One in a Minyon in northern NSW
Natural wonders come to light during a wander in the Nightcap National Park
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.
Night-vision goggles shed light on a nocturnal world