Ecology and Adventure in the Great Outdoors.

Teva speaks with Casey Fung, a writer and photographer, who explains how an introduction to ecology, by his partner Maya, gave him a whole new appreciation for nature and adventuring in the great outdoors.

Like any keen outdoor adventurer and photographer, I’d often found myself seeking out the best views from the top of a peak, the thundering waterfall after a storm, or a windy, rocky ridgeline trail that makes the perfect hiking shot.


From the driest desert, the deepest canyon, to the longest river, I’ve been lucky to travel all over the world and spend time trekking in remote places, climbing active volcanoes, or becoming an unsuccessful ski-mountaineer – but that’s another story.


What I’ve now realised is all these pursuits had a common vanity or human-centric notion; a focus on grand destinations and an act of conquering the wilderness, rather than being a part of it.

Then I got a crash course in ecology.


While environmental science broadly studies the natural world, ecology focuses on the relationship between living things, like how plants, insects, animals, microbes, and even humans, interact.


My introduction to this field and a new perspective on outdoor adventuring came from my partner Maya, who studied ecology and worked in the field specialising in dragons (no not the fire-breathing type, the lizards).


For the last five years that we’ve been together, our shared love of hiking, camping, and travelling now includes birdwatching, reptile identification, wildflower hunting, and long discussions about why a leaf would have its shape and texture or which species can, could, or should be saved where there are limited resources.


While we still get out to all the best and biggest outdoor destinations, those majestic vistas and epic photo spots are not the goal or highlight, as much as everything in between.


One thing I love about travelling like this is finding and experiencing the many biologically diverse, yet not so Instagram famous, National Parks around Australia that are often free of other humans yet bustling with life if you stop to look and listen.


Last year we spent seven months travelling around Australia in our old Troopy and we were both shocked and thrilled at the many places that weren’t on anyone’s radar because they simply didn’t pop up on travel lists or social media geotags.


Now that we have a little one, ecology will also be the perfect part of his early outdoor education, learning about all our local native species and their significance, before the African and European animals that dominate children’s books.


Today he is seeing his first native wildflowers!


On the local Bundjalung calendar, September to Late October is Spring, which precedes thunderstorm season. While first flowering occurs in pre-Spring, during late July to August, now is the perfect time to get outside and see the blooming wildflowers varieties like Leptospermum, Comesperma, Hibertia, Melalucca and Peas.


Where we are hiking at Koonyum Range - just around the corner from home - is the perfect spot to see plenty of these wildflowers and traditional edible fruits, as well as the now very active reptiles like goannas and snakes.


The local Indigenous stories say the last clap of thunder in autumn puts them to sleep and the first clap of thunder this time of year wakes them from their hibernation.


On days like this, we always bring a bunch of field guides on wildflowers, frogs and lizards, and the famous Slater’s Guide to Australian Birds.


Previously, chasing mountain tops, I wouldn’t ever have considered stopping for a spot of birdwatching, but now I can’t imagine why not. Not only is it calming and meditative, but it is also surprisingly fun and addictive.


If you like getting outside and haven’t yet tried it, I guarantee you will love it!


And don’t just look up! Right now, the ground is also busy with ticks, ants, and other insects who get more active as the days heat up.


With unseasonably high rainfall, the usually quiet springs and creeks are still gushing and you might spot bright blue crayfish, or if you’re really quiet and lucky, an elusive platypus who are most active in the spring time.


While we did stop and get a family photo at our favourite, secluded clifftop spot, it wasn’t the goal or destination, just another perspective to this magnificently interconnected ecosystem we are all part of.


Written by Casey Fung @fungshuay