It was raining and cold, but we put on warm jackets and raincoats and went out anyway. The beach was calling… and waterfalls, rainforest and glow worms. Why stay indoors? It was mid-June and we were spending the weekend at Kennett River, halfway between Lorne and Apollo Bay. The small town, full of holiday houses, was peaceful and almost deserted, apart from busloads of tourists visiting the solitary shop on the Great Ocean Road and feeding the flocks of waiting Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Crimson Rosellas, King Parrots and sparrows.
We followed the steep streets down to the beach. It was close to high tide, but there was a narrow strip of wet sand. Among the washed-up seaweeds, a few with their tough stalk still attached to a small rock, we found a sponge shaped like a shallow bowl on a pedestal. When the beach ended, we walked across the sloping rock platform and rounded stones, towards Point Hawdon, dodging out of the way of waves washing in towards us. At the rocky point, the tide was too high for us to continue, and bigger waves were breaking around the corner. We retraced our steps, watching large swells of green water on the horizon.
The nearby river was deep and more peaceful. We walked along its grassy bank below houses, avoiding puddles deep enough for ducks to take a swim. Across the river was a steep, bush-covered slope. Past the last garden, an old vehicle track followed the base of a cliff through riverside forest of tall trees, mosses and fungi. Beyond the cliff, we scrambled up a steep, and at times, muddy track which brought us out behind the highest houses. We retreated to warmth and dryness to eat lunch, then ventured forth again.
This time we drove, following the winding road west along the coast to the mouth of Carisbrook Creek. A muddy track led uphill under arching sheoaks. We noticed damage to the track, the bank above us and the vegetation, caused by large animals, probably deer. We arrived at a wooden fence and a view in the distance of the long waterfall cascading down a rock slope. I watched waves of lacy white froth sliding downwards, dropping into small pools, dividing around higher mounds of dark grey rock, then falling into another pool, the pattern of movement and water drops constantly changing. The bottom of the fall was out of sight behind a pile of huge lichen-covered boulders. The creek turned a corner, becoming visible again above another boulder, where it split and fell to form a narrow, boisterous creek rushing over rocks and under sheoaks on its way to the sea.
We drove inland to Grey River Picnic Area, a small open patch of soggy greenness, sloping gently downwards towards the sounds of a narrow rushing river hidden amongst the tall gums, wattles and tree ferns. We watched its flow from the nearby bridge, then followed a narrow walking track into the gloom beneath the trees. Daylight was diminishing, so we saw only hints of ferns, mosses and fungi growing on the ground, on rotting logs, and the trunks of tree ferns. The track ended at a view upstream, partly obscured by the growth of young trees. As we returned, the world had become grey and black. We admired our roof of tree fern fronds and the ancient, giant gum trees towering above them.
It was soon fully dark. Leaving our torches in our pockets, we walked up the road. On the dirt bank, under the tree ferns, were tiny white fairy lights, hundreds of them. These were the lights of glow worms, the larval stage of fungi gnats. They spin dangling, sticky threads to catch small flying insects. To attract their prey to this line, a light-producing chemical reaction occurs in the body of each larva. While to the insects this is merely a feeding strategy, to us it was magic. We continued up the road gazing and wondering.
We returned the next day to enjoy the forest in daylight. As we drove up the road, we saw a Koala sleeping in the fork of a gum tree, and watched a Red-necked Wallaby hop away from the road’s edge. The rainforest was still gloomy, but now it included colour - greens and browns. We waded along the first few metres of the track where a newly arisen creek, born of the last day’s rain, rushed through the forest to join the river. The trunks of the tree ferns were covered in plant life. The upper portions offered support for the creeping rhizomes of Kangaroo Fern, its fronds’ long side lobes occasionally giving it the shape of a kangaroo’s foot.
Below this, the trunks wore a dense, dripping cloak of False Fern Moss, their stems reaching outwards, laden with tiny dark green leaves only one cell thick. When I held a mirror under these long mosses, light reflected upwards shone through them, revealing them as almost transparent with a mere hint of green. Among the ferns and mosses, tiny fungi grew solitary or in clusters, their stalks curving away from the tree fern’s trunk, supporting delicate caps of white or brown. Seedlings of rainforest trees had germinated on the verdant trunks of some tree ferns. Some carried saplings, while a few trees showed the bowed remnants of a tree fern on which it had started its life. Mosses and fungi grew on the bases of the giant eucalypts, on the fallen rotting logs, and among the ferns covering the remaining soil.
We visited the river bank. The muddy brown water rushed and foamed among the tree ferns, and under and over mossy logs. I watched a tree fern frond, caught in the current, sweeping downstream as far as it could reach. As the river hurried below and beyond it, it relinquished the frond which returned to its natural position, to be immediately caught again.
We left the forest, returning to the brightness of the coast. Today, as well as the rain, a strong wind was blowing inland and the sea was wild. We parked facing into the weather and ate lunch while the big, busy waves raced and foamed in front of us, crashing onto the rocks and the sand. Small flocks of dark birds soared and twisted through the sky above the waves. Four glided towards us and landed on the beach, revealing themselves as Sooty Oystercatchers with black feathers, pink legs and long red bills, strolling comfortably along the sand, unconcerned by the weather.
At Wye River, the beach was mostly submerged. We watched waves rolling a log and other debris to block the path to the sand. Barricades have been built to keep the sea in its place, but the water rose against them, almost to the level of the grassy picnic area. Further east, we stopped at Artillery Rocks, where the battering of the sea has created knobbly formations on the rock platform. From the base of the steps below the road, we could see a few rocks above the foam. We watched and heard the white fury of the waves crashing over the platform and eventually the lowest step, causing us to retreat to the windswept road edge. From there we could see the green sea filling the bay, spray flying from the white wave tops as they rolled in towards the forest-covered hills. The road hugged the feet of the hills, just above the vanished beaches.
With no hope of a beach walk, we looked at the inland side of the road. Sheoak Creek had flooded the path to Sheoak Falls. Nearby, the waves crashing on the rocks were only one or two metres below the road. We walked up the estuary of St George River and into the forest following an old tramway, once used to remove the tall straight trees that grow there. We turned back at a river crossing, where a bridge had been washed away or stepping stones were covered by the rushing brown water. From there, we followed the Great Ocean Road eastward through Lorne and beyond. As the hills became lower, the coast more populated and the towns larger, the waves, although still covering the beaches, seemed smaller. At Anglesea, we turned inland, away from the wild sea and headed for the warm sanctuary of home.
Wendy Cook lives on a farm west of Melbourne with her husband and two teenagers. She loves watching the nature she sees around her every day and writing about it. She is a volunteer with Fungimap and at her local primary school where she hopes to instil a love of nature and reading in the children.
Banner image courtesy of Wendy Cook.