Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Bunyas to Isla Gorge

The Belafonte's next stop was to be the Bunya mountains. On the way though, I missed a turnoff and while driving along the wrong road I saw a turnoff marked with "Muntaba Railway Tunnel" so I followed the signs and ended up at a little picnic area with some camp ruins, a loop walk and a little information panel. Apparently the tunnel was bored 287m through the top of the Great Dividing Range, a process taking 13 months around 1911.

I walked down to the tunnel to find it had gates at both ends (closed in winter) to protect the Bentwing Bats that roost there. Apparently the colony in winter has up to 8000 bats which mostly move away in summer, though there were large numbers (probably up to a thousand) there when I visited. I walked down the guano-lined tunnel very quietly but my presence was enough to disturb the bats, which flew off the ceiling and began milling around above me.

Bentwing Bats, Muntapa Railway Tunnel

The drive up in to the Bunya Mountains was very pleasant, passing through some majestic rainforest. In the Bunyas there are two large pine species - the Bunya, which tends to grow on the ridge crests while the Hoop pine grows on the slopes. The first walk I did was west of the crest and I was surprised to find that it went through mainly dry rainforest and vine scrub (with no pines!) rather than the moist rainforest that I had driven through. I camped at Burton's Well next to a hippy-type couple with whom I shared some tea and a baked banana with chocolate.

Natural Bald, Bunyas and Hoop pines

I rose and packed up early so I could do a nice-looking loop walk in the rainforest. I was rewarded for my early start as I hadn't gone far through the forest when I saw something hopping off the track. I approached silently and cautiosly and managed to have a good look at a Noisy Pitta, a nice looking and interesting bird which hops along the forest floor. I also saw piles of broken snail shells beside rocks - these are left by the Pittas which smash the shells and devour the contents. A bit further on I saw another of these birds as it flew off.

I ran into a ranger as I completed the walk and told him about the Pittas - he was quite surprised that I'd seen a couple as he'd been there for 12 years or so but had never spotted any! I guess that as a ranger he's normally making a fair bit of noise and the Pittas seemed pretty shy.

Rock Orchid, Bunya Mountains

The next leg of my journey was north then west to Isla Gorge via Chinchilla and Miles. When I reached Miles I saw a great display of petrified wood at the information centre, so I pulled over beside the road a little bit out of town to do an emu walk and managed to find a few pieces.

The grandiose Isla Gorge cuts a broad, complex maze through the plateau of the sandstone belt. I arrived at sunset - just in time to venture out along the spit that extends into the gorge, giving amazing views of the sun disappearing on one side of the gorge, and the cliffs of the other side lit up in pink and orange. The thunderstorms in the area added some drama to the scene. These storms came close throughout the evening, making for a windy dinner, though the lightning and rain never came too close. After darkness had fallen I walked back out along the spit with my headtorch and was rewarded by spotting a couple of the bizzare-looking Prickly Knob-tailed Geckoes, Nephrurus asper on the chalky, soft white sandstone.

Prickly Knob-tailed Gecko

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