Batty about snakes and other wildlife

Published: December 25th 2017
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Geo: -17.2705, 145.583

25 April 2015

At the end of the last blog I mentioned that we were going up to The Daintree and that Jim had hurt his back. We rested in Cairns for a three nights and then the pain in Jim's back seemed to go much worse so he went to the doctor. After making him do a number of movements (some accompanied by loud groans!) the doctor decided rest and painkillers were all that was required. He seems to have been correct as Jim is almost fully recovered but it did take three weeks during which time he was not able to drive.

So I drove up to The Daintree, and more scary, across the ferry. The Daintree area is where the rainforest runs down to the sea. Once you cross the Daintree River (that's where the ferry crossing comes in) there is only one road as far as Cape Tribulation and after that only an unsurfaced dirt road. The reason for our journey was simple - we hoped to see a Cassowary.

We returned to the camp site we had used two years ago, almost at the end of the surfaced road. There are 3 or 4 caravan sites along the way but we thought the one we chose would give us the best chance of spotting the elusive Cassowary and a couple of the others looked very run down. The weather was wet and tropical as expected in the Wet Tropics with heavy downpours every few hours. For two mornings we drove early and slowly along the road, concentrating hard and peering between tight packed trees into the jungle but without success. We also did a number of walks on forest tracks but saw and heard only mosquitoes. After 2 days we were feeling a touch despondent. Jim's back was hurting, we kept getting very wet, not a single Cassowary had peeped out at us, the rainforest was becoming quite oppressive under dark cloud when the overhanging canopy of trees blocks out the little light left, and perhaps worst of all, our facilities were poor so we could not bring ourselves to shower for 2 days! At which point we became irritated with the camp. They are certainly not cheap but a good clean of the toilets and showers (not to mention a lick of paint) seemed beyond them.

So we decided that we would give The Daintree one more night but move to another camp as the need for a shower was urgent. There was a "resort" campsite a few kilometres down the road costing about the same but offering more varied accommodation including cabins so we thought they might have better shower facilities etc. Although we still intended to camp in our van we hoped the facilities would be clean and comfortable enough to use. As we pulled into the Reception car park we saw a life sized model of a Cassowary in a garden area next to the forest so Jim took a photograph as it does show how big they are. Then we went into Reception and asked about availability. No problem, lots of space as it is the quiet season but $15 for limited wifi! Then we asked if we could go and look at the sites and shower blocks before checking in. Despite looking a little taken aback the receptionist said fine, and gave us a map of the area. It looked very nice as the camping sites are surrounded by rainforest, so off we trotted.

We were passing where the statue of the Cassowary stood when I did a double take - it was moving. The first thought in my brain was, 'Good grief, they have fitted the model with a motor!' A second later I realised it was real female Cassowary and we managed to grab a quick photograph before she disappeared into the forest only 3 or 4 paces away. The females tend to be solitary as the males rear the young. As you can imagine (well, perhaps only the birdwatchers amongst you) we were elated.

We carried on down to the distant sites and unbelievably a large male Cassowary with a juvenile suddenly materialised out of another edge of the forest. I was totally engrossed trying to get a decent photograph, which is difficult as they present such a large black area the camera has difficulty focusing, when I realised that I was standing right in front of the male. They can become very aggressive and the advice is to keep a tree between you and them. I backed up quickly behind a little sapling, fervently wishing I was thinner. But he was unconcerned and just walked by to find a delicacy in a nearby tree. After a few more seconds they stepped into the dense forest and disappeared. We were stunned but happy.

Then we inspected the ablution block and were anything but happy with them. They were worse than where we had left. North of the Daintree River it seems they feel they don't need to make an effort as they have a captive clientele. Then we realised we no longer had a reason to stay as we had seen 3 Cassowaries so we jumped in the van and drove off, all the way back across the ferry to a 'normal' campsite at Wonga Beach which was clean, beautifully laid out, very welcoming and half the price.

The next night at a free camp site we met a very pleasant couple from Tolga, approximately 25 kilometres from where we were camped. They were testing out their vehicle as in 4 days they were off on a cross continent journey. They explained they always have a night close by home first to check everything is in working order and that they had packed everything. They loaded us up with produce from their garden, the avocados in particular were delicious.

From the coast we moved back onto the Tableland (Yes, again, there is a lot to do/see there) and went to Malanda to catch up with washing etc. Unfortunately it rained steadily for 36 hours. Thankfully the site is well equipped with washers AND dryers. We had a slight mishap when somehow the large window by my seat cushion (which doubles as bed mattress at night) was left open. The curtain was dripping furiously and half my mattress was soaked. By bedtime it had improved a little, the curtain had stopped dripping and by covering the mattress with my poncho I managed to sleep surprisingly well. Everything soon dried out the next day.

Having had our fill of wet weather we headed out west to Undarra on the dry Savannah. Everyone had recommended a visit to Undarra to see the volcanic tubes. When we had passed six weeks ago it was not worth stopping as they were only half open because of the season. So now we returned and had a lovely time there. The first evening we went on the Sunset Tour which took us high up on a bluff providing excellent views over the bush with ancient volcanic peaks visible (covered in trees unlike the Lanzarote scenery) and where we were treated to a glass of champagne and cheese and fruit 'nibbles' as we watched the sun go down. Then we raced to an entrance to one of the lava tubes where, in the dark, we could see or more accurately sense, thousands of microbats flying out of the tube.For the first second it was quite daunting as there were so many whisking by within millimetres but our guide said not to wave arms about or move erratically and trust them to miss us. It worked. But more excitement was to come. The bats exit the cave every evening and the local snakes (who live in cracks in the tubes during the day) know this, so at sunset they make their way along the cave walls, out of the entrance and up into the trees which hang across the entrance. Then they wait to catch a bat or two for dinner. That particular tube is the 'maternity hospital' where bats are delivered, which is why there are so many. When they are older and leave there is a quieter period for a few months when the snakes have to go elsewhere for supper. At the peak period there can be 5 or 6 different species of snake waiting in the trees but as it is near the end of the season the ones we saw were all brown tree snakes.

I must say that this sunset tour is unmissable if you like bats and snakes!

That would have been enough excitement for one night but on the way back to our van a Tawny Frogmouth flew over us and landed on a nearby tree. It really was a terrific evening.

The next day we did the full tour visiting a couple of large tubes and walking some way into them. It was interesting enough but for me not as stunning as the Lanzarote landscape.

So we returned to the Tableland again from Undarra stopping at Archer's Creek free site for a night. We were about 30 kilometres from Tolga where the Australian couple we had met lived and as we drove we realised that was the day they were starting their trip. We thought they would start early in the day and have crossed paths on our road hours before (there are not many roads to choose from) so we were very surprised to pull into Archer's Creek and see them parked in their unmissable bus. We parked next to them and spent a lovely evening chatting. They had had to go for their flu vaccination before leaving home which is why they had not gone far. This time we were given mandarin oranges and avocados as well as their address so we can go and camp in their 'yard' if we return to Queenland. We hope they have a safe and enjoyable trip wherever they go. Like us they were not quite certain where they would head!

Next day we returned to Malanda and yet more washing but thankfully the weather was good so everything dried quickly. We walked the forest trails and popped into the Visitor Centre. We are regulars there, I think it was our fifth visit. When we came out Drew, who had been our guide on our forest walk, pointed out a tree kangaroo high up above the road. Paul, one of the volunteeers, came out to show visitors where it was as Drew had to leave. Then it was time for Paul to complete the paperwork for the end of his shift so he asked if we would stay and help any visitors find the tree kangaroo. Finally we had a job! We pointed it out to 4 or 5 couples until there was no-one else left.

Back at the van we had lunch then heard a call 'snake!' I went into the showers, and there, curled up in my favourite shower, was a long, beautiful turquoise snake. Jim and I grabbed our cameras but it was not easy. The poor snake was cornered in the shower and taking a photograph meant peering round the door, in low light and trying to keep the camera still enough to focus. Being ready to exit backwards quickly tends to create camera shake but you can look at our efforts. Eventually he left and moved into the adjacent shrubbery. We have not yet identified him. He is the first snake we have seen on a campsite in Australia so it is quite rare. They are around but usually stay hidden.

Then we broke our own rules and decided to go to Chamber's Lodges in the middle of the rainforest near Eacham Lake, a volcanic crator lake. We have stayed 2 nights in a cabin but have been able to connect our van to the electricity supply so that the fridge stays on and we can hve 2 free camping nights next to help balance the budget. the reason for coming here was not that we wanted a break from our van but that there is a good chance of seeing sugar gliders here. We have seen them, tiny grey animals that can glide quite long distances threw the forest faster than your eye can track them. We have also seen Striped Possums, Pademelons (a small kangaroo) and the Musk Rat Kangaroo which is tiny, not much larger than a rat and very shy as well as lots of birds. It was definitely worth staying here!

As we also have a very good wifi signal in the cabin I hope to post this blog before we leave. We only have 4 nights now before returning to New Zealand for a few days then home to the UK. We are collecting a motorhome in Southampton the first week in May so I will let you know how that goes in the next blog.

Additional photos below
Photos: 47, Displayed: 30


The Restaurant area at UndarraThe Restaurant area at Undarra
The Restaurant area at Undarra

Coaches are used here and for accommodation

25th April 2015

The mammals look lovely but the bats, snakes and spiders! I dont know how you can leave the safety of the camper van in the dark?
27th April 2015

Great photos again and glad that you are still enjoying Queensland. We have just had our Ozzie friends stay over for a week which has been great. Hope to catch up when you are in the area. Cheers Paul and Sheila x

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