Rain forest and a sand island

Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
Trip End May 15, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Our final blog!

After eight great weeks in Australia, we are sending this final blog from LAX, awaiting our flight back to Calgary. We have loved the trip but of course are looking forward to seeing and speaking to everyone.

At the end of our last blog we had said goodbye to Marv and Candace and were heading off to the Daintree rain forest, about an hour north of Port Douglas.  While in Port Douglas we were lucky to take in the Sunday market – full of handcrafted items most of which were too big for our limited luggage space…next time we come with an empty bag!

The Daintree is one of the oldest rain forests in the world and has earned status as a World Heritage site.  The area is a delight for birders and adventure seekers and we took advantage of every minute.

We had the fortune to stay at Red Mill House Bed and Breakfast in Daintree Village (a very small town where the local school has 12 students!)  The B and B is run by Andrew and Trish, avid birders who are also incredible hosts.  They organized our lives for the three days we stayed with them, taking us on birding walks, providing maps of where to drive and walk to optimize the birding and arranging for a wonderful all-day birding excursion complete with picnic lunch – you get the idea of what we did while there!  We knew we had lucked out when upon arrival they hurried us over to see the Little Kingfisher on the pond in their garden rather than going through the formalities of introductions and check-in!

Early in the morning after our arrival we took a boat trip on the Daintree River, hoping to see salt-water crocodiles as well as birds.  We saw great birds, including shining flycatcher, little bronze- cuckoo, sacred kingfisher and gray goshawk but no crocs – apparently it wasn't warm enough at that time of the morning for them to haul out to sun themselves on the beaches.  I was actually a bit relieved as the boat did not look big enough to withstand a determined 'salty’!

Later that day we set out to Cape Tribulation, at the northern end of the paved road on the east coast of Australia.  We had to take a little river-crossing ferry to get there and then navigated extremely twisty narrow roads (Ruth got to drive) but the views and boardwalks were worth it.  A highlight was ice cream homemade from four different kinds of tropical fruit grown in an orchard beside the road. 

One of the sights everyone yearns for at Cape Tribulation is a cassowary, a large endangered bird that apparently could get cranky and disembowel you if you happen to get between a father and its chick.  We were disappointed not to see one but happy to have our bowels remain intact.  There were ‘cassowary crossing the road’ signs everywhere but no sight of the bird that day!

We rounded out the day in quite a different world – we had dinner at the Daintree Eco-lodge where Oprah sent some of her guests during her trip to Australia.  The lodge costs over $500 per night and seems to cater mainly to rich North Americans.  Dinner was good but we were happy to get back to Red Mill House where we shared our room with geckos and tree frogs and the garden with the nightly visits of the bandicoots.

We spent our last day in the Daintree with Ellen Terrell, an amazing bird guide and naturalist who is also a potter and painter.  We did not waste a minute of daylight, putting in about 12 hours of birding.  Birders, read on…Highlights of that day included: rainbow bee-eater, gray-headed robin, great bower bird, Atherton scrubwren, mountain thornbill, Macleay’s honeyeater, chowchilla, Bower’s shrike-thrush and pied monarch.  Some of those birds are seen only in this area of the world.  We finished the day in a half hour birding frenzy, seeing some of the most spectacular birds of our trip: red-tailed black-cockatoo, blue-winged kookaburra, Australian bustard, tawny frogmouth and pale-headed rosella.

For Ruth the most memorable part of the day was watching the Great bower bird.  The male is like the host on a home-reno program on TV. In order to entice a female, he constructs a ‘bower’ – it consists of sticks on the ground formed into a perfect little home with a roof and a breezy tunnel down the centre.  He rubs the insides smooth so the female will be comfortable and not get her feathers ruffled.   Then he sets out to decorate the house and the’ yard’ with shiny objects and brightly coloured bits of pink and white things found in the neighbourhood. Other types of bower birds use other colours, like bright blue. When a female comes by to check out the real estate he picks up his treasures to show her, one at a time.  The particular bower we watched was in a school yard but the kids were careful not to disturb the birds and had sort of adopted them.  Fascinating behaviour and I had to be dragged away. 

We hated to tear ourselves away but our next stop beckoned.  We flew to Hervey Bay, about 300 km north of Brisbane and then took a 50 minute ferry over to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island.  It is about 125 km long and 22 km wide and is navigable only by 4 wheel drive.  It is a great adventure to bring a 4x4 to the island and travel on 75 Mile Beach, an amazingly beautiful beach that is wide enough and firm enough to allow traffic of vehicles.  There are even speed signs on the beach.

 The island also has a population of about 300 dingoes, supposedly one of the most pure strains because of limited interbreeding with dogs.  We did NOT do the 4x4 and camping with dingoes route but instead stayed at Kingfisher Bay Eco Resort, a gorgeous place tucked away in the trees where, in keeping with its name, we saw the sacred, azure and forest kingfishers.

 We did explore the island but from the comfort and safety of a tour bus, which amazingly was able to drive on the sand roads without getting bogged down (other than the one point when a tractor had to rescue our bus).  A highlight of Fraser Island was taking a flight in a tiny plane that uses the beach as a take-off and landing strip affording glorious views of the island and ocean.

Our success with birding continued on the Island as we added some of the final birds of our trip: Bhahminy kite, red-backed fairy wren, scarlet honeyeater and the mistletoebird.

And so we headed off to Brisbane and home, full of happy memories and wishing we had longer to cover places like Tasmania, Darwin and Uluru.  Ah well, next time.

In parting here are a couple of our Top Ten lists:

Top Ten most memorable birds:

-         Laughing Kookaburra

         Fairy wrens – splendid and red-backed

         Rosellas – scarlet and pale-headed

         Brahminy kite

         Scarlet honeyeater


         Great bower bird

         Robins – red-capped, Eastern yellow, scarlet

         Rainbow lorikeet

         Golden whistler

And finally, our Top Ten list of things we will remember and miss about Australia:

         Cheerful Aussies who say ‘G’Day mate’ and’ No worries’ at every opportunity

         Kangaroos, wallabies and koalas

         Sunshine and beaches

         No tipping!

         Toasted banana bread and great coffee

         Roundabouts (after the first hundred or so we began to appreciate how well they move traffic)

         Pub food

         The geography – rainforests,’ mountains’, sand dunes, mangroves

         Wonderful birders and guides without whom we would have been lost

         The birds – all 246 species we identified in eight weeks and the MANY more we saw that remained a mystery!

See you all soon,

Ruth and Phil
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