Thursday, March 21, 2013

Treetops, Southwest Australia

Branches
Once we made the decision to go to Perth and southwest Australia, instead of Tasmania (which had widespread fires at the time), there was one place that was near the top of our list: the Tree Top walk at Valley of the Giants.
  We only knew about it from Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country (or Down Under, outside the US and Canada), which we’d both read before we got to Australia.  The tree top walk is a series of catwalks that climb gently upwards to a high point of 130 feet (40M) before ramping back down again.  The catwalk is surrounded by red tingle trees, which tower over even the highpoint of the catwalk—they can grow up to 250 feet (75M) high, with a 25 foot (7M) diameter.  As Bryson points out, they’re not as tall as redwoods, but instead of a crown that looks like a pincushion, they branch out nicely, giving them a massive presence.
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It’s hard to convey the scale with even a wide angle lens, let alone the sense of giddy wonder at walking in the canopy.  In the US, the simple handrail would be deemed far too unsafe, I suspect—but it allowed you to forget a little that you were on a catwalk, rather than perched on a springy branch, high up in one of the trees (helped along by the fact that the catwalk bounced significantly when anyone walked on it).  Still, we felt quite safe, and the engineering of the walkway was an impressive side show to the tingle forest.
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There is also a walkway on the forest floor that we followed, which was just as enjoyable.  The bark at the bottom of large tingles is rippled; it looks like the whole tree is crumpling under its own weight.
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We wondered as we were flying to Perth, then renting a car and driving for several hours to reach the southwestern corner of Australia, would it be worth it to see a bunch of big trees?  We had ruled out all of Tasmania for this (forest fires aside).
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We would learn, over the next several days, that there was more to southwestern Australia than a bunch of big trees. But even if there hadn’t been, I think we would say it was worth it.