For some time my friend and Chief Guide, Innes Larkin of Mt. Barney Lodge had talked about doing a spring walk to admire the orchids and other wildflowers in the areas next to the Lodge. So it came to pass mid-September, that at 0500 sharp we set off up the back of the Lodge in dry fields, then dry leafy sclerophyll forest up towards the top of Mt. Gillies. This was my first introduction to this mountain group, with has a rather serpentine course through the area west towards Mt. Lindsay, and is not favoured my many bush walkers who seek the “king hit” of the big peaks; however, as we were to discover, some gems are there to be found as well as a sinister backdrop to the beauty of the wildflowers.
Please see our gallery: www.wildflowersmountbarneylodge.com. Note: Only a few of the images appear within the text – click here for the full gallery at large high resolution in new tab window.
Just on dawn, our first stop was a boulder plateau, affording a stunning view north towards the Mt. Barney massif. The gallery shows a series of images taken as the sun rose, and illuminated the now peach-pink rugged profile of the mountains. You can see from left to right, the main peak (called East Peak), then to North Peak, Leaning Peak at the back and a bit tilted, then the back and head of Isolated Peak (the scene of a previous adventure) on across to the dwarf-like Tom Tum. Regular readers will recall that it was on Tom Tum that we discovered a Trigger Plant “Stylidium laricifolium“ en-route down a craggy face abseiling a few months ago. With tripods, and cameras, Nikon D 7000 and my new D800, we compared shots, chatted photography, and captured the stunning view in the clear, crisp morning air. Innes brewed the billy, and we enjoyed a MacKellar range coffee, a delicious rustic coffee together with some of Mrs. Larkin’s farm fruit cake. Re energized after our labours, we set about fossicking for flowers. First stop a climbing orchid which Innes had spotted before; however, it was past flowering, having just a few weeks, nature permitting, to flower each year, if that. And, wow, looking up, we were treated to a feast of the fine, filigree Tick Orchid, also known as the Tongue Orchid (I can’t imagine why, as they have no resemblance to either) botanic name, “Dockrillia linguiformis“; we were able to photograph it by leaning out over the rock edge (Boss, you promised we wouldn’t have to abseil today!) and it was very much point and shoot. We scrambled across the tops of huge boulders, and also found a new “Leptospermum” with tiny flowers, and the scented “Plectranthrus graveolens“, with its exquisite flowers. Often, the common flowers, when examined under high magnification really show their beauty.
In the area the eye-catching flowering plants were situated high up on the boulders, where they are safe from fire. I was to learn that burning-off in this area of the Mt. Gillies National Park is a frequent event, when the man-made fire sweeps into the Park from adjacent Hardgrave’s farmland. I should digress on this subject, to bring readers attention to the environmental vandalism that has been practiced on farm land in the area for a long long time. Several years ago while driving up to Mt. Barney, there was heavy smoke and fire on both sides of the road, which cut off the road. When I enquired of Mr. Hardgrave who was surveying the scene from his old ute, I was told, not too politely, to mind my own business and leave the area. On one occasion when staying at the Lodge, a Hardgrave fire burnt right down to the back boundary of the Lodge, and we were out at 3 AM assisting the Rural Fireries to stop it spreading to the houses. Also, on this farmland there is obvious erosion, and widespread death of trees–even on our walk it appeared that trees had been selectively poisoned, and others treated to a four-cut de-barking. People who know about such things tell me that these are examples of archaic farming practices. It is tragic to see the amount of burning off that has travelled into the National Park and it is disappointing to learn that the National Parks organization, normally so assiduous in its approach to conversation, has ignored this one. There were no terrestrial orchids to be found, although the leafy substrate looked perfect habitat. We hope they remain dormant and safely hidden away for a better time when they are safe to bloom.
We progressed upwards, and Innes was delighted to show me the King of the Orchids, the “Dendrobium Speciosum“, with great golden cluster high up on the boulders. It was just great to see these majestic flowers in full bloom.
With the early spring this year, 2012, some of the early risers like the “Bossiaea rubicola” and a number of the Wattles have finished flowering. The low lying Holly-leaved Pea was going strong, both here and, Innes tells me, on Mt. Barney where he hiked with his family two days ago. This pea is quite distinctive with it holly-like leaf, and red keel to the flower,
We headed down in the slippery dry leaf rocky soil, towards a now-dry water course, making a mental note to check it out when the rains come. There, in a Faustian contrast of life and death, embracing a burnt-out stump, was a determined Climbing Orchid, “Erythrorchis cassythoides“, absolutely true to its name displaying lovely succulent pastel yellow flowers. We were happy in our discovery, as this, we thought, was the finale to our Mt. Gillies walk of discovery.
But, further gems awaited us, the “Goodenia rotundifolia” in carpets of rounded leaves with its distinctive yellow flowers; a sedge grass (one for the botanists); an unknown white flower possibly a type of “Pimeoloides sp“, but we are not sure. Innes’ sharp eyes picked up a tiny twining pea, the “Glycine microphylla” just about to open. Then, as we left the farmland, the five petalled “Wahlenbergia queenslandica” seemingly sheltering under the rusty barbed wire of a derelict fence. It became became difficult to photograph as the wind had picked up. There seemed to be two types of bee working the daisies and fire weed, and one type appeared darker than the others, but both well laden with pollen, which will be well received at the hive on their return.
We walked down in sadness, realizing that the fires of a damaged land threaten the existence of the Mt. Gillies wildflowers. It is an isolated treasure, an oasis of exquisite orchids, surrounded by the tragedy of man-made destruction.
Tomorrow we hoped to revive our spirits so expect a cracking start pre dawn to head up to Mt. Maroon. This is a favourite walk, and one we like to do in spring each year. There are basically two ways to approach Mt. Maroon, with the classic approach via the “Staircases” from the south, which is a stunning walk with steep bouldery terrain. We chose to ascend (we always seem to take the hard way) on the other side, heading up the slopes on the West side to the lovely contoured valleys of wildflowers in the rocky montage heath, altitude from 600m.
As the narrative continues, it was an early start again after a steaming brew, we set off in the truck, collecting our new friends and companions from the campsite, we drove over to the base of Mt. Maroon, and were on the trail at 0530. I should note that our companions today are journalists from the town of Beaudesert (and they later wrote a kindly article about the day, which we have scanned in). It is a fair hike into the base of the mountain, and there is a well maintained road, but be careful to take the correct turns along the way. Though quite cool early on, as we walked in the layers started to come off, warm hats replaced with caps, and sun screen applied. The fun really starts after leaving the trail, and you punch up in dry leafy Eucalypt Forest; hold on as it is slippery-slidy. The first land mark is at massive boulders, which I call the Easter Island Heads (and there is rumour of an ancient civilization in the area??). Next to the alpha male statue was a slender daisy, as yet type unknown. As we gained altitude we encountered the widespread Holly-leaved pea, the Native Sarsparilla, “Hardenbergia violacea“, and now the Kennedy Pea which seem quite prolific this year. Then, ascending further, there is a wonderful zone of a new bright yellow pea, the Leafy Wedge Pea, “Gomphologium virgatum“ blooming like crazy. I checked my images from last year, August, but apparently we did not see it then.
With the bouldery crest in sight, we turned to the right and followed the ridge line ever upwards; we paused along the way to photograph a Yellow Donkey Orchid, “Diuris sulphurea“, quite isolated. From the Wooli area I have seen the White and Purple varieties, but the yellow is rare. And, then we started to find the lovely “Dendrobium kingianum” in pastel mauves and pinks, in rock crevasses; these make irresistible camera subjects. The idea is to follow the crest as much as possible, before making the turn left down into a wet fern gully, in which we found the “Hibbertia patens” a dweller of slopes and summits, considered uncommon by the Botanists. The ferns here are quite thick, and any thoughts you may have had of actually seeing a snake so you could avoid it, put at the back of your mind, and hope for the best.
From here it is a final push past the landmark big log, up into the rocky montagne heath, and the wonderful gems it contains. The white flowers were perhaps not as exuberant as previous years. but we found old friends in the “Acacia brunioides ssp brunioides“, “Leptospermum variable or microcarpum“, “Leucopogon melaleucoides“, “Woolsia pungens“, “Zieria fraseri“, “Acacia brunoides“, and an interesting new flower to me the “Serengia hillii” which has two coloured flowers on separate plants, white and mauve. In rock cracks the terrestrial orchid, “Dendrobium kingianum” was flourishing, much in contrast to our impressions of Mt. Gillies the day before. We looked for the “Melichrus adpressus” of the previous year, but did not find any in this location. Another interesting flower, now in the yellow group, is the Acacia with sticky flowers, “Acacia visidula“. and another yellow flower, “Pomaderris langigera“. With much excitement we shared finds, and the hours quickly passed, to when we had to descend, but not before Innes brewed a fine cup of tea and we sunned ourselves on the rocks, admiring the view back towards the Barney Massif, and further west to Mt. Lindsay. A splendid way to build up strength for the descent.
We retraced our steps, taking to care to leave as minimum a footprint on the landscape as possible. I like to carry a walking pole, which greatly helps stability on the down. We found a tiny orange flower, unknown, and discovered a new purple flower which I had not seen before, the Australian Bugle. Although our guests were on a time-table and had to get back, they did graciously allow me to photograph some of the more common flowers on the way down, for the new gallery which Innes and I are creating of the wildflowers in the Mt. Barney Lodge area.
All enjoyed an excellent day, in the unspoiled wilderness of Mt. Maroon. Can’t wait to get back.