Northern NSW has some wonderful national parks. Those reasonably close to Grafton include Yuragir and Broadwater on the coast, Washpool, Gibraltar Range and New England in the ranges.
The New England National Park has been my favourite for many years.
I first visited this special area around 35 years ago with my husband and two young children. We stayed over a weekend at the Chalet, a cabin at Banksia Point, just below Point Lookout.
Since then I've been back many times with my children, with friends and on several occasions with my grandchildren.
|Looking east from the escarpment|
This is a wonderful natural area, perched on the edge of the New England plateau, overlooking the Bellinger Valley. The views from Banksia Point and Point Lookout above are spectacular. From the escarpment you look east across ridge after ridge of densely vegetated land. In the ravines and valleys, where the dense rainforests are, the vegetation is dark green. Along the ridges, the domain of eucalypts and species that live in drier areas, the green is paler.
On occasions you look from the escarpment down onto cloud which fills the valleys and gives the impression of a white sea with islands of vegetation rising from it.
Point Lookout, the highest point in the park, is more than 1500 metres above sea level. From there on a clear day you can glimpse the sea on the horizon – somewhere off Urunga.
|The escarpment, late afternoon.|
I've enjoyed many of the walking tracks in this park – from those meandering through the tree ferns to those steep trails descending through the majestic, mossy Antarctic Beech, remnants of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland. Some tracks follow the swiftly flowing creeks plunging for a while over huge granite boulders. Then these creeks seem to rest as they turn into deep shadowed pools which look inviting but which are breath-catchingly cold even in the midst of summer.
I remember walking on a cold winter's morning along the Eagle's Nest track, just below the escarpment and being amazed at the icicles hanging from the rocks where water had dripped from above overnight.
I remember more recently going for a summer walk with my son and my grand-daughter. When we were about halfway to our destination, it rained heavily. Rivulets of water cruised through my hair and down my neck and I was completely sodden but I relished the experience of walking in the rain.
Among other highlights of visits to the New England have been encounters with two of the local fauna species.
The first is the Superb Lyrebird, renowned as an outstanding mimic and as an extremely shy bird. You frequently hear the distant calls of lyrebirds in the valleys below and sometimes you encounter a foraging bird along one of the tracks – particularly if you move quietly. But if you're staying at Banksia Point you are likely to have the opportunity to observe a lyrebird at close quarters. Those who forage around this spot are used to people and don't flee unless you try to get too close.
I remember one magical visit many years ago when I saw a male lyrebird, tail unfurled and magnificent, practising what must have been his mating ritual. He danced and carolled and mimicked while I watched entranced. I'm sure he knew a human was watching him.
The second local fauna species is the spotted-tailed quoll which used to be called the native cat. For years there was a resident group of these carnivorous marsupials near Banksia Point. Although they are primarily nocturnal, I have sighted them frequently there during the daytime.
The most memorable quoll encounter occurred when I was staying with friends at the Residence, another cabin. One hungry quoll, obviously scenting our breakfast, made its way into the ceiling and down an air vent and popped through the end of it onto the stove top. We were all stunned but the quoll got a bigger shock to see five or six humans at very close quarters. It hastily turned and scurried back up the vent.
While our magnificent national parks are important for the protection of biodiversity they are also places where humans who appreciate nature can re-connect with a world that is in some ways simpler and certainly more natural than our everyday world.
- Leonie Blain