Tag Archives: rainforest

August 28, part 2

After about an hour and a half of hiking, we stopped in a grove of moss-covered trees that were identified as Antarctic beeches—Latin name, Nothofagus moorei (also known as Australian beech in some other sources). Apparently, this species of tree dates back to the supercontinent Gondwana and is the type of tree that covered Antarctica, back when Antarctica was still warm. (A bit of later research turned up the fact that trees in the Nothofagus family are actually “false beeches,” with members of the Fagaceae family being the true beeches—in case you wondered.) Interestingly, the small grove of beeches was clearly different than the surrounding rainforest. James explained that these trees need cooler weather to survive, which is why they only grow on the highest mountains this far north. The somewhat taller close relative of these trees, Tasmanian myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii, also sometimes called Antarctic beech or Australian myrtle, or maybe even red myrtle, just to keep things interesting) sticks to the cooler, more southerly climate of Tasmania. (Probably more than you ever wanted to know about the trees—but once I started looking and found out how confused the nomenclature was, I couldn’t resist.)

At this lovely spot, James lowered his backpack and produced scones and fruit. Mike and Greg (two regular visitors to Binna Burra who were on the long hike yesterday) also had packs, and they unloaded billy cans, water bottles, and portable fuel jars (no open fires up here when it’s this dry), and we boiled the billy for morning tea. Above us, bees hummed among the flowers in the tree tops, and all around us, rosellas flitted through the branches. While the billies warmed, we climbed a large mound of huge, lichen-stained boulders for a view back through the forest. James mentioned that the reason the beech trees were so close together is that, when a tree dies, new trees start up almost immediately from the base of the old trees.

With tea finished and gear repacked, we continued on. We left the beeches behind and were again enveloped by the rainforest. By 12:30, we were back at Binna Burra. I dropped my hat and sweater with my gear in the lodge, as the day was warming up. Then I set off across the broad clearing again, to take the Bellbird Track down to the Bellbird Clearing, where a barbecue lunch was being prepared. It was supposed to be a 15 minute walk, but it took me 25 minutes, because I stopped to photograph everything. The steaks were already cooked when I reached the barbeque area, and I served myself a steak and some “vegetable marrow” (zucchini), salad, and a large serving of fresh fruit. I think joined Mike on a log in the shade. We ate and chatted, and every now and then, I’d hand him my plate, say “Please hold this a minute,” and dash off to photograph something. I was especially glad to get a nice shot of a kookaburra that perched on a branch near the edge of the clearing.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra


After lunch, there was time for one last short walk, and a final wander around the lodge. Then, at 4 o’clock, it was into a minibus that carried us away from Binna Burra. Sigh.

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Wednesday, August 28

Another glorious sunrise, accompanied by the symphony of birds. My back, shoulders, and neck still ached from carrying a pack and camera equipment yesterday, but a few minutes of vigorous exercise loosened the muscles back up.

Again, at breakfast, the birds came to check for handouts. Most abundant were the rainbow lorikeets, followed by currawongs, plus a few crimson rosellas, and a satin bowerbird dashing in out of the brush, hoping the other birds would drop something.

James, the lodge manager (a handsome, young man with immense enthusiasm for the beauty of this place) came around to see who would be coming on the Tullawalal Circuit hike with him this morning. This is one of the “short walks” at Binna Burra, and I signed on. Then I dashed back to my cabin to finish packing and moved my gear to the lodge, since checkout was at 10 am, and I’d be on the hike then.

As we had done yesterday, we gathered at 9 am on the flower-bordered lawn behind the dining room (always behind, because the front projects over the cliff edge). It was to be only a 2-1/2 hour hike, so we didn’t need packs. It was amazing how much lighter my camera equipment seemed when it wasn’t in company with a backpack.

Everywhere, great views.

Everywhere, great views.

We headed across the clearing and past the original house built by the family that settled Binna Burra, up around the campground, and past the lovely pittosporum tree, the fragrance of which delights me beyond words. We stopped at a sign that outlined today’s hike, and then we headed into the forest.

Since this was a shorter walk, and not one of those gotta-keep-going-or-we’ll-never-get-back-by-dark marathons, James set a pace that was brisk but interrupted far more frequently. He pointed out buttress roots and strangler figs, stinging trees, forest apples, and rosellas crunching gum nuts overhead. We stopped to see the trapdoor spiders, and James pointed out a rock surrounded by cracked snail shells. This, he explained, was the work of the noisy pitta, a bird that smashes shells on rocks to open (and eat) the snails. We saw a hoop pine, one of the many popular timbers that became an early industry for the area (and which might have caused an early end to the rainforest, had not several people had the insight to protect this region). James also pointed out the Lignum Vitae, the tree with the hardest wood in the rainforest. Also known as ironwood, it’s so dense it sinks in water. It can be used for bearings and was a common material for parts of ships that would wear out if lesser woods were used. It has an oil that makes it insect resistant, and when it falls, it takes eons to decay. Cool.

In the distance, we could hear a catbird calling. Its call was sort of a cross between a cat’s meowing and a baby’s cry. Then we walked on.

As we walked, James told us a lot about the rainforest. Trees with buttress roots don’t have taproots. Everything in the understory has adapted to take maximum advantage of the limited sunlight: new growth is reddish, which processes sunlight more efficiently, and on some vines, the stems are as flat as the leaves, and are green as well, so more of the plant’s surface is exposed to the light.

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August 27, part 4

There was a lot of up and down now, with the vegetation changing every hour or so. About an hour after lunch, we came upon a large carpet python sunning itself on a rock. We stopped to watch it slide away, then continued our up and down hike.

By 4 o’clock, we were back in the rainforest. Here, I got a lift from the amazingly fragrant native gardenia that was growing in abundance at one place along the path. The perfume surrounded us. It was, of the dozen or so lovely fragrances I’d breathed on this hike, the loveliest.

Back in the rainforest

Back in the rainforest


It was beginning to get darker, and I was beginning to feel pretty weary. But you don’t have any option but to slog on. My next big boost came when we reached a turnoff to another trail, and there was a sign pointing ahead that said, “Binna Burra–4.7 kilometers.” That at least seemed manageable.

I continued to be amazed by the lushness, the beauty, the variety around me. It’s like the flora is playing a game of “let’s see how many totally different leaf shapes we can come up with.” It’s astonishing.

At one muddy bank, Jenny pointed out the little hidey-holes of the trap door spiders. Glen used the tip of a knife to carefully demonstrate how the silk-hinted trap doors work. Amazing.

We finally walked back into Binna Burra just as the sun disappeared from the sky–about 5:45. I was shattered, but also triumphant. No time to whimper, however, about sore muscles. Time to clean up and head to the lounge for music and munchies before dinner. (Too late to watch the sunset.)

I had a Strongbow cider (which I’d discovered during my first trip to Australia) with my dinner, and amiable conversations with a substantial number of people. People who travel tend to strike up friendships easily, and I ended up with a lot of recommendations and some invitations–for next time.

I didn’t really feel up to the 1-1/2 hour, flashlight stroll to see nighttime creatures (I figured I didn’t need much more than the adorable brushtail possums that climbed up on the porch to enjoy the fruit put out there for them.) It’s an early start again tomorrow, so I hobbled off to my cabin for a good, long stretch and then to bed.

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August 27, part 3

There were more flowers on this side of the valley: a variety of peas, some rock orchids, purple matchstick flowers (pink and purple flowers of the matchstick bromeliad–a flower that had delighted me on my first visit to the rainforest), and many others. Overhead, we could hear the crunching sounds that signaled that parrots were feeding on gum nuts in the treetops.

We came to a broad, shiny, black swath in the cliff face, which Glen pointed out. It was a great seam of obsidian–volcanic glass–another relic of this area’s days as the edge of a giant volcano. At one clearing, Glen also pointed out the distant Mount Warning–the remains of the massive volcano’s center.

I felt something bite my neck, and I reached back to find a tick. I pulled it off (before I knew what it was), and when I saw it was in fact a tick (legs still moving), I threw it away in horror. Mike said I should have squashed it–then insisted on inspecting the spot it had bitten, to make sure I got it all. (Often, when you try to remove a tick, its head gets left behind. Fortunately, the whole tick had come away.) Everybody in the group got a brief case of the crawlies, as they searched to make sure nothing had gotten on them. Then Jenny noted cheerfully that, since it was so dry, at least we weren’t having trouble with leaches. Glad to hear it!

My calf muscles were complaining as we continued our climb up the mountain. (Not certain why I thought my three miles a day on a flat walking track back home had prepared me for this.) Ken and Mike, seeing that I was struggling with my camera equipment as I climbed, took turns carrying it on the steeper parts of our uphill hike. (Everyone had a backpack, but I was the only one crazy enough to be carrying extra gear.) Their chivalry was hugely appreciated. I was breathing hard but was still enjoying my awe-inspiring surroundings. Grass trees became more frequent, most with the immense central spike that bears their tiny flowers.

By 1 o’clock, we’d reached Kooloonbano Point, on the top of the far wall. From here, we could see the whole Numinbah Valley, with Egg Rock and Turtle Rock far below. In a shady clump of sheoaks, we dropped our packs, sat down, and pulled out our packed lunches. I was starved, and I ate the sandwich and nut mix enclosed. Mike and I were chatting, and he suggested that I save the fruit for later, and not eat the nut bread at all. “You’re hungry, of course. But it’s a lot easier to climb if you’re not full.” Boy, was he right. I regretted having eaten soon after starting up again. Fortunately, everyone else was full, so it kept the pace a little slower for about half an hour.

Path levels out

Path levels out

Fern frond uncurling

Fern frond uncurling

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August 27, part 2

Well, downhill wasn’t bad, though it was steep in places. It was endlessly fascinating. The vegetation changed frequently and remained dense. We passed massive boulders and strange formations where different types of volcanic rock collided millions of years ago. The trail actually took us through the center of massive, split Kong Gong Rock.

We crossed (carefully) Riflebird Creek and Chiminya Creek. Aside from all the information shared by Glen and Jenny, I got a running commentary of where we were from Ken and Mike, two locals who are regulars at Binna Burra who know the tracks well.

Several quail, log runners, and a little shrike thrush dashed in to divert our attentions. As beautiful as our surroundings were, we mostly looked at the track: vines, rocks, and sometimes very close cliff edges made watching our steps advisable.

Huge red cedars, tallow trees, flooded gums, and brush boxwoods towered over us. Some of these trees are estimated to be 1,200 or more years old. The root systems were fascinatingly diverse: the large, gnarly “paws” of the tallow trees; the braid-like, enveloping roots of the strangler figs; the strange, sea-urchin-like root clusters of the piccabeen palms; and the amazing buttress roots of a variety of trees.

We finally reached Nixon’s Creek, at the bottom of the descent. The valley was crowded with palm trees. Here, we sidetracked to Lower Ballanjui Falls. It has been a dry winter, so the falls were not lush, but were still attractive, with a shimmering veil of water trailing down the sides of the cliff that towered above us.

Palms crowd the valley

Palms crowd the valley

We stopped for a fruit and water break (you can drink from the streams, so we took the opportunity to fill our water bottles, since this is the only water source we’ll encounter on this hike). Here, we were suddenly accosted by a very cheeky brush turkey, who was certain that anywhere you found humans, you found handouts (he wasn’t wrong). He even started to go into packs, when we stopped feeding him. It was pretty funny.

Then it was time to head up the other side. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was not able to race up the valley wall. The track was pretty well graded, and was only really steep in a few places, but even a gradual climb of 1,500 feet is still 1,500 feet going up. But it still remained fascinating. We’d exchanged the incredible lushness of the rainforest for dense eucalypt forest. Glen pointed out the wonderful scribbly gums. This species is attacked by a very particular beetle, which burrows under the bark in wildly squiggly patterns, and then, when the bark is shed, you have a smooth, pale trunk covered with rust-colored scribbles.

Scribbly Gum

Scribbly Gum


(I hope you realize that these small pictures are “thumbnails” that, when clicked on, take you to full-size images. I don’t see a lot of clicking reported by WordPress, so I’m wondering if folks are missing all the details. For this image, you probably won’t be able to see the “scribbles” at all without going to the larger image.)

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August 26, part 2

WOW. This place is fabulous. I had previously fallen in love with Lamington National Park, during my first visit to Australia, and the splendor of the rainforest had drawn me back here. However, Binna Burra itself is beyond expectactions. I can hardly express how gorgeous it is. Hewn from the wilderness in the 1930s, the lodge and all its furnishings, are made from the wood cut and stone moved to create the clearing in which the lodge sits. Every view is unbelievable. There is a fair range of room types, and I went for a budget room/cabin. My room turned out to be charming–all wood interior, fixtures, furniture; comforter on the bed. The view from my bedroom window is incredible.

Binna Burra Cabin

Binna Burra Cabin


My room

My room


It is so quiet up here. Not quiet as in no sound, but quiet as in no sounds of civilization. Nothing except the breeze through the trees and bird calls. I don’t think we even realize how many sounds we just filter out back in the “real world.” The silence is immense.

I saw magpies outside my window. When I went outside, a Satin bowerbird flashed past. I heard the “starter motor call a minute later. This is wonderful. I’m so glad I’m here for a few days. (I discussed the bowerbird and posted a video of its odd mating call here, if you’re curious. Magpies were introduced in this post.)

I went for a walk, to find my way around the place. I was surprised that I felt out of breath pretty quickly. Then I remembered–I’m on the top of a mountain, and the air is a bit thinner. (Just 2,625 feet above sea level, so not exactly inducing altitude sickness, just a little less air. Either that, or perhaps my lungs are in shock because the air is so clean.) I’ll have to take it a little easy today–and hope I adjust quickly.

The incredible silence was broken for a moment by a ringing bell that announced lunch. The dining room is fabulous–perched on the edge of a cliff. Wood walls face the clearing where accommodations are located, but the outside wall is all glass, so there is an absolutely unobstructed view of the mountains, valleys, and forest surrounding the peak on which Binna Burra sits. Stunning.

And the food was good and abundant, with multiple options, including seafood and vegetarian. One could not easily go hungry here. At lunch, those of us who were new arrivals were given a bit of info about when things happened and how things operate. There are meals and snacks multiple times during the day, plus if you want to go off into the wilderness, they’ll pack a lunch for you. Nice.

There are naturalists, a botanist, and an ornithologist here, to answer questions and lead regularly scheduled walks, both long and short, to make sure we have the opportunity to see as much of the rainforest as we want. Everyone else I saw or met seems to be really into this outdoor experience. Hiking gear, binoculars, cameras, and piles of books are very much in evidence. It’s good to know people still care. At home, I so often encounter people who aren’t interested in seeing anything, and if they see it, don’t want to learn more about it. Here, everyone was prepared to not only look, but to look it up. Wonderful.

The view is amazing, but I’m not sure how my photos will turn out, since the mountains are somewhat obscured by the smoke from nearby forest fires. During lunch, I was told that the fires have been quite bad this year. Sad. And yet, even with the haze, the view is unbelievably inspiring.

Even with the smoke, the view is inspiring.

Even with the smoke, the view is inspiring.

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August 24, part 2

The town of Dorrigo is a typical, old, veranda-dominated Aussie bush town, but it was not my destination. I drove through and then headed back to the Rainforest Center in Dorrigo National Park. Glorious mountain views. Simply reaching the park was a treat.

This area was first set aside for protection in 1901. Dorrigo National Park is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. The rainforest is both ancient and lush. It’s the sort of place one could probably spend years researching, but happily, they have marked nature walks for those of us with slightly less time than that.

As was the case the first time I encountered a sub-tropical rainforest, on my first visit to Australia, so too now, I was delighted beyond words by the beauty that surrounded me. Palms and strangler figs, ferns and mosses, tree bases with buttress roots or covered in shelf fungus, vines and flowers, intense greenery everywhere, layers and layers of green, with small plants growing on larger plants–enclosing, almost overwhelming. Birds everywhere.

I hiked through the rainforest for a bit more than an hour. Because this is not a tropical rainforest, it does not have the benefit of permanent heat. The wind turned cold, and it actually sleeted while I was in the rainforest. At least, they called it sleet. Later research turned up the fact that Commonwealth countries are referring to a different type of precipitation than we Yanks are thinking of when we use the word. In the U.S., sleet is freezing rain. Over here, it’s a mix of rain and snow that partly melts as it falls–something like a cross between hail and snow, coming down as little, soft, white spheres.

Getting cold and wet was only a minor inconvenience, surrounded as I was with so much beauty, but it was also getting late, so time to head back down the mountain and continue on my way.

North, through crowded, commercialized Coffs Harbour, and back to the lonely roads, through fields and forest. Woolgoolga and Corindi, past Grafton, along (and over) the Clarence River.

Outside of Grafton, the countryside turns into sort of southern Illinois, but with sugarcane instead of corn. This is the only uninspiring stretch of road so far, but it’s still pleasant: flat land, with some run-down houses, but lush fields of green cane, yards with increasingly exotic flowers, beautiful horses at the scattered stud farms, and the broad, canal-like river to the left, only a few yards away.

Back toward the coast, and finally, around 4:30, into Ballina.

Dorrigo Park mountain view

Dorrigo Park mountain view

Rainforest tree with vines and fungus

Rainforest tree with vines and fungus

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