Bizarre wildlife makes Australia a surreal spectacle
If Salvador Dali were to chose one country in which to locate his dream world of unusual creatures, I’m certain is would be Australia. Drifting alone for the last 60 million years, Australia’s flora and fauna have adapted and evolved in isolation. Strange survivors are found here that are absent elsewhere on earth. Nearly one-half of Australia’s 800 plus species of bird are endemic as are most of the mammals.
In two months I will travel to Australia with my husband and two of my children and am making plans to share the wildlife rich areas I know from past visits. I am also reliving one particularly enjoyable group trip I did 10 years ago as I remake that tour for travellers heading there this Fall. That earlier journey began in Cairns, a tropical hub for exploration of rainforest and reef. It was a perfect day for diving the Great Barrier Reef – sunny skies, calm waters, little wind and a water temperature of 22 degrees Celsius with excellent visibility. An intense royal blue ocean backdrop was alive with colourful coral and a large variety of fish and sea creatures. I think Dali would put to canvas the colours and contours of the groupers, parrotfish, lionfish and giant clams. I returned for a second day aboard one of the many sailing catamarans that departs from the Cairns pier daily. Several of my companions were non-drivers who preferred to experience the reef by snorkel or semi-submersible submarine. That day was equally enjoyable with the added attraction of a sea turtle feeding twenty feet below the surface.
Photo credit:Kelvin Marshall
Heading towards the Atherton Tablelands, I also encountered some remarkable wildlife. Less than two hours west of Cairns, the tablelands are a relatively flat area with deep gorges, tropical rainforest, waterfalls and crater lakes. Our local naturalist guide, Kelvin Marshall, was extremely knowledgeable and personable. We travelled along the scenic and mountainous Gilles Highway stopping at a number of points of interest including eucalyptus and fig forests. Our sightings of birds were incredible, spotting the unusual mound building megapods and fig eating parrots. We saw a myriad of plants, reptiles and amphibians including water and tree dragons, tree frogs and snakes. It was however the mammals that captured the most interest. Green ring-tailed possum, wallabies and – no kidding – tree kangaroos were active in the high canopy. These long-tailed marsupials feed and behave like primates, spending most of their time in the trees. When they do return to the ground, they hop and leap like their roo cousins.
We were fortunate to glimpse the elusive platypus during two early morning excursions. This living anomaly is a furry, egg-laying endemic mammal that has a duckbill, a beaver-like tail and webbed feet. The males also have a venomous hind leg spur, leading me to believe that Dali would have had the most fun creating this bizarre Australian critter.
Some of the other wildlife rich areas visited included the West MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern territory, Kangaroo Island in South Australia and the Grampians National Park in the state of Victoria.
These next two months will pass quickly, and it will feels good to reconnect to the natural wonders of Australia’s surreal landscapes.