AFTER a delightful week exploring the South Pacific, where little palm-lined beachfront communities reach back into the hills, I decided to do the same here and go west from the CBD into the range that backs Brisbane.
The funny thing is, that it took a drive of less than 15 minutes (about six kms) to end up in a new world, or at least on top of the world at Mount Coot-tha.
Forest, streams, vast expanses of green lawns spotted with picnic tables and little walking paths, make it utterly different from the city streets below.
At 287m above sea level it is literally Brisbane’s highest point, and from the top of the mountain, the central city’s skyscrapers become the foreground for the sandhills of Moreton Island and the bay beyond.
Being a Monday, we virtually had the place to ourselves under a clear blue sky on a crisp autumn day.
At the top are terraced viewing decks, a telescope, information boards detailing various aspects of Brisbane’s history and a plan pointing out what’s where as well as restaurant and a café.
But it doesn’t matter where you choose to sit or stand, panoramic views are inescapable.
It’s a view that has been admired for more than a century. The Colonial botanist Charles Fraser extolled its virtues in 1828.
The first kiosk had a dirt floor and tea for daytrippers was brewed on an open fire. A Federation style kiosk was built in 1918.
It comes from the Aboriginal “ku-ta” meaning honey as it was where the local tribes came to collect honey from the native stingless bee.
The colonials first called it One Tree Hill because only one large eucalypt tree was left standing after they had cleared the bush at the top.
With a growing population keen to get out of the city, in 1880 it was declared a public recreation reserve and called Place of Honey – Coot-tha.
During World War II, Mount Coot-tha was a military base under the command of the US Navy and the RAAF. The mountain was converted to a vast explosives depot, with more than 120,000 tones of explosives stored at one time; searchlights and artillery.
Heading back down the hill, the road winds through more than 1500 hectares of natural bushland dissected by paths and parks.
Ithaca Creek, which runs down into the Enoggera Creek catchment in the western suburbs, rises in the Mt Coot-tha forest at J.C. Slaughter Falls and Simpson Falls, both of which are worth a visit and a walk.
Another of the many parks worth visiting is Ghost Hole Mine on East Ithaca Creek.
It opened in the mid-19th century when the Colony was still new and, like many other parts of the world, gripped by gold fever. But as the noticeboard here says, there were high hopes and poor prospects.
The mine was first worked in the 1890s and again in the 1920s but mostly in the late 1940s and returns were never good.
The walking track to the mine entrance (a small hole in a rock face) is just over half a kilometre round-trip through the bush with the remains of a dam wall and remnants of an old tramway and tramway bridge, a highlight along the way.
A sign explains: “In the early 1940s, bridges were constructed and 200m of steel tramway were laid between the mine and the battery … sections of the tramway and this wooden bridge still remain. Ore from the Ghost Hole Mine was of a very low grade.
“The investment in labour and machinery over the years was considerable and yielded prospectors only small amounts of gold. Imagine this life of hard yakka in the heat, dust and flies shovelling ore, manoeuvring the heavy carts and dreaming of striking it rich.”
The lease was finally surrendered in 1959 for non-payment of rent. It’s a fascinating walk.