Fireflies in the Cathedral of Ferns, Blue Mountains National Park

Start: Cathedral Reserve Campground (walk starts from North end of campground).
End: Cathedral Reserve Campground.
Time taken: 20 minutes
USP: Fireflies, free camping.
Distance: 0.5km

Google map of start

For a few weeks a year, the damp gullies and canyons around the Blue Mountains National Park are the scene for one of the natural world’s most amazing spectacles. On warm, windless, humid nights, an hour after sunset, Fireflies crawl out of their day time hiding place and begin the process of hunting for a mate. Slowly flying above the thick understory, they emit an eerie, green pulsing light from their abdomen. A globe of bioluminescence in an almost pitch black forest, as the males hunt for a female returning their unique pattern of light.

Information on exactly where it was possible to see Fireflies seemed to be scarce. We could only find random comments and a few articles spread across the internet and very few photos or definite hot spots. However, one place came up in a few trip reports; Cathedral of Ferns near Mount Wilson in the North of the Blue Mountains National Park.

Cathedral of Ferns_Fireflies_1

Hidden in the information we gathered, we also learnt the mating season for Fireflies is around the end of November / start of December. They are fussy about having just the right conditions as well; 70%+ humidity, little or no wind, 20+ degrees air temp and some recent rainfall seemed to hit the sweet spot.

Cathedral of Ferns_Fireflies_6

With all of this information we made a plan to head out camping for the night to try and see the event. There is a handy campground very close to the area, only a 2 hour drive from Sydney. Cathedral Reserve Campground is a free campsite that doesn’t require any booking so it’s a good bet for a last minute trip like ours. You can drive right up to the campsite and there are basic toilets, but you’ll need to bring your own water and cooking equipment.

Cathedral of Ferns_Fireflies_2

Camp made, we set about cooking some food, shared a few beers and got a fire going in the fire pit provided. While the campground is a large area of short grass ringed by ample parking, the bush beyond is thick. A very short walk from the camp is the short loop of walking track called The Cathedral of Ferns, off of Mount Irvine Road. This is where we would concentrate our efforts once darkness fell. We made sure to walk it in the daylight and noted any fallen logs and low branches. The next time we walked round it would be almost pitch black.

Cathedral of Ferns_Fireflies_4

The sun set and the fire dropped to glowing embers. We grabbed head torches, set them to emit a red light to limit disturbance to any fireflies we might find, and headed out to retrace our steps made in the daylight. We walked the track, stopping every few meters to stare intently into the darkness. Nothing. We walked further into the forest. Stopped. Strained eyes against complete darkness. Nothing. Maybe the conditions weren’t good enough? Maybe we missed the mating period?

Cathedral of Ferns_Fireflies_3

Having completed the whole walking loop, we arrived back on the road. One of us had spotted a small creek running parallel with the road during the day, lined with ferns. We decided to take a look and walked down the road away from the campsite. After a few steps one of our group pointed high in the trees. Is that a star? No… it’s green and flashing!! As we stood in amazement a single Firefly slowly drifted through the tall gums, hovered over our heads and made its way to a bush beside us. It was a surreal moment. So much light coming from such a small beetle

Now we knew what we were looking for we could see several others further into the woods, pulsing against the darkness. Unfortunately it wasn’t the overwhelming event we had hoped for and trying to photograph them proved very difficult, but just to see a few was incredible and made the trip 100% worthwhile. We’ll be planning at least one trip again next year.

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Mark the end of November / Start of December in your diary and get hunting. From our research a few other places also came up as alternative places to see Fireflies:

– Burralow Creek Campground.

– The gullies around Glenbrook.

– The Grand Canyon near Blackheath.

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