The largest stand of cool temperate rainforest in mainland Australia sits roughly halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. Tiff shares why it matters and how you can help ensure its protection for years to come.
Situated approximately six hours’ drive from both Sydney and Melbourne, East Gippsland is an area so far away from everything that most people don’t often make it out here. It’s a place of serenity away from the hustle of the city; a scattering of towns along the coast and nestled into a few valleys, with a helluva lot of hills and bush in between.
And amongst all that, not far from the NSW border, is the Errinundra Plateau. So why am I asking you to care about a place that you’ve likely never heard of? Here’s why…
1. Ancient Forests and Giant Trees
Before the advent of clearfell logging and woodchipping in the 70s, the Errinundra Plateau was home to forests of trees with an average girth of greater than 10m. Since then, large areas of these forests have been cleared by the timber industry, but luckily there are still patches left that were saved through campaigning and direct action by local green groups, and added to the Errinundra National Park.
You can come and visit a giant Errinundra Shining gum, which has a circumference of 16.5m and is surrounded by rainforest trees that are estimated to be around 1000 years old! This tree was found by volunteers surveying a planned logging coupe in the late 2000s and has now been made into an old growth forest walk.
Photo Thanks to Owen Hanson
Photo Thanks to Owen Hanson
Have you ever seen a Eucalyptus tree that takes more than 10 people to hold hands around its circumference? This amazing area largely survived the devastation of the Black Summer fires, yet parts of it are still under threat from clearfell logging.
This logging continues to draw people willing to put their bodies on the line in protest to protect these trees, as it has for the last 30 years. The most recent blockade ran for nearly four months, with multiple arrests and infringement notices issued to protestors in that time. The protest culminated in a court injunction to halt logging, giving these forests at least a temporary reprieve.
Photo Thanks to Fiona York
Photo Thanks to Fiona York
2. The Largest Stand of Cool Temperate Rainforest on Mainland Australia
Errinundra Plateau is situated in a geographically special spot, dropping off the south of the Monaro tablelands, it’s subject to extra rain from East coast currents, and has a cloud forest altitude of more than 1000m. All these factors combine to produce spectacularly large trees and expanses of rainforest that have been undisturbed by bushfire for more than a millennia.
Cool temperate rainforests like these represent the forest that covered Australia in Gondwanan times, and areas like the Errinundra Plateau are some of the last strongholds of these species in a warming climate. The only other place to see rainforest this extensive in Australia is over the ditch in Tassie.
The largest patch of rainforest along the spectacular Coast Range Rd is permanently closed to vehicles, but walkers and cyclists are free to wander through whenever they like. There’s only the one main road to follow, but adventurous walkers may venture off the track (with GPS or compass in hand, of course) and be wowed with the lush green world within. Plant nerds amongst you may find yourself saying things like ‘wait, is that a fern growing on a vine… growing on a fern?’
Read more: 10 Tips For Your First Off Track Hike
3. Adorable and Endangered Wildlife
Eucalyptus trees produce hollows as they age when branches fall off and cavities form. These hollows become home to many adorable Australian critters, and the trees on the Errinundra Plateau are no exception.
Huge old trees have hollows big enough for Powerful and Sooty owls, Greater gliders and family groups of Yellow-Bellied gliders. What these animals have in common (other than the gliders being food for the owls) is that they’re all classified as endangered, mainly due to habitat loss through logging and bushfires. In the 2019/2020 Black Summer, East Gippsland’s fire footprint spanned approximately 1.16 million hectares, killing thousands of native animals.
This makes areas like the Errinundra Plateau incredibly important as refuges for these as well as many other species of marsupials, birds, lizards and insects.
4. A One-of-a-Kind Refugia
The topography and altitude of the Errinundra Plateau have held it in good stead against drought and bushfires for many, many years. Where it’s situated, along with its three main mountain peaks, ensures there is so much moisture around that the Errinundra Plateau has been largely unaffected by four major bushfires over the last century.
There are Mountain Plum pines in some areas of the Plateau that are thought to be well over a thousand years old, and instead of being the scraggly, clinging-to-granite-boulders shrub of the alpine snowfields, these guys are so gnarly and big that they’ve grown up, fallen over and just kept on growing.
It’s the presence of plants such as these that indicate long periods without fire disturbance, as they have a similar fire sensitivity to the native pines of Tasmania, making this a real Gondwanan setting. Being able to experience a forest with eucalypts more than six hundred years old is really quite breathtaking, and a window into the ancient forests of the past.
5. You Can Help Protect Them
It takes amazing and dedicated people to fight for these forests, and the folks at Environment East Gippsland (EEG) and the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) are just that. These guys, along with a whole array of volunteers, have spent countless hours over the last three decades campaigning, protesting, and even taking VicForests, the state-owned logging agency, to court.
Along with that, GECO runs citizen science camps and skillshares, and EEG holds an annual Forests Forever ecology camp, with the intention of educating and inspiring the public and like-minded nature-lovers to join the fight and spread the word through their networks.
Camps generally run over a long weekend, and include a history of the forests and campaigns, walks in forest scheduled for logging to look for threatened flora and fauna, measuring the circumference of large trees, and keeping an eye out for owl or glider hollows. If you’re a night-owl (pun intended!), there’s always spotlighting for gliders and surveying for owls of an evening.
The data collected over the weekend is then collated into reports that are submitted to the state environment department, and has often directly resulted in areas being protected or taken off the logging schedule altogether. There are also plans underway for a new multi-day hike in East Gippsland, the Emerald Link Sea to Summit trail, which will link the Errinundra Plateau to Mt Ellery, the area’s most iconic mountain, and wind its way through forests all the way to the coast at Bemm River. While this is still in the beginning phases, the Victorian State Government has pledged funds to help make this happen, so watch this space!