20 Jan 2021
The Border Track plunged directly into the depths of the forest. Like stepping out of the sunshine into a darkened room, the forest immediately embraced us.
We were accompanied by the memory of our 20 year old selves. David, in particular, loved this forest when we first met, and he introduced me to my love of hiking on this very trail.
I remember thinking the rainforest was boring as a kid. Now, we are enthralled with it. The twisted lacework vines, the trees wrapping around another, plants growing off each other. The forest is rich in green, wet, mossy, leafy life. It’s everywhere.
Taking great lungful of damp air he said “I remember this! It‘s the same smell…like curry!”
As we passed under the stone archway, Dave remembered back in the 90’s dragging Adele on The Ship’s Stern- a difficult 19km slog. Adele was hungover and Dave was annoyed about it. They had no food, water or maps. Luckily they were young and had a sense of humour! Dave sent a photo to Adele as we walked chuckling to himself. .
“Wow, look at that tree wrapped in another” I said more than once. Distracted with the twisted mossy details of the forest we kept stopping to photograph. Who knows when we’ll be back; we wanted to capture everything.
Clouds crept into the forest dropping the temperature a little and dampening the vivid colour and detail. As we reached the fork off the main Border Track, sunlight started to filter through the moving clouds casting beams of light through the trees.
“It’s the perfect wether to see the rainforest – in a rain cloud” stating the obvious to Dave who was busy photographing orange fungi.
The sounds of this forest are distinctive: the bird life in particular. I realised I could name the birds as we heard them: The Whip Bird, Cat Bird, and the Wompoo, stood out the most. We missed hearing the Bell Bird though. We saw Bush turkeys, King parrots and Rosellas.
Soon the track left the rainforest and opened out into heathland following the edge of an escarpment and overlooking a narrow valley. The mist had turned into bonafide rain awhile back, we were soaked through enjoying the warm rain, after weeks of summer heat in Brisbane.
We passed two pairs of walkers dealing with a commotion- one said in a Kiwi accent “There’s leeches!” pointing to her friends feet. The other couple handed them insect repellent “Spray your legs with this…”
“Keep moving!” I exclaimed to Dave marching on the spot when I heard the word ‘leeches’. We had covered ourselves in repellent this morning and I was beginning to think it might have washed off in the rain. Still, “I’d rather a leech than a tick” I mumbled into the wind.
With the shorter vegetation, we were exposed to the wind rushing over the cliff face. I was feeling the cold in my fingers and wishing I’d put my rain jacket on before getting wet. (Okay, soaked.) It was a warm rain and a warm wind, so if we kept moving I figured we were okay.
“Where’s the rock we used to stop for lunch?” Wondered Dave marching through the wet path in his sturdy boots. I love the sound they make on the wet path. Slop, slop, slop, slop. It’s as distinctive as walking in snow.
“I remember it was kind of flat, and slightly off the path…” It wasn’t long before we found it. It was a little steeper getting down to the rock than I remember and it didn’t help that a small river had formed washing down the path. But it was tucked in the low heather and almost protected from the wind. As good a spot as any, for a picnic.
Now, back in the 90’s, I would’ve packed a lunch with more calories than we’d spent getting there: trail mix with chocolate coated sultanas, sandwiches on lush bread rolls, apple, cheese, salami, and a bladder of port. Yes, port. Yes, in a bladder. Chuckle. In those days it was all about the lunch. Today, we had a protein bar, an apple and piece of cheese.
While we ate, I watched as the stream of water cascading down the path, across our outcrop and over the edge, only to be blown back onto us by the wind. It gave me the giggles. Here we are soaked, sheltering from the wind, but not the rain only to be doused by an upside down waterfall.
“Okay, I’m putting on my raincoat” I chuckled as I put down my apple about to get up.
“Um-wait!” Dave said with some urgency pointing to my leg. I looked down to find a leech inching along my trousers. Luckily he hadn’t found a way through the fabric and Dave could pick him off easily. Paranoid now, we checked ourselves over with none others to be found. (I didn’t discover the one nosing around in my boot until back in the room.)
Motivated to get moving, we dried off as best we could, donned raincoats (mainly for the wind protection) and set off. Looking back at the cliff edge and Numimbah Valley, we watched as clouds raced up and over the rim into a watercolour sky. We stood side by side in the light rain, feeling inspired.
“We’ve never taken our time like this, before” said Dave looking over the valley.
“We’ve got to remember this” I agreed.
An tiny red plant clinging to the edge of the track, caught my attention. I quickly snapped a photo and hurried down the path to catch up to Dave, and thought nothing of it. Later, I learnt that this unusual plant actually eats insects! I believe it’s called a “Sundew”. According to Wikipedia it lures, captures and digest insects! Crafty little thing!
The forest changed again as the track climbed around a rocky outcrop, entering a eucalyptus woodland.
“What’s going on here?” I asked pointing to strange foam leaking out of the tree bark. “Is it frogs eggs?” I wondered out loud.
“I don’t know” said Dave taking a closer look. I looked up and noticed it was happening in a few different places on this tree and others. Neither of us had seen anything like this before. “How strange”.
I’ve since done some research, and the best explanation I can find, is something to do with the water dissolving and reacting to the chemicals in the bark. The natural chemicals designed to hold the moisture in the topsoil (to help in dry conditions) also effect the rain water surface tension as it run down the bark- causing the foam.
‘Surprise Rock’ juts out above the canopy. We were tempted to scramble over it but not in the wet. Overlooking the ridge and valley beyond the clouds drifted around us. A few gaps opened up offering glimpses of blue sky and sunshine, reminding us that it’s still summer out there.
From here the track lead us through another change of forest before leading back into sub-tropical rainforest closing the loop. As we climbed back into the rainforest sun rays burst through the canopy and dissipating clouds. The deep dark forest, punctuated by shafts of dazzling light.
“How on earth could I paint this?” I wondered knowing it would be difficult. I’d be lost in the detail for sure. In someways it reminded me of the French impressionists and their dappled light.
We remembered the last few kilometres of the track dragging on and so we were prepared to make the final uphill push on tired legs and slipped into a rhythm: slop, slop, slop, slop…
Being surrounded by this ancient forest, in changing wether conditions, was both revitalising and inspiring.
It’s the diverse ecosystems that makes this track so enjoyable. And it’s this track, that sparked our love of hiking. It’s a special place for us. Actually, it’s a World Heritage Listed Sub-tropical Rainforest. Australia’s largest. So it’s a special place on this lonely planet.