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18 June 2008

Tree Top Walk

PETER DAY: Welcome to the Otway Fly Bernadette. This is the longest and the highest treetop walk in the world. The Otway Fly is a six hundred metre long steel canopy walkway and it goes up to forty seven metres high at the top of the tower.
These are all the eucalyptus, the mountain ash out to this side of us, and once we go down into this rainforest gully down here you get in amongst the myrtle beeches and the satinwoods and the austral mulberries and the big old tree ferns. And that's the true wet rainforest. The myrtle beech is the ancient genus of tree that goes back to the age of the dinosaurs. You're talking sixty million years; fossils of myrtle beech have been found in conjunction with the dinosaur fossils.
There actually would have been a lot more rainforest before pioneers came through here.
The mountain ash is unique and was very sought after as a furniture timber - it's a very strong, straight-grained timber so the early settlers came down here and this was like finding gold for them. So as you can see they grow very tall, very straight with not many branches. They are the tallest flowering plant in the world. They've been recorded up to one hundred and fifty metres. The last time it was logged was in the early 1970s. There's probably been three lots of logging since white settlement down here in the 1860s. In time, that eucalyptus forest will gradually go back to rainforest, but that takes hundreds of years.
Here we get two metres of rain a year. And that rain has to be constant over the year, protected from strong sunlight so that the rainforest is usually in south-facing gullies and then it gives all these rich plants a chance to grow.
So we're nearly at the top now of what we call the tower of terror - this is forty seven metres up above the forest floor and this is what makes the Otway Fly from an engineering point of view very, very different to anything else you'll find in the world.

BERNADETTE NUNN: We're right at the top of the forest aren't we?

PETER DAY: Right at the top of the forest. And of course looking down at the forest floor is quite unique too.
So Bernadette, we're down on the forest floor now in the cool temperate rainforest gully and you can see the complexity of this fern forest now - all the lichens and mosses that grow on the actual tree ferns. These tree ferns, most of them in here are at least two metres high.

BERNADETTE NUNN: How long would they take to grow that tall?

PETER DAY: Over a hundred years.
The ferns and the mosses and the lichens, the species go back millions and millions of years, but the oldest trees in here are well over four or five hundred years old. This is the cool temperate rainforest Bernadette, we're almost as far south as you can go in Australia, and this is almost as far south as you'll find rainforest too.
This is one of the largest trees in this area of the forest - it's a Eucalyptus regnans, the mountain ash and this one we estimate to be over four hundred years old. And the way we figure that is, the ballpark figure is at chest height the diameter of the tree one metre across represents a hundred years. This tree would be a little over seventy metres tall.