It was only a small sign in the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, but the kids didn’t miss it. Leeches, it read, were ‘active’ in the rainforest. All four kids looked at me worryingly. ‘Harmless leeches,’ we assured them. ‘You’ll be fine as long you stay on the path and out of the bush. ‘
In our time in Australia, we’ve seen loads of signs for wildlife. Kangaroos, koalas, wombats, platypuses, you name it… … yet we haven’t seen one of these animals in the wild. And of course everyone knows this continent’s reputation for killer snakes and spiders, yet not one has crossed our path. So harmless leeches on a rain forest walk—c’mon, we can handle that! How wrong I was.
We started our walk with a visit to the ‘skybridge,’ a platform built out over the cliff’s edge with above-the-cloud views of the rain forest below. After ten minutes staring with our mouths agape, we decided to head over to the Crystal Shower Falls walk. It had rained heavily the night before so the rainforest was still dripping as we entered the trailhead. Before visiting Australia for the first time in 2010, I had no idea how lush this country could be. My vision of Australia was the parched, dusty, red outback from movies and post cards. This part of the country is anything but parched or dusty.
Moments after venturing into the incredible, verdant forest (me with my camera aimed in every direction trying to capture the beauty and light streaming through the trees), I heard Ivy squeal. I turned to see her nervously flicking little worm-like creatures off her yellow raincoat. Ivy’s not a squeamish girl, so this was a surprising reaction. She gathered herself though and moved on. Minutes later, she was at it again. She had found a small leech on her face and another that had latched onto her toe.
‘Okay, okay. They’re harmless,’ I said. ‘Let’s just flick them off.’ Before long, the boys joined the chorus of squealing. Literally squealing and shrieking! They are not squeamish kids either, but something about a blood-sucking leech (barely 2cm in length) struck them with terror. Suddenly what we had hoped would be a beautiful, serene walk through this incredible national park, turned out to be absolutely ‘terrifying’… in Quin’s words.
Until now, my vision of leeches had been of slow-moving, slug-like creatures in swamps or murky rivers. Surely anyone could avoid a leech just by avoiding the water or picking up the pace a bit. We were surprised to discover the leeches in this part of the world possess crazy ninja-style moves, somersaulting and flipping themselves from the delicate branches, flinging themselves at any warm body passing by! Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little… but these guys were surprisingly nimble. They attached themselves to us from out of nowhere and moved remarkably quickly up shoes, legs and raincoats.
In the end, the leeches were as harmless as the sign had promised. Aside from a couple small pricks, everyone survived ‘the attack of the killer leeches’. We all stripped down when we returned to the camper van just to check for hanger-ons (even I had a case of the heebie-jeebies by the end).
Easton maintains it was ‘horrible,’ but we are still laughing about this trek three weeks later. If you make it to Dorrigo, it is definitely a walk worth doing. We completed the trail and were rewarded with a beautiful suspension bridge overlooking a waterfall that you can walk and stand behind.
Aside from the leeches, we really enjoyed our time in this beautiful part of New South Wales. We camped for two nights in Bellingen, a charming town we discovered on our first trip through Australia six years ago. Bellingen is a special spot – just as bohemian and magical as we remembered it to be, and we enjoyed re-tracing our steps and reliving memories from our first visit. We then spent a night in the Dangar Falls Lodge campsite, a pretty spot adjacent to Dangar Falls and within the National Park. Here are some highlights from those four days:
- Meeting Lauren and Michael and their two girls in the campsite in Bellingen. This gorgeous family from Newcastle were just up in the Bellingen area for a long weekend, camping in their little blue caravan. They had just come from Dorrigo and suggested we head up to the Dangar Falls Lodge, where we’d find a pile of firewood left over from their collecting efforts.
- Grabbing gelato (every day!) from the Bellingen Gelato Bar. The gelato is made on site and is SO good.
- All the great organic produce and wholefood stores in Bellingen
- Standing on the Bellingen Bridge at dusk to watch thousands of flying foxes fly off to feed for the night.
- A late campsite dinner in the dark, under the stars and the laughing Kookaburras.
- Our night at the Dangar Falls Lodge campsite – our first campfire in all our camping adventures over the past few months.
- The visit to the Dorrigo National Park (despite the leeches)
Audio books we’ve loved this week:
- Blueback by Tim Winton
- The Reptile Room: A Series of Unfortunate Events, book 2 by Lemony Snicket
- Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson