Merrica River Nature Trail is another walk we had wanted to do for a long time and it lies in the northern precinct of Nadgee Nature Reserve, a 20 671 ha wilderness area. In fact, it is the end of the road and car access to this wonderful wilderness area. From Merrica River, it is a 3 to 4 day hike (55 km) around the coast to Mallacoota, Victoria, and is another bucket list camping trip, involving heavy packs and booking ahead. Only 30 hikers are allowed in the reserve at the one time and the cost is $10 per night per person. Permits can be obtained by phoning (02) 6495 5000. I would love to visit it in November to see the masses of moulting swans, resting on Nadgee Lake, while waiting for their new plumage to grow, as well as to run down the enormous sand-dunes at Cape Howe in Croajingalong National Park, also involving a long walk in. There is not that much information online about Merrica River, but I did read in a bushwalking book that in Spring, the banks of the river were lined with King Orchids Dendrobium speciosum in full bloom, so we resolved to visit it on the last day of September. We had not envisaged how wonderful the Spring wildflower show would be, so it was a double visual treat in store! Because there were so many wildflowers (over 800 species in Nadgee Nature Reserve), this post will be more of a photo essay, in which I will probably just refer to the genus name, unless I am sure of the species name. Here is a much magnified map from the National Parks board of the area:To get there from Eden:
Travel south along the Princes Highway for 22.5km. Turn left on Wonboyn Road and follow it for 8.7 km, just before the fork to Wonboyn Lake. Turn right into the gravel Old Bridge Forest Road and travel for a further 5.6 km, turning left at the fork-it is well signposted.The Merrica River carpark and the start of the track is located across the Merrica River causeway.The Merrica River Nature Trail is 4 km to the mouth of the Merrica River, where it joins the sea, so it is worth taking a sunhat, drinking water, walking boots and bathers if it is a warm day. The track starts through a tunnel of Coast Banksia Banksia integrifolia. The track crosses a creek, which flows into a small waterfall, then joins the fire trail through a eucalypt forest to the beach… and the mouth of the Merrica River… lined with grey lichen-covered rock blocks, with forest right down to the edge of the water.The vegetation in Nadgee Nature Reserve has been almost undisturbed since European settlement and has such an isolated remote feel. We walked down along the river to see if we could spot a King Orchid, but only found one specimen far on the other side. We did however find a base camp with a kayak and a fireplace under the huge Bracelet Honey-Myrtles, Melaleuca armillaris, which flower later in Summer. What a wonderful spot to camp! I loved the brown and gold colour of the water, evidence of all the tannins in it! We then turned our attention to Disaster Bay and waded across a shallow knee-high passage, following the cliff line on the right… where we discovered masses of King Orchids in full bloom on the higher rocks – such a spectacular show and well worth the long walk in! They obviously liked that aspect with full northern sun and even salt spray and wind! The lower rocks along the shoreline were very attractive with quartz banding and were covered with oysters, as well as being refuge for scurrying crabs! We saw a Pied Oyster Catcher, a Reef Heron (photo below), and a Black Cormorant searching for food and Gannets diving, but alas, no whales, Ground Parrots, endangered Eastern Bristlebirds, or the pair of resident White-Bellied Sea Eagles! We ate lunch out on the rocks facing the ocean and looking straight across Disaster Bay to Green Cape Lighthouse, around the corner from a couple of salmon fisherpeople! Then, it was time to retrace our steps, taking more wildflower photos and watching and listening to the many forest birds, including Grey Fantails, Eastern Yellow Robins, Golden Whistler, White Throated Tree Creepers, Lewin Honeyeaters, Satin Bowerbirds, Wonga Pigeons, Grey Thrush, Lorikeets and the migratory Fan-Tailed Cuckoo, who has returned for the Australian Summer. We didn’t see any other animals, as most of them would have been asleep in their tree hollows, but here are some photos of the homes of the resident ants: Finally, here are the wildflower photos, grouped according to colour :
White and Cream:
Forest Clematis Clematis glycinoides; Wedding Bush Ricinocarpus pinifolius; Daisy Bush Olearia sp; Apple Berry Billardiera scandens; Sweet Pittosporum Pittosporum undulatum; Pimelea linifolia; Beard-Heath Leucopogon sp; and a Boronia species.Yellow, Gold and Orange:
A number of different native pea genus: Pultenaea; Dilwynia, Bossiaea – all that is certain is that they all belong to the Family Fabaceae!; Golden Glory Pea Gompholobium latifolium; Hop Goodenia Goodenia ovata; Guinea Flower Hibbertia sp;Toothed Guinea Flower Hibbertia dentata;Fireweed Groundsel Senecio linearifolius; Pomaderris elliptica; Stringybark Wattle Acacia linearifolia; Prickly Moses Acacia ulicifolia; Melaleuca megacephala;Pink and Purple:
Waxlip Orchid Glossodia major; Native Iris Patersonia sericea; Love Creeper Comesperma volubileGreen: Large Hop Bush Dodonaea triquetraand the pods of the Sunshine Wattle Acacia terminalis.There were even some interesting fungi.It was a wonderful day out and we were so impressed with the Kings of Merrica River, that we immediately followed up with a visit to Nethercote Falls the next day to see if their King Orchids were also in bloom, as we had missed them last Spring and we were thrilled to discover that they were! Third time lucky! I have added the new photos to the old post: November Falls. See: https://candeloblooms.com/2015/11/19/november-falls/. Next month, we will finish the year with Wonboyn Lake and Bay Cliff, truly the pièce de résistance of the area and a fabulous place to enjoy the Summer! Till then…!
We are very lucky to live close to this wonderful national park, which encompasses a wide range of habitats from swamp and grassland to old growth forests and escarpment and gorge country and a variety of wildlife, including 48 mammal and 33 reptile species. The 115, 177 ha park was formed in 1997, amalgamating earlier national parks and state forest reserves including : Genoa, Tantawangalo, Bemboka, Yowaka and Coolangubra National Parks, which were all formed in 1994, after a major campaign to protect the last of the old growth forests in South-East New South Wales from woodchipping, which began in 1969 and continued for 25 years, despite increasing opposition. It is part of less than 10 percent of the old growth forest, which survives in Australia after 200 years of clearing. These old growth forest are incredibly important, as they provide nesting hollows for birds and arboreal marsupials. The South East Forest campaign has been documented in a film called ‘Understorey’ by David Gallant. See: https://www.facebook.com/Understorey-a-film-on-the-south-east-forest-campaigns-940034452718427/.
Last April, we spent a wonderful day exploring some of the local landmarks, including Alexander’s Hut, one of the few remaining cattleman’s mountain huts; Nunnock Swamp and Grasslands; Woolingubrah Inn; and finally Myanba Gorge. A few days later, we searched out ‘Fernleigh’, the original farm of Alexander Robinson, and tried to determine the ridge, up which he used to drive his cattle to their Summer pastures.
During our search, we photographed a pair of beautiful Wedge-Tailed Eagles, sitting high in a dead tree, looking back to the heavily forested escarpment. If this majestic bird was travelling inland from the coastal fringe, she would fly over the fertile pastures and undulating hills of ‘Fernleigh’, ‘Tantawangalo’ and Mogilla to the heavily forested 400 Million year old granite escarpment of the South Coast Range (also known as the Bega Batholith), which lies between the Victorian border in the south and Bungendore and Braidwood in the north.
Travelling west, she would cross steep-sided gorges, a myriad of swamps and rolling forest country to the open grasslands and volcanic basalt of the Monaro Tableland.
‘Fernleigh’ was the original home of the Robinson family. Every Spring, they would take 40-60 head of cattle up into the mountains to reduce the pressure of stock grazing on their lower holdings during Summer. Using dogs and an experienced beast as a leader, they would take a full day to herd their animals up this gentle ridge into the dense escarpment forests along old bridle trails : the Postman’s Track and then onto the Cattleman’s Link Trail to their Summer pastures at Alexander’s Hut, seen here in the National Parks map at the hut. For the rest of this post, I will be referring to National Parks and Wildlife Service by its acronym, NPWS. The farmers would let their heifers and poddy calves loose in the bush for a few years. Cattle moved freely between different escarpment properties, so all the cattle grazing families would muster the cattle together and shared each other’s huts. Alexander’s Hut is one of the few remaining mountain huts left. Originally, the property was owned from 1898 to 1922 by Charlie and Ethel Soloman, who ran the General Store in Cathcart.Their original hut was on the site of the current pear tree (photo below), but it burnt down and was replaced by a one-room slab hut, built by George Summerell and his sons Norm and Harry of Cathcart, who incidentally built many of the mountain huts. Local trees were felled, the logs were cut into lengths and split into slabs with broad axes, mauls and frocs, then they were dragged to the site by bullock teams. Slabs were fitted closely together into grooved timber plates at the top and bottom, then the gaps between slabs covered with thinner timber boards to reduce draughts. The roof was corrugated iron, under laid with a hessian ceiling, glued with flour paste (see photo below). There was a fireplace on the right wall, but on the later addition of a second room, the fireplace was relocated and the old fireplace wall was patched up. The property was sold to Alexander Robinson in 1922 and used by three generations of the family, until it was sold in 1990 to the Wilkinsons, who replaced the patched wall with a window and looked after the property until it came under the control of NPWS. It is possible to stay there – both camping and in the hut- a great way for absorbing the atmosphere of the early days!It is such a peaceful beautiful spot now, though it would have been very different back in the early days. Apparently, there was a rabbit plague between the 1920s and 1950s and the Robinsons would often stay up here for a fortnight to dry the skins of the trapped rabbits, before giving them to their Nimmitabel agent, who sold the skins in Melbourne and Sydney. They would often trap 60 rabbits in a night. Rabbit fur was used to make felt hats, worn by the soldiers during the world wars, and the rabbit carcasses were exported to Post War Europe during food shortages.
Since the introduction of myxamatosis, rabbit numbers are now under control, but unfortunately feral deer and pigs are still a major problem and cause considerable damage to the fragile Nunnock Grasslands and Swamp, which are both endangered ecological communities. Other threats include: the introduction of weeds; the spread of Phytophthora (dieback); climate change and illegal hunting.Nunnock Swamp (seen in the NPWS map above) was formed in a shallow depression, perched on the edge of the escarpment of the South-East Ranges (part of the Great Dividing Range), at the headwaters of several creeks. Covering more than 100 ha, this subalpine bog is comprised of a complex array of basins and arms, which reflect the underlying valleys, cut into the impervious granite rock by ancient small streamlets and which vary in degrees of saturation, according to seasonally fluctuating water levels and the particular section of the swamp. The northern part (photo above) is permanently saturated , with a large body of surface water, fringed with sedges and sphagnum moss beds (Sphagnum cristatum), and underlain with a deep layer of peat, formed over many centuries, and which acts like a huge sponge, holding lots of water.
The central and southern part of the swamp is drier and dominated by seasonally saturated shrub and grass communities with fringing woodland. Occasionally, it dries out with periodic droughts. One arm of the swamp drains to the east into the Bega River, but most of the swamp drains south-west into the tributaries of Bombala River and thence to the Snowy River in Victoria.
We had a lovely 4 km walk around the edge of the swamp, allowing us to appreciate the wide diversity of habitats:
Tall Wet Forest: Moist slopes and gullies: Brown Barrel Eucalyptus fastigata; Monkey Gum (also known as Mountain Grey Gum) E. cypellocarpa; Ribbon Gum E. viminalis; and Messmate E. obliqua; with an understorey of tall shrubs of Blanket Bush Bedfordia arborescens; Olearia; Pomaderis; Ferns and herbs.
Dry Forest: Granite ridges, exposed to the sun: Narrow-Leafed Peppermint E. radiata; Mountain Gum E. dalrympleana and Snow Gum E. pauciflora; with an understorey of Silver Banksia B. marginata and Snow Grass Poa species.Grassy Woodlands (Endangered): Fertile soils, derived from basalt and past volcanic activity: Snow Gum E. pauciflora and Ribbon Gum E. viminalis, with a sparse shrub layer of Snow Grass Poa sp.; Kangaroo Grass Themeda australis; and forbs (broad-leafed herbaceous wild flowers).
Natural Temperate Grasslands: Patches along the escarpment on exposed basalt or low lying areas, where the cold air pools or the soils are periodically water-logged, preventing the growth of tree seedlings. In October and November, they are filled with wildflowers: Granite Buttercup Ranunculus graniticola; Grass Trigger Plant Stylidium graminifolium; and Swamp Everlasting Xerochrysum palustre (see first 2 photos above).Forest-Grassland Ecotone: Transitional area between snowgum woodland and grassland: Rich diversity of plants and wildlife including: Eastern Grey Kangaroos; Red-Necked Wallabies; Swamp Wallabies; Koalas; Yellow-bellied Gliders; Greater Gliders; Powerful Owls and Masked Owls eg Nunnock Camping Ground.
Swamp: Sphagnum cristatum; Eastern Banjo Frog (Pobblebonk); Whistling Tree Frog; Dendy’s Toadlet; White Lipped Snake; Copperhead; Migratory Latham’s Snipe and many other birds, including these Grey Teal in the first photo below.The wide variety of vegetation types supplied a variety of food, fibre and shelter resources for the local aboriginal people, the Maneroo, who lived here for over 20 000 years. In Winter, they would follow well-worn bridle trails down to the coast for trade, large inter-tribal ceremonies and feasting, enjoying whale meat, fish and shellfish like mussels. In the Summer, the coastal Yuins would follow these same trails up into the mountains to the Monaro Tablelands to feast on the Bogong Moth.
Later, early European settlers would also follow these trails, and they still exist today as part of a network of 4WD roads like the steep rugged Postman’s Track (the main route for the weekly packhorse mail service for the Monaro, from Cooma to the coast, from 1851 to 1875) and bushwalking tracks, including the 2.5 km Cattleman’s Walking Track, which retraces the old stock route and the 4.8 km Wilkinsons Walking Track and 2 km Keys Track between Alexander’s Hut and Nunnock Campground. Here are the NPWS maps of the walking tracks. Camping is also available at Six Mile Creek, which has a 300 metre walking track along Tantawangalo Creek and is a popular swimming hole in Summer.Further south, the aborigines used to follow an old bridle trail from Towamba up Myanba Creek to Myanba Gorge and the Monaro Tablelands. Here is a NPWS map of its location. Myanba Gorge is perched on the granite escarpment in the Coolangubbra section of the South East Forest National Park. We accessed it via Coolangubra Forest Way and Kanoonah Road, a long dry dusty road through clear-felled forest, but it was worth it for the end destination! The 2 km walk (takes 1 hour return) follows the banks of the Myanba Creek, as it flows over granite boulders into the steep-sided gorge, then off the escarpment into the Towamba River, which opens out into the sea at Twofold Bay, Eden. This is a photo of the NPWS interpretive board. There are three lookouts: Myanba Creek Lookout; Pulpit Rock Lookout and finally, Myanba Gorge Lookout with very impressive views over the gorge to the Towamba Valley below. The Coolangubra section of the park has a number of unusual plant communities and rare and endangered animals. Vegetation communities include:
Dry Rainforest (Endangered): Dry open forest on rocky north–facing slopes and heads of gullies: Rusty Fig, Ficus rubiginosa, is at the southernmost limit of its geographical range.
Escarpment Dry Grassy Forest: Blue-Leafed Stringybark E. maidenii.
Escarpment Tall Wet Forest: Brown Barrel E. fastigata ; Messmate E. obliqua; Monkey Gum or Mountain Grey Gum E. cypellocarpa ; Narrow-Leafed Peppermint E. radiata: Possums, gliders and owls.
Hinterland Dry Grassy Forest
Hinterland Dry Shrub Forest: White Stringybark E. globoidea; Yellow Stringybark E. muelleriana; ; Peppermint Gum E. nicholii; Brown Barrel E. fastigata; Silvertop Ash E. sieberii; Messmate E. obliqua ; Monkey Gum or Mountain Grey Gum E. cypellocarpa.
Wet Gully Fern Forest
Rainforest: Small pockets along Myanba Creek: Cool Temperate rainforest restricted to gullies with steep slopes eg Olive Berry Elaeocarpus holopetalus; Warm Temperate rainforest on rocky sites in the gorge, where they are protected from fires eg Pittosporum undulatum; Streaked Rock Orchids Dendrobium striolatum; and Victorian Christmas Bush Prostanthera lasianthos. The photos below are in order: Epacris impressa and Correa reflexa.The old growth forests homes and nesting hollows to a wide variety of animal life:
Wombats; Swamp Wallabies ; Parma Wallabies; Tiger Quolls; Platypus; the threatened Southern Brown Bandicoot; Endangered Long-Footed Potoroos, the only known population in NSW; White-Footed Dunnarts; Smoky Mouse ; Eastern Pygmy Possum, Brush-Tailed Possums; Feather-Tailed Gliders; Sugar Gliders; Greater Gliders; and Yellow-Bellied Gliders.
The possums and gliders are the main food source for the threatened Powerful Owls, Sooty Owls and Southern Boobooks. Other birds include: Square-Tailed Kite; Peregrine Falcon; Gang Gang Cockatoos; Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos; Superb Lyrebird; and Honeyeaters. Other animals include: Diamond Python; Eastern Water Dragon; Giant Burrowing Frog and Australian Grayling, an endangered freshwater fish, which lives further downstream and which migrates from the coastal streams to the ocean.If you are in the area, it is also worth visiting Woolingubrah Inn in the Coolangubra State Forest, 20 km from Bombala. Woolingubrah is an aboriginal word meaning ‘windy place’, an apt description for its location on the exposed peak of Big Jack Mountain. Before the construction of the Tantawangalo Mountain Road, the Big Jack Mountain Bridle Trail was the only track from Eden to the Monaro and the goldfields at Kiandra. The inn was imported as a prefabricated building from the USA to provide a halfway house for emigrants travelling to the goldfields during the goldrush of the 1860s. Only one of three such buildings still existing in Australia, it arrived at Eden by coastal steamer in October 1860 and was transported by bullock wagon to Woolingubrah, where the sections were assembled together to make a dwelling with six bedrooms, a bar and a kitchen and dining room. From 1871, it became the family home of HA Nicholson for the next 15 years. It was purchased by the Forestry Corporation in 1986 and was restored in 2001.The old roof shingles were replaced by a corrugated iron roof, but can still be seen under the verandah.At the end of April, we drove up Wolumla Peak, also in South East Forests National Park.
Once we finally found the start, the signs all having been removed(!), it was a really long slow road, 15 km at 20 km per hour, along corrugated 4WD forestry roads and at times, we wondered if it was worth it, but the 360 degree view at the top from the fire-spotting tower was magnificent !
We could see Merimbula (photos 1-4) and Pambula (photo 5) and the coast to the east and south; the escarpment behind to the west and to the north, our own little village of Candelo. The vegetation was lovely- Fireweed Grounsel Senecio linearifolius, white and golden everlasting daisies, red heath, wattle…On the way down, we spotted our first Glossy Black Cockatoos, feeding in the casuarinas (1st photo)- a very exciting event, as we knew they were in the area, but had not seen them yet. We also saw Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, a pair of Spotted Quail Thrush (also new to us – photo below) and Swamp Wallabies and listened to the entire repertoire of a Superb Lyrebird, mimicking the calls of Grey Thrush, Butcherbirds, Eastern Whipbirds, Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, Kookaburras and White-Browed Scrub Wrens. We discovered a huge velvety-brown moth, with a 16 cm wing span and camouflaged well against the brown and grey pebbles of the beautiful Pambula Creek, later identified as a White-Stemmed Gum Moth, Chelepteryx collesi. This is what I love about our amazing natural world- there are always new things to be discovered and new places to explore!There is so much more to do in South-East Forest National Park, as can be seen in: http://www.eden.nsw.au/~edennswa/images/stories/BushWalks/SouthEastForestNationalPark_region.pdf. There is also much more information on the National Parks Management Plan : www.environment.nsw.gov.au/parkmanagement/SoutheastforestMgmtplan.htm (map) and click on the Download Now button on the right hand side of the page for the plan.
Here are some photos of the beautiful Pambula Creek:
Now that the weather is a bit cooler, it’s an ideal time to explore the wilderness national parks on the escarpment to the north of Bega. We tend not to do much bush walking in Summer because of snakes, as well as the heat, though Tuross Falls and the Cascades in Wadbilliga National Park would also be wonderful to visit in Summer….
The easiest access to Wadbilliga National Park from the south is via Cooma and the sealed road to Numeralla. Here is a map from the National Parks brochure: On our first visit, we took an the unsealed road Tuross Falls Rd from Nimmitabel and while we saw some lovely old grazing properties dotted with giant granite boulders, the road from Cooma is much easier and quicker. From Countegany Rd, its only 4.5km to the turnoff into the park and another 7km to the Cascades camping area. Here are 2 maps from the National Parks brochure: There are 20 sites beside the river and 2 walking tracks : a short walk (5-10 minutes) down to the Cascades and a longer one to the Tuross Falls viewing tower (2 hours return, though we only took 1 hour).We started with the Tuross Falls walk, which winds along a sandy track past huge granite boulders and outcrops. The granite was intruded into the sedimentary bedrock 400-100 Million years ago. I loved their rounded domes and weathered forms. The soils have low fertility, but still support a wide variety of vegetation from eucalypts to banksias, hibbertias, hakeas , wattles and grevilleas. Because of its ruggedness and relative isolation and history of predominantly open grazing, there was little clearance of the vegetation, so the old growth forests are relatively undisturbed and provide plenty of nesting hollows for birds, gliders, possums and owls. We saw plenty of wombat droppings on our walk and disturbed a pair of Superb Lyrebirds, who glided very quickly and very silently away!Tuross Falls are spectacular and well worth the walk in. They drop 35m into a gorge, which is 5km long between cliffs, up to 100m high. The falls looked like silky tresses and the rainbow at the bottom of the falls was quite beautiful! The pool at the base then feeds via 2 smaller falls into another pool, which in turn falls into another pool, which then bends back to continue the river , having dropped a further 360m. Apparently, there is a narrow ridge a little back along the path, by which you can descend to the base of the falls. Here is the Tuross Falls Climbing Guide Map, as seen in : http://www.canberraclimbing.org.au/media/9987/tuross-falls.pdfOn the walk back to Cascades, we diverted to explore a huge granite outcrop off the path. Another visitor had made a cairn of rocks at the top.We were also very impressed with the Cascades. The view from the viewing platform down the Tuross River with its long pools is beautiful. Apparently, you can also access Tuross Falls by rock-hopping down the river, swimming across 3 pools, then abseiling 40m down the falls. If you would like to do this, it is worth visiting this site : http://www.immortaloutdoors.com/articles/tuross_canyon
Below the viewing platform, a track leads to a water slide into the first of the pools. It would be great fun in Summer- apparently, it is advisable to slide down the side nearest to the track!We then drove ½ hour back south along the Tuross Falls Rd to Wadbilliga Rd, a 4wd track, which starts in private property and looks south to Wadbilliga Peak (1337m) and the 7km long plateau (average altitude: 1200m), which separates the Wadbilliga and Brogo Rivers and is another future walk. The road climbs down from snow gums and dwarf sheoaks and heath, then skirts the mountain at Conways Gap, where we saw another rainbow over the rugged cliff line. To the south lies the Brogo Wilderness, untraversed by any tracks and the total catchment for Brogo Dam.
Further down the track are spectacular views of the coast. We surprised a lyrebird with its baby, who made a tremendous racket of indignation, then tore off down the road!The road was scarcely wider than the vehicle and skirted by overhanging tree ferns. The steep escarpment catches all the rain and the rainforest is very lush.The views of the surrounding cliffs were spectacular.We finally made it down to the beautiful Wadbilliga Crossing, where we enjoyed a cuppa with an inquisitive Yellow Robin. I love the huge sheoaks, gums, angophoras and huge rain forest vines here, as well as the very attractive rocky banks of the river. The Lakes Camping area down from here has 15 sites. As the sun went down, we passed through lush river paddocks to Yowrie, past Galba Blacksmithing Forge, to Wandella, then Cobargo and home.It was such a lovely day out, that one week later, we decided to explore the next national park to the north : Deua National Park, another wilderness park. Here are 2 maps from the National Parks brochure: We drove via Cooma, then took the very civilized, dirt Snowball Rd to our first stop at Badja Swamp Nature Reserve, the only example of a subalpine vegetation community on the eastern margins of the Monaro Tablelands. The colours of the grasslands and peatlands were beautiful and a tiny heath was beginning to flower. Again, we saw plenty of wombat droppings and this veritable palace, as well as a family of choughs! If I was a wombat, this is where I would live – well away from the risk of being flattened by cars on the roads, which are littered with their dead cousins!We took a quick look at Middle Mountain Road, which leads into Minuma Range Fire Trail and the Bendethera Fire Trail and is the access to Bendethera Homestead and Caves from the west. From all accounts, this road is serious 4wd territory with very steep grades and some pretty dodgy parts round Dampier Trig, so we had already decided to explore Bendethera from the east ( along Little Sugarloaf Rd ) in the future, but we wanted to check out the start of the track. Ross baulked at the first deep river crossing! A map from the National Park interpretive board showing the route to Bendethera:Bendethera (1860s on) was one of the early properties in the area, supplying fruit and vegetables, bacon, beef and grain (corn, wheat, millet and oats) to Moruya, as well as the miners in the goldfields of Araluen and Nerrigundah . The George family carted everything with a team of 40 packhorses, using 4 bridle trails. The homestead, a single-storey, hip-roofed dwelling with a front verandah and a separate kitchen, was burnt down in 1969, but the old bread oven, a family grave, a water race, post-and-rail cattleyards, exotic mature trees and cleared river flats still exist. The property has a fascinating history and it is worth reading the NPWS management plan for the area at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/planmanagement/draft/10487BendetheraCMPdraft.pdf
From the site of the old homestead, a 3.6km track leads to Bendethera Main Cave, which was one of the earliest protected areas in NSW, being protected in 1897. It is a large cave and its roof is 90 feet high. Handrails, steps and cuttings were made in the 1890s and 1903 and still exist today, along with signatures from the 1890s. There are also 40 other caves in the area and the Bendethera karst system is 4km long and up to 0.5 km wide. It is in the same line of limestone as the Wyanbene cave.
After the Middle Mountain Rd, Snowball Rd becomes Krawarreee Rd and a little further on is the turnoff to Wyanbene Caves along Wyanbene Rd – nothing is signposted, so it obviously isn’t promoted that heavily by NPWS!It is a lovely drive in past rolling hills covered in colourful Scrub Sheoak and beautiful views over the surrounding countryside.We passed this lovely old homestead on a bend in the creek on the way in.At the end of the road is a delightful bush campsite with 5-10 sites. We much preferred it to Berlang Camp, which we visited afterwards.Everything is very low key. The entrance to Wyanbene Cave is a simple gated hole in the hill and is hard to detect from the base of the hill. It is just to the NW of Ross, as he passes through the gap in the fallen tree. We climbed down a steep ladder into the dark and that was enough for me! Ross took the torch and went a bit further in down a tiny hole to the creek. You are only allowed in the first 200m, after which you need a caving permit from NPWS, but that was far enough for Ross too. To go further in to the chamber entailed a stomach crawl along and in the freezing cold water of the stream within a space of 2 foot high!Can you see Ross waving from the bottom? Apparently, in the Aboriginal Monaro/Snowy Dreamtime story, Wyanbene Cave , along with Tuross Falls, was created by Djamalang, the Platypus, as he travelled from the Shoalhaven River to the Snowy River.
A much more romantic than the dry geology history, which goes as follows:
500 Million years ago, sediments, deposited in a deep ocean trench, were folded, heated and compressed to form a sedimentary bedrock, while fringing coral reefs in the edge of the seas became limestone bands throughout the area.
400-100 Million years ago, large granite bodies were intruded into the sedimentary rocks, pushing them upwards and metamorphosing the limestone in the Wyanbene and Marble Arch area, recrystallising it into coarse red and white marble.
Wyanbene Cave is one of the longest karst systems in NSW with the passage measuring 1830m long. It is an outstanding example of a cave formed by a subterranean stream, where water slowly dissolves the limestone over thousands of years. It contains a large number of limestone formations including stalactites, stalagmites, shawls, helicites and flowstones.It is also home to the threatened Eastern Bent Wing Bat, as well as the Eastern Horseshoe Bat, the vulnerable Sooty Owl and a number of aquatic and terrestrial cave invertebrates, including syncarids, a species of crustacean adapted to living in the icy cold waters of caves.
A pair of bushranging brothers, the infamous Clarke Brothers, had a hideout nearby in another cliff overhang until they were captured in 1867. Wyanbene Cave was also popular with tourists in the 1930s and were protected in 1931. It is still explored by speleologists today, but I’m afraid that I’ll never be one of them! I was very happy to get back on top of the ground! Our final stop was at Berlang Camp (15 sites @ $6 per night) to visit Big Hole. Here is a map from the National Parks brochure: We had to cross the Shoalhaven River to access the 3.5km return walk to Big Hole. Ross was a mountain goat in his last life and rock-hopped across, while I just took off my boots and waded through! The first part of the walk is up a dry stony ridge, but I loved it when we reached the scrub sheoak and snow gums. Such attractive vegetation and beautiful views!Further into the forest, we discovered Big Hole and it is spectacular! Measuring 35m across, 200m around the circumference and 110m deep, it was formed when the ceiling of an underlying limestone cave collapsed. The theory is that sedimentary siltstone, sandstone and conglomerates were laid down under the sea 350 Million years ago over a large body of limestone at or below the level of the Shoalhaven River. The limestone was dissolved and carried away by water, leaving a large underground cavern, whose sedimentary roof then collapsed, creating the Big Hole. Here is a photo of the interpretive board:
The cavern must have been so deep, as there is absolutely no evidence of the fallen debris. In fact, there are no broken tree limbs either, which is amazing, given the reach of the branches of surviving trees, clinging onto the cliff edges. Instead, there is a bed of 2m high soft tree ferns, supported by the Shoalhaven River underneath. I loved the ferns adorning the rock walls too.It was protected back in 1932. On our next visit, we will continue on the walk (13km return) down steep steps into the ravine to see Marble Arch. We retraced our steps back to the camping ground.By the time we returned to the car, it was 3.30pm and since we did not want to get caught in the dark, we decided to go home via Braidwood and the sealed Kings Highway instead of the Araluen 4wd track, which was an old bridle trail from the Araluen goldfields to Moruya. We travelled up this route back in 2012- an incredibly scenic drive- and we will do it again, perhaps stopping to camp at one of the camping sites along the Deua River : Deua River, Dry Creek and Baker’s Flat, so I will have more photos later, but for now, here is a taster from the 2012 trip!For more in-depth information about these beautiful wild national parks, please consult the NPWS management plans for the area at : http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/planmanagement/final/20110159FarSthCoastFinal.pdf
Finally!! The long-promised blog post on the beautiful Nethercote Falls! We first visited this area at the beginning of September, when hearing of the imminent road closure to this special spot.
Nethercote Falls is situated on the Yowaka River and is part of Nullica State Forest. As such, it comes under the jurisdiction of the NSW Forestry Corporation. Initially, they had plans to permanently close all access to the falls (due to risks to public safety, as well as ongoing road maintenance difficulties), but there was such a hue and cry from the locals, many of whom had been visiting Nethercote Falls for generations, that there was a change in policy, still allowing the general public to visit the falls, but on foot only!
A barrier gate was to be erected in early September, so we beetled down there very quickly and managed to still use the steep 4WD road down to the Lower Car Park. We were so happy to have still been able to do this, as it confirmed that future visits by foot were indeed worth it!
Here are the directions to find Nethercote Falls :
Driving south on the Princes Highway, just south of Pambula, turn right on to Mt. Darragh Rd for 5 km.
Turn left on to Back Creek Rd for 5 km.
Turn left into Pipeclay Rd for 400m. At this point, the road forks. Take the right hand fork, but not the sharp right turn, on to Nethercote Falls Link Rd. Follow the road for 1 km to the Upper Car Park. It is a very narrow dirt road, so take care to allow room for vehicles coming in the opposite direction.
On our first visit, we were able to take the steep 4WD dirt track to the Lower Car Park, but now this road has been blocked off by a barrier at the top, so you must walk down this steep hill (and up it at the end! But it is well worth it, even if you may need another swim at the top to cool off!!!)
From the Lower Car Park, it is a 300m walk down to the main falls with one river crossing. There is a long, deep pool (40 m long, 15 m wide and over 2 m deep) within a rock gorge with steep sides and a 40 m drop waterfall at the end.Unfortunately, there have been quite a few accidents with foolhardy, risky behaviour on those steep sides, leading to very tricky and costly helicopter rescues, the very reason cited by the Forestry Corporation for closing public access to the falls.
But, as one objector pointed out, you can never totally prevent idiotic behaviour and to close all spots with potential risks is unfair to the careful majority, counter-productive to tourism and well-nigh impossible! Yes, put up plenty of warning signs, including the notion that accidents may incur huge personal expense if helicopter rescue is involved. But I think that people do have to accept personal responsibility for their actions, especially when that activity may involve some risk!
So, be extra careful on the rocky ledges, especially on wet rainy days, when the rock surfaces can be very slippery. Remember, as my Mum always used to warn us as kids when peering over the edge of the wharf, ‘Your head is the heaviest part of your body’!!! And if planning to dive or jump into the pool from a height, ALWAYS pre-check the depth of the water into which you are to jump, as well as checking for submerged rocks/ logs and objects. There have been far too many unnecessary spinal injuries from diving or being thrown into shallow pools and while it might be fun or a buzz at the time, spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair (especially a high cervical injury) is not!!! Also beware of any undercurrents in the water, especially if you are not a strong swimmer. Needless to say, kids should always be supervised and please leave your dog at home! One of the rescues earlier this year involved a dog, who was stuck on the cliff face!!!
The falls are well-visited on hot Summer days, so the main pool is often quite busy, but fortunately, there is a small track, which leads up the side to above the falls to a series of smaller necklace pools, 1-10 m wide and more smaller falls, so it is one surprise after another until you end in the quiet river flat at the top, overlooked by huge gums, sheoaks and wattles.
The gorge is comprised of rhyolite and its unusual weathering has been the subject of geological research and intensive scientific interest. I love the worn round pools, formed by whirlpools of water eroding away and smoothing the rock surfaces.It is such a beautiful area and we felt it really should be part of National Parks or designated as the Nethercote Falls Flora Reserve, as has been proposed. It is a really interesting area botanically, as it is the southernmost limit of distribution for many species, which are otherwise unknown on the Far South Coast. For example, Pultenaea villifera and Daviesia acicularis are both otherwise unknown South of the Tuross River.
The rhyolitic soils support 4 rare plant species :
Acacia subtilinervis (1st 2 photos below)
Pseudanthus divaricatissimus and
Hakea macreana (3rd and 4th photos below).
There are also 2 undescribed species of Grevillea (with affinities to Grevillea miqueliana) and Westringia ( with affinities to Westringia glabra).
Much of the vegetation is Shrubland, dominated by Kunzea ambigua and Melaleuca armillaris.
Here are some of the botanical photos we took back in early September. The 1st photo is a Hovea species, followed by Hakea macreana and a Forest Clematis (Clematis glycinoides). The latter is called Headache Vine in Queensland, as the crushed leaves are supposed to alleviate headaches.The 4th photo is the Rock Waxflower (Philotheca trachyphylla), followed by Sweet Wattle (Acacia suaveolens) and the last photo is Hardenbergia violacea, seen on the drive along Yowaka River on the way home.
I love the tenacity of these little battlers, ekeing out a life on the rocks!
Also these resourceful carnivorous sundew plants and beautiful moss!We revisited Nethercote Falls in late October on the strength of the masses of Rock Orchids (Dendrobium speciosum), high on the cliff face above the main pool, which by now should have been in full flower and absolutely stunning! In Queensland, we knew them as King Orchids. Unfortunately, we could not find one bloom, even a trace of a spent one! We were either too late, too early or maybe they just didn’t flower this year!!! At least, we saw their blooms at Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra!We recently visited these botanical gardens, where they had a whole glasshouse devoted to this species and its variety of forms. Current scientific thought is of the opinion that they are all the one species with geographical variations in their appearance, rather than a number of different species. Apparently, the aborigines used to roast and eat their starchy stems.But back to the falls! There was also a huge wasp nest on the cliffs.These were some of the flowers we did see in late October!And it was good to check out the new barrier gate and get an idea of walking times. It really wasn’t too bad! Walking downhill was very pleasant, listening to the constant peal of Bell Miners; the creak of a Gang-Gang Cockatoo; the trill of a Fan-Tailed Cuckoo; the ‘Duke-Duke-Wellington’ song of the Grey Thrush and the beautiful song of the Golden Whistler. There were so many birds! We also saw Grey Fantails, Scrub Wrens, Eastern Yellow Robins (see below) and Lewin Honeyeaters.And it only took 5 minutes (8 minutes on the way back up) to walk down to the Lower Car Park, a further 2 minutes down to the creek and a 5 minute walk up to the Main Pool! The walk back up was quite possible and not nearly as bad as I envisaged, though it might be slightly more arduous on a hot Summer’s day!It was so lovely to revisit the Falls and Main Pool again, even though the King Orchids were nowhere to be seen! There is always next year! Third time lucky, though I suspect that we may be back again before then! The lure of that long cool pool beckons this coming Summer!You can see Ross on top of the cliffs in the first photo above. The following photos were taken from that vantage point, looking across at the journey of the falls.I think Nethercote Falls is destined to become one of our favourite haunts! It certainly is a very special place!!!
1st October 2016 Update on the Nethercote Kings
Having discovered the wonderful King Orchids in full bloom along the cliff-banks of the Merrica River as it enters the sea at Discovery Bay yesterday (see Merrica River post on: https://candeloblooms.com/2016/11/22/the-kings-of-merrica-river/), we beetled down to Nethercote Falls to check whether the Kings were in bloom there too and I am happy to report, they were – third time lucky (!) , though I must admit to having been a bit spoilt yesterday! Nevertheless, the Nethercote Kings were still very beautiful and well worth the walk down. They grace the top of the falls, as well as the length of the side cliff, as shown in the photos below.They really are such lovely orchids, as well as being incredibly tough!It was so good to finally see them in full bloom, as well as reacquaint ourselves with the local Spring wildflowers, which we saw last year. We also discovered a Native Indigo, Indigoferaaustralis, as well as this sweet little bird’s nest, which had already served its purpose!