling for your attention outdoors once you get to know it better and discover nature’s secrets in your local neighbourhood. Too often we focus on the big, obvious things in life. I encourage you to focus on developing small habits – small changes to your routine. Look for the little treasures and let the motivation flow in its own time.

spend time in nature

If you would like more motivation and inspiration to connect with the outdoors, subscribe to my newsletter Grounded Inspiration.

Listen to the audio version of this post in the Outdoors is my Therapy Podcast Episode 25!

Daisy Spoke logoDiscovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

The Adventure Therapy Project for Women

Adventure activities inspire healthy choices

The Adventure Therapy Project has been inspiring and skilling women to make healthy choices for themselves by valuing self-care, spending time outdoors, challenging themselves in new ways, and being physically active. We’ve had amazing fun and free activities on the go throughout 2019 and 2020 including:

  • bushwalks
  • gentle nature walks
  • birdwatching
  • trail yoga (outdoors yoga)
  • mountain biking
  • canoeing
  • bouldering
  • nature craft workshops
  • camping

The Adventure Therapy Project

The evolution of The Adventure Therapy Project

It’s been super fun to be a part of this Project from identifying the gap in women’s outdoor activities in the community, to developing the concept, applying for funding, organising and implementing the activities, and seeing the women enthusiastically getting involved. The Project has been funded with a grant through the Empowering Our Communities initiative which supports communities adversely impacted by severe drought. The funds were made available through the Darling Downs West Moreton PHN.

The Project has hosted about fifty different events for a few hundred women mostly from the Southern Downs Region of southern Queensland. Six small businesses provided instruction in their speciality activities, and numerous community groups and individuals shared information about the activities. Many men and women have told me that although they haven’t participated, they’ve been inspired to get outdoors and get active simply by hearing and seeing the Project in action. How awesome is that!

The Adventure Therapy Project canoeing

Outdoor adventures are a valuable part of mental health and self-care

Spending time outdoors can be incredibly valuable for almost every aspect of human health and wellbeing. The outdoors, and especially natural spaces, have a pretty unique advantage. They offer infinite opportunities for the development, growth and restoration of the whole self. Nature can both challenge and heal your physical body, mind, emotions and spirit. Spending time in nature also supports connection with others, connection with the inner self, and a greater understanding and connection to the world around us.

Having worked for many years as a mental health worker in the public and private sectors I believe that mental health deserves much broader attention than what the current medical model allows. There is a tendency to focus narrowly on formal diagnosis of specific mental illnesses and treatments which frequently include medication and/or talking therapies.

I believe that we need to examine and adjust ALL the systems that impact mental health at an individual, family, workplace and community level. And we need to do this not only when someone experiences distress, but most importantly to prevent and minimise problems that inevitably will occur in life. Healthy lifestyle choices are particularly relevant to preventing and managing general mood disturbances such as feeling anxious, ‘down’ or mild to moderately depressed, stressed and tiredness (where there is no other known medical condition).

The Adventure Therapy Project MTB

Mental health can thrive when the foundations are strengthened

Thriving mental health is built upon strong lifestyle foundations of:

  • physical activity including general movement, exercise and activity levels
  • sleep
  • nutrition
  • mind skills, and
  • connection with the world around us including the natural world and social connections

A strong foundation does not mean that an individual will always bounce happily and easily through life, but it does mean that they are in a better position to manage their life stresses and challenges.

Your bio-chemistry changes when you move and exercise. It also changes with the nutrition you take into your body, the quality and quantity of sleep you have, the way you think, and the connections you have with other people and even when you spend time outdoors in nature. We need to value and adjust each of these systems to truly make a difference to mental health. Outdoor adventures go a very long way towards supporting each of these foundations.

The Adventure Therapy Project Nature Walk

The success of The Adventure Therapy Project

Two years ago I felt I needed to constantly justify why I wanted to take small groups of women on outdoor adventures. For years and years I provided talking therapies in closed rooms and saw patterns repeating themselves. Occasionally you can convince someone to get outdoors and get active for their health. But to actually take them outdoors and be active with them, that’s something pretty special. That helps to overcome some of the hurdles that get in the way. With increased exercise, connection with nature, new physical and mental skills, and new friendships, you’ll tend to sleep better as well.

The Adventure Therapy Project bouldering

What’s next for The Adventure Therapy Project?

It hasn’t been completely plain sailing for the Project. The funding targeted the drought affected community but when bushfires ravaged the region and filled the air with thick smoke, we pushed the pause button for a few months. Likewise, COVID-19 has impacted in a variety of ways. Following these disruptions the Project was extended for another six months and now it is complete. When another round of the same funding was announced in 2020, the Project was no longer eligible due to new guidelines which excluded face-to-face activities.

So, for now The Adventure Therapy Project has paused. I’m spending my time and energy this summer on creating some new online resources that I’ll be excited to share with the community shortly. If you’d like to be the first to hear about new releases and new adventure activities, be sure to subscribe to my Grounded Inspiration email.

The Adventure Therapy Project camping

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for general information only. Please always seek individual advice from a health professional or crisis centre such as Lifeline (ph 13 11 14) if you have any concerns about your own mental health and safety or the mental health and safety of another person.

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

Hike and Camp Weekend for Women

hike and camp weekend next to the waterhole

Spending a weekend hiking and camping in the Australian bush beside a waterhole was made all the more perfect by sharing it with a group of nature-loving women. The Adventure Therapy Project has guided women on bush adventures throughout 2019 and 2020 across the Southern Downs Region in southern Queensland. The funding sourced from Darling Downs West Moreton PHN was used to bolster the mental health of locals who’ve been doing it tough with severe drought for years.

The grant enabled small groups of women to experience mountain biking, canoeing, bouldering, bushwalking, birdwatching, nature walks, trail yoga, nature craft workshops and of course our Hike + Camp Weekend in the stunning Goomburra Valley in November 2020. All of these activities were fully funded so there was no added burden for the women to participate.

The time leading up to the Hike + Camp Weekend was filled with excitement as well as uncertainty as stormy weather systems that we hadn’t seen for a few years began to move through. The welcome downpour meant we needed to postpone for a few weeks to let the sticky black soil and clay dry out so we could safely access the property.

a grassy track on the property where we held the Hike and Camp weekend

Finally the day came and we eagerly met at the hay shed just below The Grain Shed Retreat. This private property is used for bush adventure and therapy by Bel and her team from Darling Downs Wellness Therapies. Bel was our very welcoming yoga instructor and camp host for our much anticipated weekend of balanced action and relaxation.

Bel was our host for the Hike and Camp weekend

We began with some yoga in the shade of the hay shed and I think we were all mesmerised by the sight of lush green grass around us. Awake to the beauty around us, we loaded our gear into the ute to be transported to our campsite for us and we moved into action. The uphill trek to our campsite was steep yet stunning. Even in the heat of the day we were unstoppable, pausing every few minutes for another breathtaking view of the valley around us. It was such a beautiful lesson about the value of persisting, pacing yourself and the power of group support.

stunning views on the uphill trek on the Hike and Camp weekend

Our campsite was cosily nestled among the gum trees next to the waterhole where we swam and cooled off whenever we felt like it. For some of us that was pretty special because women are so often focused on caring for others and getting things done, we don’t often prioritise our own self-care choices. The waterhole was also the perfect spot for sunset yoga and again early in the morning (we were so relaxed we didn’t quite make it for sunrise!)

campsites

Our delightful camp bathroom consisted of separate shower and toilet tents with all the mod cons you can imagine which made us feel so special despite roughing it for the weekend.

The hand built wooden deck looking over the waterhole, was perfectly positioned for us to settle in for the weekend. The tall whispering trees were like old friends standing by our sides, the trickling waterfall at our feet reminded us to bring focus to those things that revive us, and a clear night sky with the moon rising above us comforted us with its spectacular halo of light.

moon shining through the trees

Exploring the dry creek bed was one of the treasures we experienced during the Hike + Camp weekend. We discovered an incredible array of rocks, some of them sparkling intensely in the sunlight, some of them purple, some of them pitted with holes from volcanic days gone by. Others were a motley combination of rock and clay artfully stuck together on display. Each of them different and special – a bit like all of us. It’s amazing how things can sparkle and shine with their true colours even in the harshest of environments.

layers of rock forming the dry creek bed and banks

Over the weekend Bel shared stories with us of people who had walked the land before us. It was moments like these that we were reminded of the vastness and multi-dimensional nature of our world. Slowing down for the weekend opened up opportunities for enriching, heart-felt conversations, silent reflections about life, and lighthearted moments where we laughed wholeheartedly, doubled up and breathing deeply, wiping the tears of laughter from our cheeks.

3 women at the Hike and Camp weekend peer into a deep hole in the creek bed

In quieter moments we read books or created with craft. We ambled, rested, shared stories and came home to that inner part of ourselves as we reset and reconnected with the important stuff of life.

relaxing and resting on the deck overlooking the waterhole

The Hike + Camp weekend really was a time to practice balance. All the juggling we do in our every day lives was paused. We each chose a balance that was just right between action and relaxation, togetherness and alone time, introspection and outward expression. As we packed up camp and meandered down the mountain to our vehicles, each of us carried a sense of clarity about what it is that we need as an individual to nurture our energy levels and zest for life. For all of us that meant remaining connected with nature in some way.

grassy field with hills in the background and blue sky

I’m always inspired by the magic that happens when women come together for activities such as hiking and camping. With open hearts and minds we connect with nature, connect with each other, and most importantly we connect with our inner selves and when it’s time to go home again, we leave with a certain richness that inspires us in other areas of our lives.

INTERESTED IN HEARING ABOUT FUTURE BUSH RETREATS, CAMPING ADVENTURES AND NATURE-BASED ACTIVITIES? Sign up for my Grounded Inspiration emails so you won’t miss out!

You can also listen to the Outdoors is my Therapy podcast episode where I chat about all things to do with the Hike and Camp Weekend!

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

Where to Mountain Bike on the Southern Downs

I get lots of queries about where you can mountain bike on the Southern Downs. This article gives you a summary of some of my favourite places to ride close to my home. If you live further afield, you might be interested to know what’s around here so that you can bring your bike on future visits. And if you think you’re not likely to ever come to the region, keep reading anyway because you’ll get some tips on how to find out where you can mountain bike in other regions as well.

MTB Southern Downs

MTB for fun, fitness and mental health

Over the last couple of years I’ve been running some mountain biking (MTB) skills clinics for beginners/intermediates in the region through The Adventure Therapy Project for Women. This community project is an initiative of Kathryn Walton Consulting and has been supported by funding from Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN. Supporting women to ride off road is important to me because I know there are many barriers that prevent women and girls getting out and having a go or consistently being involved with adventurous activities. I’ve been riding MTB for about fifteen years recreationally. I’ve competed in a few races but my love for MTB is all about getting out there for cross country rides with my family and friends and inspiring other women to do that too. It’s all about the fun, fitness and mental health.

Where is the Southern Downs?

The Southern Downs region is 1 ½ to 2 hours south west of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, or about 1hour south of Toowoomba. The Southern Downs stretches down to the New South Wales border through the Granite Belt district and includes the regional towns of Warwick and Stanthorpe with dozens of smaller rural towns and villages throughout. There are plenty of dirt roads connecting our farm communities and groups regularly get together to ride and enjoy a coffee stop along the way.

The best places to MTB on the Southern Downs

Across the region you’ll discover National Parks, State Forests and lots of other parks. This is not a comprehensive list or description of every spot you can take your mountain bike but it will definitely get you started! You can also check the Trailforks app or website for trail information, and you can ask people who are familiar with the region. Jump on the Southern Downs Mountain Biking Club Facebook Page and ask questions anytime.

Mt Marlay MTB Bike Park, Stanthorpe

Trail head: Foxton Street, Stanthorpe
Trails: Green, blue and black cross country and downhill trails
Length: Currently total of 6-7kms of purpose-built single track with new trails under construction (as at December 2020)
Facilities: Picnic table, signage
Features: Lots of granite rock with short ascents and descents; naturally occurring rock obstacles; views; tank mural/artwork; close to CBD and accommodation
Best suited to: Riders with some prior experience riding off road who enjoy a variety of short loops
Club: Southern Downs Mountain Biking Club

Mt Marlay MTB

Broadwater State Forest / National Park

Entrance: via Glenlyon Drive or Plant Lane
Trails: Mostly green / blue level of difficulty; cross-country
Length: Currently approximately 15 kms of multi-use cross country trails, double track and dirt roads for walkers and MTB
Facilities: Limited facilities – be self-sufficient
Features: Sandy, rocky terrain only a few minutes from Stanthorpe CBD; old-style trails; close to Granite Belt Brewery and accommodation
Best suited to: Riders of all levels; can be very hot in summer

Passchendaele State Forest

Entrance: Multiple entry points off Amiens Road
Level of Difficulty: All levels of difficulty catered for. You are permitted to ride only on formed management roads and you may require a permit if you are organising a group ride or an event.
Length: You could easily ride all day in Passchendaele!
Facilities: Limited facilities – be self-sufficient
Features: Sandy, rocky and granite terrain with some steep sections; dries out quickly after rain; 20-25kms from Stanthorpe
Best suited to: Riders of all levels especially beginners and intermediate cross-country riders

Women's MTB Ride Passchendaele

Girraween National Park – Peak and Creek Trails

Northern Entrance: Mt Norman Road – approx 5-6kms east of the Bald Rock Creek Day Use Area

Southern Entrance: Mt Norman Day Use Area, Mt Norman Road
Level of Difficulty: Green, blue
Length: The Peak Trail is 10.6kms return and can be combined with the Creek Trail which is a 3.5km loop.
Facilities: Toilet at Mt Norman Day Use Area; signage on the trails
Features: Granite terrain with some sandy sections; spectacular wildflowers in spring; amazing views of Mt Norman and other parts of Girraween; 20-25kms from Stanthorpe; car-based camping at Castle Rock and Bald Rock Creek Camp Grounds; bush camping at designated sites along the Peak Trail (permit required); accommodation nearby
Best suited to: Beginners and intermediate cross-country riders

MTB at Girraween, Mt Norman

Other parklands

There are several other State Forests and regional parks suitable for MTB in the Southern Downs Region. Remember to check for alerts (closures, bushfires, harvesting etc) and whether you need a permit to access. Locations include:

  • Leyburn State Forest
  • Durakai State Forest
  • Gambubal State Forest
  • Condamine Gorge
Maryland National Park

Maryland is not technically part of the Southern Downs Region but it’s very close and runs along the border in New South Wales. You can access Maryland National Park from Cullendore Road by turning west into Maryland Cullendore Road and following this dirt road into the park. There are no facilities and you must be careful to leave all gates as you find them. Ride the length of Maryland National Park along the dirt road from Cullendore towards Dalveen. It’s a great ride for beginner and intermediate riders through beautiful forest.

Cullendore High Country

Cullendore High Country Camping is a privately owned establishment next to Maryland National Park right next to the Queensland border. This is a working farm with beautiful camp sites and dirt roads and tracks suitable for beginner riders including children. The owners are continuing to develop on-site MTB trails with direct access to Maryland National Park.

Safety first

For a fun day out, prepare and research your mountain bike adventure before leaving home.

  • Check the National Parks and State Forest alerts, Southern Downs Mountain Biking Club and Southern Downs Regional Council notifications
  • Take plenty of water and some food as many of these places do not have water or shops close by
  • Make sure your bike is suitable for the terrain that you’re going to ride
  • Be sun safe
  • Follow signage and advice from the authorities including COVID-19 regulations
  • Be First Aid aware and know how to manage snake risk and other injuries
  • Mobile phone service may not be reliable in all areas
  • Let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back

For more information go to:

You can also listen to this article via the Outdoors is my Therapy Podcast using the link below or via your favourite podcast player / app. Subscribe so you’ll always know when the latest episode is up!

Till next time, enjoy your outdoor adventures!

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

Family Adventures: Tania’s Story of Travel Around Australia

Have you been thinking about creating a family adventure? Maybe an epic travel adventure? Or perhaps you’ve already nurtured a culture of adventure in your family? In this blog post, Tania Bertram (guest blogger) shares her memories of travelling throughout regional and remote Australia  with her husband and two young daughters in the late 90’s. Tania is a keen Ambassador for the Outdoors is my Therapy initiative. She knows first hand that spending time outdoors gives you the chance to switch your mind off stressing, take in the beauty of your surrounds, focus your mind and your body, and bring a smile to your face.

An Epic Family Adventure

All packed and ready to go. One of many family adventures was about to be made. The adventure actually started many months before with the decision my husband Jeff and I made to travel Australia with our 2 year old and 4 year old daughters. Travelling and camping were not new to us or our girls.

In February 1997 the old camper was hitched on the back of the old LandCruiser and we headed south. Enjoying our own company, we chose secluded, quiet spots to camp. Nature is always on display when those around it are quiet and observant.

family adventure

The ups and downs of adventures

First week we encountered gale force winds as a storm tore through our camp site. The girls sheltered under the kitchen table as Jeff held the awning and I held the canvas side from ripping inwards. The next week in a remote National Park we sat in buckets of water as the temperature peaked at 48 degrees in the shade. The Grampians [part of the Gariwerd Aboriginal cultural landscape] beckoned us to explore its mountains and rocky outcrops, then a visit to the nearest emergency department to get the youngest child’s elbow manipulated back into place after a slip. Then our children’s eyes wide as 4 spoons darted in and out of a tub of ice-cream, overlooking the valley.

Awe-inspiring adventures

Hiking up a stony track at sunset we wandered around the amazing stone sculptures of Broken Hill. Further south to some sinkholes we camped near clear water pools and watched an echidna waddle on past, leaving us pondering where he was heading to. We explored remote and windswept beaches with only our footprints to keep us company while we fossicked through treasures that had been washed up.

adventures in Australia

Travelling up through the middle of our vast country we lay at night stargazing in the desert and listening to all the night animals calling. We sat on a low branch with the cool water washing over our feet, making up songs about what we saw. Redback spiders needed to be pushed aside so we could use the long-drop toilet. We swam in 38 degree artesian bore water, chilly crystal clear water in numerous gorges and warm tropical waters. It was a sheer joy every time.

Us girls put on our posh frocks, our only going out dress, and cheered as we watched a horse race event in a small outback town. At yet another remote beach we dodged the squirts of the blue ringed octopus as we walked past their enchanting rock pools. Red chasms of the Bungle Bungles [now known as  Purnululu National Park] beckoned us in to explore around the next bend, listening to our echoed voices dance above us. Boab trees in the north west became hiding places for our happy girls. We joined hands and circled the tree only to reach half way.

family adventure in Australia

We sat mesmerised while listening and watching whales playing in the inlets, their fluke slaps lulling us into a peacefulness that only nature can do. We saw so many historical places, natural wonders and native animals up close. Our favourite pastime was lighting the campfire and making, cooking and eating damper on sticks filled with golden syrup.

making damper on the campfire

Daily life on the road of adventure

Daily chores were part of life on the road. The children would wash their undies and socks in their bathwater and hang them up to dry and some times they would wash the dolls clothes and hang them up.

I have beautiful memories of them sitting on a rug under the tree, observing in quietness. Other times they would be drawing what they saw or how they felt. I often smiled as my little family were huddled up on our laps around the campfire and Jeff would start a story with …. Once upon time there were two little sisters off exploring Australia…

adventures in the outback

Make memories while you can

Many older travellers would ask “Why do it now? Wait till they leave home!” Our answer was twofold. If we waited we may not get the chance to do it, and, we were having a wonderful family time making so many memories together. There are so many opportunities and adventures as a family.

Grow a culture of adventure in your family

We always wanted our children to know their country and the many people who make it their home. Eight months on the road began their confidence with their surrounds and their ability to fit into society, respect for their country and those who live off the land. Continued travels, to often remote locations, has given our daughters the courage and knowledge to become successful members within their communities.

amazing family adventures

Be with your children. Get down at their eye level and explore together. Explain and discuss what you all see, hear and feel. The colours and textures vary between leaves, bark and rocks. Make up stories about your children’s adventures.

Safe travels.

Tania x

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, daisy spokeKathryn Walton shares information and reflections in Daisy Spoke that connect, inspire and self-empower women to make healthy choices for themselves.