Picking up where I left off, I found an amazing campsite for $5/night at Borokee Campsite in Cathedral Rock National Park where I was thrilled to get an up close look at a brush tailed possum in the evening before I went to bed. In the morning, I did a spectacular hike at Cathedral Rock National Park in the NSW hinterland (inland from the coast) in a dry "alpine" environment. The hike went through a marshy area near a creek where Kangaroos were grazing, around piles of large granite boulders and culminated in a climb over huge boulders using an anchored chain for part of the climb to reach the stunning 360 degree view at the top.
Brush Tailed Possum
My rig at the campsite
At the top
360 degree view
Next I drove about under an hour to Dorigo National Park to do another hike where I was able to see an ancient temperate rainforest... totally different vegetation, soil, and views from the earlier hike that day! The rainforest was a cool, shady, ancient, peaceful place where you could walk along paved and boardwalk paths surrounded by huge vine-wrapped trees listening to the calls of frogs, catbirds, bellbirds, riflebirds, and rosellas, and the rustle of brush turkeys scratching amongst the leaf litter. This pocket of forest and others like it in NSW are remnants of the Gondwanaland forests representing vegetation as it was on the supercontinent Gondwana prior to the breakup and continental drift of plates away from eachother. Tree ferns and other vegetation found in these forests is similar to what would have existed when the first land plants developed and when dinosaurs roamed.
boardwalk high above the forest floor
Skywalk with views over the forest and valley
View from the skywalk on a clearer evening
A nice surprise of grazing Pademelons (like small, cat-sized wallabies... or very small kangaroos)
At the recommendation of one of the ladies working at the information desk at Dorigo National Park, I spent the night parked beside Dangar Falls behind a house owned by an elderly man and his wife.
Misty morning in the Dangar Falls Campsite
View from the Dangar Falls Campsite after the sun burned the mist away which took less than an hour
Dangar Falls, a short walk from the campsite
I then made the very scenic drive through Grafton and Casino to reach my Uncle Rick and Aunt Joy's beautiful country home near Kyogle. I got to meet and get to know them and my cousin Wendy (Wendy is Emma's sister... Emma is the cousin who met me in the Philippines and again in Sydney) while they took me all around the area showing me the sights and sharing their hospitality and knowledge. I had a wonderful time in this beautiful, peaceful part of the country surrounded by natural beauty.
Veranda at Rick and Joy's surrounded by a lush garden
Rick and Joy's lovely Golden Retrievers, Honey (in front) and Nutmeg
Uncle Rick, Aunt Joy, and their daughter (my 1st cousin) Wendy
Mount Warning, the preserved volcanic neck, and other peaks on the rim of the huge caldera which surrounds the valley in the area
Natural Arch, a short walk brought us to this beautiful cave where a waterfall has eroded a hole in the roof to form a natural arch. The cave also contained glow worms which use bioluminescent strands to attact prey during the night
A lovely tree frog on the side of Rick and Joy's house
A lovely Carpet Python "making friends" with Joy's pet budgies. This snake was about 7' long. *No budgies were harmed during the making of this blog
a Cane Toad. These toxic toads have poison glands and are an invasive species which are quite abundant
I did two dives one day on Julian Rocks just off the coast by Byron Bay (about 1.5 hours drive from Rick and Joy's house). The visibility was not the best I've seen in Australia reaching only 10m on one dive and dropping slightly on the second dive but the water was slightly warmer at 22 degrees C and there were some lovely Leopard Sharks, Blind Sharks (a misnomer... they aren't actually blind), Bull Rays, Nudibranchs, and a lot of Sting Rays. I think the sting rays were Southern Sting Rays... the type that did in Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter.
Leopard Shark with a diver for scale
One of MANY rays
A veritable pile of the small blind sharks. They were all piled up together in a cave and there must have been 12 or more in there! They looked to be a couple feet long each
beautiful blue, purple, and yellow nudibranchs
After my dives, Rick and Joy picked me up and we went up to see the lighthouse and the view from this furthest eastern point of Australia. We were lucky enough to spot the shadows of a few Manta Rays in the surf near the rocky coast swimming near the surface of the water far below our vantage point. We returned to sealevel for a delicious dinner of fish and chips from "Fisheads" restaurant which we enjoyed at a picnic table near the beach as the sun set.
Beach near Byron Bay as viewed from the walk up to the lighthouse
A very picturesque plighthouse!
Whoops! We all forgot that dogs are not allowed in National Parks in Australia!
Fish and Chips with Joy, Rick, and Wendy
In the morning, while Rick was moving his cows, he spotted a wild Koala up in a tree! It was very exciting as it was my first Koala sighting and there are not many around since they are a threatened species. We also took a drive into Nimbin, which is a well-known "hippy" spot where marijuana is readily (and openly) available and people go so far as sitting on benches and smoking joints on main street. There are lovely murals through town, a nice art gallery, some funky shops, a candle factory, and an unconventional but interesting "museum", even if it does smell a bit skunky ;)
My first Koala (center of photo in the tree fork)
Nimbin Museum entrance
vats of wax at the candle factory
Candles are made by dipping these racks full of wicks into the vats of melted wax over and over again until enough layers of wax accumulate to make the desired candle thickness
After Nimbin we went to the Koala Care and Research Centre which is a small, volunteer-run rescue, treatment and rehabilitation centre. Rick and Joy volunteer with this organization and have been involved with a number of initiatives including Koala tracking using GPS, soft release whereby they have a tree in their farmyard with a low fence around it which can be used to house recovering Koalas until they are ready to head off into nature again, and even fielding emergency calls when Koalas are injured in some way (cars, disease, etc.).
I love how this Koala is balanced on his little bum and curled up in a ball with his head tucked to his chest for a snooze
We ended another busy day of driving with an adrenaline-filled drive to the gas station wondering if we would make it or run out of fuel before reaching a service station in Lismore (thank god for www.tankonempty.com which gave me confidence that we would make it). I packed up my van and hit the road to arrive near Mount Warning to overnight so I could tackle the 9km round trip climb to the summit in the dark the next morning in order to watch the sunrise. I awoke at 2:30am, got changed and started hiking at around 3am. The aboriginal name for the mountain is Wollumbin which means "cloud catcher" which is apropos since this high peak is often shrouded in clouds. The climb at night by headlamp was well maintained with steps nearly everywhere although uneven and wet, slippery spots made it critical to watch where you stepped. A few times I saw greenish glowing light coming from beside the trail as I walked. At first I thought it was fireflies since it had the same color and quality of light but upon closer inspection I found that small bioluminescent mushrooms were the culprit. I didn't even know that such a thing existed until a few days before the hike! As I ascended the air became slightly cooler and a lot more damp as I entered the level the cloud layer. I arrived at the summit by 5am where I had a bite to eat and chatted with other hikers who were also there for the event until after 6am when the sun first peeked through the mist and fog that hang around the volcano. It was spectacular when the sun was able to peek through the clouds gathered on top of us and by about 7:30am the sun was high enough that the fog would periodically open up to provide views of the valleys surrounding us on all sides and the caldera rim in the distance. From this vantage point I could even see out to Byron Bay, the lighthouse at Byron Bay, and out into the ocean beyond Byron Bay.
Geology Nerd Break
First window into the sunrise
The crowd gathered to watch the sunrise at the summit of Mount Warning
Most of the time this sign reading "Glorious View" seemed ironic
... and then the mists parted and WOW!
I did it, I did it, YAY!
Summit viewing platform facing east
Climbing down the steepest portion using a chain rail to hold onto
The lush forest I walked through and missed on the way up because it was total darkness
Immediately after the sunrise hike, I drove my smelly, dirty, sweaty self the 2 hours north to Brisbane to Davey and Eli's house (Davey is an old colleague of mine who moved from Calgary to Brisbane nearly 2 years ago and Eliana is his lovely wife). Their family has grown since I last saw them with the addition of a very smiley, happy, cute little baby boy, Benjamin (Benji). I've been enjoying going for walks, catching up with Davey and Eli, ogling Benji, and relaxing since my arrival. We also went downtown to take in some sights, ride the large ferris wheel in the center of Brisbane (like the London Eye) and have dinner with Davey's polite, funny, charming and gregarious niece, Ava, what a treat! I have also been mourning the loss of my green Jucy campervan. I enjoyed the freedom of the campervan so much I've decided to drive the rest of the way to Cairns rather than flying. I have booked another Jucy campervan which I will pick up next Tuesday and continue my journey north through Queensland, Australia.