Viewing entries in
fauna

Hard times at Cape Arnhem

4 Comments

Hard times at Cape Arnhem

We are 1000km east of Darwin, our only access to here via the Central Arnhem Road, arriving at the turnoff late afternoon. Then it's still another 20km off the main track, with compulsory vehicle restrictions fair warning - "Vehicle must be 4WD with plenty of clearance, 2m max width x 2-1/2m max height."

On the descent from the escarpment the scrub crowds in, the sand deepens, tree roots and the occasional drift of rock add to the chance of a puncture. Our first glimpse of the water is between 60m dunes, the sand deeper and softer here. Our truck turns into a roller coaster, the steeper crests topped with slats of wood tied together and laid across the track to help with traction. Many of the connections are broken, with some slats impaled in a mess of white sand.

Finally along the beach we choose a path just above the waterline, the tide retreating for the next couple of hours. We pass the sacred site of Twin Eagles,  impressive pieces of rock joined to the mainland by sandbars. This is a wild coast, isolated and often windswept.

Our camp lay between stands of bull oaks where the slightest breeze sounds like the rush of a river, the ocean waves a constant wash, a timeless ebb and flow. A pair of osprey fish just offshore and sooty oyster catchers wander the wet sand. There are dingo footprints for the length of the beach. They seem small and delicate, their direction straight.

We meet Ron the fisherman, a tradie from Darwin. He fishes alone from the rocks here, has 5-rods and has "been here 4-times now." He has dark hair tied back in a pony tail and swims fully clothed in his shirt and jeans, "to cool off after lunch" he says. "Have seen some crocs, but never a dingo till now." Ron has no time for dingoes. "You seen the damage those buggers do?" He wipes loose strands of his wet hair away from his face. "Yeah, this one, she's small... probably has pups somewhere. They'd call her a fox down south."

On our first night any breeze is soon gone, the sea a breathing lullaby, the early evening a welcome relief from the normally sweltering sun. The full moon is late rising, finally lighting the dark, hilly landscape where our truck is nestled.

The next morning we lay low in the shallows, the tide out, the sun already hot. There is no sign of crocs. The dingo approaches from the fisherman's camp, stops and stares, not 5m away... then takes a measured step even closer, her delicate front paws now in the water. She's young, with a fine white muzzle and black nose. We can see her ribs, but her sand-red coat is clean, unmarked by mange or scars.

She sniffs the air and stares, her eyebrows white, those eyes brown and questioning, "Are they dangerous? Are they food... maybe some beached animal that could be dinner?" Her cautious curiosity is tangible, before she finally turns, gives us one last look, then resumes her business-like trot, off and down the beach before turning at some rocks, then disappearing up into the dunes.

That night we cook pork on the campfire, the fireplace a rusted steel ring in the sand, our burning logs within, half the top a cast steel grate.

Early next morning we finish coffee, and there is a movement in the corner of my eye. Then all is still by the makeshift BBQ. She stands still, neck stretched and nose towards the now cold grill, those eyes watching us. But the pork steaks are long gone, just a memory of last night's dinner with a bottle of Italian red wine, a dash of garlic and a kale salad with shredded Parmesan cheese.

It seems those eyes are accustomed to disappointment, and we wonder if there are pups secreted away in a den up the beach. We offer no scraps, and life seems tough for a beautiful animal that has been here for over 4000yrs.

4 Comments

Never smile at a crocodile

Comment

Never smile at a crocodile

Some years' ago when visiting East Timor, I asked a silly question. I recall the kids looking temporarily perplexed, a frown replacing their normal smiling countenance. Crocodiles? "Yes of course mister, they are here in our swimming holes. But when they come, we get out of the water."

It was in the Kimberley of West Australia when we next experienced the saltwater croc factor, one cruising right past our chartered yacht 1km out at sea, and others coming in with the 12m tides, forcing us to flee from sublime rockpools in our motorised dingy back to the safety of our yacht lying just offshore.

But now we are lucky to be in Queensland - Lakefield National Park -having travelled over 500km since that first warning sign... a simple sandwich board sitting on the Cardwell Beach promenade. 'WARNING - ACHTUNG - Recent crocodile sighting in this area'

And today we've finally seen our very first Queensland saltie, here at Catfish Billabong, Lakefield - the second largest park in Queensland - and as always up here, with brightly-coloured warning signs, and reports of nearby saltie sightings.

This specimen is just 1.5m, sort of cute and seemingly fast asleep in the midday sun, on a nice flat rock overlooking a placid Monet pond of white waterlilies with yellow centres.

But it's sure hard to imagine this baby beastie warrants the ubiquitous warnings: "

Crocodiles inhabit this area - attacks may cause injury or death.

*Keep away from the water's edge when launching or retrieving boats.

*Do not clean fish or fish waste near the water's edge.

*Camp well away from water.

And it goes without saying of course... never... ever... smile at a crocodile.

Comment

Postcard from Etty Bay

4 Comments

Postcard from Etty Bay

They call this the 'Cassowary Coast' and say it's the best place to spot these endangered beasties in the wild. So that's why we have come, to this tiny but beautiful alcove of a bay - just south of Innisfail, Queensland - with wet rainforest all the way down to the sea. And, as it happens, we have already passed one plain-looking juvenile on arrival, browsing by the side of the road in fading light.

There has been rain, with pools on the ground, mist on the far headland, tropical clouds black as we set up camp tucked in a corner between forest and beach, the heavy tropical air loaded with smells... that dank, often pungent mix of permanently wet leaf litter mulch, a multitude of living, breathing leaves in every shade of green and secret flowers we cannot see... and right here, the ozone rich sea mist, the surf and salt from the permanently pounding Pacific.

In the morning we wake to the drifting patter of rain on the roof. There's breakfast of fruit and yoghurt and the obligatory walk on the beach, this time in rain jackets, warm sand beneath bare feet, the air a balmy 24degC.

But we are not alone it seems, met by a beach-going cassowary, a fully grown specimen this time - both sexes looking similar - resplendant in regal but hairy plumage of glistening black... bright blue neck with a splash of red, paler blue cheeks, dangling red wattles and the hallmark wedge-like crown - used to push a path through the thickest forest vines.

Later we receive another unexpected personal visit, and consider ourselves very lucky, this time at camp. There's the slightest pause, and we can't help feeling as though we are being sized-up, up close. That head is raised, turned then cocked, with gleaming, wizened eye... that mighty, clawed front foot paused mid-stride.

We look at each other. Is this the same bird we met earlier on the beach? But suddenly it's gone, having dissapeared back into the seemingly impenetrable rainforest right nextdoor, and we wonder if us human nomads all look alike to a beach-wandering cassowary.

4 Comments

Postcard from Eungella

4 Comments

Postcard from Eungella

From Capricorn Caves, we drive to Eungella National Park and pull into Broken River camp just before sunset - Eungella being 100km west of Mackay. Although 26degC today, at 900m elevation it gets cold at night, the mountain rainforest dense, with a lush fern and palm understorey.

It's often wet underfoot, especially at night and early morning. And yes, there is the occasional leech. But for a National Park camp as special as this and with only 12-spots, it's a surprise to see only three occupied... and no-one directly on the river bank. There is a little mud, but we do have gumboots and drive right in, our truck bonnet overlooking the river.

We've read about this place some time back, the best chance to see platypus in the wild, but to be honest, we take that claim with a grain of salt as neither of us have ever seen a platypus in the wild.

So it's incredible to believe our luck when we get out of the truck to look down on the river and spot a platypus cruising in our direction, seemingly oblivious of our rapturous attention and focused on his evening meal, followed by another of his brethren sighted just upstream.

With the fading light we listen to a last kookaburra chorus and the white noise of water rushing over rocks upstream, donning jackets as darkness settles, the air dank and earthy, the forest leaves already wet.

After dinner we sit reading under our truck awning and ponder our luck, just how the hell we managed to pull up, park and be immediately treated to a personal visit from an emblematic oddity and a national treasure normally so "solitary, shy and difficult to observe".

4 Comments

Lady Elliot and the magic mantas

2 Comments

Lady Elliot and the magic mantas

A line of horizontal cloud sits low to the west, over a blue strip of pale sky sandwiched above a wine dark sea. A waning orange sun is sinking and 2-yachts bob just offshore, their masts bouncing to and fro.

We are here for 3-days on this tiny island, another of Australia's 19-World Heritage listings, having left the truck at Bundaberg Aerodrome and flown for 45min to this most southerly tip of The Great Barrier Reef.

Distant surf roars away to the east - the far side of the island - the early evening air here awash with the clatter of white-capped noddies tussling for evening roosts on wispy branches of bulloak and within jungle clumps of octopus bush, pandanus and pisonia. Waves burst like champagne bubbles at our wet sandaled feet, on banks of pure coral sand as white as snow, the smell of rain sweet on black clouds overhead.

Later we circumnavigate this tiny but lush tropical island on foot and in the dark, hoping to glimpse the last of this seasons turtle hatchlings and their newborn dash for the water... on an island once denuded of all topsoil, including almost every stick of vegetation in the destructive quest for fertilizer left by generations of seabirds, that like the turtles, return to breed here year after year.

Our days are spent snorkeling with turtles, sharks, eagle rays... and a myriad of fish. Out by Lighthouse Bommie the water is clear, 15m deep and warm at 23degC. We can't believe our luck and are treated to quite a show: giant dancing manta rays, the gentle giants with black, bat-like wings 3m across, and weighing in at 1-tonne each. They wheel and turn, roll, rise and fall - magic worthy of the Bolshoi Ballet.

2 Comments

Calling on Carnarvon Gorge

Comment

Calling on Carnarvon Gorge

Heading inland from Hervey Bay is a 500km detour from our anticipated coastal route north... and a big day's drive in most people's book. But we share the driving - and it is a World Heritage area after all - so what the hell.

We arrive at the visitor centre in fading light, to find camping only allowed at specific times of year... and with no camping just now. So we double back to just outside the National Park boundary. 

We've happened across 'Sandstone Park', a sprawling cattle station dream of the owners, blessed with a high double ridge above the gorge itself... at the moment blanketed in drizzly black.

In the daylight the weather is grey and cloudy, with clearing rain. But the day ahead reveals some of the gorge's secrets, with a walk over stepping stone creek crossings  to a natural amphitheater reached via several flights of vertical steps, and a long chasm open to the sky but just one person wide. A natural overhang is a gallery of indigenous painting on a vast, soaring sandstone wall, making the onlooker feeling minuscule and irrelevant. Impossibly rock-wrought ponds and waterfalls, and secluded moss gardens garnered with a dose of Dreamtime magic.

The evening brings a special bonus, gold-drenched sandstone escarpments, a roaring campfire and the smell of woodsmoke under endless stars.

On the second morning we are blessed with bewitching views of the same timeless escarpments - this time white - among broken wisps of drifting mist... calls of currawongs and cockatoos, and a visit from a lone bovine visitor looking bored with it all.

Comment

Postcard from Moreton Island - beaches and birdsong

2 Comments

Postcard from Moreton Island - beaches and birdsong

From the Moreton Bay ferry, there's a one-way track east across the island, daunting sand hills at times... then narrow and winding, powder-soft, bumpy or deeply rutted. How one bloke tows a trailer is a mystery, and it's a welcome thought that we'll meet nothing from the opposite direction on this leg. 

On our first day an old timer warns that some get bored out here. "There are no possums mate, no kangaroos or koalas either. Never have been." He tells us tales of "blackfellas befriending local dolphins" to help with the herding of fish, and living mostly off seafood. "And there are middens in track cuttings mate, that go back thousands of years."

On the east coast our truck nestles among ocean coastal dunes with sublime sunsets on a lagoon of a lake just a short walk inland - our camp with the constant roar of surf and the calls of birds that flit and roost in rolling surrounds of casuarina and  banksia bush.

Our daily ritual starts with sunrise, a swim in the lake, the fresh water chilly, the air balmy but still. Next is breakfast: Innisfail red papaya, muscatels, banana and pot-set yogurt, the smell and taste of fresh-brewed coffee - hot and black - the last of a treasured gift from Costa Rica.

Down by the surf the waves pound even louder. A pair of Brahminy Kites are white and russet red, flight feathers extended like fingers. They drop and soar on unseen thermals, and a stiff Pacific breeze laden with the smell of salt - where a single morning walk can last forever on a beach of a highway that's mostly empty, awash, shiny and flat under a morning sun.

From the beach we gaze south to the profile of Mt Tempest - the tallest vegetated sand dune in the southern hemisphere.... then for the length of the coast until shrouded in sea mist, the weekend abode of long rods and wishfull ocean fisherfolk. Another sandy track leads across the bottom of the island back to the west coast and the sheltered waters of Moreton Bay, with Shark Point home to dugongs and giant turtles.

We turn north to where a distant lighthouse sits afloat a faded promontory in early morning light - an Antipodean dreaming... or maybe-memories of a Mediaeval Mont Saint Michel.

2 Comments

Outback and onwards

Comment

Outback and onwards

We are 350km northeast of Adelaide, the sky an endless sea of blue, the only sound an occassional surf-like roar. But we are a long way inland, the roar just wind rushing through hardy conifer-like indigenous black oaks that proliferate these scrubby plains of red dirt and bulldust, the occasional rock and sand ridge drift.

We are in the Danggali Conservation zone, once a 253,000Ha South Australian sheep farm, now just ruins, but declared Australia’s first park classified under UNESCO’s 'Man and the Biosphere Program' - a living laboratory and hopefully a successful balance between conservation and sustainable use.

Yes, we've camped out in the middle of nowhere before - the wilds of WA's Cape Arid, on a fast-eroding beach at the northern point of Qld's Fraser Island. But this may be our first truly 'wilderness' camping experience - in our Troopy truck at least - no facilities, no shelter - toilet duties needing a hole to be dug, the paper burned and all buried.

We are many miles from anyone, no other vehicle for days on end, but equipped with 4x4 recovery gear, a week's supply of food, wine, beer, our 70L water tank and 2-90L diesel tanks... us having driven north from the outpost town of Burra, over the Goyder Line and finally arriving here, in the middle of nowhere - the South Australian 'Outback'.

It's autumn, but the days' temperature still in their 30s, lots of animal tracks in the red sand, but no animals to be seen. The night silence is deafening, the clear sky ablaze.

Next, it's further north, headed for Broken Hill, passing nothing but 'stations', 'outstations' , 'homesteads' - and through gate after gate - the sandy tracks and ridges, the occasional emu, the recent carcass of an unfortunate kangaroo... the smell of rotten sunbaked meat... and the special treat of five magnificent wedgetail eagles jostling on a single branch, momentarily disturbed from their roadside feast.

Comment

Postcard from Portland

Comment

Postcard from Portland

Every now and then we are reminded of exactly where we live - in a country blessed with 21 of the most venomous snakes on earth, from a list of the top 25.

We are 150km south west of Melbourne, on the Great Ocean Road,at the equally iconic Cape Nelson Lighthouse - famous for whale watching, vicious swarms of marauding March flies - and the funky ambiance of Isabella's Cafe.

The flat whites are welcome, piping hot and strong, the fresh croissants filled with cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. All to the gentle strains of Simone and Sinatra.

When time to go, we ask for directions to the toilets, taking care to close the door when leaving, the local snakes prone to sneaking in and drinking from the toilet cistern.

Comment

Postcard from Lanjanuc – Mt Alexander, Central Victoria

Comment

Postcard from Lanjanuc – Mt Alexander, Central Victoria

This is our first road trip in the new truck.

We head north on the Calder for an hour at the start of this southern Spring. It's Kyneton for coffee, and baguettes for later.

Another half hour and we leave the Harcourt Valley towards Sutton Grange, then off again northward to the mountain where the truck grinds upwards, and where we finally pull over to the side.

A tartan, rubber-backed blanket is spread over a mammoth granite slab, our sitting spot framed by trees with scars of black; their burned bark a reminder of savage summer infernos from years gone by, rushing up from 350m below, those same rolling plains now a painted panorama of pastoral green. 

Television towers cast shadows over us, straddling grey eucalypts and grey ragged boulders; shadows the Jaara Jaara folk never saw as they sought out tucker of Black Wallaby, ringtail or Eastern Grey. There's a shimmer in the leaves, the breeze slight and from the south, the smells all eucalyptus and earthen. They called this place `Lanjanuc', those first people; a 370 million year-old granite and bush-covered outcrop, a sacred place of solace and observing their ancient but suddenly changing world. 

In our world, the late lunch baguettes are welcome: of eggplant, chicken and crusty French bread. It's 12degC, the sun warm on our backs, Bendigo somewhere to the north. 

It's getting late when we head onwards and downwards, but there's something else here to see: something odd and strangely out of kilter.

We follow the western slopes south, cockatoos and corellas grazing in a paddock; sidling past sprawling orchards of apple and pear. Then on a red, rutted dirt track once more up, in the north-west foothills now, classic Australian bush both sides.

Until just ahead there's a change, no Manna, Wattle or Box just here; and not the ubiquitous dark spread of plantation Pine. 

These trunks are tall and straight, the sweeping bows wide and still winter bare, while on the ground lay a wild crossbreed jungle of suckers that defy the last of winter, a riot of large green leaves - classic Oak. So, this is `THE OAK FOREST' - the 20-acre, planting a mix of Algerian, bristle-tipped, English and cork. Planted in 1900, there were grand plans to use the acorns in the leather tanning industry.

Looking back down the hill, the truck sits silent at the bottom of the track in the last of afternoon sun and surrounded by a forest more in keeping with Medieval Europe than in the walkabout wilds of Central Victoria. We're 150km north of Melbourne, an Antipodean-European city just 180 years old.

Comment