On my first day at BigCi I joined members of a few bushwalking groups to hike off track through areas of Ben Bullen State Forest. The area adjoins Gardens of Stone National Park but unfortunately falls outside the lines drawn. We started at the top of tall sandstone and ironstone pagodas, geology evolved over millions of years, into striking sculptural forms, escarpments, canyons, split rocks and caves. Over the next five hours we scrambled into valleys, through stunning canyons, back up onto ridge lines and then through tall forests. It was amazing to see such an array of diverse environments in the short distances (as the bird flies) we were covering. Lyre bird nests could be seen in cavities worn out of the soft sandstone.
It was an incredible experience to get so close to these places. Unfortunately there was another side to this walk, the area we were traversing is currently proposed for an open cut coal mine. As we headed through forest below the sandstone pagodas I could see a void appearing ahead of me, gradually it grew until there was nothing else to see but a huge empty ominous space, all living matter ceased to exist, completely obliterated. It was hard to imagine that the areas we had passed through could be lost in this way. The walk was referred to as - 'From heaven to hell and back', I could see why.
More info can be found here if you're interested - http://nccnsw.org.au/content/protect-gardens-stone
It was quite an introduction to my residency, encapsulating competition between conservation and development on the fringe of one of Australia's great World Heritage listed areas. So much to think about.
Thanks to Yuri for inviting me to join the walk.