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Experiencing Rain Forest Rush in Aussie Park

October 29, 1989|CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER | Baker is an Oakland free-lance writer. and

LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK, Australia — One of my loves in the world of nature is dense rain forest where trails have been cut so that walking is easy amid a stillness that is never quite silent.

In such a setting one can get caught up in a kind of tropical, botanical rush. Lamington National Park, 70 miles southwest of Brisbane in Queensland, is one of my favorites.

Established in 1915, Lamington is shining, sweet-smelling and innocent. It can be seen easily on day-hikes from Binna Burra Lodge, a rustic hotel atop Mt. Roberts in the McPherson Ranges from where it looks down upon mist-enshrouded waves of throttling green.

The lodge is a perfect spot for escaping the hustle and bustle of the Gold Coast. From Binna Burra, armed with a packed lunch and adequate water, you can wander through 50,000 square acres of subtropical rain forest laced with cool mountain streams and more than 500 waterfalls.

Within the velveteen jungle the air is cool and dank and underwater green, and ignores the crushing intensity of the sun vibrating on the forest canopy.

The forest is alive with liquid, musical calls, and the whistles, sudden squawks and raucous screeches of lorikeets and honey eaters squabbling among the hoop pines. In the treetops, unseen creatures are on the move.

Lamington has a short "Senses Nature Trail" designed for the blind, with Braille signs and recorded descriptions along the way.

Although more than 100 miles of well-maintained track weave through this woodland retreat, you don't have to venture far to get close to Lamington's magnificent wildlife.

Satin bower birds are common around Binna Burra. In the morning you can hear the pure notes of a white-lined honey eater's song, like a woman calling out for her lover.

Or the thud of the red-necked pademelon, a small, timid relative of the kangaroo, as it forages at the grassy edge of the forest.

Sugar gliders and brush-tailed possums settle by the kitchen window at night. And rainbow lorikeets are always sure to be begging a bite.

Although Australia's rain forests occupy less than one-thousandth of the continent--gathered together they would fit into a circle only 45 miles in radius--they support one-third of Australia's flora and fauna.

Lamington contains creatures, plants and trees that exist nowhere else; some of them have yet to be classified; others are what are known as "green dinosaurs," plants so primitive and ancient that they seem to have been left over from a period before the Ice Age.

Still others--pademelons, potoroos and quolls--have names that are as strange as the animals look.

(As elsewhere in the world, Australia's rain forests are vanishing at a frightening pace. Lamington, which was named a preserve in 1915, is a luxuriant remnant of the great tropical forests that once covered much of Queensland.)

It is a place of peace and renewal, like a vast, vaulted cathedral--mysterious, strangely silent and of Gothic proportions. A 14th-Century stonemason would probably have felt at home in Lamington, with its buttressed, moss-columned, towering trees and dark recesses.

Plunging deep into the forest, one is soon struck by how much variety there is. First, giant strangler figs sweep upward 100 feet or more before merging like giant umbrellas to choke off the light.

Beneath, seeping in moisture, huge piccabeen palms burst upward like solidified fountains glistening in the sunbeams slanting in from above. On more exposed slopes the rain forest is drier and species such as hoop pines emerge from the canopy.

Less fertile soils support eucalypt forest, while Antarctic beech forests thrive in the mists and cloud peaks above 3,000 feet.

Vicious, whiplike wait-a-while vines and endless snaking lengths of smooth lawyer-cane grapple their way up to the canopy. On every available surface, giant elkhorns, mistletoe and bird's nest ferns hang in great galleries, often reaching such weights that whole limbs are torn away and crash down to join the decaying litter on the forest floor.

The rich rain forest-green backdrops the jewel colors of its many inhabitants. Sit still for a while and the hidden creatures may get used to your presence and emerge from the shadows. Don't be surprised if a squadron of scarlet eclectus parrots flashes by, followed by an enormous Ulysses butterfly floating past like a torn sheet of turquoise tissue.

Is that vine really moving? Most likely it's a brilliantly costumed green python, so green it is almost iridescent, draped in seductive coils on a branch. Or the beautifully marked yellow-and-black lace monitor or tree-climbing goanna, which can grow to six feet long.

In the canopy, forest trees flower and produce fruit in the steaming tropical sunshine. Sugar gliders--a species of "flying" possum--leap and run along the branches, fossicking for nectar and insects, while white-eared monarchs and other insectivorous birds watch from their vantage points for any movement that will betray a stick insect or leaf-green tree frog to scoop up for lunch.

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