Lonely Planet assured me that the park was named after a long gone governor who set foot in the park only once, to shoot koalas. Now I can vaguely understand the thrill of hunting big game, the exhilaration of the hunt etc etc, but come on…what thrill does one get out of hunting animals that barely even move? Well for better or worse we didn’t even see a single Koala- a tribute to their ability to be so still as to resemble a strange outgrowth in the tree.
Lamington National park is located in Queensland just north of the New South Wales border. It’s a fairly small pocket of rainforest that hugs the ridges and valleys of the area. We drove along the Pacific Highway, a road that never seemed to settle down. The lane sizes fluctuated frequently and we often saw signs of repair- apparently the government is planning to widen the road, but for now, it is a strangely restless road, bobbing in and out of reach of the sea.
The journey to the forest was mildly uninteresting: the only things worth mentioning is the gradual change in vegetation- a change so subtle that it would have easily missed the eye, and the occasional tourist trap attractions. Australia is famous for many things, but surely one of the oddest things has to be the Australian predilection for constructing Big Things. For the record there are at least 146 big things all over Australia, and I had the dubious privilege of passing through the place the started the insanity: the Big Banana. I also saw the Big Prawn, and middling sized Avocado, but none of these were on the scale of the Big Merino that I saw last year. Though the journey was uninspiring- I even fell asleep in the car, something that I rarely do- occasionally you’d come across a beautiful beachfront, such as the one in Nambucca Heads. A beach just off the cliff, a blue sea and a bluer sky. Soft whitish sand punctuated with crab holes. Excellent.
A nominative digression: a lot of the places along the coast are called Heads, a reference to the cliff that juts just over the sea. While one doesn’t really blink at names like Tweed Heads, some names are indeed odd. For example: Hungry Head Pottery.
We took off to Springbrook National Park first, stopping only at the Moo Café, a nice example of a tourist trap gone crazy. The café was overrun with cow camouflage; even the surrounding rocks and trees were painted in cow colours. The café boasted cow keychains, souvenirs, truly a cow-topia. While Springbrook national park was pleasant and all, offering dramatic views of the Gold Coast in the distance, and though it was situated at the top of the Purling brook waterfall, where you could lean across and sense, rather than see the water hitting the ground many metres below, the campsite was devoid of fresh water, and this made it tough for us to stay here, even though there were plenty of ladder web spiders (A. is working on Ladder web spiders) all around. Plenty of ticks as well, as we found out later. Walking around the campsite in the dark was a distinct pleasure: we wandered around immense trees, and a few fallen ones, their roots exposed to the air and we could see glowing green dots of the glow worms in the pitch darkness. It was an odd feeling to look up and see the stars through the canopy, look sideways and see the lights of the Gold Coast near the horizon and look down and see odd pockets of glowing clusters in the undergrowth.
We headed to the Binna Burra end of the Lamington National Park, and on the way we stopped at the modestly named “Best of All Lookouts”, and I have to admit, it was indeed spectacular. The walk to the lookout was very cool: literally as well, because the path took us through mist-laden rainforest. All the plants and spiderwebs were glistening with dew like droplets. The path also wound around a MASSIVE Antarctic Beech tree. The information board next to it that this tree was just a remnant, but even the remnant reached to the sky, like a pillar holding up the sky itself.
The view was fantastic, – apparently the whole area is the remains of a super massive extinct volcanic crater, and though it was hard to imagine the scale- it was apparent the crater was indeed very large, so much so that A. and me had an argument whether it was crater after all. Only after seeing the area in Google Earth did we come to some agreement.
Binna Burra was pleasant enough. The lodge had been burnt down last year in a fire, so everything was operating from temporary buildings. The campsite was overrun with Brush Turkeys, a pattern that we were to see everywhere. The brush turkeys seem to have a inordinate fondness for garbage bags and A.’s yellow soapbox. Add the odd possum wandering around, and the occasional calls of courting Whip-Birds and the campsite was complete. A. unveiled his Tent-Mahal, a monster, nay, a behemoth of a tent, easily one of the biggest tents I’ve ever stayed in, for which he had to endure innumerable bad jokes from me. The forest itself was exceedingly familiar to me, I’ve spent enough time in such forests in India, and the sense of familiarity was overwhelming at times. The ticks, the leeches, the strangler figs and trees with huge buttress roots, the small streamlets we encountered ever so often on the walks, giant lianas twisting carefree on their way up to a canopy, a honest-to-goodness real canopy that only allowed selected rays of sunlight to approach the forest floor, let alone touch it. I won’t describe the walks we did looking for a suitable studysite but suffice to say that we spent a lot of time looking for the damn spiders, and whenever we found some, they were too far away from the campsite.
Then the rain began, and we had a couple of gray miserable days. The weather did not begin to clear till we made out way to the Green Mountains end of the Lamington National Park. Compared to the Binna Burra End, Green Mountains is a tourist trap, thanks in no small way to the proximity of the site to the Gold Coast and the presence of the O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse. We stayed far away from all the tourist action, our campsite was in a well hidden nook of the campsite, but it was hard to not notice the caravanserai of buses entering the park every now and then. There were a couple of attractions right at the guesthouse, one a tree-top canopy walk that barely touched the canopy. I have always wanted to go up in the canopy, I even applied for PhD with this person who worked on rainforest canopies mainly because I wanted to climb trees, and so the tree top walk was a bit of a let down, or maybe I expected way too much. We spent the next few days measuring and collecting Ladder webs spiders, and since these spiders are nocturnal, there was mostly night work involved. It was quite exciting, walking about the forest with torches, and every time I shined my torch into the undergrowth there was something interesting to see. I saw spiders that I’ve only read about before, and weird insects and plants. We also went on odd walks from time to time, and the highlights were: Mick’s tower that stood just off a path and almost touched the canopy, a wishing tree- a HUGE tree with a cavity at its base, a cavity so large that three people could comfortably stand in it. There was no back story- just a board that proclaimed it was the Wishing Tree. Also managed to squeeze into a cavity left behind by very successful Strangler Fig, and it was quite weird to look up to see that all that remained of the host tree was a tree shaped hole.
The two weeks wound to a close very quickly and before we knew it, we were on the way back. We stopped at Ballina on the way and were treated to a spectacular sunset on the estuary.
Thus ends my account of my two weeks at Lamington National Park. See more photos here. If I feel up to it, I will write another post about the spiders I encountered in the park.