Where all is aglow

Lightning illuminates a cloud-laden sky as thunder echoes ominously through the deep gorges, which reach out like fractures in a giant glass pane through the surrounding bush.
Nanjing Night Net

”This forest is not the safest place to be in a storm,” our guide for the night, Jenny, explains to the disappointed crowd of 30-odd torch-clutching mums and dads with keyed-up kids in tow.

We’ve all made the journey to Bundanoon in the NSW Southern Highlands to be dazzled by one of Australia’s biggest-known colonies of glow worms, and we aren’t going to let a few wayward lightning strikes stop us. We convince Jenny to wait 15 minutes and while the kids fidget incessantly with their beanies and the technologically savvy dads nervously check the weather radar on their smartphones, thankfully the storm skirts by. To a collective sigh of relief, Jenny finally declares it safe.

”People have been coming here for over 100 years, although the way down hasn’t always been this easy,” Jenny says as we set off down the manicured track. ”In the late 1800s, wide-eyed tourists would have struggled down into the enchanted forest by lantern.”

My five-year-old daughter, Sarah, joins the pack of kids snapping at Jenny’s heel, all wanting to be the first down. It’s soon clear that venturing into the unknown with a torch has a similar impact on kindergarten kids as a gobful of red cordial concentrate. It’s a half-hour walk down countless stairs; I wonder if (read: hope) they’ll tire.

Mercifully for the adults, Jenny stops, her spotlight steadily focused on a wombat that blocks the narrow path ahead. It’s as if the muscular marsupial is acting as sentinel, guarding the entrance into the grotto further below. Jenny eventually coaxes it out of the way and onwards we scurry.

As we get deeper into the forest, the last of the grumbles of thunder are replaced by high-frequency buzz of microbats on the nightly feeding foray. We also spot a ring-tailed possum (they aren’t much bigger than your forearm).

After about 30 minutes we reach a junction in the track. To the left, Sarah’s torchlight shines on the vines hanging off giant coachwoods. Who knows what lurks down there. We may never know, for Jenny leads us down the other, steeper path.

Minutes later, Jenny asks us to turn our torches off and to be quiet. If you were a two-centimetre-long critter hanging onto the wall of a cave, would you appreciate a bunch of energetic kids shrieking at the top of their voices charging at you? Luckily for the stars of tonight’s show, the kids oblige. Well, as best as they can.

We creep down the last of the stairs, feeling our way along the rails. Due to Sarah’s overzealous attempts to make her way towards the front of the group, we are the first down the stairs and onto a platform at the bottom of the 200 million-year-old sandstone grotto.

”There’s the saucepan,” the lady behind me whispers. ”Hey, that looks like the Southern Cross,” says another dad to his preschooler who is next to join us in the front row. With torches off it’s pitch black, so I can’t see what direction they are pointing, but I don’t need to, for the wall of the amphitheatre ahead is covered in glowing specks. It’s like the sky has been turned sideways.

For a good five minutes we watch, mesmerised at the natural light show before Jenny explains it’s time to traipse back up the stairs. She also explains that the glow ”worms” are actually the larvae of the fungus gnat and that the bioluminescence of the larvae is the result of a reaction between body products and oxygen in the enlarged tips of the insect’s four excretory tubules. Or, more simply put (and much to the delight of the kids), ”basically they glow out of their bum”.

The glow is emitted by the larvae to lure prey into their delicate web nest, woven by the larvae in the nooks and crannies of the rock face. The larvae then sit behind the web and prey on the insects, such as mosquitoes, attracted by the glow. ”The hungrier the glow worm, the brighter the glow,” Jenny says. Given the intensity of tonight’s glow, we all agree they must be famished.

We take our time on the walk back up (it is uphill, after all). Along the way, Jenny tells us the grotto is a popular spot to visit by day as well. ”Although you obviously won’t see the glow worms, it is a pleasant walk through the forest.”

But I don’t think I can return here in the daylight. We’ve fallen under the night spell of Glow Worm Glen and want to remember it at its captivating best. I guess, it’s a bit like reading a great book and not wanting to see the movie in case it’s not as good as you’d imagined it.LOCAL SECRET

The day after our glow worm adventure, while driving along the Illawarra Highway between Sutton Forest and Moss Vale, a shriek of glee from the back seat of the yowie mobile startled me. My daughters claimed they had spotted Cinderella’s slipper in a paddock out the window. I told them to keep reading their fairytale books, but they were insistent they’d seen the famous footwear out the window and not in their book. After much coaxing, I turned the car around and, to my surprise, sure enough, there, in the grounds of the Sutton Forest Estate of Southern Highland Wines, was a giant silver platform stiletto.

Although not Cinderella’s, it turns out it’s not any old slipper, rather the very silver-sequinned shoe that took pride of place atop the bus in the 1994 cult film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The winery recently purchased the shiny shoe, which has also featured in a number of theatre performances around the globe and even popped up in the Sydney Olympics Closing Ceremony.SPOTTED

Despite enduring blustery and chilly conditions, last weekend Phil Nizette and his merry band of volunteers successfully finished construction of arguably Australia’s most unusual bird hide (It’s Only Natural, April 20). Carefully crafted from local timber and clay, the organic installation is now open to the public at Strathnairn Homestead, Friday-Sunday, 10am to 4.30pm. Strathnairn is at 90 Stockdill Drive, Holt.MAILBAG

The case of the dead tree

For a number of years this column has reported on the demise of the landmark kurrajong tree at Urambi Hills in Tuggeranong. Several readers who regularly walk through the area have lamented about its death and also the removal of the park bench that used to be underneath it. ”I really wish that park management would remove the sad old tree, perhaps plant a new one, and put that seat back so people can rest and contemplate the splendid view,” pleads Glenn Schwinghamer of Kambah.

I have some good news for Schwinghamer and others who step out in Urambi Hills. During the week, I was advised by Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS) there are plans replace the bench by the end of next month. As to the tree itself, ”it will be assessed for safety in the next two weeks and if required, it will be felled”, reports my TAMS insider, who adds, ”at this stage there are no plans to replant the tree as there are several young trees already growing in the area.”CONTACT TIM

Email: [email protected]南京夜网 or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.