Saturday, 8 June 2013

In search of wildlife…

In our travels up the east coast we’ve gradually watched the flora change to semi-tropical. Palms and broad leaf plants of the type we’re used to seeing in hot-houses at home are becoming quite common, but still mixed in with plants and trees more suited to cooler climates. Temperature is also higher, not yet humid, but warmish (22-23⁰C’ish), so even though its nearly the shortest day and equivalent to mid-December at home, it doesn’t feel like it, even though its dark by 17:30. On Monday or Tuesday we’ll move over the border into Queensland, the ‘Sunshine State’ so they say and on towards Cairns, our final objective in the tropical north. Temperature according to the weather forecast indicates 28⁰C daytime and a humid 21⁰C at night, so that will be an experience. 

Other than the flora we’ve also seen lots of wildlife, mainly birds but also some animals (including one cat for Jackie to fuss). Our journey took us up the Pacific Highway to Urunga, where we stayed for two nights so we could take a detour inland on Highway 78 (otherwise known as the Waterfall Way), through Bellingen (stopped to see a colony of flying foxes in a nearby park) and Dorrigo in New England. 

Flying foxes in Bellingen
The hugely steep hill we went up into Dorrigo (the van was complaining!) flattened out into very English looking countryside, but in a moment we were in a mountainous rainforest area in the Dorrigo National Park. The visitor centre was on the edge of a forest and through the back door exiting into the forest a horizontal walkway of about 100m extended beyond into the forest. Beneath us, however we had ventured over the edge of a cliff, the walkway being supported by towers that, at the end must have been 30m high. Around us were the tops of the trees and beyond the ground continued to shelve downwards and up into distant hills and mountains, all covered in rainforest. 
The 'camera point' at the end of the 'skywalk'
Pauline and Jackie behind the waterfall
They had even placed a camera mounting point at the end, so we had to make use of it! Walking down the hill a path led on a 2 hour walk through the forest over a ‘bird boardwalk’ (not may birds though), to the ‘Cascade Waterfall’ which is one of those you can walk behind. All very pleasant.

In the rainforest
The mushroom covered rotting trunk of a fallen tree

Believe it or not, that's a whale!
From Urunga the Pacific Highway led into Coffs Harbour which didn’t impress us much. It has a dolphin wildlife centre which we didn’t visit and other family attractions, but we only visited the jetty and walked over the man-made breakwater that joins Muttonbird Island to the mainland to get the views from the top, result! There out to sea was a whale, the first we’ve seen from land! 

Rainbow Lorikeets enjoying a bath
By-passing Woolgoolga and the Solitary Islands (the meeting point of warm tropical waters and cooler southern currents), we went through Grafton, gave ‘Russel Crow’s Curio’s’ at Nymboida a miss and headed out towards Iluka, but stopping at a quirky campsite in Woombah. Great place and great wildlife, the Rainbow Lorikeet’s were very playful and camera friendly, as were the Ibis, chickens and small horse (!). Jackie went out after dark and had an encounter with two possums that she found climbing trees and inter-acted with her.

Jackie feeding some an apple!
They seem to like it

Who's a pretty boy then?
Preening pelican's at Iluka
 From Iluka we’re now in Lismore at another quirky campsite. Just 220km from Brisbane we’re stopping here two days to visit Cape Byron (named by Captain Cook and the most easterly point of Australia – with a lighthouse!), maybe Byron Bay (apparently a surfing haven but commercial and expensive!), possibly Ballina just to the south, also a surfing haven but apparently not so commercialised and inland Nimbin, 20km to our north, which is a bit of a hippy town. 
'See how close to the sand I can glide'.' Hu, not impressed!'
Our Lonely Planet guide says it’s a ‘hangover from an experimental ‘Aquarius Festival’ in the ‘70s and still feels like a social experiment where ‘anything goes’.

On the viewing platform looking for platypuses
Interesting place Lismore, last night we went to Platypus Park at dusk in hope of seeing platypus in Tucki Tucki Creek, had a really pleasant walk through the park, waited on the viewing platform until dark, but platypusses were not to be seen! Today we went to the farmers’ market bought and tried a ‘Custard Apple’ which is a green fruit very mis-shapen with pointy bits on the outside, but a very sweet, flesh inside that was slightly custard flavoured. Also saw a Chokoe, which is a vegetable, green in colour like a small rugby ball that the stallholder told us is a bit like a squash. You peel it, chop it up and boil it (or fry it I suppose). 
This IS a koala sitting high in a tree......
She gave us one to try (we’ll try it later). Pauline bought some ‘Rainbow Fruit Flats’, which are dehydrated fruit pressed flat and sealed in plastic to look like rainbows. We’re about to try one, she’s opening it as I type! Our other visit today was to a eucalyptus forest picnic and BBQ area, right next to the town’s refuse area (!). A good place to spot Koala’s apparently and the rumours were true! Pauline spotted the first and Jackie the second, two Koalas high up (really high up), sitting on improbably small branches 30 or 40m up that didn’t look strong enough to support them. Took some photo’s, but my lack of zoom lens meant the pictures are a bit fuzzy. We know we saw them so you’ll have to take our word that the blurry dark smears in the branches are koalas!

And this IS another one!
Mmmm, interesting this ‘Rainbow Fruit Flat’!  

Well, I liked it, though a toothless baby would be happy gumming it to death – and at least it’s healthy.  Glad we did all that this morning because it’s pouring with rain now.  The FM was great and a bit of real Australia where tourists were a bit of a novelty rather than the norm so we were spoilt a bit with the odd extra this thrown in, or a few cents off there.  There were a couple of old chaps who launched a charm offensive we couldn’t resist!  And just imagine, I, who has to have everything minutely pointed out and generally only sees animals when they move, found the koala!  Though the other 2 had blundered off into a pine forest, so they were barking up the wrong tree, as it were.

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