Queensland - tablelands, waterfalls and at last some wildlife!

Published: August 7th 2007
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After three fab days doing not very much on the beaches of Cape Tribulation I figured I had to move on - with only a little over 3 weeks before I needed to be back in Sydney to meet up with Helen there was a lot to squeeze in!! First stop on my way south was Mossman Gorge. On the day I'd driven up from Cairns it was raining when I got here so I'd opted to pass on by in search of sunnier skys.... typically now on my way back south it was raining again! The best part for me was the 2km circular rain forest walk - the forest canopy above meant I didn't notice the rain for most of it, the forest was lush green and seemed to be more open than other similar walks I'd done. The gorge itself is pretty much a heap of large boulders strewn across the river..... perhaps it looked better in the sunshine ;0)

From Mossman the rain followed me along the inland route, passed Lake Mitchell where I watched wetland birds flying around as the sun set over the hills behind, and on to Yungaburra, a pretty little town in the middle of the Atherton Tablelands where I'd decided to base myself for the next few days. The next morning saw me up early and on a mission to blitz the local sights and spot some wildlife - last night at dinner I'd listen to one girl yawn her way through how she'd seen '4 platypus, 6 spikey-headed water dragons and ohhhh just loads of musky rat kangaroo's' so even with my awful track record at not seeing wildlife (going all the way to Canada to spend a week kayaking with Orca's... and not seeing a single blimmin one springs to mind) I figured I must be in with a chance of seeing something!

My first stop of the day was Lake Eacham which has an easy 4km walk around its edge through the surrounding forest. For most of the walk you don't see the lake itself, rather you get glimpses of it through the tree's. Alas no water dragons or roo's here but i did see a Saw-shelled turtle!! I didn't even know they lived in the lake till I go to the viewing platform just in time to see one swim past! From Lake Eacham I continued on to the Red Cedar tree, which had quite happily avoided the best efforts of the loggers and lived to maybe 500 years old.... until Cyclone Larry came along and felled it in 2006. Today the stump remains with the felled trunk slowly being reclaimed by the forest.

After a quick lunch I headed off to Lake Barrine - like Lake Eacham this is a volcanic crater lake and initially thought to have been formed some 12,000 years ago. I followed the 6km track round the lake and for most of it the only wildlife i saw were leeches.. 3 of the evil critters all trying to suck my blood...that's the kind of wildlife I could do without!! It was right at the end of the track that I think I might have seen a musky rat kangaroo - 2 of them in fact! I say might because they moved away from the track pretty quickly when they heard me coming and were much harder to see in the undergrowth. But they were small, brown and fitted the description soooo... The musky rat kangaroo is the smallest of the kangaroo species and they move with more of a bunny hop movement than the typical kangaroo bound. They're also a bit unusual in that they are one of Australia's two daytime marsupials.

From the lakes I headed off to the Cathedral Fig tree - a massive strangler fig tree that's some 50m tall and 43m around the base. The strangler fig starts life as a tiny seed in the canopy, from where roots grow down to the forest floor to compete with the host tree for soil nutrients. Other roots gradually wrap around the host tree forming a lattice-work that surrounds and strangles the host's trunk. The leaves of the fig compete with those of the host for sun light so that slowly the host succumbs to the competition and dies, leaving behind the fig with a hollow trunk. And who said plants were dull ;0)

The day ended with a bit of Platypus viewing... well, I think I saw one ;0) These shy creatures usually venture out only in the early morning and evening from the burrows that they dig on the banks of fresh water rivers, lakes or streams. With their duck bill and webbed feet the platypus is unique in being one of only a few mammals (the others being the two species of Echidna) that lay eggs. So come about 5pm I found myself with a few others standing down by the river in the grey drizzling rain, trying to keep quiet whilst focusing on the surface of the water for any sign of movement - I realised at this point that I probably don't have the patience for wildlife spotting ;0) The first thing I saw was actually a monitor lizard darting up a tree... then literally seconds later there was a V shaped disturbance that moved from one side of the river to the other along the surface of the water... and that was my platypus! Well, apparently that's what they look like so I'm claiming it as one anyway ;0)

The next morning I woke up to more rain so decided to change my plans - I had thought I'd spend another day in the Tablelands but feeling a bit rained out I made a dash for the coast instead... it was still raining at Mission Beach so I kept heading south, by the time I got to Cardwell for lunch things were starting to brighten a bit but to be sure I kept going as far as Ingham. Just outside Ingham is the Girringun National Park and within the parks boarders are the Wallaman Falls - at 268m they are Australia's biggest single drop falls. So after some 4 plus hours or so in the car, a lot of rain and a fairly windy, steep drive up through the park I finally made it to the falls lookout point.... to find the falls completely shrouded in cloud :0( According to a couple I got chatting to it was less cloudy than it had been 30 mins before, but having itchy feet from sitting in the car so long I decided to follow the path through the rain forest and down to the base of the falls. It was one of those walks where you keep thinking ahh well I've gone this far, the end can't be that much further... only to turn another corner and find the end still isn't in sight. But hurrah.... finally made it to the bottom, sat myself on a rock, tried not to think about the steep climb back up and took in the stunning view... up to the cliff top looming above and the blue sky that seemed to have appeared!!!! Except... evil.... now the cloud was coming back! Several heart attacks later as I rushed back up the path I just made it to the top to see the falls before they disappeared again.

I had one day left before I needed to get the car back to Cairns so headed up to Mission Beach in an attempt to see the elusive Cassowary. The guy in the tourist info place there told me of a walk he'd done a few days before where they'd seen 3 of them. So off I trotted.... a few hours latter not a single blimmin bird. When I'd been up at Cape Trib I seemed to be the only one at the hostel there who'd not seen the local Cassowary - these flightless birds grow up to 1.8m tall (i.e. bigger than me!) and can weigh 60kg so you wouldn't think they'd be that hard to spot! As the rain came back I gave up and decided to go the 20km back to the highway on a petrol run.... well... it was raining, something to do and the petrol was cheaper there than in Mission Beach. Turned out to be the best thing I could have done because as I drove back towards town, suddenly, emerging from the forest edge infront of me was a Cassowary!!! Soo much for all that walking quietly through rain forest stuff!

Next up... diving the reef, rafting the Tully and a stomach churning trip in a rather small plane....

Additional photos below
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The Red Cedar.....The Red Cedar.....
The Red Cedar.....

lived happily for over 500 years and then along came cyclone Larry

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