RAINFORESTS EXPERIENCES IN WINTER
Debbie Kruger 1995
The snakes are in hibernation and the leeches, ticks and other nasties are in abeyance. There is no better time to explore the sub-tropical rainforests than now, in the winter and early spring. Sydney and Melbourne southerners flock to Northern NSW at this time of the year for perfect weather conditions and crystalline views; south-east Queenslanders need only drive an hour or two down the highway to experience nature at its finest.
Exhilarating day tours for either the budget-conscious or the less financially restricted can give an overall feel for the remarkable and quite unique pockets of land that surround the imposing and enigmatic extinct volcano, Mount Warning. And those who want a longer respite have the choice of Exclusive but not necessarily expensive forest retreats, available for a more intimate acquaintance with the region.
The state forests and World Heritage listed national parks on the NSW far north coast, especially in the Tweed, Byron and Lismore regions, are as abundant in vegetation as the tropical rainforest of North Queensland, but with arguably a greater diversity of plant and wild life. While national parks are more preserved and intact than timber-producing state forests; the NSW Forestry Commission manages forests such as the Whian Whian Forest sympathetically, according to its multiple use policy, providing for recreation, catchment protection, wildlife and conservation values.
Sharyn Proctor, an anti-logging activist, conservationist and eco-tourism advocate might argue to the contrary, but either way her charming and secluded Minyon Forest Retreat, right in the heart of Whian Whian, is pure magic.
Sharyn and her husband Tim bought a chalet-style house formerly owned by one of the area's better-known artists, and have converted the artist's studio into one of two guest cabins where self-contained or bed and breakfast accommodation is available. Situated on the only piece of freehold land in the Whian Whian, the Minyon Forest Retreat id easily accessible to Minyon Falls, with their 100 metre plunge into deep palm-shaded gorge, Rocky Creek Dam, and Pete's Mountain Lookout.
You might find yourself just hanging around in the Proctors' magnificent gardens (they also run a nursery business), engaging in conversation with your gracious and loquacious hostess, who will also provide sumptuous home style meals on request, but Sharyn is equally happy to leave guests to themselves should they want to experience their rainforest break in isolation.
Whian Whian State Forest lies on the southern flank of Mount Warning's ridge, about 25 kilometres north of Lismore, and easily accessible from Byron Bay or Mullumbimby. From its highest point on the Nightcap Range, the forest descends 600 metres through luxuriant eucalypt and rainforest stands to the Rocky Creek Dam.
Further north is the Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat, situated on a 100 ha property bounded on three sides by the World Heritage listed Numinbah Nature Reserve. It is only 20 minutes from Murwillumbah and 40 minutes from the Gold Coast, and this adults-only resort-retreat is the ultimate in unfussed luxury.
Ralph Kraemer and Judy Rimmer bought the property, originally a banana plantation, seven years ago after it had been abandoned for over 10 years and when there was no vehicular access. They set about clearing the dense overgrowth of weeds and lantana and the result is a harmonious combination of expansive groomed lawns and gardens with naturally re-vegetated rainforest. Ralph and Judy themselves have planted over 2,OOO trees,andl their restorative work is ongoing.
Three walks have been specially constructed to explore the property and surrounds, from the easy 30-minute "Birdo's Dawdle," and the 45-minute "Rainforest Walk" to the more strenuous two-hour return "Lookout Walk." Even a rock-hop along the creek can be very enjoyable, and large hammocks single and double size -have been strung up at intervals along the creek to lie and gaze up at nature's resplendence.
Ralph and Judy are devoted bird-watchers, and will talk to you at length about the bird life at Crystal Creek, where they have seen over 140 species. At present they report that the Spangled Drongos are returning to the area in anticipation of the Spring, and other unusual birds currently migrating from the highlands include the Rufous Thrush and Rose Robin.
You might just want to relax in the luxury of your cabin, and the newly built rainforest canopy cabins have double spa bath, king size bed, sound system and VCR, as well as full cooking facilities inside with barbeque on the spacious verandah. Creekside cabins have two bedrooms, and are ideal for two couples. If you don't wish to cook for yourself, a candlelit dinner can be served in your cabin, or you can also eat in the main house with Ralph and Judy and fellow guests. Your stay can be as private or as sociable as you wish.
Should you yearn for further exploration then there are a number of day tours you can take into the Border Rangers. Never Never Safari Tours' John Ewin has been a tour operator in the region for nine years, and has now upgraded to a luxury six wheel drive vehicle which manoeuvres its way through the steep and winding roads of the Wollumbin State Forest and the Border Ranges National Park with ease. Ewin seems to know every tree along the way intimately, and if one has been lopped from within the state forest, he'll know it.
The running commentary is fascinating; Ewin is a mine of information on the history of the region, and his pet topic is conservation, so be prepared to be a little ear-bashed. But you'll also be moved at the sight of an 800 year old fig tree and a huge 56 metre high ironbark.
At 31,000 ha, the Border Ranges National Park is World Heritage listed, and together with Lamington National Park, the two adjoining parks form the largest sub-tropical rainforest in Australia, with 521 varieties of rainforest tree. You will see the 8,000 year-old Antarctic Beeches, and have a barbeque lunch - chicken, steak or barramundi - under the rainforest canopies of Brindle Creek. Ewin will take you to Blackbutt Lookout which, at this time of the year, offers the most spectacularly clear views you will ever take in, and he'll take you to The Pinnacle, a knife-edge escarpment on the rim of the enormous erosion caldera of Mount Warning. With Ewin, you'll be spared the precarious 800 metre walk to its precipice.
But if youre fit and slightly more adventurous, you might prefer going out to The Pinnacle with Jim Merritt. There are a number of cheap day tour operators in the Byron, Lismore and Tweed areas, including Bay to Bush Tours and Nimbin Tours. Jim's Alternative Tours has the advantage of Merritt's personalised charm and attention; he's been working with backpacker hostels and tour operators in the region for many years, and his affinity with the budget tourist market makes him your ideal guide for a day's exploration.
Go to The Pinnacle with Jim Merritt and you'll find yourself walking single file to the edge. Not for sufferers of vertigo, indeed, but if you can make it you will be rewarded by the views. Merritt also takes his tourists to Hanging Rock Falls for a swim - yes, even in the winter - and there is also a visit to Paui Reecher's Fruit Spirit commune on the edge of the Whian Whian State Forest.
Jim's Alternative Tours also offers guided climbs up Mount Warning, trips to Nimbin with walks at Minyon and Protestor's Falls, and, when the weather gets warmer, the exhilarating Big Wet tour, featuring a day of water-hole hopping on the coast and in the rainforest.
The beauty and vitality of the world's rainforests are at your doorstep; the season is perfect for immersing yourself in their magnificence and magnetism. So forget the Aerogard, take the walking shoes, and don't forget the National Parks and Wildlife code: what you carry in, you must also carry out.