Part 3: Native forest
This is the third instalment of my hike with friends through the Glenelg River National Park. Overall, we spent three and a bit days walking and four nights sleeping out. Rather than account for the hike day by day I have focussed each blog instalment on a type of natural environment. First was coastline, then Plantation Forest and now this one, Native Forest.
Once we left the plantation forest we were back in the NP and walking westward (back towards Nelson) along the trail belonging to the Great South Western Walk (GSSW). This trail, like the Glenelg River it followed, meandered casually this way and that. But unlike the flat surface of the river that came in and out of view the trail and the forest it cut through offered the added dimension of variable height, although likely no higher than a modest 50M.
The trail was easy going, soft under foot, mostly well shaded and a clear flowing arterial route through the thicket of undergrowth on either side. The trail, sometimes good for three abreast other times only by single file, was a well maintained civilised passage through often-wild impenetrable bush. Impassable for humans but not for the multitude of wildlife free ranging the lower tier of the wood.
Occasionally the walking trail merged with vehicle tracks. From time to time their surface was sandy and it was here that I realised that we were not the only ones using this track, for captured in the sand were the temporary prints of passing forest dwellers. Most common were wallabies or kangaroos but differently recorded. At times, you could see the print of back legs and the base of tail, an indication of a slow foraging movement. On other times, only the pad prints could be seen but they were much closer together and further apart suggesting the faster movement of hop. There were dog prints, most likely fox and long striding emu too. It was noticeable that these three animals travelled along the length of the track as did we.
However, for others, smaller creatures, the prints only ever went across the track. Among these lateral travellers were blue tongue lizard, the backwards motion of small legs very clearly defined. Even smaller were the many legged squiggles of centipede and the fine trace line of millipedes. Then there were those without legs; the writhing of worm (probably aggravated by the sand) and the effortless slide of snake, its swift glancing motion leaving short curved arcs of sand.
Throughout these were the brief wanderings of bird, their airy prints most likely the record of their feeding on insects (beetles amongst them) that were running the exposed gauntlet of crossing the track. With each new set of tracks I stopped in mine and as I deduced to whom they belonged I realised in myself a growing feeling of enchantment. Here, in the sand was a snapshot of the animal kingdom in motion. I wasn’t seeing it first-hand but I’d watched those nature documentaries where the camera captures incredible close ups of animals in their natural habitat and so I could well imagine the to and fro of creatures busying about the business of survival.
My encounter with the animal tracks had raised my awareness of the aliveness of the forest and I realised now that the forest was a hive, filled with the buzz of the collective lives of the animals who lived there. To either side the undergrowth rustled and cautious eyes watched our passage. Above birds stirred the airwaves with their flight and chatter. Around wild flowers on ground and bush punctuated the various greens of bush and tree, and like winged flowers butterflies flighted. Below held surprises too for at one point on the track we came upon a basking Copper head snake who regarded us with a vigilant stare before utterly disappearing with a flick. A further three snakes were seen, large browns who slipped at a quick pace from the corner of my eyes for cover, unlike the blue tongue and stumpy lizards who were at ease with us or just too cold or phlegmatic to move. The whole scene played out under dappled light, a comfortable blend of warming sun and cooling shade. Put simply, it was spring at its most pleasant.
Cocooned in my interior mood of the first day my own social butterfly felt ready to flirt with some chat. Buoyed by the foot print finds and the general hum of spring I felt at ease with myself and this forest. Though out of sight for times the river was always a presence as it and we headed west in our windy way. But more of the river next time.