ROAD TRIP DIARIES #1 : Eungella National Park
After spending a few days at Charles’ hometown in Mackay, Queensland, getting acquainted with his family and preparing for our journey up North, our trip was finally worked out when his parents agreed to lend us their camper van. Up to the last minute, we were still looking for a camper van to rent and didn’t really think of borrowing his parents’ campers since it was the only car they have and the one they use to get around Mackay. Lucky, we were able to arrange something with Charles’s sister so they could have a means of transportation while we were on the road trip
The weather was dreary on the day of our departure. But at least the winter in Queensland isn’t that cold compared to the temperature in Sydney when we first got to Australia (it was the coldest winter recorded in 13 years). I was up early and didn’t really get a good night’s sleep. Perhaps I was too excited and a bit anxious about the idea of this road trip with no set itinerary. The OC in me thought we might miss some good spots along the way, run out of time, go overboard with the expenses or worst, miss our flight back to Sydney. But then, we had always travelled this way, doing whatever we feel like at the moment, so off we hopped into our free mobile home for the next 6 weeks.
After bidding goodbye to Charles’ parents, we droved 80 kilometers west of Mackay to the cool and misty mountains of Eungella National Park. It is the longest stretch of sub-tropical rainforest in Australia and offers graded walking trails through stunning mountains and rainforest scenery. But as much as I enjoy bush walks and rainforest treks, it was the thought of seeing the strangest animal in the world that kept me excited and curious throughout our journey. The Rainforest Park is reputed to be the best place to see platypus in the wild. I have never seen one before and didn’t know much about its existence until a few years back when I was trying to explain to my 2nd graders the different classifications of the animal kingdom. It was sure part of their top 3 list of most confusing animals.
On the way to the mountains, we passed vast cane fields and small quaint country towns. Good thing Charles was still trying to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road (and trying not to forget that traffic rules are not just mere “suggestions” in Australia) so we were just slowly cruising through the scenic Pioneer Valley. My eyes were constantly peeled on the outskirts hoping to see some wildlife or new species of birds we could tick off from our borrowed bird book. I was amused at how small each town was and how few people lived there. There are more houses and people in our subdivision than all of the towns we passed by.
Having lunch in one of the lookouts
We then had a short stop at the historic Melba House at the town of Marian, which serves as an information center and a museum. It was originally the home of late Dame Nellie Melba, and dates back to 1882. We got more free brochures here and tips from the ladies on the best trails for our rainforest walks. Then, we drove all the way to the town of Eungella where we had our lunch overlooking the lush cane-covered valley. The mountain air was crisp and the town was misty and foggy.
After lunch, we headed straight to the viewing platform at the Broken River to test whether it was indeed the most reliable place to see platypuses in their natural habitat. We checked out the different viewing platforms and asked around if anyone had already seen one. We waited, and waited, then waited again, hoping to see the bubbles and ripples on the surface of the water that are the tell-tale signs that a platypus is about to surface.
Lucky, there were several small brown turtles wading in the river to entertain us while waiting for the main star to come out. Happily, after some more downtime with the turtles and scrub turkeys foraging in the bush, our patience was finally rewarded. A small dark brown body of waterproof hair broke the stillness of the glassy water. It was an amazing experience to be able to see this playful and elusive animal, which can only be found in Australia. But I never thought it was that small. I guess I have always pictured it to be larger than it was. It was a quick appearance but we still had the next day to see more platypuses and to try the other rainforest walks.
“Platypuses are unique to Australia and one of only two types of mammals to lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. (The other type is the echidna.) Its appearance is also unusual – it has a duck-like bill, a sleek and streamlined otter-like body, a short, thick tail like a beaver, the male has a venomous spur, and its feet are webbed. It uses its sensitive bill which is equipped with electroreceptors to find food underwater.” (QLD Tourism)
We went to our camping ground early while there was still light. It’s funny how you have to pay 20 bucks for a patch of grass to camp on. So we decided we had to use their cooking facilities even though we have our own in order get our money’s worth. It was my first experience at staying in a camping ground in Australia and I never thought it was this comfortable. It had a hot and cold shower, kitchen and dining area.
One of the caravans in our camping grounds, popular among gray nomads. It is usually towed by a 4-wheel drive.
Early dinner at Eugella National Park camping ground.
But the best part of staying in this camping ground was a surprise visit from a possum while I was reheating the chili beans at the kitchen area, as well as the spectacular view from the top while having dinner. It was a only a quick glimpse of the possum but later in this trip, I discovered a way to attract the possum without doing anything. Our first day on road had been eventful and full of surprises. We retired for the night looking forward to see more of the Australian fauna in their natural habitat. (Except for the uninvited blood suckers I encountered the next day)
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)