Urban nature

In the busy commercial and tourist heart of Port Macquarie, the town park holds a secret behind its manicured lawns and gardens and picnic tables: the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve.

As we followed a boardwalk through mangrove forests and paperbark swamps, the swarms of mosquitoes made it hard to focus on anything else, and in the heat of the day, little else moved. A young Water Dragon was a notable exception, quick to dash away.

This vine root had got itself so tangled and knotted that no dashing was being considered.

But high in the trees, the Reserve’s Flying Foxes were busy flapping their wings to stay cool.

On the industrial edge of Port Macquarie, the Googik Track offers walkers and bike riders an amazing escape into Nature. For the first part of it, the nearby traffic noise was loud and steady, an incongruous juxtaposition to what I was seeing, like these large robust and spreading  gum trees, Eucalyptus signata, Snappy Gums or Scribbly Gums.

And much scribbled-upon they were…

More of the vegetation was swampland, with paperbarks and reeds and palms large and small.

In one part, pretty lilac native flowers grew beside the track, Burmannia disticha, new to me; also found in China, India and other parts of Asia.

One plant I am now familiar with was Xanthorrhoea resinosa, the Grasstree with the underground stem, and there were thousands of them here, all past flowering, some growing really tall.

My favourite sighting was of the dainty spider web cups suspended in the reeds and still glistening with dewdrops.

I didn’t walk the whole track; I will when it’s not so hot, and perhaps not at such a busy get-to-work time of day, for the traffic.

Not sure how to reduce the number of bike riders coming up fast behind me, none dinging their bells. Isn’t that the custom when passing a pedestrian on a shared path? Especially one who might stumble a bit as she goggled at spider webs…

Local gems

Walking in a reserve near me on the mid north coast, I spied these two little eyes peeping up at me.  The only ones I saw, prettily and symmetrically positioned beside the path, they turned out to be shorter-than-usual Fringed Lilies, Thysanotus tuberosus.

On the same walk there are many Ribbonwood (Euroschinus falcatus) trees, but I had never seen them so abundantly fruiting before. There were masses of bunches of purple/black berries. No wonder there are so many birds here.

I had seen their small flowers, some of which were still in evidence. Apparently these trees are having a bumper season for berries everywhere. Go birds!

As always, the twists and turns of vines fascinate me. Why and how?

While most trees do not twist as vines — or Angophoras — do, they can still surprise, as with this puckered trunk, radiating a pattern as it closes over a wound.

No matter how many times I walk this track, there is always something new to me. So I always carry my camera, and try not to trip up as I peer about. Such a treat, to live amongst so much natural wonderment.

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.

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?

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…

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…!

Dooragan

Most people go up to the Lookout on North Brother Mountain, in Dooragan National Park, for the views. The wealth held in its short rainforest walk is often missed — like these pencil orchids. I saw some on rocks and high up on trees.

It has great rocks, mossed green and lichened white, caught in mid-tumble.

The lichens here could not decide to go with stripes or splotches,  so did both.

Long ago fires must have left this ancient tree with such a perilous hold on the slope… and on life, but alive it is.

Most of the lower greenery in this forest was provided by vines, but these stubby cycads also collected moss in their geometrically patterned trunks. I am told it is Lepidozamia peroffskyana.

Walking back to the actual lookout, I was assailed by a strong perfume. Looking around, I realised there were many Sweet Pittosporum (undulatum) trees full of the tiny blossoms that gave out so much scent.

And yes, the view is wonderful. So many waterways! I can see Camden Head, where I often walk in the fabulous Kattang Reserve, It is the northern end of the long Dunbogan Beach, where I also often walk — when I can bear the 4WD tracks.

From another lookout, I can see South Brother and Watson Taylor Lane and Crowdy Head. What an area to live in; it has it all…

On the steep winding road down, what I at first mistook for early flannel flowers prove to be masses of what I call Everlasting Daisies, identified for me as Cononidium elatum, thriving on the drier slopes.

Reassessing home

With distant snow-capped Alps in my mind’s memory, I have just revisited a few of my most often visited local nature spots.

I found no Alps, but mythical cloud mountains over a pewter sea. The ephemeral will have to do.

Sun-splashed, that sea butts as restlessly as ever against the rugged cliffs that guard the Camden Haven.

The bush above the cliffs is equally buffeted by the sea winds, so grow low, and bend to survive. It is nothing like the bright verdant forests of Northern Italy, but I have been thirsting for this greyish-brownish-green, quite ‘verde’ enough for me. After all, as Kermit almost said, ‘it’s not simple being green’.

I marvel anew at the uniquely grotesque beauty and bounty of the banksia trees.

Being almost Spring, there are many small patches of colour already amongst the greys of the fallen trees. Flowers like the pink Boronia, many yellows, whites like the perfumed Pittosporum, the bright lime winged seed cases of Dodonea, or the striking berries of the Blueberry Ash.

In one dry but sheltered swamp this big paperbark tree had a large section of bark hanging by a thread, spinning in the breeze like a top, or a banner saying, ‘Look at me’!

Of course there were wattles to greet me, as there were on my other favourite walk, to the beach near me, where two sorts thrive.

The beach itself was disappointingly but familiarly abused, scored by dozens of 4WD tyre tracks. I watched the air bubbles after each wave receded, and wondered what small creatures were taking refuge beneath the sand. No tiny ghost crab would be game to stick its head up here…

On the dry higher sand where grass is holding it all together, there were fewer tracks — although there should be none — and just an occasional spot of colour like this succulent, where another plant struggled to get going.

As I walked back, I felt truly home when this lone kangaroo stopped to watch me.

Arrivederci Piero

On our last day I wander back along the creek, absorbing details, fixing memories, of art made by man and nature, here in harmony.

Water trickles down the curving slump in these so-regular rock layers, seemingly made to be used upside-down as an arch.

Trees give way to rocks, grow into shapes to suit them.

Even the fungi are tinged with green.

Tiny flowers share the stones with moss. This small bush is I think what we suffer as a weed, Broom, since there are a lot of them in the open spaces and Gigi says they have yellow flowers and that they use them to make brooms to sweep with.

Dotted through the meadowy path are these electricity cable access points; I am astonished, but pleased there are no cables slung overhead as at Piero.

In Piero, Gigi shows us his almost vertical back garden and shares the delicious fruit of his ‘mora’, a sort of red blackberry.

Many walks start here, following paths trodden by generations over centuries. I have to prefer the old stone marker…

Saying goodbye to the warmly welcoming Nicoletta feels like it should be ‘arivederci’, as to a friend; I’d love to return some day, but doubt I can.  Nicoletta speaks Italian, German and English, so I will send her a copy of The Woman on the Mountain; we have a lot in common…