Far and near

The views from Point Lookout in the New England National Park are vast in several directions, and show how much rugged, forested wilderness we still have, in the country where the Macleay and Bellinger rivers arise.

The first day I drove to Point Lookout, there was only whiteness instead of view; the next time there were glimpses, as patches of cloud lifted. It was on my third attempt that I saw the uninterrupted views, as in the first photo, that are justly famous. But I realised I preferred the glimpses…

At the very different Wrights Lookout, from its harsh rocky world I could look back to the green forest at Point Lookout. Here trees were small wind-bent shrubs and every crevice was needed to nurture a plant.

Other walks took me to the in-between worlds, where lichen could be a restrained rosette, a single grey-green splodge on a tree trunk.

Or in the same colours, frilled fringes like oak leaves might decorate a tree.

Or small tufts and bunches of strawberry blonde might have made a home on a fallen tree.

Or a ruffle like fine lace or coral beside its mossy mates.

An endless variety!

But of course I am not abandoning my love of mosses. I close these glimpses of the treasures in this Park with a tree trunk gloriously bedecked with lumps and bumps of thick green softness.

What’s not to love?

Details to delight

Of course the New England National Park holds more natural treasures than green moss and bearding lichen, entrancing as they are.

Like the wonderfully pleasing design made by the coiled new shoots of the many tree ferns, ready to unwind and reach skywards.

Or the dense and tall banks of delicate Coral Fern, Gleichenia dicarpa.

While looking up into the Antarctic Beech forests was impressive, listening in there was too. Almost mid-day, and yet so many birdsongs…

Peering into the trees, I saw the singer: one lyrebird, loudly and constantly being all birds. I had a brief chance to take this shot before he flew down to the forest floor.

There he seemed to be digging, but it was hard to  see at what, and hard to see him! On several other walks, I heard a lyrebird, and sat  listening for 20 minutes at one spot, but failed to see the singer.

The only time I have ever seen a lyrebird display was in another part of this Park, decades ago.

And while looking down, I was treated to a closer view of an Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei), as the pinkish/coppery colour of the new leaves of this young one caught my eye. It was the only one I saw.

The foot of this very old Beech was mossed and crinkled and caverned, looking every bit as ancient as it must be.

Yet within those gnarly buttresses were mysterious details, like this fungi-roofed cave, home to who knows what creature…

Lichen Land

‘Halt! Who goes there?’

I am sure that was the message from this guardian of the green world I was about to enter in New England National Park.

For ‘green’ is the theme in this high rainfall area, and the mosses, lichens and ferns were carrying it in abundance, in every shade and shape.

Some took turns in flaunting the riches — a jewelled collar, a draping lacy veil.

On the Tea Tree Falls Walk, the small creek was edged with mosses so thick as to resemble swales.

And this is the Tea Tree itself, a Leptospermum sp.in glorious bloom, its tiny flowers in such profusion that the bushes or small trees looked dusted with snow.

I loved the many ways the moss distributed itself, in knobs, bands or splodges, sharing with other small plants like orchids, as decorative as necklaces.

When the lichen hung in such lengths that it was blowing in the wind like green-gold tresses, I knew I was in another world and different creatures were the dominant inhabitants.

Post-fire beauty

Walking along a fire trail in Crowdy Bay National Park, I was stunned by the beauty of these Hakea bushes.

Gracefully arching, daintily flowering, they are Hakea teretifolia, also unhappily called Needlebush. The leaves are very spiky, but still…

In the long flat stretch of what seems like heath, the Hakeas stand out, etched in pastel strokes. This whole area was severely burnt out several years ago, so such a resurgence is a delight to see.

I had been directed to come here because of the abundance of these Bottlebrush Grass Trees, Xanthorrhoea macronema. The trunk of this variety is underground, and I’d thought it amazing when I saw a single specimen last year, as it was new to me.

Like the Hakea, another creamy white flowering native plant. There were only a few in bloom, but I could see hundreds of spent brown flower spikes across the reedy flat. These plants are stimulated by fire.

In the distance I spotted a few bright solo Christmas Bells.  Perhaps more will appear later in the season.

As the track reached forest and slight rises, the tall gums showed how they had survived the fire, with the many life-saving epicormic shoot clusters, now dead, no longer necessary, still evident.

And on my way back, a swift surprise flashed through the trees by the track; too swift for a good photo, but bird-lovers have identified it as a Brown Cuckoo Dove, Macropygia phasianella. I had thought it a dove by its head, but the long tail threw me. 

Such shared knowledge is much appreciated, and here I have learnt several new things on one walk.

Of froth and fury

On a recent coastal walk, I met a wild sea with white whipped waves, a long damp beach with receded evidence of a very high tide, and a strand composed of murky froth.

The blobby yellowish-grey froth always puzzles me, as it looks quite disgustingly un-natural, polluted. It was especially revolting this day as it wobbled slightly in the wind.

But sea foam is actually a natural phenomenon — find out more here

What does not move are the rocks — extraordinarily varied in colour and composition, layered and exposed to different degrees.

Yet again, I wish I had a geologically-savvy friend with me to explain these  odd pairings of materials, worn down differently and left in strange sculptural poses.

Some are more consistently like a pebblecreter’s dream, millions of small pebbles held together for another eternity.

How long ago did time and wild storms send them tumbling from the cliffs above, to begin their weathering, their sculpting, from the fury of wind and rain?

Such thoughts certainly put our puny human lifespans in perspective…

Distance and details

Sometimes you fluke being present at an ephemeral moment in Nature. Like this sea mist hanging low over the horizon, allowing me to see the path of the sunlight on the ocean, but not the sun itself.

Or this cloud sheet, mirrored in the sea and dividing the view into grey and blue day.

 A few weeks ago I showed you the beautiful white flowers of Clerodendrum floribundum. Now those flowers are on their way to showing why this small tree is called Lolly Bush, with their calyxes turning themselves outwards, now pink, soon to be red. The green centres will be black.

Another tree where the striking flowers are turning into equally striking seeds is the Banksia. I had never struck those lippy Banksia Men before they turned dark brown and nostalgically scary.

But just look at the glowing orangey-red velvet of the seed pod protrusions now!

No wonder I am likely to trip and take a fall on my walks; I have to keep looking into the distance and to each side, as well as down at my feet.

Coastal offerings

Early mornings often catch the river near Dunbogan in its mirror-like state, with the seaside banks still dark but Dooragan lit up by the sun.

If it’s been a gently receding tide, the sandy shore shows how many residents have come up for air since.

At Kattang Nature Reserve, on the clifftops, the showy yet virginal flowers of this small Clerodendrum floribundum tree flaunt their long stamens like antennae. Such flowers ought to be enough, but the fruit that follows is also stunning: black with fleshy red open collars or calyxes. No wonder it is also called Lolly Bush.

The Tuckeroo  (Cupaniopsis anacardiodes) trees are fruiting now, although the ribbed balls are not yet the bright yellow they will become. Many birds like to eat the red seeds inside these.

Common to the point of being over-abundant there, what I assume is the Coastal Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum?) is displaying beautiful arching branches of its simple white flowers.

And my final treat from that walk at Kattang is this twisted and lichened trunk, almost reptilian. I always want to ask such unusual trees for their history: how and why did you grow like this?

Final Falls

Sightings of this Brushtailed Wallaby at Dangar Falls campground near Armidale was the best part of that visit. As elsewhere, the Falls themselves were suffering from the drought.

But at my final Gorge camp, at Apsley Falls near Walcha, there was an audible and visible waterfall. Perhaps because nearer to the coast, so more rain?

Plus there was another Brushtailed Wallaby!

The view of the Gorge was tainted forever for me when I read that from the 1830s increasing settler numbers caused much grief to the indigenous people. I know, that happened everywhere; but here a party of settlers on horseback chased a group of Aboriginal people to the edge of that cliff… and over, to their deaths.

After that, the plunging steep sides filled me with horror and I had to turn back to the land above the Gorge, to the relatively healthy creek that feeds those falls.

And to allow the bush to soothe and surprise me again.

Unlike at Bimblebox, termite mounds are not common in this country, but especially in this vivid colour, so unlike the soil here generally.

The slim sinuous white gums kept catching my eye. Snow Gums are found here; is that what these glowing beauties are?

Grand Gorge country

The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park on our tablelands has spectacular gorges, and usually equally spectacular waterfalls, although the drought has rendered most of the latter mere long narrow threads of water, if even visible.

My first glimpse was from Long Point campground, a small and satisfyingly empty one at the end of a long dirt road.

The Cassinia Walk passed along the edge of the gorge, through a literal forest of these tall plants, which were mostly not flowering yet. I don’t know which Cassinia they are, as the ranger I asked said they were weeds…

The other thing I asked about was the name of these trees, with their dramatically mottled bark. I was told they were Spotted Blue Gum, which I can’t find, and, given the Cassinia mislead, I can’t trust. But it would seem that Spotted Gums themselves do sometimes have such large blotches.

My next camp was at Wollomombi Falls. Stranded pools could be seen way down below.

The ‘Falls’ were barely running enough to fall.

The creek that fed them was as weedy as watery.

A very beautiful wattle, indigenous to these gorges, was in bloom everywhere here: Gorge Wattle, (Acacia ingramii).

As always, I found the lichen bedecking dead shrubs to be as attractive as any flowers.

When lichen lies along a branch like a hoary basking lizard, I am entranced…

Amazing Bald Rock

Bald Rock National Park is near Tenterfield and this mightiest of the many mighty granite domes in our tablelands region is truly impressive. In fact, it is the largest granite dome in the southern hemisphere.

For once I was able to screw up my courage and brave the slanted walk across the top surfaces, leaning uphill and trying hard to ignore the downwards pull I always feel.  White dots tell you where is safe to walk, but they don’t know my imagination…

Yes, the view is 360 degrees, but for me more fascinating is that these huge boulders are ranged in a neat row on top — by whom and how?

Or that in sheltered cracks and dips, surprising plants manage to grow up here.

Like these aromatic shrubs of Prostanthera petraea, White-flowering Mint Bush, as delicate in appearance as any pampered garden plant; only found in such granite pockets in this region.

I admit I took the easier option of getting to the Rock, taking the Bungoona Walk which was gentle and extremely varied. While wallowing in the scent of masses of wattles, I loved the dominance of purple Hardenbergia, climbing shrubs and sticks or rambling over the ground.

Clumps of Flag, from pale lilac to deep purple, appeared now and then. Shouldn’t our national colours be purple and gold instead of green and gold?

Another special regional plant I spotted on the way was the perennial Coronidium boormanii.

Of course the track eventually had to encounter these Granite Titans, tossed like marbles to balance at the foot of Bald Rock itself.

I not only fear and avoid heights, but caves and looming overhead rocks, and yet the track leads you through many tight spaces like this.

I know they have poised like these for eons, but still I duck and scurry through, hoping they do not choose to move at last… not right now.

I found Bald Rock National Park one of the most interesting for me. The campground was good, apart from the sad sight of a very ill quoll, probably blind and perhaps dying, (once rescued, likely from a dog attack, and released here) who came nosing around.

Survival at Girraween

Girraween National Park, just over the border into Queensland, is all about rocks, large and small, in domes and sheets. From the camping area, the Pyramid  looms large and challenging.

Nobody will be surprised that I did not make it to the top; instead I got to a point where I felt I could see enough of a view and the clamber ahead felt too scary for me. I’d have had to crawl…

Each morning this young magpie would wake me with its full throttle joyous carolling. Eastern Grey kangaroos grazed heedlessly all around the campgrounds, but I considered them almost domesticated. In general, I found that there were too many people and not enough wildlife. Maybe flush toilets should be my indication…

Yes, there were incredibly huge boulders balanced in preposterous positions, and many evocatively shaped and fissured rocks.

I was more taken with the many effects water has had on the rocks, in waved patterns as it had run over sheets of rock or down the sculpted sides of the creeks.

Trees and shrubs here seem to grow as best they can, taking advantage of any crack where soil or water might accumulate, their roots snaking along until they find easier purchase. One was doing the splits to achieve this.

I certainly fulfilled my need for grey-green, but also was drawn to the strange bright orange and red shades of the many hanging bunches of mistletoe and the honey-gold flowers on the low growing casuarinas.

Wattles were blooming everywhere and some wildflowers were out, but this time my attention was elsewhere.

At Bald Rock National Park, my next stay, everything competed for attention, as you will see…!

Coastal cornucopia

This Camden Haven area keeps on surprising me with fresh natural  visual treats. Like this early morning view across the river as the sun began to streak light across Dooragan. The outgoing tide impacts on the riverside ‘beach’ drew me closer.

It was as perfectly rippled as a raked Japanese garden.

In Kattang Nature Reserve, these small trees were covered in starry blossoms.

It is Nematolepis squamea, I am told (ex-Phebalium). Such a dainty and graceful blossom to gather in clusters like this.

On a different, low and sandy coastal walk, there was an extraordinary variety of white-flowering shrubs.

Too many for me to identify, but the many flannel flowers were in bud, so those will clearly dominate when they bloom.

I am off camping for a few weeks, to colder, higher, rockier inland national parks, so the next posts will depict very different aspects of nature. There will likely be longer gaps between posts as reception will be rare.

Stay tuned!