The hooded keeper of this treasure trove glowers warningly from his island, arms folded, tail curled beneath him.
I assure him I won’t touch anything, just look.
The tide is turning, so soon his garden will be safe once more from plunderers… and blunderers like me.
The scalloped sand ripples around smaller rock islands seem to show a tide that receded in circles, leaving a rococo mirror for the small patch of blue sky peeping though the clouds.
Other parts of the rock shelf mirrored the land world more dramatically, with plateau lakes, rushing waterfalls, steep cliffs and deep fjords.
The forests of cunjevoi nearest the sea edge were glowing bright green, not having been exposed to the sun for too long, and about to be submerged again.
I began to think of the clever adaptability of all the inhabitants, animal and vegetable, of this tidal shelf.
The shells can close up to prevent evaporation, but so do these Chelsea-bun-shaped creatures.
Every now and then one of them shoots a stream of water into the air before closing again. I managed to photograph these with their little red mouths still open right after such an ejection. The bubbles they created are still visible.
I could see those red mouths because there is little vivid colour in these pools, so this red starfish was a beacon.
In other pools there were many starfish, but far more secretively camouflaged, mainly blue or with duller reddish tips. They were well hidden amongst the showy seagarden plants or part buried in sand.
But this garden has as much sculpture as plants – rocks of gold and amber, decorated with filigree created by the Galeolaria seaworms, studded with the pearls of more mobile shells.
It even has more modern industrial-style sculpture sections, where vertical rules divided the rocks before freeform artistic elements were added.
I am yet again in awe of the design intrinsic in Nature, which we can only emulate. Perhaps, as we veer from fire to flood seasons, we might also emulate the adaptability of the inhabitants of rock shelves.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On a cliff edge in Kattang Nature Reserve is a most amazing and unique sight. A colony of dome-shaped casuarinas, Casuarina glauca in a prostrate form endemic to this reserve. ‘Discovered ‘ here in 1998, several cultivars of it are now grown for use in garden rockeries especially. The Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan grows one called ‘Kattang Karpet’.
I first thought of creatures like the elusive Foo cartoon character of my childhood, then the hairier Iggles, like ‘puzzled coconuts’, that appeared everywhere, and then the Grug picture books of my children’s time.
I found it difficult to see these as inert, related to the Casuarina trees we know; they do sucker and spread, so these colonies may be just a few actual plants. I kept expecting one to get up and meander off, as Grug would.
These little plant creatures were the highlight of the walk, but not the only shape surprise.
At one lookout, a proper casuarina tree was pretending to be a steep hillside, but instead was hollow, its foliage growth pruned at that angle by the sea winds, as neatly and sharply as if by an obsessively operated hedge trimmer.
Away from the cliff sides, these beautifully simple mauve flowers on small and low plants proliferated along a protected part of the path: now called Tripladenia cunninghamii, it was formerly named Kreysigia, and is often called the Ground Lily. A first sighting for me, so a walk full of new experiences.
I value Kattang highly as such a special and ever-changing place with many different ecosystems ready to surprise me on every walk.
In the Big Fella Gum Forest Reserve, whose mighty trees I admired last post, I was also intrigued by many of its small details.
Like the beautifully delineated shield-like leaves of this young Prickly Supplejack (Ripogonum discolor) which starts out looking as if it’s a shrub then becomes a strong climber. The sailors/Jack Tars on early voyages called it Supple Jack because of its climbing ability, and many parts of the plant are useful.
The few bright new leaves of this tree, Maiden’s Blush, (Sloanea australis) caught my eye several times. The name refers to the colour of its heartwood as well as its young leaves.
Even brighter were these very, very tiny red fungi hiding amongst the deep leaf litter. The water-logged ground beneath was soft, especially near the creek, and I sank several times… but I only attracted one leech.
Other fungi were larger and in the less-noticeable shades of brown.
Although this shelf fungus was so large that it drew attention without vivid colouring except for its white underside.
The extended roots of the big Turpentine were mostly buried under leaves, but this noticeable hump in its progress is clearly being used as shelter.
Unusual shapes and patterns in Nature always fascinate me, as did this small ladder of bark mouths or kisses, the origin of which nobody knew.
And if one tree was puckering up, another was choosing to send its green passenger growing sideways.
This palm chose to cascade its moss from a slit in its decorative lichen-splotched trunk.
And as a final show, in the unbroken depths of this rainforest pocket, a fallen giant lay shrouded in rich green velvet, decaying in beauty while nourishing the earth beneath.
No wonder my spirit itself feels nourished after such an excursion, fed with new sights and understandings, enlightened by others who know so much about our flora.