Catherine loves painting and photography as well as the great outdoors. Cycling, kayaking, pack-rafting and hiking are favourite activities as well as scuba diving when the location permits. A self confessed geek, she’s the reason details are included in our stories!
Location: Port Macquarie and Sydney, NSW, Australia
We pulled away from our friends Phil and Libby in Brisbane, promising that this would not be the final goodbye, and we would meet again somewhere in the world. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact there are going to be quite a few of these moments in our future.
We had diligently completed and submitted our NSW border passes, and headed south not knowing what might be ahead of us.
A whole load of not much was the answer. Given Queenslanders have to quarantine to come back from NSW, subject to a strict approval process, very few people were heading interstate and the roads were eerily quiet. This is in absolute contrast to the wall to wall traffic we experienced last time we drove this journey in early February 2020, when it was pouring with rain to add to the treacherous frenzy.
It was an uneventful journey to Sydney, with a night spent in a very forgettable ‘pet friendly’ motel room in Port Macquarie, and we arrived back at our house earlyThursday afternoon. Nobody even wanted to see our border passes…I guess they assume few people want to travel to New South Covid…
It has been three years since we spent a night in our home, and entering the place with no furniture was quite eerie. We wondered how Tassie would go at remembering it, given there have been other cats and dogs living in there with our renters over the past few years. Proving to be the most adaptable cat as usual, she trotted in with her tail held high, sharpened her claws on the bottom step of the stairs as she has done for years, and settled right on in!
Our return home essentially completes our third big ‘lap’ of Australia. The map below broadly shows where we have been since we first pulled away from our house in May 2017, covering many kilometers around this huge continent.
It is hard for many people, even Australians, to comprehend the distances covered in our travels, with often three or four days of solid driving before you reach the next destination of note or even a chance to go for a walk. Accepting the distances, we have enjoyed the diversity of flora and fauna, and on this most recent trip not only saw many areas new to us, but also gave ourselves a chance to linger and revisit some of our favourite locations.
We now find ourselves ready to settle down for a few months, celebrating having more than one room and access to connected plumbing!
After a night ‘camping’ on ‘self inflating’ mattresses which had been compressed for too long (ie not inflating at all!), all our possessions were delivered from storage. We clocked up 5km and 25 flights just running up and down the stairs with the delivery guys, taking in boxes and directing furniture.
And we are ‘home’ for the next few months!
We arrived in time for the final two days of Sydney’s lockdown for double vaccinated people, but that didn’t stop us joining two of our lovely neighbours, Mike and Julia, for a picnic in the park. They very kindly did the catering, and we enjoyed a great catch up with them within the lockdown rules.
Our home is located beside Curl Curl Lagoon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and we have been reuniting ourselves with the stunning location, watching the sun rise over the water and rediscovering the birdlife. We will certainly miss these beautiful mornings when we arrive in deepest darkest February in the UK, but there we will have completely different things to look forward to.
Having got through our whole weekend of lockdown (sorry everyone who has suffered for so long!), Sydney opened up the following Monday, with shops, restaurants and bars welcoming the double vaccinated. Life has entered the phase of the next level of ‘new normal’.
Afternoon walks through the reserve rewarded us with the trills of Superb Fairy Wrens, swooping Red Wattlebirds chasing insects to feed their young, and many other signs of spring.
Just up the coast from Curl Curl is Dee Why, and we took a walk through the lagoon and beach there up to Long Reef on another day.
Long Reef has a regular nesting pair of Nankeen Kestrels, and they were out and about hunting for mice, skinks and lizards when we were there, unperturbed by all the people out walking.
Our social life has never been so busy. After 105 days of lockdown all our friends have been keen to go out, and I think we have clocked up more outings in the last two weeks than in the preceding 12 months combined!
It has been a great welcome back to Sydney, and we will continue to make the most of our time over the next few months.
And finally, some of our readers will probably know I am an artist in my spare time, primarily working on semi-abstract (meaning they look like paintings rather than photographs) landscapes.
I have decided to sell some of my work before we head off to the northern hemisphere, and have some discounted original works for sale.
Location: Kenilworth and surrounds, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia
Just when we thought our rainforest visiting days were over we decided to book in at the showgrounds in Kenilworth for a few days.
If you are unfamiliar with showgrounds (you may have noticed we have stayed on quite a few), a showground is a community run area of ground on which country shows – rodeos, livestock sales and comptitions and horse riding trials are held. Outside of major events, the land sits empty, so many towns have turned them into campgrounds, providing power and water to a number of sites as well as offering unpowered spots. We like them because they tend to be more bushy and spread out than caravan parks, and money earned from our fees goes back into improving the community facilities.
It was a breath of fresh air arriving in Kenilworth, after the frenzied school holidays crowds flocking to our Didillibah campsite, children keen to enjoy the water slides and jumping pillows on offer there. Although there were children around, mostly they were busy playing games on the oval or riding their bikes around the quiet driveways.
The overwhelming sound we first noticed was of birds in their hundreds, flocking to the flowering callistemon trees around the park. As well as Rainbow Lorikeets and Pale-headed Rosellas, there were dozens of tiny Scarlet Myzomelas, a challenge to see as they are so similar in colour to the flowers.
Kenilworth is situated in a rural setting ringed by national parks and state forests in all directions, the green rolling hills reminding us somewhat of England on a fine sunny day. It sits in the Mary River valley, and the river itself runs just behind the showground.
All this natural environment makes for a wildlife filled location and we ticked off more than 35 different species of bird just footsteps from our caravan!
We were reminded in no uncertain terms that (despite the temperature reaching over 30 degrees centigrade on a couple of the days we were there) it is spring, and many of the birds were busy building nests, collecting food to feed young, and often in their vibrant mating colours. It is a great time to be spotting birds.
In addition to the many birds around, on one walk we even spotted a large Australian Water Dragon, located where I had previously seen the ducklings. I was so worried that they were missing I checked to see whether duckling might be on the Water Dragon’s dinner list – fortunately not, they prefer insects and the odd baby mouse!
The Mary River is about a 10 minute walk from the campsite, following a mown grass tree lined pathway which leads down to the river’s edge.
We came to this region back in 2018 when we organised a Zoner’s Muster at Kenilworth Camping, a farm camping area on the banks of this river further downstream. Back then we had paddled 4.5km in our inflatable pack rafts and had a great time with some of our Zoner (owners of Zone RV caravans) friends. So it was really fitting when our friends Phil and Libby, who had been there with us too, decided they hadn’t quite had enough of us in Noosa, and that they would drive up with their granddaughters, Ava and Hayley, for the day.
Hayley didn’t hesitate to jump in the river for a paddle, while Ava took time to learn how to skim stones. The water was definitely too shallow for kayaking and we certainly could not have managed the trip we did three and a half years ago.
We were reminded that the river is home to more than fish, turtles and birds, when sharp-eyed Hayley pointed out a Red-bellied Black Snake slithering along the riverbank into the undergrowth. This one was just a baby – on another visit down to the water Mr A came rushing along the bank towards me ashen faced – a 2 metre long adult had just emerged from the water swiftly retreating into the reeds just centimetres in front of him. We steered clear from reeds and grasses after that!
Mark and I visited the Mary River on a few occasions, every time rewarding us with new sightings – like these gorgeous Red-browed Firetails – tiny finches often heard but rarely seen.
And little insect loving Red-backed Fairywrens flitting through the Casuarina trees (River Sheoaks) and grasses.
The river is also home to many more traditional water lovers, including Little Pied Cormorants, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Herons, Dotterels and more.
A short 10 minute drive from Kenilworth is a small area of ancient rainforest, home to the Fig Tree Walk. The boardwalk takes visitors on a short educational trail through the forest, explaining about the trees and the lifecycle within this special environment. Mark and I visited on two occasions, the second time bringing along Libby and Phil and the kids for an explore to finish their day out.
Amazingly I spotted another Tawny Frogmouth sleeping alongside the path – these nocturnal birds are not owls or related to them. They have a wide beak rather than hooked, designed for catching moths on the fly, and their feet are not talons, rather just designed for gripping a branch, more similar to a pigeon’s toes.
The walks in this area seemed to have fewer ground-dwelling birds, perhaps because the village is so close and domestic cats and maybe even foxes have killed them. There were plenty of yellow robins flitting through the trees though, chasing insects we disturbed on our walk.
Conondale National Park is also not far from Kenilworth. Just a 20 minute drive and you reach a 4WD only track, where three water crossings deliver you to Boolumba Creek Day use area. From there you can start the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk or chose from a selection of shorter routes.
We visited on a couple of occasions, loving the area rich with untouched rainforest, the constant hum of insects and chatter of birds addictive.
Imbil State Forest and the Charlie Moreland Campground are about a 15 minute drive from Kenilworth, and another location you can walk from. We combined two short walks, the Little Yabba and Piccabeen circuits which took us away from the busy camping area (we estimated around 100 people by the number of caravans, whizz-bangs (camper vans!) camper trailers, and tents) and over a small creek and into the forest. Despite the crowds at the campground, once we left the small day visitor car park and crossed the creek, we didn’t see another human for more than 2 hours!
The birdlife was prolific, starting with more Scalet Myzomelas feeding as we crossed the water, and continuing as we spotted Golden Whistlers, fantails, Fairywrens and more.
It didn’t look as though many people had recently taken the longer Piccabeen circuit, as we had to clamber over a recently fallen tree to continue round. It was worth it though, with several species of bird in the forest, and the temperature cooling as nature’s air conditioning kicked in.
On Friday we had a coincidental surprise visit from our friends Carol and Nick Gray, who had (unbeknownst to us) been having some work conducted on their caravan in Coolum Beach, and decided to camp here a few nights once they had their van back. We first met them when we were staying in the Margaret River in Western Australia back in 2017 on our first lap around Australia when they were interested in buying a. Zone. We showed them around our van and Mr A did such a good sales job they ended up buying one!
Although we have met up with them on several occasions over the years, this was the first time we had seen their new van, ironically on the same day we heard we had officially sold ours. It felt like our Australian travels had come full circle as we once again shared food and wine with our travelling friends.
We enjoyed a couple of fun evenings with them before we headed off for our final week in our home on wheels.
I conclude my post with a poem which was displayed at a reserve near the Fig Tree Walk, which feels quite poignant at this time when our life and travels in Australia are nearing the end.
We are certain there will be ‘boulders’ in our future, as there have been in our past. It is always good to be reminded that these boulders do fade with time and become much smaller issues, with somewhat smoother edges.
It had been a while in the planning, but finally we had made it to Mr A’s birthday celebration in Noosa. The past few weeks we had been anxiously watching the news, half anticipating another lockdown in the area, breathing a sigh of relief as once again Queensland recorded no community cases of COVID-19 and everything remained open.
While we were disappointed that plan A had failed to come to fruition (renting a house with three couples from NSW for a long weekend – they are all locked down and unable to travel), plan B was coming along nicely.
We arrived at our campsite in Tewantin on the Wednesday evening, and hadn’t been there long before our friends Phil and Libby arrived from Brisbane. This is a couple we had met when we first started travelling, through our common ownership of a Zone RV off-road caravan. We’ve remained friends ever since and caught up on several occasions. We had a lovely BBQ dinner while we caught up on news.
The following morning was Mr A’s birthday. After several surprise calls, we drove a short way to the Noosa River and launched our inflatable kayak beside the North Shore Ferry for a paddle. It was a beautifully calm morning, not too warm and a few birds around, including Striated Herons, White-faced Herons, Pied Cormorants, and Mangrove Honeyeaters.
It was a fine morning out, and we returned for a light lunch and a few more calls.
The birthday celebrations continued that evening, commencing with early evening cocktails at Noosa Beach House and then walking a short way to a much anticipated dinner at Bang Bang, joined by more Queensland based friends, Ray and Wendy, Brian and Caroline who are local to Noosa, and Tania who had come up from Brisbane.
It was so good to catch up with everyone, and I think we did a good job of seeing in Mr A’s 65th birthday.
Friday’s celebratory activity was an afternoon’s sunset cruise on the Noosa River, where we were joined by Ray and Wendy as well as another couple we have met through our travelling lives, Rhys and Marsha.
It was almost a disaster! Though a series of miscommunications, Mr A had received the message that the boat was licensed rather than BYO, and we had not brought along any beverages for the two hour cruise. As we watched the other cruising guests jump aboard carrying beer and wine, we realised with a sinking feeling that was not the case.
One of our quick witted friends, Marsha, spotted that we were moored beside a bar and gave them a quick call to see whether they sold alcohol to take away. Thankfully the answer was yes, and a case of beer and three bottles of wine were swiftly procured. The cruise was saved!
Feeling a little dusty on Saturday morning, Libby and Phil joined us on an outing to Eumundi Markets, about a half hour drive west of Noosa. Originating in 1979 as a small collection of stalls, this market now takes over most of the village of Eumundi on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and attracts artists from all across the region.
Japanese pancakes were the order of the day and helped cure the fuzzy heads, and then a wander around the other stalls. I purchased a gorgeous hand crafted bracelet made from an antique silver fork (by Noosa Artisan) which will bring back lovely memories of this time.
A local Lebanese restaurant provided our dining experience for the evening, and we were again joined by our friends Ray and Wendy.
It wasn’t just a hedonistic week of eating and drinking, mind you. We did have a few outings to look for birds and were even fortunate enough to spot a Tawny Frogmouth (a nocturnal insect eating bird, usually only spotted near streetlights at night, catching moths).
Noosa’s Sunday morning Organic Farmer’s Market is a must-visit location if you enjoy high quality food, with endless supplies of fresh-from the farmer fruit, vegetables, and many other food-based goodies. We had been on previous visits and made certain to not miss it this time.
Our friends Phil and Libby also knew the couple running Cedar Creek Farm’s stall selling all kinds of jams, preserves and sauces, most being sugar-free (and no artificial sweeteners or preservatives) and packed full of interesting native ingredients. We left with some tasty sounding salad dressing, lime chutney and a home made tomato ketchup.
Mr A’s eye was captured by a Portuguese Tart stand. Portugal is still on our wish list to visit- we were meant to be travelling though there last year, when the dreaded C-19 struck and changed our plans – and these custard tarts are a national delicacy there. He purchased a pack of four…two for him and sharing two with Libby. They got the seal of approval from both parties apparently well deserving of their good reputation for being authentically Portuguese.
On our final day we took the Tewantin Ferry over to Noosa North Shore to walk some of the Cooloola Great Walk. We only tackled just over 8km return of the 102km long hike, and felt a slight pang of envy as we passed a 20-something lady heading off laden with her backpack, a whole 5 day solo adventure ahead of her on this picturesque track.
It was a beautiful walk, taking us through paper bark gum trees and along sandy and swamp lined pathways covered in spring wildflowers.
The walk emerged on the pristine Teewah Beach, and we followed the coast a short way. The sand was so fine is squeaked, somewhat like the fine snowdrifts I recall in my childhood. Walking along the hard sand on the water’s edge, occasionally dashing up the beach to escape an unruly wave, our footsteps crunching over shells, helping to contribute to future grains of sand.
It is hard to recognise we might never again visit this area, walk on this beach, smell this clean salty air…we try to remember and capture it through all our senses.
On our final evening we joined Ray and Wendy at the Sunset Bar over the Noosa River for drinks and snacks as the sun went down.
This past week has been so special because of those people we have spent time with. We have been so privileged to have found such lovely friends during our time in Australia. Ultimately, this is what really tugs at the heartstrings, every time we say goodbye to people with whom we have made so many fabulous memories, not knowing when (or often even if) we might see them again.
But we stand by our decision to make the move to England next year. New adventures await us in the northern hemisphere, new friends to be made, and fresh memories with our families to be created. We’re excited about what 2022 holds for us!
Location: Calliope River and Lake Redbrook, Queensland, Australia
While we were in Rockhampton we received a message from some old travelling friends, fellow Zoners (owners of the same brand of caravan as us, Zone), who originate from New Zealand (‘The Kiwi Zone’!). They were visiting Great Keppel (Wop-pa) Island, and would be travelling back through Rockhampton on the 3rd, staying an hour south of the city on a free camp beside the Calliope River. We decided to change our plans and headed down there early on Friday to secure us a campsite.
The Calliope River winds its way down from the Calliope Range, through this area before emerging into the Pacific Ocean just north of Gladstone. Our free camp was on the northern bank of the river, where we found ourselves a level patch of grass with plenty of sunshine to top up the solar power.
Both north and south banks of the river were packed with caravans and campers. There is a two night limit to staying, but it was clear that some people had spent a lot longer living in this location. You need to have brought in all your own water, and while there are public toilets, there are only two males and two females – hardly enough for the dozens of vans present. I just hoped some of these travellers were spending money in the local region to help pay for the upkeep of these facilities.
We had a wander down to the river, finding people fishing, children launching kayaks, and a pair of Brahminy Kites soaring on the breeze.
In the trees, a frenzy of bird calls led us to look up, and we found the Scaly Breasted Lorikeets lived here – cousins of their more common Rainbow Lorikeets. We’ve seen photos of these birds but never before in person, so this was a lovely sighting.
We had a lovely evening catching up with Beverley and Ben, many laughs and travel tales told. It was sad to say goodbye the following morning, thinking it may be many years, if at all, before we meet again.
Lake Redbrook was our next destination, a 165 acre property bordered by sugar cane plantations. Run by ‘Gazza and Shazza’ (Gary and Sharyn Walters) it was a welcome respite from the roaring road trains and frenzy of the Bruce Highway we have spent so much time on, and alongside, the past 10 days.
Located south of Bundaberg and close to the small town of Childers, it’s a nature lover’s paradise, with a bird-filled lake, native woodland and a friendly nightly campfire to meet the owners and some of your fellow campers. In July, Childers holds a festival with food stalls, live entertainment, tours and events, with this lake the location for afternoon opera with local wines and antipasto for sale. It would be the perfect setting for such an event.
While we decided not to visit the small historic town of Childers, a short drive away, we found plenty to entertain ourselves on the property, spending our day and a half spotting just shy of 40 different types of bird.
There’s a bird hide alongside the lake’s edge, from which we spotted Royal Spoonbills, Pelicans, Pied Stilts, Black-fronted Dotterels, Intermediate Egrets and more. As we watched I saw an Australian Kestrel soar low over the water, landing on a dead tree on the water’s edge. I quickly snapped a photo, discovering it was disappearing into a hollow, most likely a nesting site.
The site owners have quite a collection of birds and animals on site, including a finch aviary, beautiful peacocks (both blue and the more exotic white), a small herd of Moluccan Rusa deer (native to Indonesia). The property is also a working sugar cane farm.
There was even one rare creature in captivity:
It was a great couple of nights’ stay in stunning surroundings with some very welcoming and kind hosts, and somewhere we would definitely recommend to others.
We recognise and thank the Gubbi Gubbi First Nations people upon whose traditional Country we stayed and traveled on, and pay our respects to elders past, present and upcoming.
Location: Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia
Having now sold our house and being totally committed to our decision to leave Australia, we find ourselves living through a turmoil of emotions. On the one hand, we want to progress with our decision and all the multitude of tasks involved in our unravelling of more than two decades of life in Australia. On the other, we want to immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the areas we are travelling through, to capture a lingering memory of regions we most likely will never see again.
Turning inland from Cairns, we climbed up onto the Atherton Tablelands, an area shrouded in misty cloud and drizzle as we arrived on Sunday afternoon. The Tablelands is a formerly volcanic region with rich soils and cooler temperatures than down on the coast. It is a big fruit and vegetable growing area.
While the volcanoes are now extinct, in both human and geological terms the volcanic activity is quite recent, and First Nations people have immortalised a major volcanic eruption in stories passed down through generations. One such story told by the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people recalls when two freshly initiated youths broke a taboo and thereby offended the rainbow serpent, Aboriginal Australians’ most powerful and feared supernatural being. Despite being the middle of the day, the sky turned blackish-red, and the ground cracked and heaved. Then from it, a liquid spilled out. It engulfed the landscape, leaving a maar lake (Lake Eacham) as a legacy.
Geologists have dated the sediment layers within Lake Eacham and suggest the maar eruption that formed it occurred a little over 9,000 years ago, representing approximately 360 generations of people. We recognise and thank the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people for their custodianship of the lands we stayed upon and visited this past week.
On our arrival the temperatures were in the late teens, and it was exciting to wear long sleeved tops and trousers without overheating. We set up camp beside Malanda Falls and headed straight back out. What better to do on a day such as this than to visit the Nerada Tearooms.
We have never disguised our love of a nice cup of tea, and here they had the added bonus of vegan churros for me and a Devonshire Cream Tea (scones, cream and jam) for Mark. Nerada is a tea plantation, specialising in sustainable farming without the use of pesticides – you can buy their tea in most Australian supermarkets.
There was an additional reason for our visit however – the little known Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroos, which we were told lived in the trees around the plantation.
You may be surprised to learn that Australia actually has two types of kangaroo that live in trees, the Lumholtz variety (only found in the Atherton Tablelands), and another the Bennett’s (only found in a small area of rainforest north of Daintree and south of Cooktown, which we were unable to find on our Cape Tribulation visit). There are actually many more varieties which live in Papua New Guinea.
When we had checked into our campground, the owner had told us this was a great place to see them, and that in 24 years only one group of customers had told her they had failed. So, fortified with tea and cake, we set off into the rain to attempt to find one.
It took us about 25 minutes of scouring the trees, walking up and down the road near to the tearooms before suddenly I spotted one. Having no idea what we were looking for, it was a surprise to find they are quite large, and more bear looking than their ground dwelling cousins, but still with the long tail. They evolved from Rock Wallabies around seven million years ago.
For their size (about the size of a collie dog) they are really quite agile, climbing deftly amongst the branches and munching on several varieties of leaves.
For the Djirrbal and Ngadjon-jii First Nations people these were a significant food source as well as seen as a sacred animal. Being on the near-endangered list, they are no longer hunted and their habitat in this region is being conserved, so their numbers are slowly increasing
We spent a wonderful hour watching these gorgeous creatures, gathering quite a crowd of other visitors around us as they stopped by to watch them as well. Definitely a memory to treasure and a bucket list item ticked off.
Our campsite beside Malanda Falls was ideally situated about a 15-20 minute drive away from everything we wanted to visit on the Tablelands. The Curtain Fig tree is situated in protected mabi-rainforest with a raised walkway around it, protecting its roots and was where we found ourselves early the following morning.
The tree itself is estimated to be more than 500 years old, and the ‘curtain’ is formed from its many roots which hang down from the main trunk.
While seeing the tree is in itself a wonder, it is the somewhat rare opportunity to be elevated in rainforest that is also an attraction. The area is important habitat for many birds, tree kangaroos, Red-legged Pademelons (tiny rainforest kangaroos) and rare Musky Rat Kangaroos.
We spent some time listening to the forest, the rustling below the boardwalk, the flash of colour as birds flit between trees. It is not a great place for photography – not only does the camera love to focus on leaves and branches in the foreground, leaving only a blur of a bird in the distance, but the dull light makes it a real challenge to capture a sharp image. I gave it a good go though, and caught a few lovely birds.
Malanda Falls is located right beside where we were staying, an attractive waterfall a feature of Johnstone River which winds its way through the rainforest. There are a couple of walks through the forest that we explored one afternoon.
While we saw some birds, they were very hard to see, pausing only briefly before disappearing off into the forest. The river is home to the Johnstone River Snapping Turtle, and there were plenty of these around as we looked from the viewing platforms. There are apparently Platypus living here as well, but they must have been sleeping on our visit.
One afternoon we drove out to the unusually named Mount Hypipamee Crater. This is the remains of a volcanic pipe which exploded 8000 years ago – so recent that its eruption also remains told in the stories of the local First Nations people.
We even spotted another Tree Kangaroo on this visit, right beside the path we were walking along.
The Upper Barron River runs through Mount Hypipamee National Park, with another walking trail taking you down to Dinner Falls, a series of three cascades cutting their way through the black volcanic granite. This is a popular place for a dip and natural waterfall massage during the summer months.
Thursday was an important day – our second Covid-19 vaccination. We had booked in at Atherton Hospital for the injections and didn’t have to wait too long, there wasn’t a queue. As of today, 35% of adult Australians have been fully vaccinated, and an even lower number in Queensland which has been relatively Covid-free these past couple of years, outside of the capital city, Brisbane.
For us, we see the double vaccination as our passport out of lockdowns and the potential to get back out there in the world and travel. It’s a means of keeping us safe and hopefully out of hospital should we catch the virus. While most people we meet travelling are of the same mind as us – not keen to have their freedoms curbed any longer and excited to get back to touring Australia and the world – we have also met a number of hesitant people. They tend to be people who are unlikely to travel, who have never met anyone who has been unwell with Covid-19, let alone experienced the horror of someone passing away from the virus. We hope they can be persuaded to be inoculated for the greater community good – our government has pledged to open up more privileges once we are at 80% vaccinated, which feels a long way off.
On a couple of occasions during our six day stay we took ourselves over to Hasties Swamp National Park, a nearby wetland with a two storey bird hide, finding late afternoon to be the best time for action. It was a good opportunity for Mark to finally get out his spotting scope – the rainforest birds simply do not sit still long enough to get the scope lined up for a good look, but water birds tend to be a little less flighty.
We saw a large range of birds, the usual kingfishers, several varieties of honeyeater and Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks. The sound at the wetland was absolutely deafening, predominantly the loud honking of a huge flock of Magpie Geese which had noisily taken over one end of the water, constantly squabbling and flying around trying to find the optimum location to spend the night.
On our final day, we took ourselves off to do a walk around Lake Eacham. While there are apparently Freshwater Crocodiles living here (smaller and less aggressive than their saltwater cousins), people can go swimming and kayaking in this small lake, and we saw a group of teenagers shrieking as they leaped into the cold water. We stuck to land for our visit and followed a trail around the water, through the dense rainforest of Crater Lakes National Park.
It was another bucket-list native I was rather keen to see; a Victoria’s Riflebird. We had visited the lake earlier in the week and constantly heard them calling, but none were to be seen. These birds are only found in this area of Australia, and are famous for their vibrant colouring and fabulous dance to attract females. I highly recommend you watch their dance moves on YouTube, they are incredible.
So half way around the lake, I heard a loud Riflebird-like squark from high up in the trees, and spotted a black-coloured bird hopping around in the branches. Yes! A Riflebird! I got set up with the camera, willing it to come closer.
The gorgeous bird was lifting up pieces of bark and finding insects and grubs to eat. I watched it methodically work its way along the trunk until suddenly a particularly tasty looking snack dropped from its grasp and fell to the ground just a metre or two from me, swiftly followed by the Riflebird. I held my breath, willing my camera to focus on the right thing as he found his food and flew up to an old tree trunk just metres in front of me, providing a perfect view of his glistening head, throat and chest feathers. Just incredible.
I was so chuffed to have been rewarded with this special moment, an absolutely wonderful end to our visit to the Tablelands. I was only disappointed that Mark missed the show as he had walked on ahead of me. Thank goodness I was able to capture some photographs to share with him.
We’ve spent a magical three weeks exploring this rainforest-filled tropical north Queensland, longer than we have ever done before. Rewarded with incredible bird and animal sightings, we feel so privileged to have been able to take our time and immerse ourselves in this special environment. But now it is time to turn our noses south, and start making our way down the east coast. We have a bit of celebrating to be done in Noosa with friends!
It was just over an hour’s journey to our next and final destination travelling north up the Queensland east-coast, deeper into the Daintree Rainforest and up towards Cape Tribulation. This area was called Kurangee by the Kuku Yalanj First Nations people, meaning ‘place of many cassowaries’. If it was up to us we would call it ‘place of many greens’ – that is certainly the dominant colour up here.
We thank and recognise the Kuku Yalanj people, present and past, for their custodianship over these lands upon which we stayed, travelled and explored.
We set up camp at Daintree Rainforest Village, a site that had only newly opened when we last came up this way in 2018. We were pleased to see they had accepted some of our then recommendations, with a roomy camp kitchen and dining area plus landscaped campfire social space. The grounds of the camp are beautifully planted with a steep terraced garden with views over the rainforest attracting birds and wildlife.
In the early evening we were delighted to see the endangered Spectacled Flying Foxes, a type of fruit bat, swooping in to the treetops around the campground to feed. They have been listed as threatened for more than 20 years, but slipped on to the endangered list in 2019 after a third of the population died in an extreme heatwave where temperatures exceeded 42 degrees centigrade. We hope they don’t become another casualty of climate change.
We were staying a short drive from Cow Bay, a locality which includes a beautiful rainforest lined beach, tea plantation and two tropical fruit ice cream stalls. A fine area to visit indeed, if only for the ice cream (and sorbet!). We love the tea from up here too, and ensured we purchased some.
We were excited to receive an invitation for lunch from the owners of some luxury holiday accomodation at Cape Tribulation, Mist.
Miff, Paul and Toffee (the rather beautiful English Cocker Spaniel) opened Mist about four years ago and have created a stunning tropical haven with the luxuries of air conditioning, private holiday cabins, each with a barbecue and unparalleled views of the rainforest. Miff is a good friend of several of our friends – our paths have crossed on multiple occasions in the past, but usually in large crowds involving several glasses of wine, so we didn’t know each other well. This didn’t matter though, we were greeted like old friends.
After hearing all about Miff and Paul’s incredible journey to reach this point over a delicious lunch at a local cafe, we were given the VIP tour of the grounds…or at least until the heavens opened and we couldn’t stay outside any longer, especially with camera equipment.
Many of the palms, trees and plants on their property are incredibly rare, and botanists have taken cuttings and samples which now grow in the Cairns Botanic Gardens. As we left the gardens and entered the pristine rainforest, thick vines twisted up into the canopy – these have been dated to more than five hundred years old. A very special location indeed.
Miff was particularly excited to show us a blue pool, an aboriginal sacred site which was used by women for healing and birthing ceremonies. She had requested and gained permission from the Kuku Yalanj people to share this with guests., however the wet weather meant the only female jumping in this pool on this occasion was Toffee!
As we headed back to camp, the exotic fruit stand at the bottom of their road gave us a chance to sample some unusual samples. The Black Sapote is like chocolate mousse – especially when whipped up with a spoonful of yoghurt – delicious.
While this area may be known as ‘the place of many cassowaries’ you are lucky to spot one of these mysterious creatures. I had been fortunate to see one from the inside of a coach on my very first visit here while backpacking around Australia, way back in 1999, but since then they have eluded us.
The Southern Cassowary is a large flightless bird, a distant cousin of the Emu, Ostrich and the New Zealand Kiwi. Colloquially they are often jokingly known as ‘the murder chicken’ because of their 20cm long dagger claw which could easily disembowel and kill anything they see as a threat. It is therefore wise to ensure you particularly keep away from any birds with chicks, and never make them feel cornered.
Cassowaries live in the rainforest consuming forest fruits which would mostly be poisonous to us humans but due to their specialist gut can be safely eaten by them. A large proportion of fruiting trees and plants rely solely on their seeds passing through these birds in order to germinate.
(Photo source: Australian Museum, Creative Commons)
So we were excited to finally spot one at the edge of the rainforest, fittingly on our wedding anniversary as we drove out to the Daintree Discovery Centre on a bird spotting mission. She soon disappeared back into the forest, seeming to almost melt into the dense thicket of leaves and palms, but we were so pleased to have witnessed her presence.
Feeling buoyed by this early morning sighting, we were some of the very first visitors to the centre. Following the raised boardwalk we climbed up a tower for a fine view of the forest.
We saw flocks of Australia’s smallest parrot – the Double-eyed Fig Parrot feeding on fruit high up in the canopy, but none kind enough to fly close enough for a photo. Hopefully on the Atherton Tablelands – we have been given a few tips!
We took ourselves up to Cape Tribulation’s ‘best’ restaurant, Whet, for a celebratory lunch. There we enjoyed a couple of glasses of sparkling wine and some tasty food to toast 19 years of marriage. While there have been both ups and downs throughout this time, I can safely say the positives far outweigh any negative times, and I feel so fortunate to have met my soulmate and best friend all those years ago. It helps us to weather storms together and is how we are able to live in an 18 foot six inch long box for all this time without murdering one another!
Cape Tribulation is the main village in this part of the coast, with several accomodation options, a very quiet backpackers (I remember staying here in August 1999!), our friends’ luxury cabins at Mist, plus a couple of small shops. The white sand beach is lined with coconut palms and crocodile warning signs!
There are a number of short educational boardwalks to help visitors interpret the impenetrable forest, which were well worth doing.
Madja Boardwalk takes you through the mangroves alongside Noah Creek – at low tide a frenzy of activity as birds flit through hunting insects or hunting the little crabs that emerge to feed on the mud.
Dubuji Boardwalk starts in Cape Tribulation village and is often where people sight Cassowaries. It winds through the forest, through varied ecosystems.
The Daintree Coast is home to 16 palm species which can tolerate low soil oxygen levels better. than most other rainforest plants, therefore often are found in flood zones. The almost 2 metre wide Fan Palm fronds look almost like umbrellas spread out, and indeed Sunbirds sometimes shelter under these during a downpour.
We had a wonderful immersion in this incredibly special location, feeling privileged we could spend our 19th wedding anniversary in such unique surroundings. We so hope that this area remains unspoilt, and that climate change can be slowed to help wildlife adapt.
Out of five days here we had just one where it didn’t rain, but then that is what you get in the rainforest, even during the dry season. Apparently they are expecting an early wet season this year…we can only imagine what that’s like!
*A forthcoming prize to whomever can first name the comedy from which the title quote comes from 🙂
Location: Cardwell and Tully Heads, Queensland, Australia
Leaving Ingham we continued on our journey north, marvelling at the magnificent tropical views both inland and offshore. This is a truly spectacular coastline, and despite having travelled this way before, it felt like we were seeing it all through new eyes.
Our destination was Cardwell. A good friend in France had introduced us virtually to Gabi, an author, documentary maker and narrator who has now settled into life in this small town. We agreed to catch up with her and decided to stop for two nights.
When we arrived in town, we were surprised to see cut outs of aliens lining the streets and welcoming us to our campground. Mark checked us in and returned clutching a leaflet. It turned out the weekend we had selected was the 2021 Cardwell UFO Festival!
We anticipated a few strange antics in our future given the conspiracy theorists were in town!
We met Gabbi at the Beachcomber’s Restaurant, located along the waterfront, with commanding views of Hinchinbrook Island a short way off the coast. With not a breath of wind, the water was a glassy ice blue, the hazard-reduction fires burning on the island (cool winter burning to prevent a more devastating hot summer burn) only serving to add more atmosphere to the scene.
We had booked dinner for 6pm at the insistence of Gabbi, which we thought was rather early, until we realised this is pretty normal for these parts – early to eat and early to bed. The food and company was excellent, Gabbi has led a fascinating life and is full of great stories. We’d definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone passing through Cardwell.
Did I say early to bed? Oh it seems not. Most of the town was all safely asleep by 11pm, but not anyone in our campsite…a house across the road was having a rather loud alcohol fuelled domestic argument and nobody could sleep. Mark ended up calling the police at 2am to have it shut down! Couple that with the Bruce Highway’s road trains roaring past every few minutes, and it wasn’t a quality night’s rest…but it was alien-free!
We finally managed to get some sleep and the following morning took a short drive up into Girringun National Park to check out views. From high up above the town Hinchinbrook Island (named Pouandai by First Nations people) looms mysteriously off the coast, its craggy peaks looking enticingly wild and rugged.
Eighteen thousand years ago the island was part of a rugged coastal range. After the last ice-age , sea levels rose and created the island. The island was home to the Biyaygiri people who lived there and along this coastline for many thousands of years. In the early 1870s a huge slaughter (initiated by the white settlers and police) wiped out all the indigenous residents of the island.
This area forms part of the ‘Girroo Gurril’ creation story. Known as ‘the first surveyor’ to local, Girramay Aboriginal people, Girroo Gurril rose out of the ocean near Hinchinbrook Island, part man, mostly eel and gazed around the newly made countryside. He pronounced his name loudly, then plunged into the sea and came out on top of the mountain at the back of Cardwell. He saw a freshwater lake surrounded by mangroves and he called it Girringun Lake.
Today Cardwell is home to the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation which represents the interests of traditional owners in the region, maintaining areas of cultural significance and educating young people. They largely work in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service and would be responsible for the hazard-reduction burning we could see offshore on the island.
We would like to recognise and thank the Biyaygiri and Girramay people for their custodianship of this land we visited.
There is a shared pathway along the coast, and after a bite of lunch we decided to go for a walk. There is no denying this is a picturesque coastline and it was hard to walk far without taking several photographs.
Given the gruesome treatment of the first residents of the area it’s no wonder that many of the information boards along the coast walk blatantly ignore the indigenous history, choosing instead to start with the arrival of white settlers.
On Saturday night Cardwell held a big concert to conclude the UFO festival, with a cover band playing Aussie 70s and 80s music and classics from the same era around the world. We didn’t have the energy to go along, but could quite clearly hear the events from our caravan – they drowned out the road trains quite nicely!
Before we departed on Sunday morning we paid a visit to the market, picking up a few things we didn’t know we wanted, and farewelled Gabbi who was busy serving sugared donuts for the Cardwell Lions Club.
We moved on up the coast less than an hour to a quiet campsite just south of Mission Beach near the heads of the Tully and Hull Rivers and on the edge of the Hull River National Park . We checked in for three nights, looking forward to a few peaceful evenings finally away from the Bruce Highway.
After getting all our washing done we had a look around the neighbourhood. We drove first to the Hull River estuary, a wide expanse of sandbanks and swirling water, with the coastal ranges stretching off into the horizon.
The National Park has been designated part of the Coastal Wet Tropic Important Bird Area listing for its preservation of wetland habitat essential for lowland birds including Cassowaries, Stone Curlews, owls, robins and a variety of honeyeaters.
We then had a look at the Tully River estuary – regular readers might recall our white-water kayaking adventures higher up this river on our last visit in 2018. Looking out at the water we wondered at the tiny scraps of our DNA that might still be present here after our multiple dunking episodes on the rapids!
We were looking forward to spending a couple of days exploring this region but soon realised that wasn’t the best idea. The news broke that a taxi driver had been infectious with Covid-19 in Cairns for 10 days so the city was locking down for three days. It didn’t bode well and we couldn’t imagine that he hadn’t spread the virus to others, especially when we heard rumours of a mass exodus of travellers from Cairns – surely one of those had caught the virus and spread it?
Even more than our exploration of this area we were excited about spending time in the Daintree Rainforest, north of Cairns, and really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to stay there.
So after our little taster of this area, we packed up the following morning and did a dash north.
Location: Paluma Range National Park, Mutarnee, Balgal Beach and Townsville, Queensland, Australia
Having decided to stick around in Mutarnee for a few more days, we took a drive down to Balgal Beach, a nearby coastal settlement. There was listed a Golf and Country Club that served lunches, so we thought we would drive over and check it out. When you hear the words ‘Country Club’ you have visions of fine seafood platters, delicious wine and gourmet menus, with stunning views over landscaped grounds…but what was actually on offer was pretty basic pub grub in a rather ordinary setting. We decided not to have lunch there, and instead drove down to the riverside for fish and chips.
Balgal Beach is a very sleepy village, mostly consisting of holiday houses and two caravan parks. There is one small shop which is also a fast food outlet, and it’s here we ordered fish and chips and enjoyed them on a shaded deck overlooking the river. As with everywhere on the coast in far north Queensland, there were crocodile warning signs, but nothing to be seen. That was until I spotted what looked like a small stick, about 60cm long, making its way across the river from the opposite bank. The staff at the cafe confirmed my suspicions – it was a young crocodile! Nobody was game to dangle their fingers in the water to entice it closer, otherwise I would have a nice (or gruesome) photo to share with you here!
It’s quite a picturesque location, but we felt we would probably be bored here for a few days – the presence of crocodiles means no kayaking, and other than the beach there is no walking here. A lovely spot to visit though, and only half an hour from our camp at Mutarnee.
Balgal Beach looks out towards the Palm Islands Group. Great Palm Island is where First Nations people were forcefully placed after being removed from their homeland across Queensland between 1914 and 1971. It is estimated there are at least 43 tribal groups represented now, predominantly descendants from tribes on the (now) sugar-cane growing land between Bowen and Cape York (the top of the east-coast of Australia). The island was considered a penal colony, with First Nations and Pacific Islander people placed there for ‘wrongdoing’ – often just being on land that had now been ‘allocated’ to someone else.
Rattlesnake Island is used by the Royal Australian Air Force for bombing practice, survival courses and live firing training.
Before long it was time for our day-trip into Townsville, about a 50 minute drive south, for Mark’s eye test. This was a critical test, and the cause of much anxiety over the past two weeks.
To recap, Mark has Glaucoma. This is an eye condition where high eye pressures can cause permanent damage to the nerve which connects the eye to the brain, at worse resulting in irreversible loss of sight, at best resulting in some injury to the optic nerve. He also has Pigment Dispersion Syndrome – this is another contributor to pressures rising, where pigment from the back of his iris can flake off, blocking the fluid drains.
It’s important he gets his eye pressures checked on a regular basis as changes in pressure are painless with no outward signs they’re happening. If caught quickly enough, eye drops can reduce the pressure and repair injured optic nerve cells – once the cells die, they cannot be revived (though there are positive early signs in stem cell research with mice, we’re not quite there yet). Our visit to Townsville was to see whether the extra drops he has been applying over the past two weeks have made any impact on the pressure.
With a great deal of relief, Mark emerged from the optician with a big smile on his face – yes, the eye pressures have returned to normal levels. Hopefully disaster has been averted. More specialist tests are needed in coming weeks to check his peripheral vision and overall eye health, but for now we can breathe easy.
We continued to enjoy our afternoon birdwatching sessions with Bob and his wife Olive on the campground. Paluma National Park is less than five kilometres from the caravan park and is the southern most point of the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics of Queensland. As such the birdlife continues to be prolific. Almost daily there was a new bird to be seen we had not spotted before. In the birding world these are known as ‘lifers’ – ie first time you’ve seen them in your life!
Bob and Olive have really got to know the birds over their six weeks camped here, and noticed particular ones become braver over time. Take this Noisy Pitta for example. They are usually heard but not seen, living in the forest and foraging in leaf litter. But this little chap has become brave and now dashes out to find its food around the palm trees.
Tiny little birds like these Lovely Fairywrens are more likely to be heard than seen as they hop energetically through the undergrowth searching for insects.
Back at Midge Point I had seen my first juvenile Olive-backed Sunbird, a tiny yellow honeyeater. I was pleased this time to spot the adults, the male with his brilliant yellow tummy and deep blue throat and chest, and the bright yellow female.
I have to admit, I don’t accept nighttime invitations from all 83 year old men, but I trusted Bob’s intentions were good, and at 9.30pm we were outside in our nightclothes with cameras and torches. Bob had a recording of another Nightjar which he played, and seconds later we were being swooped. The Nightjar settled on the ground at the edge of the forest and we crept over for a look.
This is a Large-tailed Nightjar apparently. The whiskers either side of its beak are there to help it consume its favourite food, moths, aiding in widening its gape. During the day, Nightjars sit on the floor like this or low down in trees in the forest, their plumage keeping them well disguised amongst the leaf litter. It was an absolute privilege to see such a special bird up close, even just for a minute. We turned off the light and our bird flew off to make its ‘ chonk, chonk, chonk’ sound and continue its evening hunting.
On one particularly warm afternoon, we decided it might be a good idea to head up into the cool of the national park. We wound our way up the precipitous road to Little Crystal Creek. This bridge was built in 1930s depression period as part of a bid to provide employment. The winding road itself, follows what was originally an Aboriginal pathway up into the hills.
Despite being mid-winter, it was about 30°C on the lowlands, but a more comfortable 25°C up in the hills beside the water and under the trees, especially as any cloud gathers above the range, instantly giving some respite from the sun. We had an explore up and down the creek.
The TYTO wetlands at Ingham were another morning out for us. Despite having visited already, we saw completely different birds this time – not surprising given there are 250 different species resident. The four-metre saltwater crocodile is apparently still at large, but we didn’t spot it. If only the birds could talk!
We farewelled Bob and Olive with a platter of nibbles and drinks towards the end of the week, as Olive was heading back to Townsville for her final infusion of chemotherapy. We’ll keep in touch with them for sure – they have a wealth of knowledge and are a lovely couple.
Over our final few days we ensured we continued the afternoon tradition of feathered friend spotting, and added a few more beauties to our list.
Our time here just flew. By the time we were packing up to head to our next destination of Townsville, we had spent 11 nights in this area – other than spending time with friends, the longest we had stopped in one place since our lockdown in the UK last year! There is just so much to see and explore here if you are interested in nature and beautiful scenery. Definitely one for your list.
We’re not that keen on staying on traditional campgrounds, and when reading comments such as ‘packed in like sardines’ associated with campsites in Bowen, we decided to look elsewhere. A mango and cattle farm, for example. So when we farewelled Midge Point and headed north, our destination was Glen Erin Farmstay.
After setting up we had an explore along the farm tracks, through a mango orchard and along quiet grass lined pathways. Red tailed black cockatoos were the noisy locals that first caught our attention.
The farm-stay was pretty rustic, but a friendly affair with 5 o’clock BYO drinks each evening around the campfire, with the camp host cooking a couple of loaves of damper to share amongst the guests.
The farm is about half an hour’s drive from the town of Bowen, so we drove in the following morning, hoping to find somewhere nice for lunch.
Bowen is the oldest town in Queensland, settled in 1861 and the filming location for the movie ’Australia’ (2008). It built up around a port which was essential for the newly established farming community shipping its produce across Australia particularly mangos and sugar. There is quite a large immigrant Pacific islander nations population (such as workers from Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji) who were recruited in the early 1900s as cheap labour to help with the sugar harvest. Many settled in the area, often marrying into the Aboriginal communities, both groups treated as outsiders for their dark skin.
Prior to this settlement, First Nations people from the Birri, Jangga, Juru, Gia, and Ngaro communities called this area home. We recognise and thank these people for their custodianship of this coastline for many thousands of years. They farmed the area around the port for a parsnip-like root which was a large part of their diet, as well as fishing from canoes. As we have seen in many other areas, the injustices bestowed upon the resident Aboriginal communities were numerous, with people forcefully removed and placed on reserves or in missions because their presence did not fit with the new plans for the region.
Bowen has moved on somewhat from these horrors and next week will see the inaugural Whitsundays Multicultural Festival held in town (July 30th). This will celebrate and recognise all cultures that make up the town through traditional dance, cooking and art activities. It’s great to see a community taking positive steps to recognise their extensive human history and the contribution all cultures have made to the society.
We stayed in Bowen three years ago, enjoying some great walks and incredible views. This time we found ourselves lunching at The Cove, a great Asian fusion restaurant on the ground floor of a smart apartment building, with glass walls opening up to landscaped gardens and fabulous scenery. We treated ourselves to some delicious food, accompanied by a Clare Valley riesling – very civilised indeed!
We returned to camp for a lazy afternoon, again joining our fellow campers around the fire for damper, drinks and conversation.
The camp owner has two dogs which wander around freely (Tassie wasn’t so keen!) and one nudged up against the chair of a lady by the fire. “You can probably smell the cat!” she exclaimed. Mark responded; “Oh have you seen us with Tassie then?”…which surprised us as she hasn’t really emerged here, due to the dogs. The answer was no, they also were travelling with a cat. If this coincidence was not enough, the funniest thing happened then, the lady behind us called out “We are travelling with two cats!”, and the gentleman beside her, “And we have a cat, Pippa, too!”
As you can imagine the conversation descended in to the sharing of travelling cat stories, with many laughs at the joy our furry travel companions give us. What a strange coincidence – we all ended up sitting together, and five cats between us.
Before we left the following morning, we had a bit of a cat meetup. Tassie came face to face with Pippa which was not such a good meeting (Pippa is twice the size of Tassie, and gave her a fair warning for coming within a metre or so of her territory), but the humans enjoyed it.
It was a short dalliance with the Bowen region, but will be one we will always remember. Time to continue our journey north, heading to the Townsville area next.
Location: Finch Hatton, Eungella National Park, Queensland
It was nearly 19 years ago when Mark and I first visited Eungella National Park. It was August 2002 and were on our honeymoon. After a week of sailing around the Whitsunday Islands with friends and family, we had a few free days to ourselves. hoping to spend some time kayaking around the islands. it was much too windy for kayaking, so we opted for plan B. After a couple of nights camping, we spent a few days in a cabin in Eungella National Park. I remember clearly us seeing our first platypus, and being enthralled by the rainforest birds that visited our cabin surrounded by trees and vines. And so the spell was cast – we had to return.
Eungella National Park is situated about 80km west of Mackay, half way between Cairns and Brisbane. Located on the eastern side of the Clarke Range, the landscape is lush and rich, receiving plenty of rainfall.
This is in fact our third trip back to this gorgeous location, every time as magical as the first. After setting up camp in the Pioneer Valley at Finch Hatton, we rushed up to Broken River to try and find platypus. As these bizarre looking creatures live for an average of 20 years, it could be possible we have seen the same ones on each of our visits.
We followed a walking trail along Broken River, looking out for telltale ripples and bubbles. It didn’t take long before we spotted one.
Platypus are an endangered species, already extinct from South Australia (though they have now been introduced to Kangaroo Island), and with reducing numbers elsewhere. This is one of the best places to see them in the wild and we relished the opportunity.
We spotted an Azure Kingfisher which seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with the platypus, following it around the pool and diving in when the platypus disturbed small fish. It certainly gave us a good show, nevertheless!
Due to the diversity of the environment, the bird life is of course prolific, though it is a challenge to see, as most are hiding away in the dense thicket of the rainforest. We managed to spot quite a few despite this, and even caught some with the camera. Walks were constantly accompanied by the rustles and calls of Whip-birds in the leaves and the booming cries of the Wompoo Fruit Doves high up in the canopy.
We did a few walks through the rainforest, and despite the numbers of visitors were still able to see a large number of birds just going about their daily business. It just took a few moments of standing quietly listening to the rustling and occasional movement to start seeing them there. Of course the density of the undergrowth made it virtually impossible to photograph them so only a fraction of what we saw is shared here.
There are many lookouts up on the Eungella Plateau which makes up part of the Clarke Range. The views are simply breathtaking down into the valley where we are staying.
Since European settlement of Australia, around a quarter of the rainforest has been cleared for farming, and this area was originally earmarked for that purpose. While some of the forest was cut down (now used for growing sugarcane and farming cattle), much of it was saved after a 12 year battle and designated national park in 1941.
Our visit falls during sugarcane harvest season, with seasonal workers busy chopping the crop and loading up trains and trucks to take it for processing further down the valley. Much of the Mackay region is dedicated to sugar…I would have expected to see more dentists around than I have!
Where cane has already been harvested. the farmers were out busy ploughing the fields ready for planting the next crop. You can see the richness of the soil here, stark contrast to Australia’s land further west.
The name Eungella is derived from the First Nations language meaning ‘land of the cloud’. We thank and acknowledge the Wiri-Yuwi People as the traditional custodians of this land. The waters of Broken River have been seen as sacred for the more than 10,000 years these people have called this area home.
Other than a cursory mention, there is little to learn about these nations. A little research reveals they were hunted down in great numbers by the white settlers in retribution for spearing cattle or trespassing on land. Others were enslaved to work on farms or moved to the coast to work on fishing boats. There was little policing in these parts in the mid 1800s, so people took the law into their own hands.
While information boards request visitors to respect the cultural significance of the park, they share no information about this. The Queensland Government National Park’s website talks only of the geological history, avoiding any mention of culture. It is sad to continue to see this when we as Australians should be taking time to recognise the significance of the long human history in this region, and perhaps learning from the way these first nations people lived in this evnivronment.
Finch Hatton Gorge is a part of the national park which is accessible from close to where we are staying, so we drove out there for a hike. The temperature in the rainforest is a few degrees cooler than out, reminding me of that feeling when you step in to a magnificent cathedral. Your breath catches as you experience the wonder of it all, the rich organic smell of decaying wood and leaves accompanied by signs of new life all around you.
Our walk to up the Wheel of Fire cascades ( named for the red flowers that surround them in the summer months) entailed a precarious rock-hop over Arulen Creek before climbing many slippery stairs to the top. If you can cross the creek without getting wet feet – you are doing well. Mark hasn’t yet achieved this accolade!
Definitely worth the hike up if you’re game!
Up on the Eungella Plateau sits Eungella Dam, a large reservoir and freshwater fishery. You can actually camp out here, as long as you don’t need power. It sits nestled in a picturesque valley and is a great spot for birdwatching.
We had lunch on the sandy beach before taking a wander to see what bird life was around.
Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Pelicans, White-eyed Ducks andsome very pretty Cotton Pigmy Geese were amongst the birdlife spotted.
Staying at Finch Hatton for a week has meant we could also visit some locations off the traditional tourist trail, finding our way to creeks and locations that are a little quieter. Cattle Creek winds its way through the valley past our campground and had a wealth of surprises for us each time we went out.
We finished up our visit with a somewhat longer walk along Crediton Creek. This hike actually continues on, forming the Mackay Highlands Great Walk – heading one way for 56km (taking 3-5 days). The short 10km return walk we did was pretty stunning.
Not far from the end of our walk we took ten minutes to sit down by Crystal Cascades (how many falls have this name, I wonder! A lot!) and just enjoy the ambience. Listening to the constant sound of the water running over the rocks as they have done for hundreds of years, to breathe in the clear, clean oxygen from the forest.
Just before heading back to the car we diverted briefly to see whether we could catch our last glance of a platypus. Lucky us, we were rewarded with two.
Our week here has been so incredibly precious. We have relished every morning waking up to our incredible views, breathing in the clean air and drinking in the colours, scents and sounds of this unique location. As we move on back to the coast, we will continue to hold Eungella in a special place in our hearts. 🤍
PS Tassie loved it here – walked and walked exploring the sheds and fenced paddocks where cattle would have been kept during the last show day. Her favourite area was the shed with the tractors in.! One happy Burmese!