Home' Caravanning Australia : Autumn 2011 Contents 10 • Caravanning Australia • Autumn 2011
When it comes to natural wonders, Australia has
more than its fair share. For a start there's the
Great Barrier Reef, Australia's Red Centre with
Uluru -- or Ayers Rock -- as its centrepiece.
Elsewhere there is dramatic coastal wilderness
and islands teeming with wildlife. Inland there are the
snow-capped Australian Alps and outback areas of raw
natural beauty, like the craggy Flinders Ranges in South
Australia and The Kimberley in Western Australia.
Australia is blessed with huge areas of ancient
rainforest and world famous wetlands like Kakadu
National Park. There is even a World Heritage-listed area
on Sydney's doorstep, in the shape of the Greater Blue
Mountains, a vast stretch of ferns, canyons, waterfalls
and forest, as well as cosy villages.
While there are major areas of natural significance
all over Australia, there are smaller pockets scattered
One memorable place you might come across as
you drive north from Sydney along the coast is Hundred
Acre Swamp. People tend to make a lot of claims that
don't stand up, but when Dennis Ryan tells you he has
the 'best backyard in Australia' you can easily believe
him. His 110-acre property backs onto one of the most
important wetlands in Australia.
This once remote area of tidal marshland and estuary
connects up to the Nambucca River, just west of
Macksville, on the scenic New South Wales mid-north
'My grandfather spent most of his life trying to drain
it, to make this area more European,' Dennis says, as
the canoe paddle dips into the shallow, tannin-stained
water. 'He used a shovel and an axe to make floodgates
and miles of drains, but luckily for me and the wildlife he
Today, the 180-acre waterway is home to some 117
species of bird, including jabirus, egrets, flycatchers and
azure kingfishers. More than 400 black swans nest here,
ospreys keep watch from a giant ironbark tree and the
water teems with prawns and native fish.
'An Aboriginal friend of mine talked me into doing
canoe tours,' Dennis says. 'He reckoned I had to show
people if I wanted to save the place.'
Dennis and his wife Marilyn bought the former cattle
farm from his uncle in 1989, and renamed it Valley of the
Mist. 'Some afternoons, when it finishes raining, a cloud
forms over the wetlands beneath the trees,' Dennis
The Ryans abandoned the cows and crop chemicals
and started growing native Australian fruits using
sustainable methods. He now runs bush tucker tasting
tours, as well as canoe trips.
'There are just seven canoe trips a week,' he says.
'I don't want it to turn into simply tourism. I want it to
remain special. We use the wildlife and the wetlands as
much as they use us.'
A typical journey sees you paddling past tiny islands
of reeds and stunted saplings. Some islands are so small
that they can only support a single bush. The wetland
is so shallow that the canoe's hull cuts through the
Birds call from all directions and dozens of ducks
take off in a noisy flurry of beating wings. At one point
you might see 80 black swans glide by and later
hundreds of flycatchers darting across the surface,
picking insects out of the air.
Back on dry land Dennis shows visitors around the
wetland's swampy edge, pointing out various trees and
shrubs and stopping occasionally to crush a leaf or
inspect a seed head.
'My mum spoke the local Aboriginal dialect,' says
Dennis. 'She learnt it as a kid. Years ago, in autumn,
the Aboriginal women would come when the paperbark
trees were in flower. It was the time of the mullet run. My
grandmother traded with them for bush medicine. We've
been using it ever since.'
He still boils up tea-tree leaves for coughs and colds,
and uses native leaves on abrasions and ulcers.
A corkwood tree grabs his attention. 'The Aborigines
used to grind up the bark and put it in the water,' he
says. 'It made the fish unconscious. It was used in eye
surgery as well, to collapse the muscles in the face. I
made pocket money collecting it as a kid. The leaves
were sent to France for the chemist to extract the
chemicals, until it was synthesised in the '60s.'
He moves on to a clump of sedge. 'The local
Aboriginal women used to collect the tiny brown seeds
and grind them up to make bread. Then there is the
lilly pilly tree. Aborigines would crush the leaves and
boil them along with the seeds and bark 'to prevent
diabetes,' Dennis says.
Of the many pockets of natural significance along the
south coast of New South Wales is Montague Island,
near the pleasant town of Narooma.
Thousands of humpback and southern right whales
pass Montague Island each year on their migration route
between Antarctica and the warmer northern Australian
waters. Sometimes you can spot killer whales, minke
whales, fin whales, sei whales and pilot whales too.
Whale-watching boat trips are popular around here,
as they are up and down both the New South Wales and
Western Australian coastlines. You can even stay in the
More than 1,000 Australian fur seals live around its
rocky shore along with a small colony of New Zealand
fur seals. Thousands of pairs of little penguins make their
home in burrows on the island. Other species of sea
birds and song birds nest here too.
Discovering Australia's nature
Links Archive Summer 2010-2011 Winter 2011 Navigation Previous Page Next Page