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Gondwana Rainforests, Australia
A couple of hundred million years ago, the world was divided into just two supercontinents. One of them, Gondwana, was made up of what are now Australia, South America, Africa, India and Antarctica.
It was the land of the reptiles – a period when dinosaurs roamed the world. And roam the world they could because the sea borders we know didn’t exist. Animals and plants were able to travel much further distances and, in a climate that scientists believe was hotter than today, life thrived.
It’s hard to imagine what Gondwana would have been like… but we can get some clues. And those clues are right here in Australia.
In an area that stretches from northern New South Wales over the border into Queensland is a collection of natural reserves called the Gondwana Rainforests. They get their name from this incredible supercontinent that once existed because they are what remains of the land before our time. This is what Gondwana would have looked like. This was the home of the dinosaurs.
The temperature drops as you go into the rainforests. There’s a moisture in the air. Today is quite overcast and wet anyway, but I imagine it’s always a bit like this. The tall trees – growing high and losing themselves in the foliage of others – block much of the light; a mist hangs between their trunks; the green plants sprouting from the ground seem alive with a watchful consciousness. In fact, the whole forest seems more cognisant than it should be. It’s as though it knows you’re here and your fate is in its hands.
When light does break through, it streams down like the water of a fall. In the distance you can hear the sound of actual waterfalls and of rain dripping along its path of leaves, but you wonder whether it’s the rays making the sounds as well. It’s all connected here – and has been for hundreds of millions of years.
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
The Gondwana Rainforests are made up of fifty different reserves inland from Australia’s eastern coast. From the northernmost to the southernmost is about 600 kilometres and in total the official areas covers about 3,700km2. The most popular of the reserves – the one where I am today – is the Dorrigo National Park.
The Dorrigo National Park is popular partly because it is a perfect example of the ancient rainforests but also because it’s easily accessible from coastal holiday towns like Coffs Harbour. It takes about 90 minutes to drive from the beach, through small villages like Bellingen and rural bush. The final road up the hill towards the entrance to the park gives you a taste of what is to come with ancient trees creating a tunnel in parts and then occasionally opening up for a wide view across an army of trunks.
At the visitors centre at the entrance to the park is a skywalk that takes you out above the forest so you can see the extent of its reach. The faint sounds of animals drift up from below but they are protected under the green canopy. To get a closer look, you need to take one of the several tracks that lead you to different parts of the rainforest. The walk to the waterfalls is one of the most popular.
Much like my recent trip to the Blue Mountains near Sydney, this is a natural World Heritage Site that has been within grasp for most of my life – but one I had never thought of visiting. Australia is a big country and it is not easy just to pop out and see these places in a day. Still, I’m surprised I had not even heard of it before. There’s so much to explore in this great country but this is a pretty good start.