Category Archives: Queensland’s Green Spaces

Thala Beach…where the forest meets the sea..

I have a wonderful Australian’s children’s book called ”Where the Forest Meets the Sea” and while I was teaching I kept many a restless class captive with this book.

I wish I had all those students (and my daughters) here now to see the real thing….a lodge perched on a mountain, literally where the forest meets the sea.

We are in Far North Queensland, escaping the winter in Canberra, and we have stopped off for coffee at a wonderful place called Thala Beach Lodge.

A painting of White-bellied Sea Eagles

A sweeping staircase takes us up to the circular guest lounge perched high amongst the trees, with breathtaking views of the Coral Sea.

The whole lodge is made from local timbers, and it is just like walking into a grand tree house.

 

 

My apologies, I have taken a photo of the seating rather than the beautiful Coral Sea..

The building is designed to bring the breeze from the sea and the scent from the trees.

There is a  long cool veranda and thoughtful local flower arrangements and pieces of interest for even the casual visitor here at Thala..

Each year, between June and September Southern Humpback whales are seen passing by this part of the coast. They mate and give birth along the shores of Queensland, after migrating from their Antarctic feeding grounds.

carving by Brent Vincent

Adult males establish dominance by ”singing” their complex songs, which can travel more than 100 kilometres underwater and can last 20 mins without repetition.

cairnspost.com au Humpback whales frolic off the coast of Cairns in North Queensland

This photo, in the local newspaper, shows the whales along the coast near here.

How I envy locals being able to witness such a sight!

Near the lounge is an eye-catching painting, by the Australian artist Ray Crooke. He is best known for his Gauguin-inspired paintings of islander life in Fiji and the Torres strait.

Archibald prize winner, Ray Crooke lived nearby, in Palm Cove, until his death last year.

He was inspired by the people and history of Far North Queensland and the islands of Torres Strait and the Pacific.

This striking painting told an interesting slice of history of this area.

In 1876 gold was discovered inland from Kewarra Beach. The government paid for a track to be cut through the forest to reach the gold, and in 1877, some bushmen were sent out to cut the track.

One of the bushmen set up camp near the track, and awoke to find his horses had strayed in the night. While he was searching for them he shot at a large black snake, and to his surprise

”a naked greased white man with a red beard stood up and politely asked him not to shoot”

He and four other companions had lived in the area for 14 years with local Aboriginal families. The mystery of where they came from was never solved.

One clue to their identity was that they carried American made axes and there were the ruins of a ship wreck off White Cliffs,  where Thala beach sits today.

So much fascinating history is never told unless there is someone to record it…

The Lodge today is surrounded by natural stands of Eucalyptus forest/ dry woodland forest.

Tall canopies of trees protect an under-layer of ferns and vines…

Guests staying in the Lodge can swim in this peaceful pool, or go down to the beach below.

It is a credit to the owner Rob Prettejohn that he was inspired to build a place for people, yet treading lightly on the surrounding habitat, the forest and the beach front.

The Lodge specialises in bird watching, nature walks and star gazing.

Imagine lunch here, with kookaburras in the trees, and Rainbow Lorikeets flying (occasionally) through the dining room.

We are so tempted to stay here and have lunch looking out on that beautiful view…another day we will …and that is a promise..

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

This is a flashback photo of Paul, myself and my cousin Theresa during our recent holiday in nearby Palm Cove.

Theresa, has lived in Far North Queensland for many years, and like me, she is a teacher. We were both born in Africa and have shared many adventures in both Africa and Australia.

She has introduced us to many new places in Queensland  (like Thala Beach Lodge) and if she wasn’t a teacher, I would highly recommend her as a  wonderful tour guide….

 

 

 

 

 

Bird watching in Port Douglas: expect the unexpected….

We are on a bird watching tour near Port Douglas, in Far North Queensland….and this little family are called Wandering Whistling ducks 

They have loud whistling calls, and their wings also make a whistling sound as they fly..so roosting flocks have a continuous high-pitched whistling noise, interspersed with twittering calls. In other words, they are a noisy bunch!

We have exchanged the very cold Canberra winter for the warm Far North Queensland coast, and today we have driven from Palm Cove to Port Douglas, to meet our tour guide, Del.

I love the morning light wherever we are, and this is a fine start to the day…

It is a cold morning, by local standards, 7 degrees C… and the locals are in shock, because  it would usually be double that on a June morning.

…but this is very pleasant for Canberrans, living in the south of Australia, as our temperatures are often about 11/12 degrees maximum in winter.

We do a tour around some of the suburbs of Port Douglas, where tropical trees and shrubs and water are all part of the landscape, and bring bird life from far and wide.

Our local guide book says,

“‘Sacred Kingfishers are often seen sitting on lamp posts and goal posts around Port Douglas,

and, sure enough, Del, points out this little fellow on the goal post…looking a bit like a young kookaburra..

Sacred Kingfisher

…and nearby, equally slow to start on this cool morning is a Rainbow Bee Eater, almost luminous in the warm sunshine.

Rainbow Bee Eater

These little birds eat flying insects, but have a real taste for bees. They are immune to the sting of a bee, but  instinctively rub the bee’s stinger against their perch before eating the bee.

 

The trees and shrubs are full of berries, fruit and flowers, and in the early morning, it is like bird supermarket….so much choice.

Australasian Yellow Oriole

 

Tawny Frogmouth

Here are two Tawny Frogmouth, sleeping peacefully in a palm tree between holiday townhouses. With such great camouflage, tourists and locals are completely unaware of them.

This is a Freshwater Mangrove shrub, with a stunning flower…

Everything is enormous in Queensland, even the seed pods….

A family of Bush Stone Curlew have taken up residence under the trees near the supermarket.

….they spend most of the warm days settled under the trees with half shut eyes, and then have a high pitched wailing contact call to other curlews at night.

Bush Stone Curlew

That call could wake the dead!  However, I’m sure, for locals it is one of the familiar sounds of home.

(These birds reminded Paul and I of the Hadedas in Cape Town, and I’m sure they are a relative. While we were visiting we noticed Hadedas seem to spent a lot of time trampling around in gardens and messing in trees, but are affectionately tolerated in the city….and, as one gardener said, they aerate the lawn!)

The colours of the tropics are bedazzling when surrounded by water, and there are many small reserves and nature trails..

Monet in the tropics..

 

These Magpie Geese, tend to gather in aquatic vegetation, are very common in some parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Magpie geese

They are considered pests by mango farmers as their crops are often damaged by these birds…

…. looking at their strong beaks, legs and feet, it is easy to see how they could damage crops.

This Comb-crested Jacana, and her young are  sometime called Lily trotters, as they live in floating vegetation of tropical wetlands..

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the Wandering Whistling ducks again, enjoying the sun…but what are they all collectively looking at?

are they alerted, but not alarmed in their lakeside resort…..

 Just then, Del points out, in that laid-back Far North Queensland way, that there is a crocodile in the water, not far from the birdlife..

…he tells us that he is pretty sure the (approx.) 12 foot croc is getting its food from fish coming down from the river, and so the croc hasn’t bothered the birds during the few weeks it has been in this area. However, Del says, in a matter of fact way,

”he can move like a flash when he wants to..”

We are standing on a slight mound of grass nearby, and Paul and I are silently measuring the distance between this croc, and us, not far really…..

We stroll back to the car, keeping a watchful eye on the croc, yet not wanting to look like wimps from the city. When we are safely back, I’m hoping one of us took a photo of the croc, not quite what we were expecting  on a bird-watching tour!

With hindsight, we were lucky to see a crocodile in a relatively undisturbed natural setting, and none of it was staged for tourists (something  that, unfortunately happens a great deal in Australia and Africa.)

However, having said that, I’m a bit of a peaceful Monet girl myself, so these scenes below are the ones I love best..

A typical winter’s day in Port Douglas, not far from the town centre.

Fish and chips and a glass of wine, while looking at the view, all in a day’s work of bird watching!

 

It is about two years since I started my  blog, Canberra’s Green Spaces….many thanks to all visitors, local and overseas who have visited, whether casually or regularly.

I appreciate all visits, and comments and, in turn, enjoy the many blogs I follow. Blogging has broadened my horizons immensely..

 

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Far North Queensland, Melaleuca Trees in Palm Cove

On a cold June morning, we flew out of  Canberra, and four hours later we landed in a very different Australian city, Cairns, in Far North Queensland.

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Forests, part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

Despite its international airport and city status, Cairns has lost none of its original laid-back Queensland character.

view of the cane fields and the mountain range as we drive from Cairns airport to Palm Cove

Driving from the airport there are cane farms on either side of the road, and some original old Queensland houses dotted around the countryside.

We are heading just a short distance away to our favourite spot, Palm Cove…where the winter temperatures at this time of the year are around 14 degrees to 26 degrees.

…let’s just keep that a secret…

We have been visiting Palm Cove with our family for about twenty years.

When our children were young, you could take camel rides along the beach, and an old hippie had a little wooden stand where you could have a foot massage…..those were the days!

In  the colder southern states of Australia, the gardens and parks have died back for the winter, so it is almost like sensory overload seeing the glorious colourful flowers and shrubs that seem to grow anywhere and everywhere…

 

 

 

 

However, Palm Cove’s signature for me, are the most incredible Paperbark Melaleuca trees.

The trunk of the tree is layered with papery bark, which is in a continuous process of peeling and replacing. In a monsoonal tropical climate like Palm Cove, this discourages parasites from getting a hold on the tree.

(It is also very hard to pass a tree and resist peeling a fine layer of bark as you go.)

Tea tree oil is distilled from the fresh leaves and twigs of the Melaleuca, and come to think of it, this is probably what the hippie used, all those years ago, for his foot massages.

These distinctive Melaleucas were here when Captain James Cook sailed his ship, the Endeavour, within three leagues of the Palm Cove foreshore on 10 June 1770….some of the species are reported to be over 400 years old.

It is said that Captain Cook tried using the oil from the leaves to make tea, as a possible way of preventing scurvy.

The beauty of the Paperbark Melaleucas in Palm Cove is the seamless way the buildings, paths and people fit around the trees.

I have read that the local council regulated, many years ago, that buildings in Palm Cove could not be built higher than the Melaleucas…what a visionary decision!

Palm Cove will never be one of the many beaches lined by generic high rise buildings, all looking exactly the same.

Rainbow lorikeets, the busy noisy local parrots in this area, are regular visitors to the trees, as are honey eaters, sunbirds, fruit bats, native bees and many other species that feed on the Paperbark trees.

My apologies, I couldn’t find a Rainbow Lorikeet in Palm Cove the day of taking photos, so  I had to borrow a busy Lorikeet from a trip we did to Sydney’s Centennial Park. This Lorikeet is feeding on equally striking flowers from a tree called Cape Tulip Red, originally from Africa, but also very common in the warmer parts of Australia.

The camels and hippies have gone, but, thank goodness some things stay the same, Pete’s Place, with the best fish and chips in Palm Cove.

Barramundi is a locally caught fish here, and is absolutely out of this world….may it never change.  I haven’t got a photo of any of our fish and chip meals because they were eaten so fast!

….and, I need never feel too far away from home, because one of the noisiest cockatoos I’ve ever heard, is nesting just across the way from our balcony

…well, if you can’t find an almond tree in Canberra, then a Paperbark Melaleuca tree is a pretty good second…

Not even a cockatoo winging in like a Boeing 747 could ruin an evening walk on Palm Cove beach.

I hope you are enjoying your good fortune if it is summer in your part of the world, and if you are in the middle of winter, as Monty Don says, make it a restorative time.

In my next post Paul and I will go on a bird watching tour in Port Douglas…

 

Copyright:Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cairns, sunshine and green spaces all the way to the Botanical gardens…

In early August we flew out of Canberra in our coats (minus 2 degrees) and arrived in Cairns, Far North Queensland, at midday…I took this photo as we had some coffee in the 27 degree sunshine….now the secret is out..

Cairns is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but the city council should also be congratulated on their town planning and green spaces.

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In Cairns is it possible to walk from the centre of the city all the way along the Harbour to the Botanical Gardens on the edge of the city….all that land preserved for the public.

The Esplanade has a collection of wonderful shallow pools for children to play and swim. Further along the boardwalk are playgrounds and spaces for older teenagers and young adults to play games such as volley ball.

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The path is wide enough for pedestrians to walk either way….and, there is a separate wide path for cyclists….

These sorts of green spaces give a whole community a sense of wellbeing and belonging.

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We took a leisurely stroll into Cairns in the evening…

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…and then a leisurely stroll back towards the Botanical gardens…

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Unfortunately we missed our booked guided tour of the Botanical Gardens due to rain…but here are a few photos of the gardens and the plants ….

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….so very different from our plants in the south..

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Acanthaceae Justicia Carnea Jacobinia

 

 

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Leguminosae Brownea grandiceps

 

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Ground orchid

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Waeszewiczia Coccinea

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heliconia

The plant below was my  absolute favourite, called Bumpy Satinash…The sign on this tree says,

it has aromatic flowers that attract many animals and insects, including possums, lorikeets and fruit bats to feed on the copious nectar,

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It looked wonderful growing beside the magnificent Paperbark Melaleuca tree ..

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And back at our hotel…..it is goodnight from the resident Kookaburra…

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and in the dawn chorus of kookaburras, here is Junior Kookaburra just enjoying some early morning sun, and learning the ropes..

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I hope you are enjoying your green spaces, where ever you live…..and that you have many paths to choose from…

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mareeba wetlands, birds, pythons and a hitch-hiking quoll…

Mwetlands

Our holiday in Queensland has, sadly, come to an end, and I’m sitting, all rugged up, back here in Canberra, while I write a little more about that lovely part of the the world…. the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland.

The Tablelands are part of a Wet Tropic World Heritage region, which is home to about 50% of Australia’s bird species.

The Mareeba Wetlands, is an inspired wildlife reserve, covering 5000 acres of savannas and wetland. It lies in the traditional Country of the Muluridji.

As the seasons change so does the wildlife, and at this reserve 221 species of birds have been identified at various time of the year.

Here is the viewing deck of the Mareeba Wetlands…we have arrived at a quiet time  as most of the birds have migrated for the winter (…if they think this is winter…I’ve got news for them..)

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but the elegant Egret poses for the camera, and the Darter dries his wings…

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egret

………we just enjoy a warm and sunny cruise around the lake…thinking of our fellow Canberrans…

bigwaterlilPaul wetld

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…..and then our guide cheerfully tells us that he had to unwrap a python from around the engine that morning (because it was a cold night.. 4 degrees..the engine was a nice warm spot) and we remember that the reason we don’t live in  North Queensland is because we don’t know how to remove pythons from anything.

Living alongside wildlife in this area is very much a part of every day life. The manager of the Wildlife Reserve shop said  he had some difficulty closing the cash register one day and after pushing for some time, he discovered there was a baby quoll hiding at the back of the till …..but it escaped… with a bit of encouragement.

quoll

Quolls are carnivorous marsupials found in North Queensland (I have never seen one)., and are the largest Queensland marsupial carnivore. The Northern Quoll is the smallest, weighing under a kilogram, and the spotted tailed quoll is the largest, weighing several kilograms and measuring almost one metre long from the nose to the tail tip.

Quolls are wide-roaming and attracted to suburban areas for food. The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland encourages local people to report sighting of the quolls to keep track of the numbers and to preserve quoll populations.

One of the many stories of sightings is of the Quoll who was found under the bonnet of a car that had been driven 5 km to a Cairns garage for servicing.

It took 5 mechanics two hours to strip parts of the engine to get the quoll out. The quoll was okay, and the owner thanked  the barking dog for alerting the garage staff to the problem!

On our way out of the Wetlands reserve we looked in on the Gouldian Finch Reintroduction project. These Finches are one of the most beautiful in the outback region. In the early 20th century there were literally millions around Queensland and the Northern Territory, but as seed and grass eating birds, they are in competition with farming and land development. This project is aimed at protecting the species and reintroducing them into the wild.

GFinch

I have many stories about Queensland’s green spaces, and I’ll add a few more as we go along, but in the meanwhile, spring is here in Canberra, the busiest time of the year for all gardeners in this city…

A cool calm garden in the Atherton Tablelands

 

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Friarbird in the Grevilleas

 What I love about visiting other parts of Australia (and the world) is looking at gardens that always reflect the people and their place in the world. My cousin lives in one of the many small  towns dotted across the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland.

Over the years, with the help of some gardening friends, Theresa has created a cool, tranquil garden full of birdsong.

Many birds visit our garden in Canberra, but there is a difference in quiet country areas….these birds seem to own the garden…here is a Honeyeater with a shrill call louder than that of most big birds.

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The many native shrubs and bird baths in this garden attract a wealth of birds…and some curious onlookers!!

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This handsome fellow has the unfortunate name of Drongo (an old Australian slang word for fool or idiot)….this bird is anything but….it is an amazing bird with a great story, …so more on that in another post.

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The Drongo bird

This garden has three sections, or garden rooms, each flowing from one to the other. The first ‘room’ opens onto a colourful space designed for quiet and contemplation.

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Through the archway the next room has a long stretch of lawn, with wide borders for herbs and vegetables, and  some lovely native plants, the Bottlebrush and the White Penda.

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White Penda bush (flowers in spring) and a Bottlebrush bush…a haven for birds

We were there in the winter, and Theresa had Italian parsley, ordinary parsley, 3 kinds of thyme, mint, basil, chillis, rosemary, spring onions, Italian spinach, tomatoes, passionfruit and pineapple…and hibernating is tumeric and ginger.

As we had just arrived from the frozen south, (Canberra) what a joy to be able to walk into the garden every day and pick fresh vegetables and herbs!

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Theresa’s attention to detail makes this a lovely garden to sit in quietly, or go back to and discover new small surprises in out of the way places.

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The third part of the garden has native plants and a wonderfully scented Gardenia beside the garden bench. It looks very healthy compared to the ones we have in our garden, I feel I should apologise to all Gardenias growing in Canberra, the cold winters do not suit them at all!

gardina

This garden’s design and planting has been a labour of love over many years. It has survived the vagaries of North Queensland weather, rain hail, the tail end of cyclones and sunshine!  Today this calm, lush garden, with cool verandas and continual birdsong,  welcomes friends and family at any time of the year.

 

 

 

Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine….as far away from a Canberra winter as it gets..

 

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During the very cold winter we are having in Canberra, we are visiting North Queensland…guaranteed to be warmer!

North Queensland is known for the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, and the Wet Tropics rainforests.

Most people head for the Barrier Reef and beaches between Cairns and Port Douglas, but we often begin with a visit to the Atherton Tableland. My cousin, Theresa, has been living and working in the Tablelands for many years, and through her we have been introduced to all the wonders of this area.

The Atherton Tablelands is an amazing contrast of rolling hills, farmland, rugged bushland, tropical waterfalls, and volcanic lakes.

Last week we returned to one of the first places we ever visited in the Tablelands, the volcanic lakes Eacham and Barrine.

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Lake Eacham..where the forest meets the sea

One of my favourite books for children is  “Where the Forest Meets the Sea”…… here we are at a place where the rainforest meets the lakes.

A Ngadjonji legend tells of young hunters striking a sacred tree, which angered the rainbow serpent. The earth roared like thunder and winds blew like a cyclone. The ground twisted and cracked and red clouds rose in the sky that had never been seen before.

Scientists believe volcanos were active here until almost 12 000 years ago.

The day we walked around the lake it was hard to imagine the turbulent and violent past that created these lakes. Now they sit, still, deep and quiet.

Paul took some amazing photos which show just how peaceful, calm, and full of food the pelican and cormorants were!

 

A very contented pelican and cormorants .. Copyright Paul Mackey

Much of the original rainforest in the Tablelands has been cleared, but several small fragments remain…

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copyright Paul Mackey

….as it says in the guidebooks..

”green fragile jewels in a sea of farmland’

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Copyright Paul Mackey

It was only when Paul had taken this photo that we realised a baby turtle was in front of the mother… blending into the fallen branch and totally unseen by the naked eye.

We were happy to see the contented bird life and turtles, but this area is also home to some of the most primitive plant and animal species, such as the Musky Rat Kangaroo and the ancient Cycads.

Standing under the magnificent trees in the forests, looking down on the reflections of fallen trees in these deep lakes, was like travelling back in time… snatching a glimpse of the evolution of plant life on the planet.