Kenilworth’s ever-changing Strangler Cairn

Strangler Cairn

The first word to come out of my mouth when I first laid eyes on the Strangler Cairn in Conondale National Park, quite honestly, was “wow”.

I had trudged for around one hour, along rainforest tracks that were somewhat poorly maintained and lacking in signage – even getting lost at one stage – and I was feeling a little grumpy when I approached the bright open clearing that is home to what is a unique work of art.

There, the Strangler Cairn appeared suddenly through the clearing. It is an imposing sculpture, standing 3.7metres tall, in the shape of a giant egg, and created by piecing together hundreds of chiselled rocks sourced from a nearby quarry.

The secluded artwork, deep in the forest, is unique in that it is not exactly finished. It will likely never be finished.

On the very top of the cairn is a Strangler Fig sapling, which has been placed here with the aim that, as it grows bigger, its roots will become entwined with the rocks and influence how the structure evolves and changes over time. Perhaps the cairn will be encased by the fig’s roots, or perhaps broken up as hair-thin roots expand and push the rocks apart – the changes are at the whim of Mother Nature.

The sapling today is around 40cm tall, so it will take years before it has a major influence on the cairn, but that is part of the attraction. It also means repeat visitors to the structure will never quite know the changes they will notice on each return visit.

The Strangler Cairns was created in 2011 by English artist Andy Goldsworthy, who is known globally for his works created in natural and often remote environments.

The work was positioned beneath a clearing in the rainforest canopy caused when a massive fig crashed to the ground; fittingly, the sapling was grown from a cutting of this fallen tree.

I had heard conflicting reports of the difficulties accessing the unique structure, so I decided to trek there myself and record my personal observations.

The walk to the Strangler Cairn was not physically difficult, although it would require at least a moderate level of fitness. Along the route, I counted four small rock staircases of around five steps each. There are a small number of steeper sections along the walk and also some quite narrow sections of track, but nothing overly extreme in my view. Children aged around 10, for example, would enjoy the walk and should also have no difficulties with any of the terrain.

There is also no phone signal for much of the walk, so it’s advisable to switch your phone to airplane mode to avoid wasting battery power as the phone searches relentlessly for a signal.

A visit to this unique and ever-changing sculpture is well worth the effort.

It’s a beautiful walk that winds through thick forest and regularly along a creek bank, keeps the heart pumping nicely, and has a unique and rewarding payoff at its final and stunning destination.

Featured in Come Up Publication, written by Richard Bruinsma