18-21 June: Exploring the feathered side of Cania Gorge National Park

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cania Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia

We were woken up in Moura at 4.30am by the idling engines of four wheel drives as the resident mining community headed off to work. We had already had a somewhat disturbed night with the caravan park’s pool constantly gurgling and making unpleasant suction noises as the water level was too low. We couldn’t wait to hit the road and see Moura in our rear view mirror.

Within two hours we were pulling into our little piece of paradise for the next three nights, Cania Gorge National Park. We were staying on the edge of the National Park, surrounded by red sandstone walls, tall forest and many birds at Cania Gorge Tourist Retreat. The park is actually for sale, if anyone fancies a project and has $1.5 million to spare. It needs some upgrading, but is in an unbeatable location.

Every afternoon at the retreat is bird feeding time, and while we disagree with feeding wild birds in principle, it certainly brings the inaccessible birdlife down to meet the average person. We were given some sunflower seeds and held our our hands to see which birds were hungry.

Rainbow Lorikeets and King Parrots were the most courageous visitors

The brightly coloured and gregarious Rainbow Lorikeets flocked to the site, their screeching almost deafening as they squabbled to get to their free feed. Beautiful King Parrots (red and green) were also there, but a little more cautious in their approach. In the trees surrounding us (but not game to come down to the people) were pink and grey Galahs, Laughing Kookaburras, and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos calling from the highest treetops, excitedly.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

We had a wander around after the feeding, to see what other birdlife was around.

A juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater
Laughing Kookaburra
Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Cania Gorge has a First Nations history dating back at least 19,000 years, (to the height of the last ice age) with many examples of freehand artwork in the park, but none of the nine art sites accessible to the public. The Gooreng Gooreng people were the custodians of this land, their territory stretching from here all the way to the coast (200+km away). When white settlers arrived in the area, the Gooreng Gooreng, like many other tribes during the 18 and 1900s, were murdered, starved or sent off to settlements such as Woorabinda, Cherbourg and Palm Island (making for very grim reading).

In good news (it is hard to find any!), in the mid 1990s a bunch of academics worked with a Gooreng Gooreng elder in order to save the language from extinction (90% of Aboriginal languages are extinct), and produced an English/Gooreng – Gooreng/English dictionary to teach the next generations. This is so important – Indigenous history is a living thing, handed down and carried on by language via spoken word and the story telling. More than 40,000 years of knowledge about Australia’s flora, fauna, how to cook, how and where to travel, when to harvest particular foods is shared in this way. When a language disappears, so does all this knowledge. We often wonder what we are only now learning that our First Nations people may well have known for centuries.

We acknowledge and thank the Gooreng Gooreng people, present and ancestral, as the traditional custodians of the land we visited.

We did a early morning short walk looking for birdlife, just relishing the refreshing temperatures and clear blue skies. Following various birdcalls, we found ourselves climbing up to the Giant’s Chair Lookout, where a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters were swooping acrobatically through the sky, chasing insects.

Laughing Kookaburra

We breathed in the oxygen from the surrounding forest, finding peace in the greens and blues and just taking the time to stop and be amongst nature. Without realising it, we have really missed the variety of vegetation on our travels the last few weeks.

King Parrot munching seeds on the forest floor
King Parrot
King Parrot
Black-faced Cuckooshrike
Mr A on his spotting scope watching the Rainbow Bee-eaters
Rainbow Bee-eaters – the males have the longest tail feathers
The male Bee-eater watches as his mate swoops past chasing an insect
Mr and Mrs A at the lookout feeling happy

Later in the day we decided to tackle a longer hike, heading up along a dry creek bed to Ferntree Pool, a location we hoped would attract some of the harder to see forest birds. It was a bit of a workout for Mr A as he carried my heavy camera lens on the 7km circuit as well as his spotting scope, but it was worth it.

Hiking up through the valley, the vegetation changes to more rainforest with vines and a new variety of tree
There are some giant trees here
Mr A has to limbo under a fallen tree trunk

We almost couldn’t believe it when we saw water in the pool, a precious resource for the native birds and wildlife here. We stopped and sat quietly at the water’s edge, enjoying an apple and watching quietly to see who would turn up.

Ferntree Pool

First to arrive was a Grey Fantail. She flitted around catching insects, before finding herself a quiet edge of the water for a bath.

Grey Fantail searching for insects deep inside the ferns
A frenzy of splashes as our Grey Fantail has a bath in the shallow water’s edge

Then we gasped as a little flash of red, black and white appeared, then another and another – a small flock of tiny honeyeaters flew down to the ferns, dipping down for a quick drink of water, then up to the safety of the undergrowth. It was so hard to capture them, but we later learned they are Scarlet Myzonelas. They are rarely seen as they feed high up in the canopy, usually identified by their calls.

Male Scarlet Myzomela
Juvenile males have smaller amounts of red, while the females are completely brown

We watched them for a while before continuing on our way, climbing back up on to the ridge and returning back via the Giant’s Chair Lookout.

Picking our way along sandstone walls
Fine views at the lookout but no Rainbow Bee-eaters this time

When we returned to the campground we had missed the evening bird feeding, but I persuaded Mr A to hold out his hand and see whether a bird would come down…the answer was yes….but he would be swiftly punished with a Lorikeet nip for not having any snacks in his hand! Oops!

Warning, don’t tease the birds, they will soon let you know you are naughty!

Before long it was our final day at Cania Gorge and still there were many walks we hadn’t done – we really could have stayed here a week, but already had a booking at a site on the coast we didn’t want to lose (things are getting busier now as the wave of travellers heads north from South Australia, Victoria and NSW for the winter).

A short drive took us up to Cania Lake, a large reservoir at the end of the valley, and likely the reason for there being so many dry Creeks in the area. Other than some Pelicans and Little Black Cormorants there was little evidence of water birds.

Lake Cania
Lots of Pretty-faced Wallabies up by the dam – this female carrying quite a large joey in her pouch

We decided to try our luck at finding some new birdlife down at Three Moon Creek – one of the few waterways with water in it.

It was a good choice. We immediately saw Peregrine Falcons soaring up at the top of the sandstone cliffs, and a frenzy of birds flitting along through the undergrowth. We found ourselves some quiet spots and waited to see what would come to us once we were no longer seen as a threat.

We spent a good hour there, seeing some interesting birdlife, many we had never seen before (thank goodness for the Merlin bird ID app in helping us work out what we’d spotted!).

Very little and cute White-browed Scrub Wrens – picking along the creek edge finding morsels to eat
White-browed Scrub Wren
An Australian Raven stopped for a rest on the trunk crossing the creek right in front of me
Australian Raven – with the sunlight on his glossy feathers you can see the purples, blues and greens in what usually just looks black
A loud fluttering in the bushes behind me and a Brown Cuckoo-Dove had landed just a metre away
The moon had already risen, its craters clearly seen
Dusky Moorhen – a noisy little bird
Clockwise from left: LIttle Pied Cormorant, Peregrine Falcon (long way away!) and a Grey Fantail

We had a great couple of days here, but it was time to move on. We’re finally going to reach the coast again after six weeks of being land-bound, and are quite excited about it!

23-24 August: At peace among the bloodwoods

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cania Gorge, Queensland

Wednesday: We awoke to the sound of bird footsteps on our roof, the well fed and humanised parrots expecting their breakfast. With temperatures near to zero again, we weren’t keen to leave the heated confines of our Zone, but I stuck my hand out of the window with a few raw peanuts in my hand, and I soon had a pair of king parrots sat on it munching away.

Before long, it was warming up a little outside, so Mr A fired up the Baby Q and cooked up pork sausages and eggs for breakfast. Not a bad start to Wednesday morning.

Of course all this eating meant we needed to burn it off, so we decided to tackle one of the walks. We chose a circuit, first hiking up to a lookout (the Giant’s Chair) and then looping around to the Fern Tree Pool.Queensland is very dry currently, not having had rain in this area for a couple of months. This is very evident in the sheer numbers of birds flocking to this little water source, particularly grey fantails and flocks of silvereyes, so gorgeous.Six kilometres later we were back at camp for a relax. This is one of the nicest places we have parked our mobile apartment in a long while, surrounded by tall gum trees, dappled sunlight and high sandstone walls providing a picturesque backdrop. As we sat outside with a cup of tea a couple we had seen on our walk strolled past, the American man inviting Mark to join him on a cycle up to the dam later on in the afternoon. Mark accepted his invitation, and jumped on his bike for a ride.I meanwhile finished baking an orange and almond cake, and left that to cool while I went off on another 6km walk.

This time I walked to the babbling Three Moon Creek, hoping to see platypus doing backstroke along the clear pools. Sadly it was not to be, but I did enjoy the gorgeous reflections in the late afternoon sun.From there, I walked up to Dragon Cave, so named for the black ‘mural’ of a dragon up on the wall in there…with a little imagination. Generally I just enjoyed the clean fresh air, the sound of the birds and just being outdoors in the warm light of the late afternoon.I reached camp just as the sun was setting, and Mr A was already sipping a glass of French red wine with his cycling partner and some other neighbours. It turns out the cyclist, Ben, works with mutual friends in Sydney. What a small world!

Thursday: We had a slow start to the day, getting our washing done and enjoying pancakes and blueberries in the early morning sunshine.

By 11 o’clock we were out in the car this time, whizzing up to the reservoir Mark had cycled up to yesterday. It was strange seeing such a large body of water after so much dry land.Cania Gorge had a gold rush in the 1870s, and the remnants were visible on a short walk. There was little gold here, with 183.5 tons of rock yielding only around 4.3kg of gold – a lot of work for little reward under gruelling conditions. Today felt pretty warm at about 25 degrees centigrade in the middle of winter. We had a wander around, then headed off to do another, longer walk.

Our next hike took us up to Bloodwood Cave, named for the roots of a bloodwood gum tree which intertwine through the cave. The towering bloodwoods were a key feature of the walk overall.We hiked up to a lookout giving us a fabulous view across this little National Park, before returning to camp.

21-22 August: Heading East to Cania Gorge

Author: Mrs A

Monday – location: Emerald, Queensland

We left Barcaldine and continued our journey east along the Capricorn Highway, and with it the landscape began to change. The flat treeless plains gave way to hills and forestry and we began to climb into the Great Dividing Range.

We stopped for a break at the bizarrely named Bogantuncan, once home to about 28 pubs, but now just a smattering of old houses and a historical train station. It was a nice spot to stretch our legs before we continued on.Before long we were seeing signs for Rubyvale and Sapphire, and finally our destination for the evening in Emerald. Yes, you guessed it, we are in the gemfields, but not having a go at fossicking this time. That would involve attention to detail and patience, not Mr A’s strengths!

This area was formed around 70 million years ago, with around 80 extinct volcanic peaks around the region.

We set up camp in a big field, nice and peaceful if nothing else going for it – we paid $15 for the privilege – worth it compared to the packed free-camp on the edge of town we spotted – metres from the main highway with road-trains thundering past and with a bridge overhead carrying freight trains…no thank you!

Tuesday – location: from Emerald to Cania Gorge, Queensland

It was a very cold start to the day, with temperatures around zero first thing, and by the time we pulled away around 7.30am had reached the dizzying heights of 3 degrees. We had a long drive today so wanted to get a good start.

After an hour or so of driving we stopped in the town of Blackwater for some groceries and fuel, and then continued towards Biloela and down to the tiny Cania Gorge National Park.

The landscape continued to change as we drove, becoming the rich agricultural lands of Channel Country and then to a winding road through forested national park and state forest.Looking at the map, it would be easy to miss little Cania Gorge. It sits about 150km from the coast inland from Gladstone, and like Carnarvon National Park has deep sandstone gorges and apparently a healthy population of platypus. We had been recommended this location by two separate friends who are or have been in the past local to this area, so thought it would be crazy to miss it.

Pulling into the bushland caravan park, we are as close to the National Park and its multitude of walks as possible – they start literally metres from our front door. It’s so lovely to be in a bushland setting again, particularly at this time of year. The acacia flowers are blooming yellow, providing a spectacular display as well as a beautiful perfume wherever you go – we’re looking forward to doing some walks in the next couple of days.

The campground is home to many birds, and 4pm sees the owners putting out lorikeet food, seeds and peanuts to attract them to the visitors. We popped along for a look, spotting rainbow lorikeets, pink cockatoos, king parrots, Australian magpies, kookaburras, crows, blue-faced honeyeaters and more.A short cycle along the road allowed us to learn more about the multitude of wild creatures living here, many rare and endangered, and the evidence of 19,000 years of Aboriginal habitation in the gorge. Incredible. Already it feels like a very special place.