The Cunning Gap it the pass that links Brisbane to the east with the agricultural regions to the west of the Great Dividing Range, a string of mountains and extinct volcanoes which runs the length of the eastern side of the Australian continent. Any streams flowing to the east quickly flow into the pacific but water flowing west takes a long journey inland and out to the Southern Ocean, although it may not make it that far during drought. The pass was discovered by Allan Cunningham (1791-1839) who incidentally was chosen by Joseph Banks to collect plants for Kew Gardens. He arrived in Australia in 1816 and under took many plant hunting expeditions in Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland, identifying many new plant species. The pass was opened up in the 1830’s, a vital link between communities though treacherous due to the steep unstable terrain which still poses problems today.
I had visited Sundown National Park on the Queensland, New South Wales a few time but not from the eastern entrance which is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. I ignored the signs and drove in regardless and needless to say didn’t get too far before I had to hoof-it. From where I left the car it was a good two hour hike into the gorge so I was expecting something reasonably spectacular as a reward. It turned out the gorge was more of a cliff, and when you think of ‘red rock’ you imagine the colour of the interior and Ayres Rock. The gorge/cliff is the edge of the volcanic granite that characterises this region which is grey-brown but coloured red by lichens. Hopefully I will be able to rustle up a four wheel drive one weekend and explore a bit further into the park.
Red Rock Gorge.
The black stain of Red Rock Falls which must have only just dried up as there was still a pool at the top quenching the thirst of a herd of goats. As well as goats, I saw several wild boar and two dear all non native to Australia. Apart from a few roos the native fauna illuded me.
The road into the park through sheep country.
Driving through the bush before the road became to rocky.
Acacia sp. in flower throughout the bush are the distinctive colour of the winter months.
Banksia spinulosa var. neoanglica (New England Banksia) in full bloom beneath the granite boulders of Girraween
Here’s a few more pictures from Girraween Nation park. Being mid winter now, the changes from the summer months are subtle. Frost morning and the dry days have left the grass and bracken in the openings golden and russet toned but little else has changed greatly. Acacias, Banksias and Legumes take advantage of the cooler months to flower and will soon be followed by the main spring flowering as the frosty morning disappear. Change here is marked more by wet and dry, and the passing of bush fires. Following the wet summer and and lush growth which is now going crisp in the dry winter weather poses a greater risk for fires than usual of which several large ones are being fought right now around Queensland.
Banksia spinulosa var. neoanglica (New England Banksia).
The woody seed capsules of the New England Banksia waiting for the heat of a bush fire to open. Curious boulders among the Gum trees.
Looking out from the Castle Rocks that rise high above the tree-line, yellow acacias sp. flowering in the foreground.
Leucopogon melaleucoides (Snow Bush) and Acacia venulosa (Veiny Wattle, Woolly Wattle)
Pultenaea hartmanii (Stanthorpe Pea) and tiny white fungi sprouting from a dead twig.
The smooth surface granite boulders covering the path of the underground stream, polished by years of rushing water.
The underground stream at Girraween National park is one place I didn’t get around to exploring until now, in mid winter. Its still rather warm. Spring is just around the corner and the spring flowers are what this national park is renowned for aside from its massive and curious granite features. The underground stream flows over a vast expanse of flat granite which has been eroded over tens of thousands of years into smooth polished curves and bowls where once just a thin crack existed. Huge boulders have broke off the face of the granite cliff face and the stream disappears beneath these but has eroded and polished away enough rock to climb through. The stream is no more than ankle deep now but walking through the forest to the along side the stream many small trees and shrubs were laid flat and bundles of twigs and grass hung in the tree a good meter or more above head height, a sign of how high and fast the water was rushing through at the peak of the flooding in January this year. Huge areas of grass and shrubs growing in the thin soils on top of the granite were rolled up like giant Swiss rolls by the force of the water.
The surface of the polished granite appears like leather compared to the coarse greyish unpolished stone. Lichens and minerals stain the under side of the granite shelf like a giant wave frozen in time.
The path into the park. The bracken browned by frosty mornings.
Granite boulders among the bush and the peeling bark of a Gum tree.
Curved forms of the granite where Bald Rock creek first starts to carve its way down through the granite and a water fall where the stream disappears beneath the fallen boulders.
There are many large bowls which are carved out larger and larger during each flood by rocks caught up in the eddies within them which rush around like a washing machine. The bowls and the rounded rocks within them have a fancy geological name but whatever it is it has long since slipped from my mind.
A curiously unnatural feature. I guess it is where the huge expanse of granite, which was created by the slow cooling of a giant under ground magma chamber, cracked and was filled by subsequent lava. Don’t take my word for that.
Leionema rotund folium (Round-leaved phebalium) and Mirbelia speciosa subsp. Speciosa (Showy Mirbelia).
Because of the intermittent rainfall and subsequent intermittent flow of Australian streams and river, they form a series of interlinked pools and marshes rather than a continually flowing channel. That is, at least before the intervention of man clearing the forests and dredging and damming the streams to make the most of every last drop of water in a drought. Sheltered by the forest and stained by tannins these pools create some beautiful reflections.
A Stags Horn Fern growing quite happily in an unexpected place.
The Stags Horn Fern is a native to the warm, wet forests of the east coast. I have seen trees festooned with them in the warm damp air and dappled light of the coastal ranges as well as in the steamy glass houses at Kew. As a child I brought one as a pot plant which once removed from it perfect climate controlled glasshouse in Holland, it slowly turned yellow, went crispy around the edges and bit the dust. I suspect the central heating and lime scale in the water weren’t to it‘s liking. There also happens to be a rather fine specimen growing in the crux of a tree in the school yard opposite the orchard where I am pruning. The temperature in town was -7oC the morning I took these photos and the Stags Horn Fern was growing quite happily out in the open. So it seems they are pretty tough after all.
As I like growing exotic plants back in the UK, it’s always interesting to see the limits to which exotic plants will tolerate and grow happily. Talk to any seasoned exotic plant enthusiast and you will find that ‘cold’ is not just ‘cold’. There is wet cold and dry cold, not to mention the duration. A few hours at -7oC in the dry may not be as bad as a few days at -1oC in the wet. Here the temperature regularly drops below freezing but never remains there for too long, and very little rain falls throughout the winter months. To try and coax one through a winter in the UK, it may have to tolerate many days of freezing and wet conditions. Finding the right micro climate is the key. I used to grow Echium pininana successfully through the winter planted close to a wall where the night storage heater was mounted on the inside. Enough heat made it through the wall to keep the worst of the frost away. If you can get this spectacular triennial plant from the Canary Islands through two winters it will produce towering cobalt blue spires of flowers. I suspect there will be very few gardens in England this year with Echiums in flower.
One of the largest Stags Horn Ferns I have seen growing in the frost free coastal town of Kerikeri in Northland, New Zealand.
So it seems most of this year in Australia will be spent in Stanthorpe. At leas I’ll get to see the seasonal changes of this part of the country, if not the whole country in little pieces. It seems the changes are quite subtle with the predominant vegetation being evergreen. The introduced tree species of the gardens and orchards give away the seasons.
Defiant of the cold is a large cactus tree standing rather incongruously amongst the bare apple trees.
My icy cherry picker and early rhyme frost. Fortunately at this latitude it soon warms up when the sun breaks the horizon.