Written by Damien Burrows
Photography by Damien Burrows & Michael Pugh
Most Townsvilleans know about the rockslides at Crystal Creek but few have heard of Nolans Gully. However, they are actually the same location. The rockslides are on the lowest part of the creekline known as Nolans Gully, which joins Crystal Creek at the mango tree carpark, ~2km past Paradise Waterhole campground. Nolans Gully could do with a more marketable name though, because this creekline is no gully, it is a stunning and quite accessible creekline with multiple scenic and swimming opportunities.
Nolans Gully is best viewed from Witts Lookout, which is easily accessed by a well-maintained walking track from Paluma village. From here, looking down, it seems like a steep and potentially inaccessible undertaking. Adventurers have clambered down the steep slopes below Witts Lookout into the creek but we decided to access the creek from along the track to Witts Lookout. From here, we could start at the very beginnings of the creek, where a small trickle emerges from the soil, and follow it all the way down to the rockslides.
So it was that 10 TH&E walkers left the Witts lookout track @900m elevation and entered the rainforest (beside the ‘Reaching for Sunlight’ information sign), carefully making their way along the fledgling watercourse watching it slowly grow as we descended. The initial phases are moderately steep and being such a small watercourse at this stage, it is well-covered in vegetation, which slowed progress but was gratefully relatively free of thorny vines and plants. It was 1hr45mins of steady descending down to 680m elevation before we took our first break beside the first small water feature (<1m high) we had encountered. Our first waterfall was encountered only 20 mins later and after <3hrs of walking in total, we encountered our first major waterfall @520m elevation. This waterfall was impassable, so we had to climb up an adjacent large erosion scar on the left side and descend through the drier casuarina/eucalpyt forest on the exposed ridgeline to regain the creek below the waterfall. This was our only unavoidable detour on the whole route.
The next section of creek provided scenic views down the valley and across to lower Crystal Creek. Although the creek had been gently flowing almost since the start, it wasn’t until >4hrs into the hike, down @244m elevation, that we encountered our first deep pool (with waterfall), suitable for a swim. We thus indulged ourselves in this delight. Within another hour, we had passed a short but scenic gorge and several more suitable swimming holes and small waterfalls before surprising weekend picnickers at the terminus of the bitumen path that services the rockslides swimming pools. A speedy pace along that path saw us back at our cars within minutes.
This is the third TH&E exploration descending creeks from Paluma down to Crystal Creek, the first two being Cloudy Creek and Ethel Creek, which are both longer and more challenging than Nolans Gully. The whole length of Nolans Gully is achievable by moderately fit walkers prepared for a 5-6 hour journey with rock-hopping and some bush-bashing. For those with less inclination, even an easy one hour rock-hopping ascent from the rockslides at the base will achieve many of the larger pools and waterfalls that we encountered. Just explore beyond the end of the bitumen path.