Thunder resounded heavily across the forest as I arrived at Mt Nardi, roughly 10 kilometres outside of Nimbin in the World Heritage Nightcap National Park. Turning towards the hilltop, under the steady fall of light rain, I spied a broadcast radio station exhibiting a radiation warning – a stark contrast to the adjacent rainforest.
This was just another notch in a string of curious alignments I had seen this afternoon. As I’d just driven for two hours through beautiful countryside – past steep meadows, valleys and forested hills, past CDs glued across fences, large clusters of solar panels, a whopping commune, lake-like pools decked out handsomely in the bush (with not a house in sight), and towering mansions, perched on lonely, forested hills.
Perhaps then, it should have been no surprise when I read the signage on my walk to Pholis Gap and discovered it was named after one Athol Pholi – a timber worker killed on the trail by a falling tree. The area had been the scene of fierce protesting over logging in the ‘80s. The protestors won, and all that remains of the industry is a dilapidated flying fox (which I didn’t find), once used to shoot logs half a kilometre down to Kunghur Mill.
I admit, I was a tad spooked as I began my journey, as besides this grim tale, the sky began to darken, thunder continued in steadily increasing bursts, and I was alone in an old, yet very beautiful forest. The largest subtropical rainforest in the world.
Being no ornithologist, I began to hear what I thought were strange sounds, like a large, deep man impersonating an owl, followed by a vigorous rustle and three loud claps. A little further and I heard a noise like a cat being strangled – a Catbird I later found out – a splendid green, yet piercingly tuneless creature. A more graceful encounter was the long, feather-tailed Albert’s lyrebird I spied darting off the path.
Heading down into Pholis Gap, I passed New England Blackbutts – large, hollow trees that gnarled and twisted, offering shelter from the rain. It was comforting to know they were there. Then, through a break in the forest, I caught splendid, cloud strewn views of Doughboy Mountain and the Doon Doon and Tweed valleys – country of the Widjabul people and once part of an immense volcanic crater.
Continuing, I passed a snail shell the size of a tennis ball, glistening, wild raspberries, brush turkeys and a florid arrangement of fungi. I had reached the end of the path where a sign told me that beyond this point was advanced bushwalking, as the trail was shady. Thinking I had roughly two hours before nightfall, I pushed on, along a heavily forested ridge, contending with an assault of blood-thirsty leeches.
Now saturated, wandering through dense, wet forest, I almost stepped on a large python. She appeared to have just swallowed a rodent and was in a blissful state of digestion. I walked around her and her slowly descending lump. At this point I wondered if I’d ever get to a lookout, so I whipped out my phone, looked at Google Earth and found out I had Buckley’s of reaching a cliff any time soon.
I could see the distant symbol of a geocache, hiding roughly several kilometres away in a rainforest valley. Not today, I thought, and I began my return journey through thick clouded forest, as the light was now fading fast behind the hills.