Updated: Mar 12
Before you Start
Trail: Cathu state forest lookout and hoop pine tree trail, Queensland
Level: Easy (good for beginner little hikers)
Time: Allow 4-5 hours with young children.
How to get there: Drive 51 km south of Proserpine along the Bruce Highway until the road sign indicating the turnoff to Cathu State forest on your right (Cathu O'Connell Rd). If your heading north, the turnoff approx. 80 km north of Mackay along the Bruce Highway. After you cross the O'Connell River, another sign will indicate the turnoff to Cathu State Forest.
Facilities: At Jaxut camping site there are campsites, toilets, and picnic tables.
Other Notes: 4WD necessary
Where do we go today? Our common question when we get the opportunity to escape into the wild.
"Let's drive South, to find a river and a place to explore," Sam said.
So we drove 51 km south of Proserpine to the Cathu state forest.
After you turn off the Bruce Highway the landscape quickly changes from sugarcane fields into treed farmland, with cows meandering all around, scrub, abandoned plantations, and mango trees here and there. You then come to the first section of the Cathu state forest, where there are large plains with the remnants of Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea) plantation, which has been allowed to regrow naturally after harvesting and looks pretty derelict. You can see this area in the middle of the above photo (the grassy area between the two parallel mountains). There are many tracks to explore along this first section, many no doubts lead to campsites, however, we didn't have time to explore every track. Once you pass through this area, you get to forested areas, and several small patches of rainforest which includes the Jaxut campsite area.
So, what to do in Cathu?
1. Camping or picnic ar Jaxut
Not long after you drive into the forested areas, you will encounter the entrance to the Jaxut campsite. It is nice and shaded with picnic tables and fire pits. We stayed here for a while to set up camp and have morning tea. Next to the camping grounds is Pandanus creek. If you sit long enough in the place you will see lots of birds in the trees, while the creek has shrimp, fish, and turtles. This location is popular for bird watching.
To book a spot in Jaxut camping site, visit the Queensland National Park website.
2. The lookout
From the camping site onwards, you can continue along the road up the mountain to Cathu's lookout. If you don't have a 4WD, don't go. The road to the lookout is rough, and in wet weather may prove dangerous, but offers nice views along the way.
To get to the lookout follow the road all the way up until encountering a fork in the road. Follow the South road, to your left and continue for about 1.4 km. There are no signs whatsoever but you eventually find parking spots on your left. From there, you can walk up the path to the lookout (approx. 100 m). In good weather the view is amazing, allowing you to see Conway National Park and the Whitsundays to the North and where you have driven through Cathu State Forest.
3. The hidden hoop pine forest trail
Without having any idea where to go, we continued our exploration. After the lookout, we continued along the road for about 4 km, until a log across the road stopped us from continuing. The South road is quite unique. One side of the road holds a subtropical rainforest, which in fact, sits at the back of Eungella National Park, while the other, a plantation of hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) trees. The contrasting scenario is quite spectacular not to mention the vast diversity of birds you can see along the way.
As we returned back to the main road, we decided to stop to the side of the road to have lunch. While sitting in our picnic mat, we noticed a fluorescent pink ribbon on one of the hoop pines, and next to it, what it seemed like a walking trail. So, Sam decided to explore and followed the path.
And do you guess what he found? a walking trail among the hoop pine forest.
A bit of the biology of Hoop pine trees
Hoop pine trees (Araucaria cunninghamii) are a Gymnosperm of the Araucariaceae family. Its common name is given because of their particular way of forming scale-like horizontal hoops on their bark. Hoop pine trees can be found in the rainforest along the east coast of Australia, including the islands of the Whitsundays. They are commercially important and many established commercial plantations exist, which is the case of the forest found in Cathu. Hoop pine trees are tall and can grow up to 60 m in height. Their branches give an aesthetic look to the landscape and in the case of the forest, we walked through, led to a unique understory plant assemblage of gingers, grasses and small shrubs.
To walk the hoop pine trail, follow the pink fluorescent ribbons. After you walk for 300 meters, you meet a creek surrounded by tropical - a perfect stop for just exploring the animals in the water with kids. And if you are walking with small children, maybe this is where you end your walk. The creek has small freshwater crayfish in it. If your kids are older and keen to continue, then follow the ribbons again along the trail. You notice how the rainforest trees are trying to get their space back among the hoop pine trees.
After you walk for about 1 km, the path splits into two. You can either take your left and follow the trail to a steep track. This track takes you back to the main road, so it basically does a loop. The other option to the right gets more complicated. We followed the right side ribbons until the track splits into two once more. If you follow the ribbons down to your left, you eventually find the creek again and if you continue further, you find Kangaroo creek.
-Kangaroo creek can also be reached by taking the road to the right where the green hoop pine tree sign appears in front of the road at the intersection, and before reaching the pink ribbons trail.
And when you finish your walk, you can either stay at the camping site for the night. Enjoy the quietness of the place and be ready to watch a lot of amazing birds!
Written by Sofia Fortunato (aka Mamma hobbit or Miss Sofi)
Edited by Sam Penglase (aka Papa hobbit)
Photos by Sofia and Sam