Koala, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, wombat, lyrebird, red-bellied black snake, Major Mitchell cockatoo, lyrebird. I have seen many fine examples of Australian fauna in different parts of Australia but some of the shyer, rarer types have eluded me. Until this visit to Cairns in Far North Queensland.
Growing up, we lived near Taronga Park Zoo on Sydney Harbour so I became a frequent visitor, and enjoyed viewing those shy and impossible animals, the platypuses. With their duck bills and web feet they are among that exclusive class of, mammals, the monotremes. When I say viewed I mean I read the label on their enclosure and saw a few bubbles, taking it on faith that they did exist filling in each visit with my child’s keen imagination by making myself believe that I had seen them, but I never did. And how I wanted to!
When I arrived in this special part of the world known as Far North Queensland, and was ready to explore the area after acclimatising to the humidity and settling in to a new house sit, I drove up the Gillies ranges to the Atherton Tablelands. What a rich and diverse part of the country! After a hairy drive up the twisting highway, I stopped at Lake Barrine for a cuppa. At this peaceful old fashioned tea-house I heard about the pythons living in the lake but decided not to take the boat trip for a viewing. At Yungeburra, a delightful little town, the volunteers at the visitors centre mentioned that platypuses had been sighted at the local creek at sunset. Even though it was the middle of the day, I decided to chance my luck-and a childhood dream was fulfilled. The creek ran under the bridge that bore the traffic through the town and dug into the dirt wall beneath it was a Platypus burrow. These unique Australian mammals are supposed to be shy but the pair that I saw that day were oblivious to my presence. Diving beneath the water then emerging at the other end of creek, they swam close to the edge allowing me to take some pictures. I remained for quite a while enjoying their presence and admiring their diving skills.
This wildlife success emboldened me and I decided to try for an encounter with a rare and endangered animal which I had only learnt about since coming to Cairns.
Did you know that kangaroos live in tree? Well some of them do but only in a small pocket of Australia, the rainforest from Daintree to the Herbert River gorge. Named after the explorer Carl Lumholtz, the Indigenous clans called them “Boongarry””Mabi” or “Muppie”. They are the only kangaroos that can walk on each foot independently, and are active both during the day and evening. Before they were discovered, a local explorer and amateur naturalist Mr William Hann stated on 12th of October 1872 “To entertain the idea that a kangaroo known to us, or approaching its formation, could climb a tree would be ridiculous” Well, as Shakespeare so astutely said “There are more things on heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy”
I continued my drive up the tablelands and called in to another visitor’s centre at Malanda where the helpful staff gave me information on the species, recommending that my best shot at seeing one was further down the mountain at the Nerada tea plantation. They also told me about the baby turtles currently at play in the creek on the opposite side of the road through the rainforest. Glad of a walk after a long drive I followed their suggestion and met a young Swedish couple who helpfully pointed the turtles in various parts of the peaceful creek. I started walking back through the conservation area, rich with that unique smell of the Australian bush and started to contemplate the necessity for a strong cup of tea. I told myself that I might get lucky at the plantation and see a tree kangaroo up high then reflected on my time in Port Macquarie and how difficult it had been to identify a koala in a tree, so perfect was their camouflage. At that very moment I became aware of a noise on my left, turned and came eyeball to eyeball with a juvenile tree kangaroo! We stared at each other both unwilling or unable to move. It was a moment when I questioned whether I should get my tablet out and take a picture or just savour the experience. The kangaroo moved, starting to climb further up the tree as I grabbed a few shots before he disappeared into the foliage.
I was stunned by the synchronicity of this experience-one minute the kangaroo was in my mind, the next on the tree on my left. I felt so blessed by this experience particularly after sharing with friends and locals who had never had such a close encounter.
Zoos and wildlife conservation parks now do wonderful work in helping to conserve species and allow to connect with our animal cousins but nothing can replace meeting animals, birds and lizards on the own territory and on their terms. These are indeed close encounters of a rare and precious kind.
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