Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Just a quick hello

I'm in Mackay - I don't have time to do any proper blogging at the moment but I just thought I'd check in and send my assurances that updates are coming (perhaps not till after Christmas though).

A quick log of my movements:

From the Border Ranges:
 - Crows Nest
 - Bunya Mountains
 - Isla Gorge
 - Expedition National Park
 - (Baralaba)
 - Blackdown Tableland
 - Cape Palmerston National Park

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Baking at the Border

I spent the best part of the day at Sheepstation Creek in the Border Ranges, a very nice campground, perfect for relaxing after the previous days' exertions.

The highlight of the afternoon was cooking! I had a craving for some nice fresh bread so I got kneading. I made a foccacia and a big calzone and cooked them both in the camp oven.

I was very proud of my efforts and promptly went over to the neighbouring campers (a Brittish couple) to tell them about my achievements. As I chatted to them, a koala wandered across the campsite! The Brits were appreciative, but they just sort of thought that this kind of thing happens all the time in Australia!

The evening's search for frogs turned very snakey, with a Small-eyed snake and a Golden Crowned making an appearance. At Forest Tops, a fair sized carpet python had swallowed something like a big possum, bandicoot or pademelon and lay comatose in the grass, digesting peacefully. Also on the reptile front, I spotted four Leaftailed Geckos (Saltuarius swainii) on trees around Brindle Creek.

The following afternoon after a bit of driving I arrived at Goomburra in the Main Range National Park. The big highlight here was the Fleay's Barred Frog (Mixophes fleayi) in the creek beside the campsite. I saw 20+ of these endangered frogs, the males calling beside the creek (which was also full of tadpoles of the species). This sighting was another first for me!

Red-necked Pademelons were in huge numbers around the campsite, so if you ever want to see them, go there! I heard the screech of a Sooty Owl several times in the night, perhaps it will knock off a few.

After a very cold night I rose early and drove to Toowoomba, where I now sit. Time to look at the map and work out where to go next!

As always, make sure you check out the photo gallery for more pics

The ballad of Mt Barney

I'd heard of Mount Barney a few times before. I somehow associated it with wild bushwalks. Driving to Yellow Pinch Reserve, with the mountain thrusting up into view before me, I began to get a strong feeling as I peered through the trees at it. I began to really want to climb it.

I was disappointed then when the information booth told me that it was a long, hard, unmarked walk and that walkers wishing to climb the summit must be super fit, experienced bushwalkers who would turn up at 7:00 in the morning and take 10 hours to climb it, after notifying friends and family where they were going, and carrying topographic maps, compasses around their necks, prepared for whatever freaks of weather nature would throw at them.

I reluctantly set off on one of the shorter walks that would take me south of the mountain. The track was along a fire trail and frankly, fairly uninteresting. After about 5 km or so the 'south ridge' trail started which went up to a campground near the summit. The sign said '6-8 hours return'. I surveyed my position.

 - I really wanted to do the full walk to the summit
 - I had a first aid kit, food, water and wet weather gear
 - I had no detailed map
 - I had a GPS and had marked the position of the car
 - I was fit and healthy and had been doing quite a bit of walking lately
 - The weather looked like it might rain/storm

And last but not least, it was already 1 o'clock in the afternoon, giving me only 6 hours of daylight (QLD time, remember).

I decided to nip up there and back.

Let it be known, for the record, that one empirically cannot 'nip up' to the top of Mount Barney and back. It was a pretty hard walk, considering that I was doing it very fast. It's a big climb and I did have to take a couple of short breaks. I gave it a pretty good shot though.

I made it to the top in about 2.5 hours. For the last section there is no track and it's basically a scramble up the rocks to the summit (this is the east peak). The view over the mountains and ranges in the area is fantastic, and the West Peak is very impressive too. The campsite in the saddle between the peaks looked like a very nice place to spend the night, with a gurgling stream nearby.

Tired atop Mt Barney

Heading down the mountain was very satisfying. A light, cooling rain fell. I had plenty of time and the going was much easier this way! Each step down felt good because I'd worked for the height on the way up. I got back to the start of the trail in 4.5 hours (hah!) and strolled back to Yellow Pinch where, exhausted, I treated myself to a shower and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Chaelundi, Washpool and surrounds

Wow, it's been a week since my last blogging so I feel like I've got so much to tell! I'll have to keep this fairly brief though.

Hand-cut tunnel on old Glen Innes - Grafton Road

A quick synopsis of my travels after New England :

 - Drove through Guy Fawkes River NP to camp at Chaelundi.
 - Continued up the old Grafton-Glen Innes Road, camped at Mann River rest area.
 - Hung around Washpool/Gibraltar Range for a couple of days (camped at Coombadhja Ck in Washpool)
 - Visited and camped at Basket Swamp NP.
 - Went through Stanthorpe and Warwick and camped at Koreelah Ck.
 - Spent some time at Mount Barney.
 - Camped at Sheepstation Creek in the Border ranges.
 - Drove through Rathdowney, past Lake Moogerah, visited Spicer's Gap and the Governor's chair before settling down for the night at Goomberah, Main Range.

Some highlights from the first part of this trip.

Just as I thought my luck in seeing cool animals had to come to an end, I saw yet another L. subglandulosa at Chaelundi, as well as a sugar glider, and best of all, a tiny, adorable, agile, hyperactive feathertail glider! I was able to watch it for some time as it fiddled around in a tea-tree right near the creek. The next day I tramped out to Lucifer's Thumb (Chaelundi bluff) where I spotted a Rock wallaby basking in the morning sun on the rocks below the cliff. Also in the macropod world, there were big mobs of wallabies on the old winding road to Glen Innes - wallabies that looked very strange to me, pale, grey with strange markings on their backs and long tails. A quick look in the book identified them as Whiptailed Wallabies. Frogging at Mann River only revealed common species though a pretty brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis) was a treat.

Whiptailed Wallaby

The snakes were also out on the Washpool walk - I saw a big black snake which made me jump as it shot off into the bush from a sunny patch on the track in front of me. Another snake I didn't get a good look at, though I suspect it was a rough-scale.

Falls at Washpool

I've had some great refreshing swims in the creeks along the way - the water has been much warmer than it was up at New England. I swam in the river at Dalmorton, twice (evening and morning) at Mann River, and again at Basket Swamp Falls. Koreelah Creek near Warwick looked a bit too chilly for me though.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Assorted notes...

Just a few general notes...

 - Car

Going great guns, absolutely no problems at all. I love her! I haven't had to get the winch out yet...

 - Camping

The National Park campgrounds are awesome around here. Secluded, lots of wildlife, great facilities. I even had a shower at New England! It was... invigorating. Oh, and the other exciting thing was that I caught a glimpse of my first quoll! It was at night just before bed, I'd seen scats around and the park sign said they sometimes visited. I got a fairly good look but it was all too short as the quoll sauntered back into the forest and of course I had no chance of a photo.

Most nights I just sleep in the swag, sometimes under shelters if I think there's a chance of rain. The nights are sometimes pretty cold! Last night I rigged the tarp up on the side of the car to make a shelter for the swag - worked pretty well and was nice and quick to set up.

 - Cooking

I had a chicken last night! I roasted it in the camp oven on the fire. It came out beautifully, except I accidentally did it upside-down (breast side downwards). I had a couple of onions which I baked in the coals (wrapped in foil) too - delicious. Otherwise, cooking is good. I'm eating well Mum.

 - Self shots

A quick look at my photo gallery will show that my narcissistic passion for self-photography is getting sillier and sillier. I'm getting very good at counting down from 12 seconds. Who knows what will be next?

 - Meeting people

I'm talking to lots of other travellers. My standard is to invite people over to my table for a cup of tea. The europeans seem excited to meet a real Aussie, rather than other travellers, so I put on a big ocker accent and swear a lot for their benefit.

So, in general I'm having a fantastic time. It's getting a bit ridiculous how lucky I've been to see so many amazing animals.

Might spend another night around here somewhere then head up to Washpool.

New England

Just across the Waterfall Way lies New England National Park. It's pretty big. I pulled into Thungutti campground in the morning and did a day walk from there, heading over to Point Lookout then down off the plateau on the Lyrebird walk past Eagle Nest lookout Weeping rock. It was a really nice walk and a great way to see several different aspects of this part of the park.

There was some interesting information at Point Lookout - about how this whole area was created by the 'Ebor Volcano', the centre of which is somewhere in the middle of the park called The Crescent. It's really clear if you look at the river drainage patterns which radiate from this point.

Whilst doing the latter half of the walk, which was down below the edge of the escarpment, I heard numerous Sphagnum frogs (Philoria sphagnicolis) which sound kind of like a grumbling stomach or a golf-ball rolling into a hole. I was even lucky enough to find a nest with a foamy mass of eggs and attendant female!

Sphagnum frog, Philoria sphagnicolis

These frogs typically call from within the splash zone of a small waterfall or where water is trickling and dripping down the rocks.

I spent most of the next day at Dangars Falls south of Armidale, which is in the northern part of Oxley Wild Rivers National park. I thought I'd seen most of the types of landform around here but the gorge here was another thing all together. That's one of the most striking things about this part of the world - the diversity. So many types of landforms and biological communities within a pretty small area. I hadn't heard a lot about this area but now I couldn't recommend it more to anyone thinking of visiting!

It was a chilly night but I headed out for a walk anyway. In the pools along the creekbed were Dwarf Treefrogs (Litoria fallax) as well as more typical creek frogs, the Broad-palmed rocket frogs (Litoria latopalmata) and Stony Creek Frogs (Litoria wilcoxi). I also spotted a couple of Rock Wallabies here - it's apparently a pretty strong refuge for them and there's even a section of cliff that's got a dog-fence around it to protect them.

Another interesting note - I heard Fletcher's frogs (Limnodynastes fletcherii) and Beeping froglets (Crinia parinsignifera) calling from somewhere beyond a fence. These are what I would consider 'western' species so I'm obviously sort of on the edge of the distribution of these guys.

Don't forget to check out the photo gallery!

Cathedral Rock

After a brief stop at Ebor Falls (which are actually really impressive, with great columnar rock formations) I stopped in at Cathedral Rock. It was really astonishing to see the change in the landscape from Dorrigo (which is all rainforest) over only about 60km. Cathedral rock NP, by contrast, is really quite  alpine, with heathy swamps and snow gums.

I was amazed by the beauty and novelty of this landscape. I don't think I'd even heard of this park before!

There's a great walk that goes around the rock (which is actually one of the highest points on the New England tableland; it even gets snow up there!) and a scramble to the top. I loved this part and ended up spending a great bit of time up on top, rock-hopping, climbing and scrambling around the big granite boulders.

Back at the campground I met a couple from Thun, Switzerland, and ended up chatting and hanging around with them quite a bit over the next couple of days.

As night fell I headed back along the track to check out the local stream that had looked pretty promising. I didn't hear anything calling but spotted some eyeshine which turned out to be a New England treefrog (Litoria subglandulosa) - another threatened species and a very beautiful one at that!

New England treefrog, Litoria subglandulosa

I was stoked as here was a very pretty species I'd never seen before. Then a little further on I heard a staccato call and found a very photogenic Stuttering frog (Mixophes balbus)!


After the hustle and bustle of Port Macquarie (featuring many P-plate drivers) I gently pushed the Belafonte up the eastern edge of the New England tablelands to Dorrigo through Bellingen. It's a beautiful drive, and the climb up to the plateau is very cool, winding upwards, crossing narrow bridges over cascades.

I got in fairly late so I cooked a meal at Never Never picnic area (managing to fend off the brush turkey that was intent on finding something of mine to eat) then set out for a bit of a drive as I'd seen some nice creeks on the way in. Walking down the creeks I was pleased to spot the beautiful and rare Stuttering frog (Mixophyes balbus) in good numbers, the males sitting above the creek edges, calling occasionally.

Stuttering Frog, Mixophes balbus

The following day after rolling up the swag, I spent half the day exploring the tracks around Never Never. There are a couple of circuits that wind through the rainforest, often bordering the creeks there. Dorrigo has a huge rainfall (2000mm) so there's plenty of water and numerous waterfalls. On the path I took I went down to the base of Cedar falls and Casuarina falls. Both were spectacular. I spotted lots of tadpoles in the creeks - some were small hylid tadpoles, probably L. barringtonensis, but there were also some large dark tadpoles - these were M. balbus. I even saw a cute little metamorph of this species.

It started raining just as I got back to the picnic area, and it continued for the rest of the day as I relaxed in the impressive log shelter drinking lots of tea and hot chocolate. The rain encouraged a few Pouched frogs (Assa darlingtoni) to start calling around the site. These frogs are amazing. After the male and female produce fertilised eggs in the leaf litter, the male waits around for the eggs to hatch. He has two little pouches on his sides, and when the eggs hatch the tadpoles wriggle into these. Here they undergo their complete development, and eventually hop out as froglets. The most amazing thing is that the adult Assa is less than two centimetres long itself!

Pouched Frog, Assa darlingtoni

I slept another night at Dorrigo before heading westwards again, climbing higher up the plateau.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bago Bluff to Port Macquarie

Looking down from Bridal Veil Falls, Comboyne Plateau

Just a quick update for today, nothing terribly exciting to report

 - Headed up through Bago Bluff NP (south of Wachope) and had a lazy afternoon at Swan's Crossing, swimming and exploring.

 - A willie-wagtail would not stop attacking my side-mirrors, even when
I turned them in to face the windows he would squeeze in there to
attack his reflection! I couldn't get rid of him.

 - Saw my first male Regent Bowerbird! Absolutely stunning

 - Lots of green catbirds calling around camp and I got a good look at some of these too.

 - In a worrying piece of news, I just bought a bird book and a mammal book. Oh dear.

 - Fireflies! The idea of a beetle producing light is just mind boggling to me. Seeing these guys flashing around the campsite at dusk was just magical.

 - Frog-wise I saw another couple of Giant barred frogs (Mixophyes iteratus), another Red-eyed treefrog (Litoria chloris), plenty of phyllochroa/barringtonensis, wilcoxii and the odd Lechriodus.

 - The alarm call of bandicoots sounds like a squeaky toy

In the morning I decided I was too close to the Comboyne Plateau to not go and see that, so I headed west and climbed up into that wet and misty land. Quite nice.

I then drove to Port Macquarie where I've spent the last couple of days, enjoying the surf, taking advantage of the library to do some computing, and doing a bit of shopping.

Next - off to New England!

Track me...

Hey everyone, my brother whipped up a little gizmo that will upload a point from my GPS when I connect to the internet. Not much to see so far but I'll hopefully keep updating it from now on. Check it out

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chichester to the coast

The rest of my time in the Watagans was fairly rewarding - though all the extra rain made the roads pretty interesting! Highlights:
- Red-backed toadlets (Pseudophryne coriacea) calling off the side of the road
- seeing Great Barred Frogs (Mixophyes fasciolatus) also turn up at Boarding house dam
- waking up to a male Lyrebird scratching its way boldly around camp
- lots more Sandpaper Frogs (Lechriodus fletcheri)
- a beautiful Brown Treesnake (Boiga irregularis)

I next drove up through Maitland and Dungog (through occasional pouring rain which washed the mud off my car nicely!) to Chichester state forest where I made my next camp at Frying Pan Creek.

Southern Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus spinipes)

Driving through the forest I saw lots of Eastern Water Dragons basking on the road, but at one spot I was lucky enough to spot something different - a Southern Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus spinipes) warming itself! I've only ever seen one of these lovely creatures before so I was stoked. I love the mossy-green looking spiny scales. Unfortunately, metres from where it sat, another of these dragons had been roadkilled. The following night I was to see another live forest dragon (sleeping at night) and another roadkill - both the corpses were evidently full of eggs when they were run over - probably warming their eggs by sitting on the roads. A real shame to see these poor things.

As night fell over the campsite, the frogs began calling - Leaf green treefrogs (Litoria phyllochroa) in the creek, but also more excitingly, the low groaning of Red-eyed Treefrogs (Litoria chloris) from vine thickets around the camp. I saw a big mob of them chorusing from a puddle beside the road.

A walk along the road turned up a rough-scaled snake (Tropidechis carinatus), no doubt searching for some frogs to eat. There were plenty of Stony Creek Frogs (Litoria wilcoxi) and Sandpaper frogs (Lechriodus fletcherii) on the road, I'd be surprised if it didn't find something.

The following day, I had planned to work my way north through Chichester into Barrington Tops National park, but the day was so beautiful and I felt like a swim so I headed out of the forest towards Gloucester and drove to Blackhead (north of Forster). Had a refreshing snorkel - lots of fish including a big ray with some sort of attendant fish attached.

Nightfall found me a fair way to the south - I actually drove down to Wallingat for a look around there, then ended up staying the night at the Grandis. Interestingly, I saw another Rough-scaled snake (Tropidechis carinatus)! A couple of Great Barred frogs were calling as well and I spotted one of these too, as well as a Golden Crowned Snake (Cacophis squamulosus).

I'll have to save the last couple of days for another time as I want to do some things before the shops close...

Check out the photos!