Tiptoe through the tulipwoods: Grafton's last rainforest
STEPPING through the entrance of Grafton's last small piece of lowland subtropical rainforest, the whole atmosphere changes.
The temperature drops instantly, moisture clings to your skin, bird calls echo through the trees and light struggles to slip through cracks in the dense canopy.
It's easy to forget entirely that about 10 minutes ago you were standing at the Prince St boat ramp.
The nine-hectare rainforest reserve on Susan Island is all that is left of what was once an extensive area of lowland sub-tropical rainforest which covered the banks of the coastal rivers prior to European settlement.
National Parks and Wildlife Services ranger Gina Hart said the site was an extremely important ecological community and an important maternity camp for flying foxes.
And while there are no endemic species on the island, it boasts one of the largest tulipwood trees on the North Coast of New South Wales.
"They cleared it all when the cedar cutters came through in the 1800s, but thankfully they had the foresight to leave this patch," she said.
"This is what's left of 1200 hectares of rainforest."
As well as being ecologically important, the island also has a very rich Aboriginal history and significance as a cultural women's site.
"National Parks is really keen to maintain and foster those connections through the generations as well," she said.
"We've been working with the women from Nyami Julgaa [nyami means woman, julgaa means island) who are acknowledged as the cultural custodians of the island."
Another important party invested in the rainforest reserve is the Susan Island Trust, which is helping National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) to protect the endangered reserve.
For more than a year, NPWS field officer Wayne Stevens has spent one to two days a week on the island, along with a number of keen volunteers and work experience students.
Together they have been reclaiming the edges of the rainforest from invasive species, managing weeds and replanting as they go.
Flooding events and the continued introduction of invasive species via the waterways and birdlife present challenges, but they have already cleared a significant section of land and Mr Stevens hopes one day the rainforest reserve will be expanded; the goal of these works by NPWS and the Susan Island Trust.
"I love to see the recovery of the rainforest and the impact that we are having here," he said.
"I see it as unearthing the island's assets. It's really fulfilling work.
"I'm just another person in the recovery; hopefully we can get more young people to join the cause.
"We can always use more volunteers."