Tag Archives: Travel

Heading West

The Barrier Highway heads across the Western Plains to Broken Hill and the deserts of South Australia. Leaving the Warrumbunbles shrinking in the rear view mirror the landscape opened out with big skies and the road tapering to a point on the horizon.
Wild flowers along the road side.
The Dry grassland to the far west of New South Wales.
One of few plants in flower, the flowers tough and waxy to the touch, presumably to guard against desiccation.
The smart and tidy Post Office building in the tiny town of Wilcannia half way along the Barrier Highway. This is the only smart building in the otherwise dilapidated and dying ex-mining town now left by the way side.

A few of the empty dilapidated buildings along the high street.

The Warrumbungles

Some of the spectacular granite bluffs known as ‘The Warrumbungles’ formed by volcanoes 13 to 17 million years ago, of which 90% have eroded away leaving only the toughest remnants standing sentinel over the predominantly flat landscape.
After to many months working in the orchards I’ve finally saved what I need to continue my travels. I finished working in September and went on a whistle stop road trip around a small portion of Australia, and still clocked over 10,000km. I’m now in Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina wait for for my Antarctica cruise to depart.
From Stanthorpe in South East Queensland I headed south west through out back rural New South Wales to the deserts of South Australia. I then turned north on the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. I hadn’t the funds or time to make it all the way up to Darwin, so turned east back into Queensland to the tropical coast and the Great Barrier Reef. Finally heading south down the east coast to catch a flight out of Sydney to South America.
In the centre of the north eastern quarter of New South Wales is the Warrumbungle National Park. Here a group of precipitous rocky bluffs, remnants of past volcanic activity, rise dramatically out of the flat savannah grassland that predominated the surrounding landscape. The park is reputed to be incredibly diverse in flora and fauna owing to its varying elevations and its location between the dry grassland inland to the west and the wetter forest stretching off to the east coast.
Looking down on one of the most distinguished features of the park ‘The Bread Knife’.
Views across the peeks of the park and looking out across the western plains, flat to the horizon and where I was headed.

Some of the plants growing on the bright, exposed, rocky parts of the park.

And flowering in the dappled light of the cooler forested valleys floor.
Clematis sp.
Acacia sp.
Black snake soaking up the rays in a dry creek bed.
Beautiful patterns created by the many Lichens.

Main Range National Park

Sunlight piercing the canopy illuminates the palm fronds in the dense rainforest.
Birds-nest ferns perch high up on the trunks of the tallest trees.
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.
Looking up through a stand of palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana).
Looking up the trunk of a Strangler Fig tree which is one of the most prominent tall tree species.
Higher up the pass where the forest is more light and open.
Looking up a tall Hoop Pine (Auricaria cunninghamii) draped with mosses.
A young orchid among the mossy branches.
Unusual bulges on the trunk of a tree.
This picture was actually taken in the Greenstone Valley in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. My juvenile side felt that it would pair up well with the previous picture. Gota love nature!
Passing clouds.
The tough waxy leaves of a tiny epiphytic orchid that ad fallen from the canopy.
The spent flower spike of a Spear Lilly (Doranthes excelsa) on the rocky outcrops that break above the treeline.
Looking up to the summit.
The craggy rocks are the plug of a long extinct volcano which are peppered with Spear Lilies and Grass Trees.
Looking to the north to the sheer cliffs of a once vast volcanic creator.
Looking out to the east towards Brisbane.
Plectranthus species.

Sundown National Park

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.

Tougher Than I Thought

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.

Moreton Bay Fig

A young palm stands in shadow of a towering Morton Bay Fig and a jungle climber makes it’s way up to the canopy to get it’s share of the valuable sunlight.
Just outside of the small village of Maleny on the wet eastern side of the Great Dividing Range I saw a sign for the ‘Fig Tree Walk’. This is a small 1km long board walk through a small piece of rain forest with some spectacular trees. The most prominent tree and the one from which the walk takes it’s name is the Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This tree with its wide spread canopy, broad buttresses and tangled roots begins its life as a tiny parasitic plant high up in the canopy of another tree. The seed is deposited on a branch by a bird or fruit bat. The roots of the fig then twine their way down and around the host tree until they reach the ground. It’s at this point that the fig really takes off with all the additional nutrients from the forest floor and eventually strangles it’s host to death. Over time the host will rot away leaving a hollow lattice of roots that grow together to form a single trunk. The hollow trunk forming valuable homes for the forests wildlife. As well as housing and feeding the wildlife these trees are invaluable fore their vast root systems that hold together the forest floor to prevent flooding erosion.
A tree worthy of four photos.
A Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) in its prime.
A second notable tree, not for its necessary grandeur but for it’s notorious leaves, is the Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide moroides). This is not the tree to be wandering around beneath with bare feet but by the time I saw the signs I was too far from my car to be bothered to go back and put on my shoes, so while I marveled at the forest I had to keep a close eye on the path ahead. The large soft leaves are covered with tiny stinging hairs much like those of stinging nettles. Insects feast on these leaves as among the leaves they are safe from most predators that are deterred by the stings. Some insects store the toxins within them so they themselves become toxic and there for unpalatable. The tree can cope with the loss of leaves as the large leaves are soft and have little structure so the tree can quickly grow more without exhausting itself.
Looking up into the canopy of the large leafed stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides).
One of the soft sting leaves laying on the path. Mission successful, no leaves stepped on, no stung feet.

Trapped Between the High Rises and the Waves.

Wild passion flower.
 It’s been a while since I last blogged, so here comes a few in quick succession to catch up on my travels so far. These are some pictures from Noosa National Park, a few hours drive north of Brisbane, where I went for a hike early one morning a few weeks ago when visiting ‘The Lost Garden of Belli Park’. The park sits in a narrow strip of land with the Pacific Ocean to the east and holiday developments to the west. It protects a valuable coastal habitat that is vastly diminished due to beach front development. Apparently it is a haven for fruit pigeons, eastern yellow robins, rufous fantails, satin bower-birds and crimson rosellas as goannas, possums and koalas. As for bird spotting I’m not shore that I saw any of the above although they may well have been sing away in the canopy, as for reptiles and marsupials, they must have been asleep. Plants on the other hand aren’t so difficult. The vegetation in the park is variable and runs in narrow bands parallel to the coast. To the west of the coastal highway is the section or the reserve known as Emu Mountain rising about 90m above the coast. Here the soil is thin and rocky and the vegetation is known as walnut heathland, with plants like small leaved Banksia species, trunkless Xanthoreas (grass trees) and Mt. Emu She Oaks (Allocasuarina emuina) among others. The Mt. Emu She Oak in particular has had its distribution reduced. They now only exist along a 35km range of coast with the major population on Emu Mountain. To the east of the highway is the main, flat coastal section of the reserve. Here rain forest, open Eucalyptus forest and Pandanas palms flank the highway. The forest then open up to a strip of marsh/swamp,dominated by sedges and crossed by a meandering board walk, which is separated from the Pacific Ocean by large dunes. On the inland side of the dunes where there is less standing water grow the curious and variable Swamp Banksia species with their large leaves and flowers varying in colour from rust brown, orange, cream through to green. Beyond the dunes roared the breakers rolling in from the east. I was down on the beach before 6am and didn’t expect there to be many people about, but in the warm coastal air eager surfers were out making the most of the waves coming in on the early high tide.
Here are some pics from the coastal section of Noosa National Park.
Board walk emerging from the white paper bark woodlands crossing the swamp to get down the beacch.
Yellow Iris like flower in amongst the reeds and sedges of the swampy section.
One of the variable swamp Banksias alongside the board walk.
 Swamp Banksias species one of which is being eaten by a hungry beetle.
Early morning surfers catching the high tide at 6am.
These are some of the tough creeping plants that hold the dunes together against the wind.
Muscle shells on an old corroded gas can now high and dry in the dunes.
And here are some more pics this time from the western Emu Mountain section of Noosa National Park.
Banksia and Calistemon species.
Xanthorea seedhead and dodder scrambling through the endangered Mt. Emu She Oak (Allocasuarina emuina).
Banksia seed capsule and another open woody seed capsule. Sorry, don’t know what this chap is.

Place of Flowers

Girraween National Park in the very south of Queensland’s Granite Belt is 11,800 hectares of rugged granite peeks, precariously balanced boulders, Eucalyptus forest and open sedge and heath land. The name ‘Girraween’ is Aboriginal for ‘place of flowers’, and is an apt name as there are said to be spectacular displays of wild flowers through out he spring. Now in March, late summer, the hot dry weather has seen an end to the main floral show. Though there has been higher than average rainfall and the many fallen trees and piles of grass, twigs ad branches heaped up against the rocks are testament to the floods that swept through the park earlier in the year, the heath land and forest floor is now dry.
One of the precariously balanced boulders silhouetted against the sun and a shadow on the granite face of the dominant feature of the park ‘The Pyramid’, a large granite dome rising high above the canopy of the surrounding Eucalyptus forest
One of the open areas of heath land and the exposed rocky summit of Mount Norman in the distance.
The thin coarse soil dries out fast in the heat but there were still a few tough flowers in bloom. The most prominent were the bright golden daisy flowers of Bracteantha bracteata (Golden Everlastings) a perennial herb growing in the open forested areas of the park. Also flowering among the open Eucalyptus forest the silver flowers of Actinotus helianthus (Flannel Flower). It is called the ‘Flannel Flower’ as the plant is entirely covered with soft woolly hairs, a likely adaptation to dry conditions. Creeping through the boulders on the higher slopes, the tiny yellow flowers a Goodenia species.
Bracteantha bracteata ASTERACEAE (top), Goodenia species GOODENIACEAE (bottom left) and Actinotus helianthus APIACEAE (bottom right).
It was a hot and particularly humid afternoon and by the time I’d hiked up the 45o sheer granite face of the Pyramid rock I was suitably knackered. Cracks in the rock erode over time leaving behind balancing boulders, some stacked two or three high. The silhouetted rock at the top of this blog is a good five metres high and is perched on the summit of the pyramid; but for how much longer? The summit offers views over the forest canopy to the bulk of near by Bald Rock to the East in New South Wales, the state line running between the two peeks. I sat for a while watching thunder clouds building on the horizon in the humid air. By the evening these had build into a large storm and produced some spectacular lightning for a good few hours.
Looking up to the summit of the Pyramid (left) and a tenacious black cypress clinging to a crack in the rock.
Several of the rock formations throughout the park have been given names such as ‘The Sphinx’ with a small stretch of the imagination does vaguely resemble its namesake. Others, like the rock formation named ‘The Turtle’ in my opinion may require a little something in addition to just your imagination to fully appreciate their form.
The Sphinx and building thunder clouds.
Twenty five species of Eucalyptus are present in the forest surrounding the pyramid and I’m afraid my Euc ident skills aren’t up to much and many are only distinct and identifiable when in flower. None of the trees were in flower but one of the species stood out from the others with bright amber/orange peeling bark glowing in the low, late afternoon light. A few trigger orchids were flowering  among the leaf litter.
Trigger Orchid and Eucalyptus species.
A couple of empty cicada grub exoskeletons clinging to the underside of a tree.

The Second Biggest Rock in Oz.

For the next few months my time will be spent in Stanthorpe, southern Queensland while I’m buissy picking apples to fund my travels. Finally the rain has stoped and at last I had a day off when the sun was shining, so I took a second trip to Bald Rock national park. This time I was able to see the rock in its entirety as it was previously shrouded in cloud.
The smoothe granite face of Bald Rock striped with lichens and moss.
The mass of Bald Rock is second only to Ularu in Australia. Precariously balanced on top of the rock and strewn throught the surrounding gum forest are many large, weathered rounded boulders, stacked up as if purposfully. Some seem as if one good push could role them away, I had to fight the inner devil in me.
The balancing rocks, the emblem of Stanthorpe.
The rock nesteles in tall white barked Eucalyptus trees. The view from the summit across the canopy is particularly green as the trees are covered with fresh green growth following the wet weather and have yet to age to their charastic glaucus blue. Strips of bark metres long dangel from the trunks, peeling away revealing the fresh white beneath.
Peeling Eucalyptus bark.

Crevices in the rock provide foot holds for wild flowers to take hold. Eventually trees take root and combined with rain and frosts eventually break down the rock into the smaller bolders arround its base. The spiny sead heas is from Lomandra longifolia.

Lomandra longifolia.
Cracks in the rockd provide warm homes for lizards with luxury views.
Dipodium punctatum a paracitic orchid drawing its nurrishment from the roots of Eucalyptus trees.