The Strangler Cairn walk in Conondale National Park is a lovely 6.5 km return walk to a unique (and controversial) artwork located deep in the national park. Overall a lovely walk to an interesting destination.
The hike starts at the Booloumba Day Use Area in the Conondale National Park. Be aware that to get to the starting point you need a four wheel drive vehicle to make it across the three creek crossings.
The point of this walk is to visit the Strangler Cairn, an artwork created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy who works most often with natural materials, shapes and themes. In the case of Strangler Cairn, he has used traditional stone construction methods that allow the cairn to maintain its shape without mortar or a supporting structure. While not his most outstanding artwork, it has been deliberately designed to blend into the surrounds.
At the very top of the cairn you will see a small plant. This is a strangler fig, hence the Strangler Cairn. The vision is that this fig will eventually grow out and around the cairn. So far it is just a tiny little plant at the top.
The total cost of the artwork was $700,000 which included around $300,000 for the artist and the rest was expenses, including helicoptering in the stone for the cairn. While this is not that expensive an artwork compared with some others around South East Queensland, it sparked a range of controversies, including that it was a foreign artist and its remote location makes it difficult to casually visit. Many others have simply objected to the creation of a human built structure inside a rainforest. However it is a destination worth visiting for people who want a short walk.
About Strangler Figs
Around the world there are a number of trees and vines around the world that are called, Strangler Figs, but the key one in Queensland and Northern New South Wales is ficus watkinsiana. This plant starts off life clinging to the side of another tree. It does this because in a rainforest the biggest problem for young plants is to get access to sunlight. The strangler fig gets around this problem by taking nutrients from its host tree while growing around and up that tree until it reaches the sun.
The host tree will eventually die with the fig forming a hollow tube which can stand up in its own right. While not encouraging people to do this, some are large enough for a child, or even a grown adult, to climb up inside. While hiking in rainforests around South East Queensland, you will see quite a few of these plants around..
The future of the cairn
While it is a very interesting artwork created by a talented artist working with traditional building approaches using stone, it has one very vital flaw. A strangler fig normally gets its nutrients from the tree that it is clinging to. The artist's concept is that the fig will wrap itself around the stone cairn. As you might realise, stone is not really a great source of nutrients.
The little fig they are trying to grow on top of the cairn
The plant that you see growing out of the top of the cairn has already been replaced several times. So a great idea, but I suspect it isn't really going to work.
The Booloumba Creek Campgrounds has 3 lovely camping areas with fire rings and easy creek access. There are even some spots that let you obtain a little privacy away from others. All the camping areas require that you drive your car across the creek a couple of times.
This is an interesting and pleasant walk. It is particularly good if you are camping in the area or have a four wheel drive to get across the creek. While not at the top of my list of hikes on the Sunshine Coast, its main redeeming feature is that there are fewer people on this walk than other more popular short walks.