Wednesday, 7 February 2007

According to the Environmental Protection Agency of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, the Mount Coolum summit walk is "suitable for fit walkers only". But I wanted to see the "montane heathland" at first hand. I also wanted to experience the "spectacular views" available from the top of this 208m volcanic dome.

So I board the 620 bus at 8.10am equipped for a day's outing. Two bottles of water. Two sandwiches prepared by my mother, as well as three boxes of sultanas, a granny smith apple and two lollies thrown in for good measure. She also insisted I take some band-aids and a stout fruit knife.

I ask the bus driver to tell me when to get off. In fact, when he leaves the bus at the end of his shift, while we are still only half way to my destination, he asks the relieving driver to give me a yell when we get there. Which he does. I duck into a newsagents, where I get directions to the access road. I begin climbing at 8.40.

"This is a steep trek," says the guidebook. And it's true. After a while I stop and take a swig of water, surrounded by scrubby, thin trees and ferns. The bush here is dry and steep, and the path is frequently roped off with strong poles that have been driven into the soil, to prevent walkers leaving the track. I keep going, despite the fact that my diaphragm is doing double time, sucking air into my oxygen-starved lungs.

I stop again, legs a-tremble. Sitting down gingerly on the rocky path, I contemplate the vast expanse of air in front of me. The tiny roofs of the houses around the mountain's base, the ribbons of road oriented north-south, and the Maroochy River estuary in the hazy distance.

Standing, my legs like rubber, I decide to call it a day. Before beginning my descent, I snap a quick shot of the view toward the south-south-east.

It takes twenty minutes to reach the car park at the bottom of the slope. I head toward the bus stop. Each step seems miraculous. I am drenched with sweat and still breathing heavily. Seated at the bus stop, after a while a middle-aged woman wearing a white shirt and dark-blue trousers comes along and sits down. I tell her what I'd been up to. "My son can do it in 15 minutes," she said. "He runs up a lot."

She herself had once tried to climb to the summit, but had given up, like me, before reaching it. "I'm sorry I didn't keep going, because I can't get up these days."

"A lot of people around here climb it, especially from the resorts. That's why they come."

"New Year's Eve is when they go up at night. Quite spectacular with the lights."

On the bus a girl with a pink bra is reading a book written in Chinese. A 60-year-old man with a white beard and a pony tail sits next to his partner. A man gets on wearing a bandanna under his baseball cap.

My shirt is soaked and I sneeze in the air conditioning. At one point, the driver gets out to help a young woman with a toddler and an enormous folded baby stroller get on. The bus goes through a red light as we turn east along the Maroochy River. I alight at the RSL. It's 10.15.

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