Contributed by Geordie Tennant: Dark, rich mud squelches between my toes as we wander up the narrow valley. I kicked my shoes off minutes ago, lured by the cool, slick ground, enjoying the feeling of the earthy sludge beneath my soles. It’s been raining on and off for two days and the ground is soaked and smooth.
Whilst most activities on Lord Howe Island are best enjoyed in the sunshine, today we’re on a quest only possible after heavy rainfall. You see, when it rains on Lord Howe, the waterfalls arrive.
After a heavy downpour, several waterfalls rush to life, cascading down the volcanic cliffs of Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower, the two densely forested behemoths that make up much of the island’s southern landmass. You won’t find the waterfalls on any Lord Howe walking maps and the tracks to them are unmarked and indistinct, some not having an established track at all. While most of the island’s larger falls are visible from the lowlands, our destination – the Little Waterfall – is obscured from view and near impossible to find without some instruction, despite being only a short detour off a well-trodden path.
To find the route to the Little Waterfall, you’ll need to walk 200 metres along the Little Island walking track. After heavy rain, there’ll be a temporary creek here that crosses the track. If this creek is running, there’s a good chance the waterfalls are flowing. Veer to the left of this deluge, off the walking track and follow the faint trail that snakes through the long grass on the hillside. The summit of Mount Lidgbird looms directly ahead. After only a minute or two, thick scrub closes in on the trail, forming a tunnel-like passage that you’ll need to duck through, remaining hunched as you continue into the rocky, rain-forested valley. This is where the soil becomes smooth, and where I’ve left my sopping shoes.
Ancient rockfalls have filled the valley floor with boulders which are now speckled with mosses, and ferns peek out from crevices, thriving in the valley’s shade and humidity. Where the sun is filtering through the canopy, the greenery glistens, invigorated by the rain. Our progress is slowed slightly by the wet and slippery rocks as we make our way along, however, the path is now easy to follow and we’re guided by the sound of running water somewhere to our right.
The Lord Howe waterfalls don’t last long. They ease to a trickle soon after the rain ceases so it’s with a sense of urgency we continue on, keen to find the Little Waterfall in full flow. The gentle sound of running water steadily intensifies and after only ten minutes of careful meandering we arrive at our endpoint.
A torrent of fresh water streams off the basalt escarpment ten or so metres above, plunging into a shallow rock pool and sending mist into the air. Thrilled with our discovery, we strip down to our swimmers while taking in the surrounding scene. A soaking Pandanus tree stands defiantly beside the downpour, it’s many thin stilt roots working together to keep its tall frame sturdy on the uneven substrate. A Banyan tree writhes up the rockface like a terrestrial octopus with tentacle-like limbs seeking out ledges and crevices to anchor itself to the edge. Elkhorn and birdsnest ferns are cradled in the Banyan’s bows. Other lichen-covered tree roots have fluidly twisted their way through the rocky floor, while vines slither up all vertical surfaces, vying for sunlight.
A gap in the forest canopy allows streams of light to fall on to the waterfall, inviting us to play under the thunderous curtain of water, which we do so with cautious excitement. The Little Waterfall is yet another beautiful reminder that Lord Howe and its rugged wilderness can be just as captivating in the rain.