Holidaying (and birdwatching) in Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
The following article is notes I wish Id had for my holiday in Oct 95
(only just found this version on a disk after losing my original in a
hard disk crash)
The Wet Tropics World heritage Area extends from just north of
Townsville to just south of Cooktown as a series of National Parks and
State Forests which encompass the very limited tropical rainforest
ecosystem that broadly divides into lowland and upland types with
differing avifaunas. The following information based on my recent
three week holiday to the area is not a twitch list of birds seen but
information that I found useful for planning not found in the
following essential guides. The Australian Geographic Australia for
Adventurers and Dreamers wall poster map which gives a broad overview
of the area
J. Bradbury's Where to find birds in Australia book which
had useful planning information on accommodation, prices and times
which is now becoming dated.
J. Wienkes Birds of northeast Queensland
book which contains some planning information that is more up-to-date
as well as local knowledge hints on very specific sites to find
The new guidebook of R. Ritchie North Queensland Wet
Tropics is an up-to-date must have of general information
National Parks leaflets on individual parks from the Queensland National Parks
and Wildlife Service Townsville office 077 212 399 that were posted to
me on request. The visitor information leaflets on Central, Northern
and Far North Queensland National Parks provide quick reference
overviews to the setting and facilities of all the National Parks. A
free tourist map of Innisfail and Mission Beach published by
Graphically Speaking, Innisfail (ph. 070 616 105) had lots of useful
information and sketch maps of parks and services in that area.
Park camping has change largely to self-registration basis which you can do
on the day at $3 per person/night. In busy parks close to major towns
where there are ranger stations you can still book to ensure a spot.
Note that many areas worth visiting in the state forest areas are run
by the forestry commission who need to be contacted separately for
good information brochures on their areas.
We decided to hire a car and drive up and back since most of the area
traversed was new to us and the car hire for the full three weeks was
equivalent to airfares just to get there and back. Our rather hectic
schedule involved a visit or overnight stay to most of the near
coastal national parks between Rockhampton and Cape Tribulation.
Day 1 To Dubbo
Camping about 20 Km north of Dubbo in the Gilgandra State Forest is an
alternative to Dubbo itself
Day 2 Banana, 120 km south of Rockhampton.
Not reaching Rockhampton as planned, we used the camping ground at
Banana after having passed the (apparently) scenic Isla Gorge NP in
the hours of darkness which would have been a better place to camp.
Contrary to many maps the quickest route to Rockhampton is the newly
upgraded highway north through Goovigen, not east via Biloela.
Day 3 Eungella NP
Book or get their early to the Broken River Campground and
use the new individual sites at Fern Flat along the creek (sites 13-20
are best) with a luxurious amenities block that includes hot showers.
The road to Finch Hatton Gorge is easy 2WD gravel and there is a small
private campground at the park entrance.
Day 4 Cape Hillsborough NP
A little mentioned but beautiful NP with coastal views best enjoyed from
the basic Smalleys Beach campsite poorly signed to the left before the
park entrance in comparison to the crowded council and commercial
camping areas within the park where the walks start.
Day 5 Bowling Green Bay NP
A good base to visit nearby Townsville from, but the road
into the Alligator Creek camp site is closed 6.30 nightly to prevent
locals from using the area as an after dark hang-out.
Day 6 Townsville
The reef wonderland complex is the main attraction. A combined ticket
through the Magnetic Island Ferry Service counter only paces from the
complex's own counter is cheaper! Get in early so you can plan around
the daily activities. The omnimax theatre is expensive but the Great
Barrier Reef film is topical and worth seeing if you have never
experienced omnimax. The scenic view over Townsville from Castle Hill
is a must and can be reached by road. The Town common environmental
park is worth a full days exploring and the local Bird Observers Club
run an outing there early every Sunday morning.
Day 7 Magnetic Island
Just offshore from Townsville and very nice. The only ferry service
that now exists is Magnetic Island Ferries but lack of competition has
not interfered with excellent value. Ferries leave as early as 6 am
weekdays/ 7.15 am weekends and return as late as 7.15 pm everyday and
later on some. Adult fare with unlimited matching bus service on the
Island is $26. When you arrive at Picnic Bay (the only drop off
point) immediately catch the bus through to Horseshoe Bay so that you
get the very detailed bus drivers commentary on the Island before you
individually go off to various places. Our pleasant days activity was
to then walk to Radical Bay away from most of the tourists, enjoy some
swimming there and then catch the last bus at 1.20 pm out of Radical
Bay up to the Forts walk. After the walk with its magnificent scenic
views we then returned back to Picnic Bay with a stop enroute at
Arcadia by catching returning buses leaving out of Horseshoe Bay.
Day 8 Mount Spec NP
The camp ground with hot showers is situated at the
base of the range in dry eucalypt woodland at Paradise waterhole. To
get to the rainforest travel up to Paluma with its short walks and
include a swim at the falls on Little crystal creek on the way. Make
sure you arrive when the Paluma tearooms are open (any day but Monday)
so you can handfeed the various tame birds. The Mount Spec forestry
road to Paluma dam was crawling with upland rainforest birds and we
should have spent an extra night camping at the deserted Paluma dam
which on weekends becomes a noisy watersports venue.
Day 9 Murray Falls
We arrived at dusk at this state park in the rainforest after
visiting both Jourama Falls and Wallaman Falls on the way which could
both be overnight stops in their own right. Our revenge on the
wretched biting flies was at the next mornings swim when slapped and
stunned flies where eagerly eaten by hungry fish when thrown into the
Day 10 Mission Beach
We stayed 2 nights with friends here and
used it as staging post for a day trip to Dunk Island. The small
circuit walks are in differing vegetation types so do all three;
Bicton Hill, Lacey Creek and Licuala fan palm walk. Each walk only
takes about an hour and we saw an adult and juvenile cassowary in that
time. The backpackers at South Mission Beach where we had a few beers
looked like a fun place to stay.
Day 11 Dunk Island
The Island is small and we did the full circuit through some nice
gloomy rainforest on the far side of the island and still had time to
become bored swimming with the resort tourists on the beach. Given the many
services and limited time needed to see the island camping in the very
small national park patch of dirt next to the resort isn't necessary.
The taxi boat rides all cost the same ($22) and have an earlier drop
off and later pick up than the quick cat ferry. Be careful if
choosing Dowds Water Taxi as on the last run back to the mainland you
may be left stranded on the beach until a second trip as the drivers
mates who work in the resort get first preference for seats. The Dunk
Island Taxi from S South Mission Beach is probably a safer bet.
Day 12 Palmerston NP
The primitive but free Henrietta Creek campground at the
southern edge of the Palmerston National Park is located next to a
major highway its probably best to stay somewhere else. The best of
the nearby walks is down from Crawfords lookout for views over the
Day 13 Atherton Tableland
It consists of surprisingly small patches of remnant rainforest amongst cleared
farming land. We
strung together visits to Malanda Falls park, Mt Hypipamee NP,
Bromfield swamp, Wongabel forest walk and the Curtain Fig in a day to
end up staying at one of the state forest camping grounds around Lake
Tinaroo on the Danbulla Forest drive. These campgrounds have good
facilities and of the five the best for nature lovers would be the
Downfall Creek or Kauri Creek areas abutting the rainforest on the
southern slopes of the Tinaroo Range.
Day 14 The Tableland
We finished the Tableland by visiting the crater lakes of Barrine and Eacham
looking at some of the attractions on the Danbulla Forest drive. There
is a caravan park close to Lake Eacham which sounds good but we pushed
North to reach the Kingfisher Park Birdwatching Lodge at Jalutten.
Although expensive in comparison to the NP campgrounds (about $14 each
from memory) it is the birdwatchers mecca. There are good facilities
and we met some friendly Queensland birders and got all the local
gossip on birds from the park owners including the whereabouts of the
resident breeding sooty owls by the front gate.
Day 15 Mossman Gorge
>From Julatten we headed north with a stop at nearby Mount Lewis giving
a good chance to get the more elusive upland rainforest birds before
descending to the coast. There is a pleasant though tourist-crowded
walk at Mossman Gorge and a beautiful swimming hole. We then ended up
staying at the nearby commercial Wonga Beach caravan Park.
Day 16 Cape Tribulation
Fearing some difficult road conditions I was pleasantly
surprised by a bitumen road all the way (except for some small
sections rapidly being done). Sharing the roads were lots of
mini-buses carting around pliant tourists. Some operators were
clearly cashing in but others looked very professional and where
overheard to provide interesting and detailed information on the
ecology of the area so get a recommendation for a tour.
Day 17 Daintree
Returning from Cape Tribulation we camped at the Daintree
Caravan Park adjacent to the jetty where Chris Dalhberg runs his early
morning river tours from. Costing no more than the standard tours
($25) he is the only option for serious birders, using a small open
boat and his intimate knowledge of the area and the bird calls. Try
and book to him directly otherwise some middle person takes an
unjustified cut of his fee as I found out. No wonder the Wonga
Caravan Park owner phoned for me with such enthusiasm!
Day 18 Cairns
We camped at the central Cairns City Caravan Park with its tame bush
thick-knees. The Esplanade is the place to be for waders where you
must find John Crowhurst who is a local council tourist guide for
birdos. He has the news on latest sightings, helps with identifying
the birds and knows the various local guides who give tours. The
mangrove boardwalk near the airport is worth a visit for a couple of
hours as it has good information on this whole community (at ? tide).
The Mount Whitfield Park is worth at least half a days walking around
Day19 Michaelmas Cay
The best boat tour for a reef trip was
recommended as the MV seastar II ($45) who is used by the local clubs
and charter groups for their trips. The captain (Greg?) is genuinely
interested in birds and on request will run you around the Cay in the
ships dingy for good looks at the birds on the opposite side of the
cay to the viewing area. At the days end we headed south to camp at
the Boulders Campsite ($6) near Bartle Frere. The campsite is very
basic and quite open but there is a nearby picturesque rainforest
Day 20 Heading Home (to rolleston)
In heading for Carnavon Gorge we got as far as Rollestone where there
was a good, cheap caravan park attached to service station on the town
outskirts in a natural bush setting with plenty of birds.
Day 21 Carnarvon Gorge
This gorge is apparently the most use park in
Queensland so book ahead for a campsite ph. 079 844 505.