When you think of a rainforest, it’s likely that foliage dripping with morning dew and a leafy floor that’s spongey underfoot are what come to mind. Perhaps you think of Queensland’s Daintree, the world’s oldest living rainforest and Australia’s largest; perhaps your mind goes to green tree frogs and carpet pythons. What you’re probably not thinking of is the Central Coast. But, here, where hinterland rolls to the sand, we have pockets of rainforest in our many national parks, state forests, reserves and unnamed gullies that were part of the great Gondwana rainforests where cabbage tree palms, Bangalow palms and fig trees once flourished. Several of the Central Coast’s trees were considered the tallest in south-eastern Australia.
So, lace up your hiking boots and zip up your waterproof jacket for a winter adventure worth having.
STRICKLAND STATE FOREST
With creek beds swaddled in moss, hillsides thick with trees and stumps as large as your dinner table, Strickland State Forest is a mesmerising place to explore. The forest is a mix of wildflowers and eucalypts, with rainforest found in its southern parts. It’s only five square kilometres, but Strickland packs a punch when it comes to the plants and animals found here.
Look out for … the striking azure kingfisher and king parrot. Strickland is also home to the mottled bassian thrush bird and pretty rufous fantail.
Make sure you … set out on the Ridge to Rainforest Track (2.1km one way, medium grade).
You’ll find it … in Somersby, off Strickland Forest Road.
BOUDDI NATIONAL PARK
Best known for its stunning coastal walk, tessellated pavement and Maitland Bay, you may be surprised to learn that Bouddi National Park also has a pocket of temperate rainforest called Fletchers Glen. According to Killcare Wagstaffe Trust, the lowland rainforest is an ‘endangered ecological community’, with two threatened plant species – the magenta lilly pilly and biconvex paperbark, both in the myrtle family.
Make sure you … are in the mood for an adventure, as this spot is a hidden gem and the track may be overgrown.
You’ll find it … off the bend in Fraser Road, Killcare. There’s a small National Parks sign.
JILLIBY STATE CONSERVATION AREA
Once logged to supply timber for an expanding Sydney, Jilliby State Conservation Area is now a favourite spot for bushwalking, horse riding and mountain biking. Prepare to be swept up in the beauty of the changing environment, where you’ll discover temperate and subtropical rainforest in sheltered gullies and creek lines and, what was, the Little Jilliby Flora Reserve, adjacent to Yarramalong, in the south.
Look out for … more than 40 Aboriginal cultural sites.
Make sure you … travel in a 4WD as roads are unsealed.
You’ll find it … north-west of Wyong, near Olney State Forest.
Look out for … the local population of snow wood, with its curly orange/red seed pods, as well as two waterfalls and a creek that flows into Brisbane Water. The Glen is home to powerful owls, bower birds as well as sandpaper fig, cheese tree and scentless rosewood.
A small area of bushland not far from the M1, Katandra Reserve is an easily accessible destination for visitors from Sydney. There are hiking and running trails through rainforest, such as the 4 km moderate loop known as Graves Walk and Toomeys Trail. With the canopy closed above you, expect it to be chilly in winter and watch for muddy sections.
Look out for … leeches, especially after rain. Wearing gaiters will help them stay out of your pants.
Make sure you … check out the much gentler Watermans Walk (1.6km loop), perfect for young families.
You’ll find it … between Mount Elliot and Holgate.
PALM GROVE NATURE RESERVE
Large ferns, boulders draped in moss and a colourful collection of frogs make this reserve a wonderful place to get your nature fix, especially if you’ve been cosying up inside for too long. Spanning 240 hectares, the reserve features ancient rainforest plants, such as the bristly shield fern. Part of the Great North Walk, a track that runs from Newcastle to Sydney, also slices through here.
Look out for … the stunning, red-eyed green tree frog. The species can have a body length of up to 6.5 cm.
Make sure you … take your camera to capture some of the more than 80 bird species, including gang gang cockatoos, which have been recorded here.
You’ll find it … in Ourimbah Creek valley.
WAMBINA NATURE RESERVE
Crane your neck in awe of the 300- to 500-year-old fig trees that have survived among a surprisingly wide variety of rainforest species. This little known 59-hectare reserve was formally established in 1997 and it’s hoped to be a self-sustaining ecosystem again in the next few years. It was also once the home of the largest grey-headed flying-fox colony on the Central Coast.
Look out for … the largest and oldest fig tree with a girth of 45 metres at ground level where its buttress roots fan out. A variety of rainforest trees seem to be a speciality here including watergums and giant stinging trees, among many others.
You’ll find it … on the headwaters of Erina Creek between Matcham and Wamberal. Access from Matcham Road.
SIGNIFICANT RAINFOREST EXAMPLES ON THE CENTRAL COAST East Gosford: Capper’s Gully, Rumbalara Reserve Little Jilliby: Little Jilliby Flora Reserve in Jilliby State Conservation Area Matcham: The Ferneries (private property) Matcham/Wamberal: Wambina Nature Reserve Mount Elliot/Holgate: Katandra Reserve Ourimbah: Forest of Tranquility (bookings only) Patonga: Dillon’s Farm (private property) in Brisbane Water National Park Narara/Somersby: Strickland State Forest West Gosford: Kendall’s Glen Waterfall Bay and Woy Woy South: Brisbane Water National Park Ourimbah Creek Valley: Palmgrove Nature Reserve Hardys Bay: Fletchers Glen, Bouddi National Park Kincumber: Kincumba Mountain Regional Reserve Several rainforest pockets and gullies are also protected and preserved within the Central Coast Council’s COSS (Central Coast Open Space Systems).
WORDS JENNIFER ENNION
For more information see Tales from the Rainforest: History and Heritage on the NSW Central Coast, by Peter Fisher (2020). Available through facebook.com/Tales-from-the-rainforest, or email firstname.lastname@example.org