How to get lost in an Australian rainforest

Wednesday 6th April 2016 

Glen writes…..

We spent eight hours alone together in the Rainforest today. One of the gifts that my relationship with Jakkie has given me is a far deeper connection with nature than I ever would have experienced on my own.

Partnerships can take you places you wouldn’t go alone and for me, walking in nature is something I would rarely do if it wasn’t for Jakkie. Through nature we connect with the magic of the universe, with spirit and with each other.

Rambling (as it is called in England) or bush bashing (to give it an Aussie flavour), can be a deeply meditative practice. As with any form of meditation, it can connect you to the present moment and the glorious oneness of all creation AND it can make you painfully aware of how disconnected you are and how dominated you mind is by uncontrollable thoughts.

(Side note: as I was writing this post, a piece of research popped up in my social media feed highlighting how nature changes the brain, which is worth a read.)

Unlike sitting meditations, walking in nature has the benefit of providing moments of unexpected beauty that can jolt you into temporary states of oneness with everything. When an English deer walks across our path, for example, my mind clears and my heart opens and nothing else exists except for me, the deer and the present moment.

To share these enlightened moments with someone you love over and over again is magical.

As we’ve journeyed away from the city and people and the world of constant work, I’ve begun to experience those moments of oneness and lightness of being with increasing regularity. I felt it by the beach and sky and forest in Byron Bay; I felt it instantaneously when we first arrived at Binna Burra and looked down into the forest from the lodge and it has been powerfully present at my sunrise lookout.

And I’m finding the more this gentle force of nature pushes me into this way of being, the more I carry that lightness into my everyday interactions. I’m also noticing I can consciously reconnect myself when I notice that the blissfully, contented feeling that everything in the universe is exactly as it should be right now, isn’t present.

So today’s trek into the rainforest, our first long walk together since arriving in Australia six months ago, was special.

There are many great walks from the Binna Burra lodge and a little light research suggested that the 20km round trip to the Coomera Falls was the pick of the crop. A path from the campground took us into the Lamington National Park, which claims to be one of the country’s most pristine, rainforest reserves.

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Rainforests can be both eerily silent and terrifyingly noisy.

The vast canopy of leaves competing upwards for sunlight creates a cool, dark atmosphere on the ground below and provides a home for all manner of creatures from shrieking birds, to quiet marsupials to the odd silent but deadly snakes and spiders.

The first creatures we met were the pademelons, which to English eyes are mini kangaroos, but are more properly know as macropods, smaller than most wallabies but bigger than the cute little bettong or ‘rat kangaroo’.

Pademelons tend to hang out close to the forest path and if you give them a fright you just hear them bounding off into the forest. If you walk mindfully, however, you’ll hear a slight rustle and turn to see a sweet, little pademelon, just a few feet away, crouched perfectly still and watching to see if you pose any danger.

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Skippy the Bush Kangaroo 

If you grew up on kids TV in the 1970s, like we did, you might be tempted to say something like:

“What’s that Skip? There’s someone caught down a mineshaft 11.2 kilometers away and they’ve broken their left tibia?”

And if you never watched the great Australian export, Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, then that makes no sense whatsoever.

The first time I encountered a pademelon, it was like coming close up to a deer in the English countryside, my heart instantly opened, triggered by the rareness of the moment. In reality, there were so many pademelons that by the end of the walk it was more like spotting a fox than a deer, though pademelons offer you the privilege of standing much closer to them than your average fox ever will.

Further along the path, where the sun broke through the tree cover, we discovered a large, black lizard blocking our path. It was land mullet, so called because it looks a bit like a fish and can stink like one too, as it emits a pungent fishy odour when it feels threatened.

Lizards often skink away before you can get a good look at them but this one was standing its ground, hissing and puffing itself up to let us know it would put up a fight if needed. We chatted with it for a while before shooing it of the path with a few tactical stomps.

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As Jakkie said goodbye to the lizard and marched ahead of me, I noticed the growth around the tree she walked past move. It was a snake, only a little thing, but size doesn’t matter if your fangs are filled with deadly poison and we’re not yet snake smart enough, to know which ones can kill you.

Despite our ignorance, I notice the more we encounter snakes without being attacked and fatally wounded, the more relaxed I am about the risk they pose. We kept a safe distance from this one and watched it make its way into the undergrowth before moving on.

The main feature of this walk was the waterfalls. I love being close to moving water, whether that’s the giant surf of a stormy sea or the gentle babbling of tiny brook. And something happens to my body when I am by fresh, running water.

I love the way that waterfalls reveal themselves to you one sense at a time. It’s usually your ears that become aware of the falls first, then your nose as you smell the moistness in the air and if you’re firing on all senses, you may even get a taste of the falls too.

For me the experience is also kinesthetic. I get an expansive sense of embodied wellbeing, like my aura is being cleansed and every cell in my body is being aligned. Is it the positive impact of the negative ions? I don’t know. I just know it is a gorgeous, bodily sensation that lightens and uplifts me.

Then finally, when you’ve heard, smelt, tasted and smelt the tumbling water, your eyes finally kick in as your waterfall comes into sight.

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And so it was with Coomera Falls, which was the main feature of the walk because of its scale and the dedicated viewing platform allowing you to look down at the hidden cascades.

The view was worth the trip, but to really experience a waterfall you have to get up to it and on it, and in it and under it and behind it.

And this is where the walk became special, because beyond this major waterfall was a series of never-ending falls that the forest path wove us alongside, over, around and through. Each one was magical in its own unique way. We sat and had lunch by one, drank from another, swam under a third and stopped to appreciate each and every one to the point where we were overflowing with wonder and saying “enough already, we can’t take anymore beautiful waterfalls”.

There were more falls than we could ever hope to see in one day. We knew this because the path kept dividing, with each new junction hosting a signpost to another fall with a name that was foreign to our English tongues—-Bahnamboola, Kagoonya, Gwongarragong, Moolgoolong, Chigigunya.

None of these falls were marked on our inadequate walking map and neither were any of the many different paths we could choose from. We began to realise we didn’t really know where we were. We’d been walking for four hours now and there was only four hours of daylight left. The other walkers we’d passed were long gone, we didn’t know where we were, but we were clear we hadn’t hit the halfway mark.

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The spot we were looking for was called Neerigolindalala Falls. So we kept heading forward, communicating our concern to each other, not in words, but by steadily quickening our pace, hoping each new fall we met would bear an seven-syllable name we couldn’t pronounce beginning in Neer and ending in lala (and if it wasn’t near soon, then we were about to go la-la).

I passed the time, by drifting out of the present and down two mental pathways. Firstly, I used my mental maths skills to calculate the time at which we would need to turn around and retrace our steps in order to get back to camp before nightfall, adding in variations based on us increasing our average pace by 10 percent, 20 per cent, 30 per cent and so on.

Secondly, I used my journalistic skills to construct headlines about two stupid Poms sparking a huge rescue mission after heading into the rainforest without the appropriate equipment. As much as I tried to write the story in a heroic fashion, e.g. “Plucky Poms Escape Forest Deathtrap”, the phrase that kept popping into my head was “Walkabout Wankers Spark Two Million Dollar Search and Rescue”.

And if I didn’t fancy being a “Plucky Pom”, I really didn’t want to end up being a “Walkabout Wanker”, so I doubled my pace and continued my mental maths.

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Even in our slowly heightening state of stress, we still found ourselves being held in the present moment by the beauty of each new fall or fabulous creature whose path we crossed.

My absolute favourite was the Lamington Spiny Crayfish, a lobster-like crustacean that has no, logical right to be so far away from the sea. Its outer shell is a fabulous combination of red, white and blue making it look like the Captain America of the rainforest.

They are both adorably cute and seriously aggressive—and the more you stop to appreciate their beauty, the more aggressive they become. This one waved its claws above its head at us furiously, hissing and gnashing as if to say:

“Cute? Cute? I’ll show you who’s cute. I’ll rip your toes off with my claws and tap dance on your dying corpse as you slowly bleed to death from your feet, if you don’t get lost.”

And then we remembered that we might well be lost and left the cute, little killer Crayfish to fight another day and resumed our search for the unpronounceable halfway mark.

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Back in the land of mental maths, I had come to the conclusion that it was too late to turn back and was now working out how long our food provisions would last before we had to start eating each other to survive. And more importantly, I was working out the pros and cons of being the sole survivor of this trip.

PROS

  • I’d save Jakkie the misery of having to eat me to survive
  • There’d probably be a book deal in it
  • George Clooney could play me in film version
  • There’d be more room in the Motorhome

CONS

  • I wouldn’t have a partner to take to the film premier
  • Jakkie’s mum would be cross with me
  • I might get kicked out of the Vegetarian Society

Fortunately, before I could convince myself that the PROS were outweighing the CONS, yet another waterfall loomed into sight and after cross-checking each and every one of the seven syllables on the signpost against our inadequate map, we were clear that we’d reached the Neer-i-go-lin-da-la-la Falls

There is nothing quite like the sound and sensation of a cool, cool waterfall drum-rolling down onto you skull and so I leapt naked, under its cold waters to celebrate.

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The second half of our rainforest adventure was, thankfully, less eventful. The long, straight pathway home led us up to a peaceful vantage point over the Numinbah Valley, a view that’s particularly relaxing when you’ve been walking without a glimpse of the horizon for several hours.

Now we were confident that cannibalism wasn’t on the menu, we sat to eat the remains of our lunch. As we did I said: “Oh great”—in that mildly annoyed and sarcastic English kind of way that suggested I’d forgotten to put cucumber on my sandwich —only the end of this particular sentence was “here comes another snake”. I slowly stood up on the bench and watched it slither over the ground where my feet had been a moment earlier and onwards  towards Jakkie’s toes.

Some time later, Jakkie followed me up, on to the bench with some urgency saying, in what seemed to me to be a slightly irritated tone, “you need to warn me sooner!”

“But I told you as soon as I saw it,” I protested.

“Mumbling ‘oh great….’ to yourself, like there’s something wrong with your lunch is not a warning,” she insisted. “Saying ‘LOOK OUT THERE’S A SNAKE’, clearly and audibly, is a warning!”

Once again, this trip keeps reminding me of the fact that while we have been together for nearly nine years now, we are still learning to communicate effectively with each other.

Fortunately, our rigorous discussion about how to raise a snake alarm in a proper and timely manner, scared the snake away and we were joined by a serious walker called Jas, who was carrying a tent on his back.

We chatted a while about each others’ adventures in the forest and exchanged some of our Alstonville nuts for some of his Aldi blueberries, before he set off ahead of us to complete the final 4 kilometres back to the campsite.

Back at the Binna Burra Lodge, we lit up a fire, which we shared with a friendly possum who walked straight up to us and helped himself to the charred remains of our baked potatoes, as we reflected on the highlights of our adventure.

Fortunately, we didn’t get lost, but we did live to lose ourselves in the forest another day.

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