Looking Up, Looking Down

When walking through a rainforest, the usual view is one from the ground with just glimpses of what’s happening high in the canopy. The tallest trees reach towards the sun, their trunks seemingly never ending. Lianas swing from on high, looping down and turning up again. Fern fronds reach out to catch raindrops before they reach the ground.

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It’s possible though to see the Daintree Rainforest in far north Queensland from a different perspective – looking down instead of up, from the aerial walkways and canopy tower at the Daintree Discovery Centre.

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We began our rainforest journey on the aerial walkway, starting outside the coffee shop and rising quickly into the canopy. Even though there were several people on the walkway everyone seemed awed by their surroundings and the only sounds were those of nature. The treetops whispered as the wind blew gently past, the water in McCleans Creek bubbled over the rocks and unseen birds called to each other.

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The tropical rainforest of the Daintree region is the oldest in the world, with some parts aged at more than 150 million years.  Thirteen of the world’s most primitive plant species survive in the forest and the oldest trees are known as green dinosaurs. As he strolled along the walkway, a young man whistled softly to himself; the theme to Jurassic Park was the perfect choice in this ancient landscape.

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The aerial walkway led us to the canopy tower, which rises 23 metres over five levels above the floor of the forest. At the third level we leaned over the railing to peer into a bird’s nest fern growing on a nearby tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of the amethystine python which often rests amongst the leaves. He wasn’t there but looking down to the forest floor we spotted a bush pig searching for food, with four fat, brown piglets following closely behind.

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As we climbed to the fourth level we came across a man sitting alone. His family had gone to the top of the tower but, daunted by the height, he was patiently waiting for them to return. His young son bounded down the steps with encouraging words and, reluctantly rising to his feet, the man mustered his courage to climb the last flight of stairs. “I will come up but I might never be able to come down again,” he said. His effort was rewarded as he tentatively arrived at the top platform. He avoided going close to the railing and sat for a while on a bench in the middle. “Now I’m here, I may as well relax and enjoy the view,” he said. It was a view well worth enjoying, over the treetops to the forest clad mountains in the distance.

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Back down at the base of the tower, in the Display Centre, we found some elusive inhabitants of the forest, including the cassowary. This large flightless bird, related to both the Australian emu and the New Zealand kiwi, is native to the tropical forests of northern Australia and New Guinea and although we’d been looking carefully we hadn’t seen a real one. Other residents of the forest, including bearded dragons and pythons, live in the Reptile House next door.

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The Indigenous Bush Tucker Trail gave us another unique perspective on the rainforest. By following the interpretive signs along this boardwalk on the forest floor, we learned how the indigenous people of this area used rainforest plants for food, tools and medicines; and it wasn’t only the aboriginal people who found sustenance in the forest. Metal sculptures half hidden in the undergrowth depict the giant ancestors of today’s much-loved native animals, which roamed the forests in the time of the dinosaurs.

Luckily, the only creatures we came across were butterflies and birds, flitting from one tropical plant to the next. In the heat of the day the rest of the forest’s residents were unseen. Perhaps we need to visit the rainforest at the Discovery Centre again, early in the morning or in the late afternoon, to see not just the flora from this unique perspective but the animals of the forest as well.

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Our visit was hosted by the Daintree Discovery Centre.

The Bush Chorus

Close to home #5 Sundown National Park

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation, closer to home, is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Sundown National Park, 45 kilometres south of Stanthorpe, is one of the more remote and inaccessible parks in south west Queensland. After leaving the New England Highway and travelling along Sundown Road, the dirt track into the park is four wheel drive only. Driving through open forest, with glimpses of the mountain range up ahead, we feel completely isolated; midweek, the road is empty except for a lone kangaroo almost hidden in the trees.

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It feels peaceful – until we open the car doors. Suddenly we’re assailed by a cacophony, high pitched and relentless. We’re not alone after all. It’s high summer and the insects are in full voice.

This park is set up for bush camping and the facilities at the Broadwater Camping Area are plentiful but primitive. There are pit toilets and showers; there’s even hot water if you start up the donkey boiler.

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After a picnic lunch, serenaded by the strident insect chorus, we walk along the bank of the Severn River to Red Rock Gorge.  The track leading to the permanent waterhole in the gorge is only a kilometre long, but it’s steep and rocky and the walk takes nearly an hour.

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Permanent Waterhole is 5 metres at its deepest part and even in the most severe droughts it has never dried up. According to the information board wildlife is abundant but in the heat of the day nothing ventures out.

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On our return journey we discover the noise makers. Bush cicadas in their thousands, camouflaged on the tree trunks, are all calling to find a mate.

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The noise continues all day, only ceasing after the sun sets but by then we’ve left the park. The cicadas have the bush to themselves again.

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Being Observant

to observe – to be or become aware of, especially through careful and directed attention

When walking in the bush, it’s easy to miss the little things. If the track is stony or lined with gnarled tree roots I tend to watch where I’m putting my feet instead of looking at what I’m passing. So I make a conscious effort to slow down, to be more observant and to notice what is above, below and beside me.

On the 2 km Queen Mary Falls circuit, the dry eucalypt forest on top of the ridge makes way for rainforest nourished by the mist from the falls at the base of Cambanoora Gorge. I didn’t hurry down the steep, uneven track and paused often to capture the small details in the beauty of the bush.

Nature rewarded my patience!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Close Up

Over The Cliff

Close to home #4 Queen Mary Falls

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation, closer to home, is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

If dramatic mountain scenery, mild temperatures and tranquil surroundings are on your list of holiday necessities a weekend getaway at the campground at Queen Mary Falls, 11 km east of Killarney on the Queensland/New South Wales border, is the perfect destination. The campsites and cabins are surrounded by beautiful bushland and rich pastures and the peace is broken only by birdcalls and the gentle sound of contented cows.

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In front of the campground is The Falls Café where cakes and Devonshire teas are served on the shaded deck. They also sell seed for the native birds which gather noisily on the front lawn in the late afternoon.

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Signs at Browns Picnic Area, across the road from the café, mark the start of two walking tracks to the falls. The 570 metre cliff circuit skirts around the top of Cambanoora Gorge to a lookout at the top of the falls. Here, shaded by the surrounding eucalypt forest, Spring Creek bubbles gently round boulders worn smooth by the water, before plunging 15 metres to the base of the cliff.

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For a different perspective on the falls, the 2 km Queen Mary Falls circuit scales the steep sides of the gorge. The water splashes down from above, creating rainbows in the mist, before continuing on its way through the gorge. The massive pile of rubble at the base of the falls is evidence of a cliff collapse in the 1880s; one dramatic change in a 25 million year old landscape.

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There are other waterfalls in this area which is part of the Main Range National Park and belongs to the World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. A 600 metre walking track leads to Brown’s Falls, a smaller plunge waterfall on the Condamine River. The track heads upstream in dappled shade, crossing the river on basalt flagstones, under fallen trees and over the rocks in front of the falls.

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There’s no need to walk to Dagg’s Falls, a plunge waterfall on Teviot Brook. The lookout is right next to Spring Creek Road and the high rise view across the gorge to the edge of the McPherson Range is spectacular.

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Teviot Brook and Spring Creek both flow into the Condamine River, part of the Murray-Darling river system. The Condamine has its headwaters in the ranges above the falls and flows through Cambanoora Gorge. A four wheel drive track through lush farmland and native eucalypt forest crosses the river 14 times as it winds back and forth through the gorge. The track is rough and rocky and it can take more than an hour to traverse all the crossings. There may be wallabies on the creek banks and in the late afternoon platypus can sometimes be seen in the shaded water.

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At Queen Mary Falls there’s no need to rush. Take your time, go for a walk or two, enjoy the views and feed the birds. You might even stay for longer than a weekend.

Swimming Between the Flags ~ Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Symbol

When I think of Australian beaches, three things come to mind: sun, surf and lifesavers. The volunteers who patrol our beaches every year belong to Surf Life Saving Australia, which has been protecting bathers since 1907.

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The most recognisable symbol of Surf Life Saving is the red and yellow flag. The flags indicate which part of the beach is patrolled, and it changes daily depending on conditions. The black and white chequered flags spaced on either side mean no surfers or jet skies are permitted within the swimming area.

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It’s not compulsory to swim on patrolled beaches but it’s wise to, especially if the surf is rough or you’re not a strong swimmer. Help is not far away if you get into difficulties.

DSCN2644Remember, if you’re having a beach holiday, swim between the flags!

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Symbol

The Best of Both Worlds

Close to home #3 Cotton Tree

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation, closer to home, is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

The Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, is one of Queensland’s most loved playgrounds. From the laid back style of Caloundra in the south to the exclusive resorts at Noosa 60 km to the north, there’s a holiday destination to suit everyone.

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Tucked away between the high-rises of Alexandra Headland and the wide mouth of the Maroochy River is the small beachfront suburb of Cotton Tree and the Cotton Tree Holiday Park takes prime position.

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The holiday park, with its broad, grassed camping sites, has two water frontages; it’s only a couple of minutes’ walk either way to the Pacific Ocean or the river. On the ocean side at Maroochy Beach, windsurfers take advantage of the tumbling waves and further along lifesavers watch over the bathers swimming between the flags.

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Around the other side, where the Maroochy River enters the ocean, the water is much calmer; it’s perfect for small children, kayakers and lifesavers-in-training, who perfect their water skills in the glassy conditions.

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Campers at the park have all they need within easy walking distance. Along Cotton Tree Parade and King Street there are trendy boutiques selling the latest swimwear and cafés where freshly caught seafood headlines the menu, while not far away is Sunshine Plaza, the largest shopping centre on the Sunshine Coast. The walkway through the Esplanade Parkland follows the bank of the Maroochy River. There’s time for walkers to pause for reflection at the Maroochydore War Memorial and Naval Memorial.

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Pelicans, who also have plenty of time, gather in the shallows waiting for offcuts from the fishermen.

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With a choice of surf or still water and walking, dining and shopping all in easy reach, every day is a holiday at Cotton Tree.

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Off-Season ~ Weekly Photo Challenge

The Tenterfield area is best known for its lush pastures, which produce excellent beef and lamb.

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There are also several popular wineries in the district. Prior to harvest season, the vines are protected by heavy netting. It stops the birds from stealing the ripening fruit and, should there be storms, also prevents damage from hail.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Off-Season