As we make our way to the highest point, through dense ancient tea tree thickets covered with lichens, the breeze from the south intensifies, only adding to our sense of anticipation. We emerge, finding ourselves atop one of the highest peaks of the Great Escarpment at the edge of the Dorrigo Plateau. The sheer majesty as we stare down upon ancient primordial forests clothing the remains of the vast Ebor Volcano is overwhelming. “This is the single most energetic point of the tour,” shouts Mark Graham (pictured) above the cacophony of the swirling wind and birdcalls.
Having lived, played and worked his entire career as an ecologist in the forests, rivers, wetlands and mountains of the North Coast of NSW, Mark has developed an intimate familiarity with what are some of the most ancient of ecosystems on the planet – literally windows back to the time of the dinosaurs and largely unchanged across many tens of millions of years. Mark has recently established Bellingen Nature Tours so that he can share his knowledge and passion with those wanting a truly immersive experience in some of the purest and most ancient of places.
“The tours are unique day walks catering for a broad range of participants, but generally those having mobility and reasonable fitness. They offer participants a fully guided, richly interpretive and deeply immersive nature experience. There are a host of globally unique experiences possible, including experiencing some of the most ancient forests on Earth, the most diverse tall Eucalypt forests and landscapes supporting the most diverse marsupial assemblages across all space and time,” says Mark.
Mark is offering three tour options, ‘The Lowlands’, ‘The Mountaintops’ and ‘The Gorges’. We have chosen the Mountaintops tour through ancient cloud forests rich in mountaintop relict species and the most expansive views imaginable. Antarctic Beech forests, up to 1500 years old, predominate the landscape. “These forests are truly ancient in terms of both their evolution and the age of each individual tree, with close to 100% cover in the canopy. Just sublime, “ says Mark.
The landscape between Dorrigo, Ebor and Guyra is the only large, predominantly privately owned, landscape on our continent with extensive areas of freehold land exceeding 1200 m elevation (and up to over 1500m elevation). As we stand on the very edge of this vast escarpment, staring down at the eroding remains of a 20 million year old volcano, we are filled with awe. In the distance Point Lookout looks like a wedding cake, the cliff lines representing the basalt lava flows from the Ebor Volcano. The very core of the ancient volcano is beneath us, from which many cubic kms of lava poured out of the vent over a period of two to three million years, up to 20 million years ago.
Mark informs us that it is estimated that Point Lookout was once 200 to 300 meters higher in elevation than current day Mt Kosciuszko. “We are looking at the tiniest fraction of what was the volcano. Due to its vicinity close to the eastern seaboard and altitude of 2500 meters, the volcano would have made its own weather, bringing storms in off the coast, resulting in millions of years of erosion through the lava and into the underlying rocks. The rocky outcrops, including The Crescent are the last of the volcanic vents.”
Our day is gentle. We meander around a spring, emerging clear and pure from the ground at an elevation of 1370m. “From here the spring flows downstream into the Allen’s Waters to become the Headwater of the Nymboida River,” says Mark. “The Montane Wetlands either side of the creek line are an example of one of the most valuable ecosystems.” Mark also plans night tours to view the minute New England Tree Frog whose calls fill the wetlands from October. We sit, we chat and we imbibe the sounds and sights. However, we are assured that more vigorous hiking along the escarpment is available for the more active.
The Lowlands Tour centres on the Upper Bellinger Valley, but also encompasses the lower elevation parts of the Orara River and the smaller valleys of the Coffs Coast. Here Mark will introduce guests to the humid, steamy subtropical valleys with some of the cleanest and deepest of swimming holes amidst rainforests with the richest profusion of life forms and the greatest biodiversity.
The Gorges Tour takes in the dense maze of gorges draining the Dorrigo Plateau, one of the highest rainfall landscapes in Australia. These gorges are part of the Blicks, the Guy Fawkes and the Nymboida River systems. They support extensive forested tracts containing the richest and most diverse of tall Eucalypt forests with many unique species including the endemic Eastern Freshwater Cod and the Dorrigo Daisy.
Guests can decide which tour they would prefer, but the seasons and prevailing weather are also a factor. “In Summer, the lowland rivers and creeks offer cool and refreshing sanctuary, whilst in Winter snow is occasional on the mountaintops and makes this a glistening wonderland. Many native animals like frogs and birds are breeding in the warmer months, so they are more active, vocal and obvious then. Tours during these months will offer chances to experience these animals.”
As the afternoon deepens the tour comes to a close. We make our way out of this natural wonderland as the play of the light through the lichens and tea tree thickets fills us with a sense of gratitude. Sharing this experience with Mark, who sees himself as a custodian of these ancient forests and watercourses, is an extraordinary experience. His knowledge, enthusiasm and generosity are as inspiring as the natural beauty right here on our doorstep.
For more information about tours CLICK HERE
Each tour is unique and planned around your needs and interests. Price depends on numbers (generally maximum of 3-5) and location. Locals discounts apply.