Tag Archives: Queensland

Thursday, August 29

It was still dark when I got up this morning. I finished packing, dropped my key in the drop slot at the front desk, and headed for the front door, where a taxi was waiting for me.

We drove through the city and out along the river. Away from downtown, Brisbane is largely unchanged. The dawn was glorious. The just-past-full moon still hung in the deep blue sky. Mist was rising from the river. Opposite the moon, a silver and pastel sky brightened until the huge, orange, fireball sun topped the horizon. It was splendid.

Brisbane airport is hugely spacious and filled with plants. At this early hour, I breezed through and out to my gate. We took off on time for Sydney, heading out over the ocean and nearby islands before swinging south.

Clouds among the mountains

Clouds among the mountains

We followed the Great Dividing Range, and below me, the mist-haunted mountains looked beautiful and green: dark green of forests, brighter green of paddocks, fields, and clearings.

Out over the red land

Out over the red land

In Sydney, it was an easy stroll to the gate for my flight to Alice Springs—and then out over the broad, red land. My seatmate on the flight was a delightful woman from the office of Aboriginal Affairs. By the time we landed, we were well enough acquainted to happily share a taxi into town.

My heart sang as we crossed the rust-colored miles to town and nearly burst as we passed through Pitchi Ritchi, the pass through the MacDonnell Ranges that admits passengers from the south into Alice Springs. It’s unbelievably good to be back.

We reached my destination first, Toddy’s Backpacker Cabins, and I was dropped off. Toddy’s offers a level of accommodation equal to some of the places I stayed toward the end of my previous trip: clean, safe, cheap, laid-back, friendly, and very basic. I was shown to my room across a broad yard and then given a tour of the facilities, including the shower block, barbecue area, small shop for necessities, and laundry. The furniture in my room is a bed, a chair, and a large, strange wooden contraption that appears to have been designed to hold a couple of backpacks. The floor is linoleum, which makes sense given the pervasiveness of dust. There is a hand basin (cold water only, but still, nice to have water in the room). But it is enough.

The yard is littered with 4WDs, and a dog was sleeping in the dust as I passed. The clientele is pretty young, and the staff appears to be a mix of young locals, young Europeans, and older Aborigines. This place is perfect for Alice Springs. A bonus I quickly discovered is that these folks are really into the whole outback experience. They offer cheap tours, bike loans, and if you can get six people together, George, a member of the staff here, will drive you anywhere you want to go. Plus tonight, they’re having a barbecue (with kangaroo on the menu). Could hardly ask for more.

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August 28, part 3

We descended the side of the mountain opposite the one we’d ascended on the way up to Binna Burra. As we wound through the forest, our driver, Brock, described what we were passing, then spend a good bit of time telling me things I should see on my next visit to Queensland. (He recommended Moreton Island, which he reckons is as nice as Frazer Island, and is one of his favorite holiday spots. Of course, since I haven’t seen Frazer Island, his suggestion actually adds two destinations to my “next time” list.)

After about an hour of driving, the Gold Coast appeared on the horizon, the line of high rises in the distance looking like broken teeth at the mouth of the green valley, with the ocean beyond, shimmering invitingly. A while later, we dropped some people in Nerang (the fastest-growing town in the Gold Coast, we were told), and then continued on to Brisbane.

The sun was just setting as we pulled into the Brisbane Transit Centre. I shouldered my pack, tripod, and camera bag, and, in the blazing orange sunset light, I headed through the Roma Street Gardens, then turned up Albert Street for the climb back to my hotel.

It was dark when I reached the hotel. I stopped at the desk to pick up my big bag, used the free taxi phone to order a taxi for the morning, then said farewell to the hotel manager and his wife, since I’ll be gone well before the front desk opens tomorrow morning.

I’d brought some fresh fruit back with me, and I had a banana and a “custard apple” for dinner. I’d been told I should try the custard apple, and while it was not yet quite completely ripe, it was still lovely and very much like custard. The gnarled, black exterior hides a creamy, white interior dotted with large, shiny, black seeds. The soft flesh has both a flavor and texture that make it easy to see where this fruit got its common name.

Then it was time to pack and prepare for tomorrow’s departure. I’m sorry to be leaving Queensland, but I’m very excited about getting back to the Red Centre. I set my alarm for 4:50 am, and by 9:00 pm, I was pretty well ready for bed–and for my departure tomorrow.

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August 28, part 2

After about an hour and a half of hiking, we stopped in a grove of moss-covered trees that were identified as Antarctic beeches—Latin name, Nothofagus moorei (also known as Australian beech in some other sources). Apparently, this species of tree dates back to the supercontinent Gondwana and is the type of tree that covered Antarctica, back when Antarctica was still warm. (A bit of later research turned up the fact that trees in the Nothofagus family are actually “false beeches,” with members of the Fagaceae family being the true beeches—in case you wondered.) Interestingly, the small grove of beeches was clearly different than the surrounding rainforest. James explained that these trees need cooler weather to survive, which is why they only grow on the highest mountains this far north. The somewhat taller close relative of these trees, Tasmanian myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii, also sometimes called Antarctic beech or Australian myrtle, or maybe even red myrtle, just to keep things interesting) sticks to the cooler, more southerly climate of Tasmania. (Probably more than you ever wanted to know about the trees—but once I started looking and found out how confused the nomenclature was, I couldn’t resist.)

At this lovely spot, James lowered his backpack and produced scones and fruit. Mike and Greg (two regular visitors to Binna Burra who were on the long hike yesterday) also had packs, and they unloaded billy cans, water bottles, and portable fuel jars (no open fires up here when it’s this dry), and we boiled the billy for morning tea. Above us, bees hummed among the flowers in the tree tops, and all around us, rosellas flitted through the branches. While the billies warmed, we climbed a large mound of huge, lichen-stained boulders for a view back through the forest. James mentioned that the reason the beech trees were so close together is that, when a tree dies, new trees start up almost immediately from the base of the old trees.

With tea finished and gear repacked, we continued on. We left the beeches behind and were again enveloped by the rainforest. By 12:30, we were back at Binna Burra. I dropped my hat and sweater with my gear in the lodge, as the day was warming up. Then I set off across the broad clearing again, to take the Bellbird Track down to the Bellbird Clearing, where a barbecue lunch was being prepared. It was supposed to be a 15 minute walk, but it took me 25 minutes, because I stopped to photograph everything. The steaks were already cooked when I reached the barbeque area, and I served myself a steak and some “vegetable marrow” (zucchini), salad, and a large serving of fresh fruit. I think joined Mike on a log in the shade. We ate and chatted, and every now and then, I’d hand him my plate, say “Please hold this a minute,” and dash off to photograph something. I was especially glad to get a nice shot of a kookaburra that perched on a branch near the edge of the clearing.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra


After lunch, there was time for one last short walk, and a final wander around the lodge. Then, at 4 o’clock, it was into a minibus that carried us away from Binna Burra. Sigh.

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Wednesday, August 28

Another glorious sunrise, accompanied by the symphony of birds. My back, shoulders, and neck still ached from carrying a pack and camera equipment yesterday, but a few minutes of vigorous exercise loosened the muscles back up.

Again, at breakfast, the birds came to check for handouts. Most abundant were the rainbow lorikeets, followed by currawongs, plus a few crimson rosellas, and a satin bowerbird dashing in out of the brush, hoping the other birds would drop something.

James, the lodge manager (a handsome, young man with immense enthusiasm for the beauty of this place) came around to see who would be coming on the Tullawalal Circuit hike with him this morning. This is one of the “short walks” at Binna Burra, and I signed on. Then I dashed back to my cabin to finish packing and moved my gear to the lodge, since checkout was at 10 am, and I’d be on the hike then.

As we had done yesterday, we gathered at 9 am on the flower-bordered lawn behind the dining room (always behind, because the front projects over the cliff edge). It was to be only a 2-1/2 hour hike, so we didn’t need packs. It was amazing how much lighter my camera equipment seemed when it wasn’t in company with a backpack.

Everywhere, great views.

Everywhere, great views.

We headed across the clearing and past the original house built by the family that settled Binna Burra, up around the campground, and past the lovely pittosporum tree, the fragrance of which delights me beyond words. We stopped at a sign that outlined today’s hike, and then we headed into the forest.

Since this was a shorter walk, and not one of those gotta-keep-going-or-we’ll-never-get-back-by-dark marathons, James set a pace that was brisk but interrupted far more frequently. He pointed out buttress roots and strangler figs, stinging trees, forest apples, and rosellas crunching gum nuts overhead. We stopped to see the trapdoor spiders, and James pointed out a rock surrounded by cracked snail shells. This, he explained, was the work of the noisy pitta, a bird that smashes shells on rocks to open (and eat) the snails. We saw a hoop pine, one of the many popular timbers that became an early industry for the area (and which might have caused an early end to the rainforest, had not several people had the insight to protect this region). James also pointed out the Lignum Vitae, the tree with the hardest wood in the rainforest. Also known as ironwood, it’s so dense it sinks in water. It can be used for bearings and was a common material for parts of ships that would wear out if lesser woods were used. It has an oil that makes it insect resistant, and when it falls, it takes eons to decay. Cool.

In the distance, we could hear a catbird calling. Its call was sort of a cross between a cat’s meowing and a baby’s cry. Then we walked on.

As we walked, James told us a lot about the rainforest. Trees with buttress roots don’t have taproots. Everything in the understory has adapted to take maximum advantage of the limited sunlight: new growth is reddish, which processes sunlight more efficiently, and on some vines, the stems are as flat as the leaves, and are green as well, so more of the plant’s surface is exposed to the light.

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August 27, part 4

There was a lot of up and down now, with the vegetation changing every hour or so. About an hour after lunch, we came upon a large carpet python sunning itself on a rock. We stopped to watch it slide away, then continued our up and down hike.

By 4 o’clock, we were back in the rainforest. Here, I got a lift from the amazingly fragrant native gardenia that was growing in abundance at one place along the path. The perfume surrounded us. It was, of the dozen or so lovely fragrances I’d breathed on this hike, the loveliest.

Back in the rainforest

Back in the rainforest


It was beginning to get darker, and I was beginning to feel pretty weary. But you don’t have any option but to slog on. My next big boost came when we reached a turnoff to another trail, and there was a sign pointing ahead that said, “Binna Burra–4.7 kilometers.” That at least seemed manageable.

I continued to be amazed by the lushness, the beauty, the variety around me. It’s like the flora is playing a game of “let’s see how many totally different leaf shapes we can come up with.” It’s astonishing.

At one muddy bank, Jenny pointed out the little hidey-holes of the trap door spiders. Glen used the tip of a knife to carefully demonstrate how the silk-hinted trap doors work. Amazing.

We finally walked back into Binna Burra just as the sun disappeared from the sky–about 5:45. I was shattered, but also triumphant. No time to whimper, however, about sore muscles. Time to clean up and head to the lounge for music and munchies before dinner. (Too late to watch the sunset.)

I had a Strongbow cider (which I’d discovered during my first trip to Australia) with my dinner, and amiable conversations with a substantial number of people. People who travel tend to strike up friendships easily, and I ended up with a lot of recommendations and some invitations–for next time.

I didn’t really feel up to the 1-1/2 hour, flashlight stroll to see nighttime creatures (I figured I didn’t need much more than the adorable brushtail possums that climbed up on the porch to enjoy the fruit put out there for them.) It’s an early start again tomorrow, so I hobbled off to my cabin for a good, long stretch and then to bed.

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August 27, part 3

There were more flowers on this side of the valley: a variety of peas, some rock orchids, purple matchstick flowers (pink and purple flowers of the matchstick bromeliad–a flower that had delighted me on my first visit to the rainforest), and many others. Overhead, we could hear the crunching sounds that signaled that parrots were feeding on gum nuts in the treetops.

We came to a broad, shiny, black swath in the cliff face, which Glen pointed out. It was a great seam of obsidian–volcanic glass–another relic of this area’s days as the edge of a giant volcano. At one clearing, Glen also pointed out the distant Mount Warning–the remains of the massive volcano’s center.

I felt something bite my neck, and I reached back to find a tick. I pulled it off (before I knew what it was), and when I saw it was in fact a tick (legs still moving), I threw it away in horror. Mike said I should have squashed it–then insisted on inspecting the spot it had bitten, to make sure I got it all. (Often, when you try to remove a tick, its head gets left behind. Fortunately, the whole tick had come away.) Everybody in the group got a brief case of the crawlies, as they searched to make sure nothing had gotten on them. Then Jenny noted cheerfully that, since it was so dry, at least we weren’t having trouble with leaches. Glad to hear it!

My calf muscles were complaining as we continued our climb up the mountain. (Not certain why I thought my three miles a day on a flat walking track back home had prepared me for this.) Ken and Mike, seeing that I was struggling with my camera equipment as I climbed, took turns carrying it on the steeper parts of our uphill hike. (Everyone had a backpack, but I was the only one crazy enough to be carrying extra gear.) Their chivalry was hugely appreciated. I was breathing hard but was still enjoying my awe-inspiring surroundings. Grass trees became more frequent, most with the immense central spike that bears their tiny flowers.

By 1 o’clock, we’d reached Kooloonbano Point, on the top of the far wall. From here, we could see the whole Numinbah Valley, with Egg Rock and Turtle Rock far below. In a shady clump of sheoaks, we dropped our packs, sat down, and pulled out our packed lunches. I was starved, and I ate the sandwich and nut mix enclosed. Mike and I were chatting, and he suggested that I save the fruit for later, and not eat the nut bread at all. “You’re hungry, of course. But it’s a lot easier to climb if you’re not full.” Boy, was he right. I regretted having eaten soon after starting up again. Fortunately, everyone else was full, so it kept the pace a little slower for about half an hour.

Path levels out

Path levels out

Fern frond uncurling

Fern frond uncurling

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August 27, part 2

Well, downhill wasn’t bad, though it was steep in places. It was endlessly fascinating. The vegetation changed frequently and remained dense. We passed massive boulders and strange formations where different types of volcanic rock collided millions of years ago. The trail actually took us through the center of massive, split Kong Gong Rock.

We crossed (carefully) Riflebird Creek and Chiminya Creek. Aside from all the information shared by Glen and Jenny, I got a running commentary of where we were from Ken and Mike, two locals who are regulars at Binna Burra who know the tracks well.

Several quail, log runners, and a little shrike thrush dashed in to divert our attentions. As beautiful as our surroundings were, we mostly looked at the track: vines, rocks, and sometimes very close cliff edges made watching our steps advisable.

Huge red cedars, tallow trees, flooded gums, and brush boxwoods towered over us. Some of these trees are estimated to be 1,200 or more years old. The root systems were fascinatingly diverse: the large, gnarly “paws” of the tallow trees; the braid-like, enveloping roots of the strangler figs; the strange, sea-urchin-like root clusters of the piccabeen palms; and the amazing buttress roots of a variety of trees.

We finally reached Nixon’s Creek, at the bottom of the descent. The valley was crowded with palm trees. Here, we sidetracked to Lower Ballanjui Falls. It has been a dry winter, so the falls were not lush, but were still attractive, with a shimmering veil of water trailing down the sides of the cliff that towered above us.

Palms crowd the valley

Palms crowd the valley

We stopped for a fruit and water break (you can drink from the streams, so we took the opportunity to fill our water bottles, since this is the only water source we’ll encounter on this hike). Here, we were suddenly accosted by a very cheeky brush turkey, who was certain that anywhere you found humans, you found handouts (he wasn’t wrong). He even started to go into packs, when we stopped feeding him. It was pretty funny.

Then it was time to head up the other side. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was not able to race up the valley wall. The track was pretty well graded, and was only really steep in a few places, but even a gradual climb of 1,500 feet is still 1,500 feet going up. But it still remained fascinating. We’d exchanged the incredible lushness of the rainforest for dense eucalypt forest. Glen pointed out the wonderful scribbly gums. This species is attacked by a very particular beetle, which burrows under the bark in wildly squiggly patterns, and then, when the bark is shed, you have a smooth, pale trunk covered with rust-colored scribbles.

Scribbly Gum

Scribbly Gum


(I hope you realize that these small pictures are “thumbnails” that, when clicked on, take you to full-size images. I don’t see a lot of clicking reported by WordPress, so I’m wondering if folks are missing all the details. For this image, you probably won’t be able to see the “scribbles” at all without going to the larger image.)

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