Sunday, March 2, 2008

the (rain)forest primeval

Erika bought herself a lovely book of the 60 best hikes (“walks”) in Australia. We leafed avidly through the section on Victoria (our fair state), and eventually chose to do none of them because we don’t have a car. Instead, on Saturday we took the train about 20 miles outside the city to a state park in the Dandenong mountain range that the book had mentioned but not detailed.

As soon as we got off the train in Belgrave, we knew we were someplace special. It smelled like the Smith plant house (misty and green plus sweet heaven and cow manure), and there were cockatoos feeding at a birdfeeder. We weren’t in the Central Business District anymore.

We walked through the tiny town, which is charming and strange, following our dodgy photocopied map a kilometer up the road. The sidewalk was really just a footpath, winding its way through people’s gardens and occasionally playing dual role as drainage ditch, driveway, reinforcing wall, etc. The town is cut into the side of a steep mountain, so they’re creative with their available space.

As I gazed over the painted tin rooftops of the houses at three distinct and mist-shrouded layers of forest and the profusion of Jurassic ferns, I remembered that the Dandenongs are, in fact, a rainforest. Right. Fortunately, when Erika packs for a hike, she prepares for all possible scenarios. An unexpected rainforest environment didn’t hold us back. Lilli, the umbrella came in very useful. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not a good idea.

After finally finding our trailhead (in the back parking lot of a tavern), we headed into what Erika called “The Jungle! The Jungle!” Now, it’s not that I hadn’t been to the Dandenongs before. But I hadn’t been in a really long time and, while things were relatively familiar, I had forgotten how big everything is (and, well, that it was a rainforest, but…). The tallest tree in the world is somewhere in this forest. They’ve since lost it, which you’d think would be impossible, but somehow when you’re here it’s not all that surprising. Everything is incredibly big, in the literal sense of the word incredible—when looking at everything, you still can’t quite believe it’s that big.

It took us about forty minutes to go the first ½ kilometer because we had to stop every few meters to gape. It started with the cockatoos. Their gorgeous white shapes glide from limb to limb in the leafy canopy with a grace completely at odds with their raucous and obnoxious calls. Sooooar… SQWAWK! … Swoooop (coy glance, pretty eyes), … swoop… SQUAWK! CAHK CAKKKKK SCREEECH! …(pretty). Then there were pretty little green and red parrots that we think were laurakeets, and charming brown tree-hopping birds about the size of a can of tuna, the small kind (oh my eloquence…).

And then we nearly jumped out of our shoes when something huge erupted from the incredibly dense underbrush about a meter to our left and took off into the forest. By huge I mean like small pony sized. Like the kind you ride at the fair. The thing, which we only saw as BIG! FURRY! FAST! Brownish? was probably a wombat startled out of its daytime sleep. Erika had no idea that wombats were any bigger than a terrier. She went on about Rodents Of Unusual Size for some time after that. It really was very startling. And huge. And close.

The rest of our walk induced far less adrenaline, though no less amazement. We wandered up and down a few ridges, looked for a waterfall but never found it, had lunch (and a nap for Erika) by a stream, and took a lot of pictures (sorry). After scanning the canopy all day, we finally saw what we think was a koala dozing in the crook of a distant treetop. We decided this was an excellent conclusion to the day, and caught the train back home.

We’re caught wanting both to go back to that park again as soon as possible, and knowing that there’s so much to see in this amazing country. Erika’s suggested that she would have more time to see it all if she quit grad school. Luckily, this won’t be necessary, as we have weekends and holidays galore.

I’ve just realized I didn’t talk about the Lyrebird or the Kookaburra. They were awesome. Another time.

1 comment:

A'Llyn said...

That sounds so gorgeous!