Stones crunched and dust gathered as I rolled down a dead-end road towards Hell’s Hole in the NSW hinterland. Parking in front of a locked gate, I soon found myself walking past the gaping holes of a dilapidated wooden bridge in Mount Jerusalem National Park.
When I arrived at Hell’s Hole – a succession of small forest pools linked by cascades – all was bathed in harsh light and shadow. Perhaps a photographer had named the place in immense frustration.
Or perhaps its name comes from the igneous glow that lines its dark pool, which appears bottomless, like a dream. Or maybe it’s the shadows that dance in the water, that mark the walls like some menacing candelabrum of Hades. At Hell’s Hole, there’s plenty to see, although here the devil is in the details.
Beneath the ripples in the water I saw a great stag, gazing solemnly into the distance. Nearby stood the guise of a bird, striking a pose like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. While in the pools above, the sun and water waltzed in fragments of emerald and silver, and bare trees painted the pebble-ridden shallows in a chimera.
Deciding to explore the pools’ end, I walked to the edge, where water tumbled off tall rhyolite cliffs into the Tweed Valley. Here I sat and bathed in the surroundings. When I returned, the light had changed, shadows flickered, there were strange sounds and I felt I was being watched.
Prince Albert’s bird
Hell’s Hole lies within the Nightcap Range Important Bird Area – a 157 km² “fragmented tract” of rainforest containing the largest population of Albert’s lyrebirds. Only about 3,500 of these species, which are endemic to NSW and QLD, are thought to remain.
Lacking the graceful lyre-shaped feathers of the superb lyrebird, the Albert’s lyrebird was, for many years, the unfortunate target of hunters, who thought they tasted delightful in a pie.
Perhaps, after a favourable decline in lyrebird pie, these rare little birds – who were named after Prince Albert – took to dancing in the shadows at Hell’s Hole, celebrating their newfound fortune in quiet frolics and forest whispers.
At least late Australian poet Judith Wright seemed to think so, as she once described them as “the few, the shy, the fabulous, the dying poets.”
I would tell you how to get to this wonderful little spot, so you could see what I mean, but Hell’s Hole is one of those places best left discovered by chance.
It’s a forest secret.