Wednesday, June 24, 2009


A few reptiles from my nocturnal wanderings:

Children's Python

Bynoe's Gecko, Heteronotia bynoei


Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko, Strophurus ciliaris

Northern Spiny-tailed Gecko, Strophurus ciliaris

Porcupine Gorge

Grevillea, White Mountains National Park

I spent a couple of nights at Porcupine Gorge north of Hughenden. It's a spectacular place - the 'mini grand canyon'. Porcupine Creek has caved a gorge about 120 m deep through first the basalt cap then the underlying sedimentary layers.

From the campground, a track descends to the gorge floor, and I spent quite a bit of time down there exploring. On the second night I took my sleeping bag down and spent the night sleeping on the sand while attempting a star-trail exposure. The stars were brilliant and I also saw the most amazing shooting-star I've ever seen.

The photo didn't turn out too well though I did get some other nice shots of the Pyramid that towers over the gorge.

In the Evening

At Dawn

I couldn't resist climbing up the side for the view from the top:

Spotlighting at night yielded no novelties though I did find that curious beast, the prickly knob-tailed gecko, Nephrurus asper. Water rats were also amazingly common.

Heading west

From the tablelands I drove down to Charters Towers - choosing the Overlanders Way over the Savannah Way, so as to take in the dinosaur fossil sites of Hughenden and Richmond and check out some of the national parks in the area.

I'd suddenly hit Winter - up on the Cape and in Cairns, the weather had been quite temperate - but now I was having to wear my jacket at in the evening, don my thermals and flanno then burrow under the sleeping bag at night then pull my beanie on when morning came. Still, the cold has its good points - I get to eat hot porridge for breakfast and I don't break into a sweat from drinking a hot mug of tea. The dry air of the inland is another thing that has taken a little getting used to - but at least my clothes dry out. Living outdoors is undoubtedly easier in the semi-arid zone. Few annoying insects, gear can be left around without getting wet, mould doesn't grow on everything.

I say few annoying insects. One night, there were locusts annoying me in large numbers. Thinking laterally, I heated up some oil in a pan and collected about a dozen of the critters. After cutting the spikey legs off, I fried them up to crispness and seasoned them with some salt and pepper. They were actually quite good. Very crunchy, like prawns with the shells on. They go pink when cooked too! Not an unpleasant taste. I'll take some photos next time.

The Muttaburrasaurus, assorted fossil and mineral exhibits at Hughenden were spectacular, and I found out about a spot just out of town where I picked up a bunch of Belemnites from the surface (Belemnites are a type of cephalopod like ammonites and nautilus).

At Richmond, the marine dinosaur exhibit (Kronosaurus Corner) is really very good. Amazing to see the size of some of these beasts - the 11 m long Kronosaurus, with 30 cm long teeth must have been a terrifying beast in its day.

I headed out to Richmond common to do some fossil-hunting. I must have moved about a ton of rock, though I had only a little luck - there was plenty of stuff though most of it was mish-mashed shells and fish bones. I did find some sort of jaw that I'm yet to identify, it could be interesting.

Since Richmond I've driven through Julia Creek to Cloncurry, where I turned northwards, reaching Normanton today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dunny frog with a difference

Walked in to one of the public loos in Ravenshoe early in the morning and saw a frog sitting on the paper towel dispenser. No biggy right? There are always frogs in loos.

The interesting thing was the species of frog - it was the beautiful green-eyed frog, Litoria serrata. Something of a different habitat to the rainforest streams it tends to inhabit.

Ah, the Wet Tropics...

Playing Possum

Driving through the tablelands on my way south/west, I happened to pass a national park sign that rang a bell in my head - Mt Hypipamee. Last time I was up on the tablelands I didn't get there, but the reason I was suddenly excited was that it's supposed to be the place for spotlighting. It was afternoon already so I pulled in and decided to wait for dark and try my luck.

Most people know this park by it's unofficial title - The Crater. Easier to pronounce than the real name. While I waited I wandered out to take a look at the famous formation.

I was, needless to say, rather impressed. The sheer drop down to the water is about 60 m, and apparently the water tunnel goes down about 80 m before making a turn and continuing. The structure is a diatreme - formed by an explosive eruption of gas.

When darkness fell I donned my torch and went out for a look around. There was certainly lots of eyeshine though most things were high up in the canopy and my light wasn't sufficient to give me a good look - and I didn't really know what I was seeing anyway. I tried taking some photos but they turned out rather rubbish.

Luckily, my night was saved by some kindred spirits who pulled up in to the parking lot. A bunch of wildlife enthusiasts like myself out for a spot. I tagged along and was not only able to see a bunch of animals thanks to their spotlights, but they knew what everything was! Luckily I was able to show them a splendid leaf-tailed gecko (Phyllurus platurus) camoflagued on a lichen-covered trunk that I'd spotted earlier, so I didn't look like a complete klutz.

The next day I drove to Mareeba to avail myself of a sweet little spotlight, drove back to Mt Hypipamee then fiddled with my camera to work out the best methods (my flash is still playing up after its swim in Little Crystal Creek). I was ready for the night to come...

The first possum I spotted was the green ringtail.

Lemuroid ringtails were common too.

It took a bit of looking around but I eventually found a Herbert River ringtail in a nice position to photograph.

Three ringtail possum species and not one common ringtail! The only other possum I spotted was the common brushtail. Alas, no tree kangaroos or striped possums, but I guess one can only be so lucky. I heard the screech of a Sooty owl on a few occasions, perhaps that scared them off!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Six Months in

Whilst up at the tip, I celebrated six months since leaving Sydney! How time flies.

So how about some general statements about how my travels are going so far?

Pretty much exactly as I'd envisaged, really. I'm having a wonderful time.

I've seen loads of fantastic animals. Swum in beautiful creeks. Walked through varied forests and hopped on rocks of many origins. Met and connected with interesting, lovely people. Shopped in hundreds of towns. Spent rather a lot of money on diesel. Stood in awe of a multitude of views. Learned, experienced, witnessed, explored.

Not all those who wander are lost.

Time to head West! I'm going to take the Savannah Way over on my way to Riversleigh!

The tip!

Along the way to the tip, anyone we met travelling in the opposite direction told me "Punsand Bay. Stay at Punsand Bay". So I headed for Punsand. It turned out to be a really nice place to spend a few days and see some of the local attractions. Of course, a visit to the 'tip' was mandatory.

View from the tip

One funny thing about the tip is it's a stone's throw distance from two big islands to the north - Eborak and York islands.

Text reads: "You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent". In case you hadn't realised and just happened to stumble onto the place.

One peculiar epiphytic plant growing in wet sclerophyll forest which I saw from Iron Range north is this one - the Ant Plant. I've seen it previously in Papua New Guinea. The bulbous base is a honeycombed structure, providing a home for ants which presumably protect the plant from insect predators or some such. I've also heard that there's a type of butterfly which lays its eggs on this plant, and the caterpillars are tended by the ants.

The track!

I'm back in Cairns after about a month's journey up to the tip and back. I've already posted about Iron Range and I'd probably still rate that as the highlight of the journey.

Spent a couple of days in Weipa - resupplying etc. Sunsets over the gulf sea... bauxite... mining haul trucks...

Another interesting experience was doing the old telegraph track. This is one of Australia's best known 4WD tracks, and has a reputation as being pretty difficult. Originally I wasn't going to attempt it, but everywhere I went, 4WD enthusiasts encouraged me to give it a shot. I 'had to do it'. I met up with one fella in a Nissan Patrol which he'd converted into a tractor-like vehicle and decided that doing the track with him was a pretty safe bet. It turned out to be a really fun couple of days. There are several interesting creek crossings, some of which feature some rather large holes that one must endeavour to avoid.

The Belafonte performed magnificently, taking me through deep water, around big washouts and ruts, up and down slippery slopes... the only places where she faltered were two muddy bog-holes, the tyres just spinning ineffectually. Luckily the Patractor pulled her out effortlessly. Hey, at least it gave me a chance to use that snatch strap that's been sitting in the car gathering dust! I heard of one other bloke who had to get pulled out 18 times on the track!

Part of the track passes through Heathlands - an interesting area dominated by, you guessed it, heath. The creeks here looked really fantastic. Heath grows on really infertile sand, and as a result, the runoff into the creeks is basically the purest, cleanest water you can imagine. About half-way up the track are the falls - Fruit-bat, Elliot and Twin Falls. These are simply spectacular. After travelling up the Great Dividing Range as I have, a waterfall has to be pretty special to rate anything more than a nod... but these falls were real standouts.

Fruit-bat Falls

Climbing pitcher plants and sundews grow beside many of the creeks in the area - carnivory is an adaptation to low soil nitrogen.

Climbing Pitcher Plant

After the falls I headed back on to the bypass road to reach the tip.