Tag Archives: wildlife

Out of the darkness

 

There are hidden treasures in the great grasslands of north-west Queensland and not all of them are gold and sapphires, as I discover on a drive along the Savannah Way


 

Undara lava tubes were created as rivers of hot lava flowed across the land some 190,000 years ago.

Undara lava tubes were created as rivers of hot lava flowed across the land some 190,000 years ago.

Unexpected warmth emanates from the cavernous tunnel before us. Its source is not the river of hot molten lava that formed this high semi-circular “tube” – that cooled about 190,000 years ago. Hardy bushes now grow in the tumble of rocks at its entrance.

It comes in waves as if the cave is breathing.

Behind us the temperature is dropping as the sun sinks towards the dry savannah horizon. We wait patiently, eyes keenly peeled for any sign of movement. But the warmth endures as the sun sets over the savannah behind us, glowing deep orange.

Sunset over the western Queensland savannah at Undara Volcanic Park

Sunset over the western Queensland savannah at Undara Volcanic Park

A faint odour wafts from inside the cave, hinting at what’s lurking inside. I try not to breathe too deeply or make any sudden moves. Voices are hushed as we all focus on the darker depths of the lava tube.

Minutes pass. There’s a rush of air past my shoulder. I duck as movement flits past my face.

These are the scouts, checking if it is time yet. The light is dimming and the flash of wings comes more often, disappearing back into the cave’s depths. My eyes adjust with the fading light.

Before long there is a swirl of 20 or so tiny creatures circling in the cave entrance only metres in front of me, building up confidence to venture past. A 5cm fur-ball zips past me into the cool dusk air – followed by another and another. As if on cue, hundreds of resident horseshoe and bent-wing microbats dart for the surface en masse.

Out of the darkness there's a rush of wings

Out of the darkness there’s a rush of wings

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The sheer numbers make them easy prey for pythons which strike from the bushes crowding the cave entrance.

The snakes are more prevalent during the warm summer months – when bat numbers also swell with the breeding season.A python strikes (look closely for the bat wing as it swallows its prey).

A python strikes (look closely for the bat wing as it swallows its prey).

But the call of nature is strong and they continue to run the gauntlet to freedom and food. Finely tuned sonar ensures the bats don’t collide with each other or the humans vying to get a photograph but it is impossible not to duck as they whiz past.

Measuring only 5cm long and with a 10cm wingspan, thousands of the insectivorous microbats emerge from this particular lava tube at Undara every night. The creatures need to eat their own body weight in insects before the sun returns at dawn and play a vital role in the  web of life on the savannah.

Our Savannah Guide Ivor Davies says the bat population can swell to a million during the summer breeding season, taking up to 90 minutes to vacate their daytime abode. During winter there can be a steady stream of creatures for 20 minutes or more. The effect is mesmerising.

This is the excitement of the Sunset Wildlife Tour at Undara Experience, a national park-based tourist facility some 275km southwest of Cairns on the Savannah Way, in north Queensland.

The lava tubes are among the longest in the world – more than 90km long – formed as an estimated 23 cubic kilometres of molten lava flowed in rivers from a single volcano across the McBride Volcanic Province. It is one of the longest lava flows from a single volcano in modern geological time, spreading more than 160km to the north-west.

For more details go to: Undara Experience, Undara Volcanic National Park; Ph 1800 990 992; www.undara.com.au

This is just one of the natural wonders of the north-western Queensland section of the Savannah Way, a 3699km trans-national drive from tropical Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to the remote pearling town of Broome, in Western Australia.

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Karumba surprise

ImageCrocs, prawns and barramundi aren’t all that the Gulf town of Karumba in northwest Queensland has to offer. I was recently surprised to see the diversity of wildlife on a Savannah Way drive out that way hosted by Tropical Tourism North Queensland (TTNQ for short).

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It was the time of the June “super moon” – the moon being at its closest distance to Earth – and we were treated to a beautiful sunset, moonlit night and stunning moon-set the next morning (pictured) as fishing boats headed out to sea at all hours.

Fishing is a big drawcard for the Gulf of Carpentaria, but take care, the reminder that this is croc country can’t be missed by the 8.63m Krys croc statue (pictured top) on show in nearby Normanton’s main street. The original crocodile was shot by a woman, Krystina Paulokski, on the banks of the Normanton River in 1957. The river empties into the Gulf of Carpentaria at Karumba, some 832km from our starting point on the eastern coast at Cairns. For travellers short on time, Skytrans has regular flights from Cairns to Normanton, with car hire available.

Karumba isn’t just for the fishing enthusiasts, although it certainly reels them in every year. Birdlife abounds, including the tall grey brolgas on the Muttonhole Wetlands, which extend some 30km inland. There’s a great little waterhole near the road at Karumba Point where pink galahs gather in the evening to drink and wading birds can be seen in droves in the early morning, sifting through the shallows.

Kites gather on the powerlines around the town like pigeons do in other cities. Agile wallabies dart across the golf course and feed by the roadside at dusk.

We head for the boat ramp as fishermen return with their catch, one visitor proudly lifting two barramundi from the large coolbox in his dinghy. Others are casting for bait as pelicans wander the beach in the hope of an easy feed.

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The town has good accommodation for anglers, from the character holiday unit of Bunratty Castle (pictured above), built from bricks carried four at a time by bicycle from the old town meat works, to multiple caravan parks and the spacious Ash’s Holiday Units and Café, which has rooms for up to six people and does a massive cooked breakfast to keep you going all day.

As the sun sinks lower, the focus shifts to Karumba Point. Watching the sun set over the water, some three days after watching it rise over the Coral Sea north of Cairns at Palm Cove, is a fitting end to this segment of the Savannah Way drive. In between is a wealth of open skies, surprising natural encounters and a rich mining and pastoral history.

Hope you can come and explore it too some day soon (dry season or winter is the best time).

Check out drivenorthqueensland.com.au for trip ideas.