Bluewater Forestry Road/PRB Track/Rollingstone SW Branch/Mount Halifax/Paces Road (In a Day Hike!)

Townsville Hike and Explore was excited to be the first social outdoor hiking/adventure group in the Townsville region to offer another carefully planned and unique outdoor experience which on this occasion, would see nine adventurers attempt a mammoth task – what we estimated would be a 25 kilometre feat with over 1000 metres elevation gain starting with a hike along the old Bluewater Forestry Road and hiking a section of the PRB Track before taking a diversion along a recently re-opened ‘link track’ between the PRB Track and the headwaters of the Rollingstone South West Branch (RSWB). We then planned to hike to the summit of Mount Halifax (1060m) and make our way down to the finish point at Pace Road, Rollingstone…..in a day hike!

A special mention must be given to Adrian and other members of the trail running community that recently re-opened a 3 kilometre section of trail that has linked the Bluewater Forestry Road/PRB Track to Camp 5 in the headwaters of the RSWB. Without this trail work, our adventure would have taken much longer!

As we gathered at the Rollingstone Hotel to arrange carpooling at 4.30am on a warm November Saturday morning, I could see the excitement and anticipation in the eyes of eight fellow Townsville Hike and Explore community members who had a mammoth challenge ahead of them, however a challenge I was sure each and every one of them was up for!

After organising cars to be left at the finish point on Pace Road, we drove to the Bluewater Forestry hut on Forestry road before heading off on “Stage 1” of this adventure. For longer adventures such as this one where it is easy to lose track of time, after studying the proposed trail, elevation and terrain, I break the hike down into stages to ensure we keep track of how much ground we cover throughout the day with pre-determined times we need to finish each ‘stage’ to ensure we finish the event in the required time. On this occasion, to avoid navigating the steep downhill sections of the Mount Halifax trail in the dark, our goal was to be at “Flat Rock” on the Mount Halifax Trail before dark.

STAGE 1 – Bluewater Forestry Hut to Link Track (25km approx.)

STAGE 2 – Link Track to Camp 5 (3km approx.)

STAGE 3 – Camp 5 to Mount Halifax Summit (2km approx.)

STAGE 4 – Mount Halifax Summit to Pace Road (6km approx.)

STAGE 1 of the hike was an eye opener to say the least! I hadn’t hiked this particular section of the old Bluewater Forestry Road prior and I’m always fascinated by the historical value and importance of areas such as this. The road is washed out, overgrown and steep in places, however it appears that the 4WD community have managed to somehow navigate this old road, however there are many broken and abandoned car parts visible and signs that some have come to grief along the way. The Eastern Whip Bird (Psophodes olivaceus) and Australian Brush Turkey (Alectura lathami) kept us company along much of the old forestry road, as did a handful of trail bike riders!

We crossed Keelbottom Creek and the Little Star River, both of which have a decent flow given this is arguably the driest time of the year. The Little Star River also has a small campground accessible just off the trail and a deep swimming hole nearby fed by a shallow riffle, which we took full advantage of! This particular spot would be the perfect weekend getaway in the dry season.

There are some impressive patches of Casuarina (Casuarina cunninghamiana) along the scrubby sections of the road, stretching in places for as far as the eye can see.

There are also many side trails and tracks along the old forestry road that warrant exploring.

STAGE 2 of the hike saw us leave the old forestry road and hike in a general easterly direction for three kilometres along the recently re-opened ‘link track’ to “Camp 5”. This section of trail starts with a steep incline for a kilometre or so, before becoming relatively flat, before a steep decline into the headwaters of the RSWB. There are ropes fitted to the trail during the more technical parts of the steep decline. The trail offers some obstructed views to the north and south, although the vegetation prevents any decent photography of the surrounding areas. If we had more time, there were numerous potential view points visible short distances from the ‘link track’. Again, I must say what a terrific job has been done clearing and re-opening this section of trail. We also came across Tiger Leeches (Richardsonianus australis) along the trail – much to the delight of our inquisitive group of adventurers!

To my delight, we also passed through a section of Coral Fern (Gleichenia dicarpa) on an exposed area of the trail, similar to our recent experience hiking the Devil’s Thumb trail in the Daintree National Park where patches of coral fern stretch for as far as the eye can see.

We also witnessed some impressive views of Mount Halifax, from the south west, before dropping down in to the RSWB.

STAGE 3 of the hike involved rock hopping along a short section of the headwaters of the RSWB, then starting the steep climb to the summit of Mount Halifax. We can usually rely on water in the RSWB behind Mount Halifax, and this occasion was no different – there was a decent flow in the creek, enough for a dip in the icy cold waters of this remote rainforest creek line.

All bar one of our adventurers had not summited Mount Halifax prior so the reward from the top was the perfect mid afternoon treat, although fires burning in the lowlands near Rollingstone were clearly visible with the smoke haze drifting west and partially obscuring some of our views. In fact we could smell the smoke from this fire at the headwaters of the RSWB behind Mount Halifax summit.

STAGE 4 of the hike was the tiresome, steep downhill climb from the summit of Mount Halifax to Pace Road. This 6 kilometre section of trail is now well worn which makes it much easier to navigate. We arrived at Flat Rock just on dark, as planned, and hiked the last couple of hours under headlamp to the finish point. Spirits were still high, but it was evident by this time we’d all enjoy a good nights sleep when we got home!

By the time we reached the vehicles, we had hiked 36.2 kilometres over 15 hours and 10 minutes with 1411 metres elevation gain. We had 1.5 hours of stopping time for the day.

We’re looking forward to sharing this outdoor experience with fellow Townsville Hike and Explore community members in 2021!

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