21 March 2020
Before we even conceived of this trip Stefan was always telling me I would love Australia. “You’ll love Australia,” he would say “It’s all about the flora and fauna”. In my mind it was a load of eucalyptus and a whole lot of dust with the occasional bouncing kangaroo but it turns out Australia is crammed full of the most diverse plant habitats and teeming with wildlife, most of which we’d never even heard of before.
In these next few posts we’ll take you through what we found. First, the flora.
Perhaps it is because we have spent the last three years living in the near barren landscape of the southern Mediterranean but the diversity of trees and plant life in Australia was at first overwhelming. Gone was the endless low maquis scrub and olive groves, replaced with vast areas of eucalypt woodland, rainforest, mangroves and desert shrubland and so many different colours and textures. Sometimes in the course of just a few tens of kilometres it could change so dramatically that we’d think we’d been transported somewhere else entirely.
And Stefan was absolutely right, I loved it.
My preconception was right too though. There are a lot of eucalyptus trees. More than 700 species in fact and had we even attempted to identify them we would have ticked off a fair few of those. Red gums, ghost gums, silver gums, paperbark, stringybark, mallee to name but a very few. Some of astonishing height (the ones on the walk to Port Arthur for example grew to over 90 metres tall) and all giving off that gorgeous fresh scent.
The variety of barks was incredible. Some so tactile and smooth, some very colourful, some peeling like old paintwork. All extremely photogenic.
There are other trees, of course. The Moreton Bay Fig trees with their long buttress roots straight down to the earth
and the multi-layered Norfolk Island Pines that thrived along the coast
but then there are the extraordinary rainforests. We never tired of immersing ourselves deep into those lush greens and craning our necks for even a chance of seeing right up into the canopy.
We loved the audacity of the strangler figs
and all the snaking vines and creepers
but it was the ferns that completely captured our hearts and nowhere more than at Fern Glade Reserve near Burnie, Tasmania where we were literally swallowed up by giants.
We spent so much time in rainforests that by the time we got to the Dandenong Ranges, outside Melbourne, we were a little bit blasé about it all!
The coastal mangroves were one of the first environments we found coming down the Bruce Highway at 1770. It seems incomprehensible that these trees live in salt water teetering on their root systems along the water’s edge and we found them all along our journey, wherever we were near enough the coast, of course!
But if we were doing a top 5 of our favourite trees the tea tree would be high up there. It was the shoreline of the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria that introduced them to us. Their tangled, twisty trunks provided welcome and interesting shade for our walks and their flaky, dry bark belied the life in them.
And it was often the coastal landscapes that offered the most colour and texture – spiky grasses, lush ground cover in silvery greens and clumps of bright flowers but our favourites were the tunnels of small trees or shrubs that led us, invitingly, to the beach.
We saw so many different types of grasses and not all parched yellow with the sun.
But neither of us was prepared for the plant life we were going to find in the hot heart of Australia. We had imagined the red centre to be just that – red desert – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There was far more life than we had thought we would see. The base of Uluru was surrounded with trees, shrubs and grasses bursting out of the hard ground including my personal favourite, the brilliant juvenile oak trees that in silhouette looked like skinny versions of Cousin It from the Adams Family!
And even in the Outback, where the rain hadn’t fallen for years and the earth was cracked from drought, even there we would find bursts of colour. In South Australia super resilient weeds like Salvation Jane seemed to thrive and around Coober Pedy its striking State flower, Sturt’s Desert Pea, really was the only thing coming up out of the ground.
Elsewhere, of course, we became accustomed to seeing fiery flashes of Grevillea, bold Banksia blooms and streets lined with bright red (or sometimes white) Bottlebrush
and there were the English country gardens imported by the colonisers
but what I loved above all was just how understated Australia’s blossoms are. Just tiny, delicate whites and yellows found everywhere.
This is a country whose plants and trees don’t feel the need to shout out loud how beautiful they are. They don’t need to be bright or brash to be noticed. They are far too busy just quietly getting on with the job of survival in an often extraordinarily hostile climate. Whilst they do, however, they provided the most wonderful and every changing backdrop to our travels.