One in a Minyon in north­ern NSW

Nat­u­ral won­ders come to light dur­ing a wan­der in the Night­cap Na­tional Park

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­DITH ELEN

YOUcould say Minyon Falls is the Grand Canyon of the NSW North­ern Rivers re­gion. It’s much smaller, ob­vi­ously, but when I step out of the car and walk for a few sec­onds through the bush, its sud­den ap­pear­ance hits me with a sim­i­lar im­pact. This spot, 35km north of Lis­more, the re­gion’s main town, is a good metaphor for the hid­den plea­sures on of­fer.

Lis­more is an hour’s flight north of Syd­ney, two hours by road from Bris­bane and a mere spit from the coastal towns of Bal­lina, Len­nox Head and By­ron Bay. The many vis­i­tors to the sea­side should not miss an ex­cur­sion into the hin­ter­land. Lis­more is set amid rolling dairy coun­try and rain­for­est. Wilsons River, which runs through town, and Rich­mond River, to the south, flow amid a net­work of creeks. Dig just be­low the sur­face of this un­pre­pos­sess­ing re­gion and there are quiet trea­sures to be found.

The 100m Minyon Falls edges Night­cap Na­tional Park, where ban­ga­low palm­dom­i­nated rain­for­est shel­ters lush veg­e­ta­tion and an abun­dance of na­tive an­i­mals and birds. At the south­ern rim of Mt Warn­ing shield vol­cano, 5000ha of park­land is World Her­itage listed.

The cas­cade flows down a vast arc of chalky rock — streaked with pale ochre, white and grey, like a rough art­work — that drops sheer to the for­est. Trees clus­ter at the base, fringe the top and sprout ran­domly from the cliff face, but it is the vast open­ness of the gorge that takes one’s breath away. And at night it’s the stars.

I re­turn af­ter dark with Wendy Bithell, founder of Vi­sion Walks Eco Tours. Bithell has a deep knowl­edge of the bush and its many lay­ers. She has de­grees in en­vi­ron­men­tal science and ad­vanced learn­ing tech­nolo­gies (she’s worked at Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties and the BBC in Lon­don), plus she’s a hiker. These dis­parate skills come to­gether in Bithell’s Night Vi­sion Walk, an hour’s stroll through the pitch-dark bush wear­ing night-vi­sion gog­gles (an ex­cel­lent use of mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy).

We meet at The Wren’s Rest near Minyon Falls, a cafe and sculp­ture gallery with a parkview ve­randa, owned and lov­ingly op­er­ated by bronze artist Brett Har­ri­son Allen, his part­ner Jenny and chef Terry Lin­den­mayer, who makes ad­ven­tur­ous use of lo­cal pro­duce.

Once in the bush, the first thing we see (with the naked eye) is a bril­liant con­stel­la­tion of lights, not over­head but in the bushes be­side the track.

Echo­ing the canopy of stars, it’s a colony of glow worms and Bithell knows ex­actly where to find them.

As we walk, the gog­gles strapped to our heads take some get­ting used to and I think I’ll try with­out them, but when I raise the lenses I see noth­ing in the black night. With gog­gles and in­frared torch, we spot a parma wallaby (a threat­ened species), a lit­tle gang of pademel­ons pic­nick­ing near a camp­ing ground and a ringtail pos­sum go­ing about its busi­ness.

Cross­ing a bridge, we spy twin saucers of light gleam­ing like mi­nus­cule head­lights from the crook of a tree branch. A fawn­footed melomys ( Melomys cervinipes), a na­tive mouse, is hun­kered down, no more than a shad­owy smudge with­out our gog­gles.

Our vi­sion­ary walk comes full cir­cle with hot chocolate and By­ron Bay Cook­ies back at the wa­ter­fall, now just a rush of sound in the black night. Over­head, the stars are like a sil­ver fret­work ceil­ing in some ex­otic Ara­bian night­club. Ju­dith Elen was a guest of Tourism NSW.

VI­SION WALKS

Night-vi­sion gog­gles shed light on a noc­tur­nal world

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