Autumn bush blooms

Not expecting to see many flowering plants on my latest Coast walk, these beauties surprised me: Epacris pulchella, or Coral Heath.

Unsurprisingly, ‘pulchella‘ means ‘beautiful’.

It’s a sandy walk where Flannel Flowers are massed like guards of honour in their season, but right now their greyish foliage is mere backdrop for this elegant Epacris.

And there were quite a few shrubs of this spiky-leaved wattle, Acacia ulicifolia, Prickly Moses or Juniper Wattle. Notably, it carried blooms  at all stages and colours, rather like the Banksias do.

However, the dominant flowers were not at eye or ground level, but high up, as these Melaleuca trees (quinquenervia, I think) are in massed bloom everywhere on the coast here.

Their scent is powerful and pervasive, although to me it smells like some deep-fried battered takeaway food! The Rainbow Lorikeets are going noisily crazy over the feasts on offer.

Not flowers, but the strikingly bright fruit on this small tree caught my eye. There were only a few bunches like this, so not really obvious.

The knowledgeable folk on the NSW Native Plants Identification Facebook group, who identified the first two flowers here for me, also tell me this is Elaeodendron australe, or Red olive berry.

It’s a group well worth joining if native plants are your passion!

Patterns

The endless variety of patterns that sea and sky and sun can create mean one must always keep a sharp eye out for the ephemeral combination they may offer.

As each wave recedes, I am mesmerised by these fleeting puffs of sand, ringed with bubbles like smoke rings. What causes them?

Equally inexplicable to me are the convoluted circles of lace patterns in the waves’ foamy wash, seemingly unrelated to rocks.

Or these club-handed clouds, offering what, beseeching whom?

I love the patterning made by Horsetail Casuarinas, drooping gracefully in fine line silhouette. I also love the shade they offer…

While I love mirror-like reflections, I appreciate these artfully broken reflections as the tide ripples up this creek.

Pair the magic of light through leaves with still water and you have incomparable patterns. 

I drink in all these chance pairings, and hope I never fully lose my sight, for to be deprived of all these beauties would be a loss indeed…

Celebrating trunks

Trees are determined survivors. Their trunks will grow around a lightning strike or a bush fire burn … and just keep heading up, with diminished resources.

And if they do not survive, they can become objects of sculptural beauty and home to vivid lichens.

Some trees choose not to head upwards, but outwards, unsure whether they want to be part of the river or the bank.

Planted in rows en masse in a state forest, their trunks offer changing patterns of light and shade.

I know bamboos are grasses, not trees, but you can’t call their hefty ‘stems’ other than trunks. 

Clumplng bamboo like this never fails to impress me with its sheer size and solidity… and how useful a material it is!

And when it’s the yellow variety, it makes a veritable clump of golden poles.

Even tiny trunks give vertical definition to low growing plant treasures like the shy Maidenhair ferns on this bank.

While seemingly growing in rocks, this young Casuarina is already adapting to the river’s changing flows, growing south with it in floods and then recovering to head skyward.

I wish it luck.

River gold

As the sun sets here, I am more attracted to the patterns and colours it adds to the river and the edging mangrove mudflats than to the sky itself. I have noticed that my eye keeps being drawn more to earth than sky, be it sunrise or sunset, beach or bush.

As usual, I find there’s a solitary bird poking about, to add interest to my photo.

I wasn’t sure what this one was until it turned sideways and showed off its S-bend neck ability: a White-faced Heron.

Of course there is always a stately solo Pelican, here cruising the wind-ruffled water amongst the oyster beds.

Taking my eyes off the gilded river, in the shallows by the mangroves I spy what looks like an Egret, snow-white and solitary, as expected. The now nearby Heron keeps its distance.

But I admit I am as taken by the sunset’s transforming impact on birdless mudflats, with the black nursery spikes of the mangroves punctuating the dimpled grey mud and accentuating the gold wash beyond, where oyster bed posts give both horizontal and vertical definition.

I’ve seen far more spectacular sunsets here, but every change in the light offers new interest to me, always worth closer inspection.

Morning mates

As my readers know, I am a sucker for a solitary seagull. Now I am unsure if it is the same seagull who accompanies me on my morning seaside walks, but I like to think it is. This one certainly admires the sunrise as much as I do, basking in the wonders that a few clouds can create at this serendipitous moment.

The sight is stupendous, even sans seagull, changing every second. The constantly renewed ruff of foam edging the mirror of the wet sand is such a neat visual touch that it is hard to consider it ‘normal’. As the sun rises higher, side-on, up close, the foam bubbles sparkle with iridescence, but I can’t capture their tiny rainbows with my camera.

The clouds shift and suddenly a sky monster on the move glares at me from its baleful eyes.

Not solitary, these terns are watching the unfolding sunrise too, with the reflected craggy vertical face of the headland laid out flat, neatly ruled, in front of them.

As always, the fascinating details of how the tide has receded are written in the sand. These sturdily defined chevrons on the edge of the sand rise are new to me.

So are these scallops; not appearing as ripples, but a series of separate pulses of patterns.

Not keen on scalloped designs? How about herringbone?

Is there any pattern not originating in nature?

Well, yes. I rarely see anyone else down here at this early hour, but a solitary walker with a stick leaves a distinct trail as he passes me. It would have puzzled me had I not seen it being made, and would no doubt have inspired an unlikely flight of fancy…

Sea morning

Sometimes my morning walks are lucky enough to strike a magical combination of sea, sunrise, and sky … and in this instance, a lone seagull.

The seagull flew away, but the rest of the cast soon moved into a different and more brooding scene.

Even where the clouds neared the land and broke into fluffy cotton wool balls, they gave a brief but spectacular show of reflections each time just after a wave receded, leaving a wet mirror surface on the sand. A single fisherman the only other witness…

But he walked to his fishing spot. 

Unfortunately, my pleasure in Nature’s spectacle is always ruined by the man-made eyesore of 4WD tracks, not made by fishermen seeking a spot further up this long beach, but just joyriding, using/abusing the beach as a driving range for their big boys’ toys because they are allowed to. The Port Macquarie Hastings Shire seems especially weak in this respect.

I can only wish much rust their way…!

Weird and wonderful

Having always driven past the Hunter Botanic Gardens at Raymond Terrace, always with the fleeting thought of ‘I must go there’… I finally did.

It holds many green wonders of forests and palms but I found the noise of the adjacent highway traffic too distracting to enjoy the bush.

I did marvel at the amazing sight of the purples and oranges and burgundies of the shedding bark of the Angophora costata trunks. This one was surrounded by the spent flower spears of Bottlebrush Grass plants, Xanthorrhoea macronema, as if on guard.

A friend had advised that the Cacti Garden was her favourite; ‘Oh, I don’t like cacti’, I’d said dismissively.

But the large Cacti Garden here was actually amazing! I was so ignorant of the diversity.

Look at these fat green roses, as cupped as any David Austin bloom…

These strange cannon balls were ribbed with prickles and sneakily expanding, yet some incongruously bore a soft yellow flower on top.

These helmeted and shielded warriors were ready for battle, on the alert and checking in all directions.

Yet this sort of vertical cacti looked gently harmless, furry towers, unlike their accompanying army of fierce little green friends.

And I found this the weirdest of all, a tall sculpture of beseeching groups of clasped hands.

I will never dismiss cacti again… and I am now unsure if they really are plants. Their world is weird indeed, but it is also wonderful.

Easy access greens

At nearby Washpool National Park you wind down to Bellbird rainforest campground, surrounded by tall trees and deep shade.

There is an easy walk to Coombadjha Creek, designed for wheelchair access, so perfect for me in my fragile rib-clutching state.

And beside that path there are many rainforest wonders to be seen, like this gorgeous tangle of roots and greenery.

Another uses the exposed roots as protective frames for pockets of moss.

Other mosses need no protection as they cover this fallen tree like a thick green furry pelt. So strokable!

The creek itself is beautiful, and restful, with still pools between small rushes and falls. So restful that I sit there for ages… and listen… and think.

The rocks always draw me in, and this one seemed so generous, with native violets thriving along its one crack.

Many cracks in this work of modern art, moss-topped and lichen-splashed. Couldn’t find the artist’s name…

By gentle waters

On leaving Gibraltar National Park, it is worth stopping just before rejoining the highway, and imbibing the gentle atmosphere of Dandahra Creek.

The path winds through banks of ferns taller than myself, and in many places the creek is as still as a mirror. Still incapacitated to some extent by my fall, I didn’t walk far, but enough to enjoy it.

While the heaths up here apparently blaze with a lot of Christmas Bells at the right time, I only saw an occasional one, always a bright and surprising splash of colour in this green world.

Rocks in shady places are festooned with mosses and lichen and small plants, speaking of stability, of longevity, of multi-purpose and interdependent life.

Even an old fencepost must do its duty in this web of life, hosting so much lichen I had trouble recognising what its original role had been.

High country survival

Gibraltar National Park is an easy drive inland from Glen Innes, on the Gwydir Highway. It is a high country of rocks of all shapes and sizes, so these tall granite columns, called The Needles, were the aim of the first walk I chose to do from where I was to camp for three nights at Mulligans Campground.

The view from the lookout was spectacular, but as always, my eye was drawn to detail, and there were several of these striking plants in flower. Commonly called Native fuschia, Epacris longiflora, I am informed.

The walk out to there goes through mostly rainforest, where the damp fosters fungi and I kept checking for hitchhiking leeches.

Back up on the heights, the regrowth of shrubs and trees was heartening amongst all the blackened trunks.

Not all the Xanthorrhoeas had survived, and many looked like amputees.

The walk was meant to be a two-and-a-half-hour one of medium difficulty; there were quite enough inclines for me, and some rocky scrambles where I feared to turn an ankle.

But up top, for long stretches, Dampiera purpurea formed an avenue beside the path, showing their pretty mauve flowers, the plants often as tall as myself.

I had missed the main flowering of the Gibraltar Range Waratah (Telopea aspera), but enough bright remnants remained on the tall stems to signal their past glory.

But this Park for me was less about flowers than lichened rocks and survivor trees, about blacks and greys and browns.

The lower storey of next generation greens was hopeful, but the tough oldies showed they were not to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately this oldie tripped and fell flat out when almost back at the campground, landing on my camera, which had been slung around my neck and shoulder.  Neither soft flesh nor fragile ribs are a match for such a hard object. So part of me was purple and black as an aubergine (only not as firm) and I could do no more long walks for the week. But I know I was lucky not to break a wrist or wrench a knee… so let’s say The Needles were worth it.

I did survive to wince and do tiny walks, and will return another time to do all those other walks.

Where water rules

This part of the Wilson River runs clear and strong over its massive rocks, water-worn to resemble submerged hippopotami.

Its still sections are like amber-tinted mirrors. I see a catfish swimming about but I cannot photograph it through the reflections.

Where it falls and meets obstructions, it rushes around them with a constant murmur that is almost a roar.

And it is evident that this river will brook no obstruction when it is in full force, as there is a whole other dry riverbed, edged with piled-up tree trunks, to show that the river has changed course.

In the current river run, some small trees cling desperately to rocks midstream, their roots grasping for purchase like long bony fingers.

In this world of stone and water I see little wildlife, so I am delighted that this small skink has managed to make a home.

Riverside life

At The Bluff campground in Mt. Boss State Forest the Wilson River audibly dominates, rushing over and around huge boulders.

There are very few places to walk except along the dirt road in, or risk twisting an ankle on the round riverside rocks.

But alongside that track I was delighted to see this Spangled Drongo darting about in the regrowth bush. 

I have always loved the name (!), and I am grateful for the distinctive mermaid tail that allows even me to identify it from a distance.

That track also offered several botanical treats, like these pink Stylidium, Trigger Plants, which snap to release pollen when an insect touches them.

One area was generously strewn with these Ground Lilies, Tripladenia cunninghamii, which I had only been shown recently, in Kattang Nature Reserve on the coast. These were perhaps a paler blue, but unmistakable.

And even more generously, this bank carried the daintily lacy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum). always a sight that makes me smile. Why? Maybe because it is so gentle…

The Bluff itself runs steeply down into the river, with a spectacular wall of Xanthorrhoea on one face.

Nothing gentle about this, but certainly impressive.