The land before our time

The rainforests in this part of the world are just how scientists believe the supercontinent Gondwana would have looked – in a time when dinosaurs ruled!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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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.

Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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.

Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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.

Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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.

Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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.

Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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.

Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia
Dorrigo National Park, NSW, Australia

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.

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This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

20 thoughts on “The land before our time”

    • The nature here is just so varied, isn’t it? It’s easy to forget that the country is so big that you can go from the beach to the snow to the desert. Oh, and of courses these rainforests! And the atmosphere was just beautiful.

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    • Ha – I have no idea about the berries. I certainly wasn’t going to try them and find out. My guess, though, would be that they are not edible. Things in the wild that look tasty are generally not 🙂

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    • I can assure you it’s not just one big desert. In fact, I think in all the years I lived in Australia, I never actually went to any desert. Up north there are heaps of rainforests like this and they’re so beautiful. This one in particular seems really prehistoric!

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    • The worst ones that I came across when I was there were the leeches. Not ‘dangerous’ as such but bloody annoying. I got at least half a dozen on me during the walk (but I was wearing flip flops so it’s probably my own fault!!)

      Reply
  1. Fantastic rainforest photos – you had perfect weather for taking them! There is one argument for wearing flip-flops in this kind of place – you can see the leeches. But you do have to keep looking…. (:

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    • Ha – that’s true about being able to see the leeches. They really do creep me out. The problem is that I get paranoid and spend my whole time looking at my feet and not at the beautiful surroundings!! 🙂

      Reply

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