Australia, the “land down under,” is a land of beauty, congenial hospitality, and comfortable travel. Part of its allure is the strange creatures with strange names like platypus, koala, cassowary, and chowchilla. Scientists theorize Australia separated from world’s once contiguous land mass much earlier than other continents, allowing diverse development of plants and animals. In fact, Australia boasts over 820 bird species, 4000 different kinds of fish, and over 25,000 plant varieties, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
Or maybe we are attracted to the beauty of Australia: the white-sand beaches, sparkling seas, marine reefs, blue mountains, green rainforests, lush wetlands, and volcanic craters. Adding to the allure, the people of Australia offer a warm welcome to visitors. Their spoken English appeals to the ear and their words have an attractive ring. Friendly and laid back, they are often described as generous and humorous.
Queensland, the sunshine state is the premier state to visit in Australia and is readily amenable to traveling by RV. This tour particularly emphasizes the natural beauty of the area and focuses on viewing its wildlife, yet also includes cultural sites such as Tjapukai.
Day 1: We will start our trip in Cairns, a coastal city in North Queensland. After checking into our hotel we will have our orientation meeting and Welcome to Australia dinner. After dinner, as night closes in, we will watch the incredible arrival of flocks of huge flying-foxes as they descend into roosting palms in the heart of the city. Cairns hotel for two nights.
Day 2: Queensland is noted for its white-sand beaches and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef which stretches 1240 miles from Bundaberg northward. We will visit the magnificent reef–the longest in the world–by charter boat from Cairns for snorkeling to view colorful tropical fish just an arm's reach away. Or, if you'd rather not snorkel, you can view the fish through a glass bottom boat. Also, with a shuttle boat, we will be able to land at Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef where noddies and terns nest, and frigatebirds fly overhead.
Day 3: In the morning we will pick up our RV's. We will be renting RV’s for travel, sleeping, and many meals. Typically, these are late model Class C turbo diesel vehicles accommodating two to four adults and including double bed, gas stove, refrigerator, microwave, shower, toilet, air-conditioning/heating, pressurized hot & cold water, and radio/CD player. Also included are linen, bedding, and kitchen equipment. We will be able to drive and camp right where the sightseeing action is best. Cairns campground for two nights. (Travel ~5 mi.).
Day 4: It's an easy walk to the Cairns Esplanade and Cairns Botanic Gardens. The Esplanade is famously known for close-up views of up to 2000 shorebirds at high tide in the extensive tidal mudflats. The nearby Botanic Gardens lie in lowland tropical rainforest and display the best of Australia's colorful flowers and unusual trees. Flocks of Pied Imperial-Pigeons fly past our campground at dawn and dusk.
Day 5: After an early morning walk on the Esplanade, we will visit Tjapukai Cultural Park, learn about Aboriginal culture, watch a fire starting demonstration, hear didgeridoo music, and be taught how to throw a bomerrang and an atlatl. Then we'll drive northward along the coastal Captain Cook Highway, enjoying the scenery. Our campsite is at Wonga Beach. (Travel ~59 mi.)
Day 6: An early morning start will take us the short distance to Daintree River in time for their first cruise of the morning. From a comfortable river boat, we will see this Wet Tropics World Heritage site and its rare species close up. In a sense, the Daintree Rainforest is like stepping into a real life Jurassic Park, replete with very ancient animals. We will seek the rare Great-billed Heron, the strange wood-like Papuan Frogmouth, and perhaps witness the spring arrivals of Shining Flycatcher, Large-billed Gerygone, and Black Bittern. Most unusual are the Australian Water Dragons and other strange reptiles viewed close enough for great photography.
Leaving the Daintree area we will head to our next campground at Julatten in an original rainforest of the Cairns Highlands, 1443 ft. above the coastal plain and an oasis in surrounding farmlands. The ease of walking the trails through the 11 wooded acres surrounding the lodge and the close proximity to wildlife makes this a premier opportunity for wildlife photography. At dusk and dawn, behind the park, Platypus paddle along Bushy Creek. In early evening we can find Northern Brown Bandicoot, Long-nosed Bandicoot, Green Ring-tailed Possum, and other nocturnal animals such as the Boyd's Forest Dragon. Camp at Julatten for one night. (Travel ~37 mi.)
Day 7: We'll start with an excellent early morning nature walk around our campsite, seeking Emerald Dove, Noisy Pitta, Macleay's Honeyeater, Spotted Catbird, and Pied Monarch. An exciting find last tour was watching, through a spotting scope, an Australian Owlet-Nightjar roosting in a tree cavity. We also watched a giant Lace Monitor, a goanna lizard that grows to over 6 ft. Our next campsite has first-class facilities. Camp at Atherton for three nights. (Travel ~55 mi.).
Day 8: We will travel by mini-bus with a well-known professional naturalist to a creek for Platypus and Tree Kangaroos, and in nearby fields find Golden-headed Cisticola and Chestnut-breasted Manikins. We will visit the famous Curtain Fig Tree, where Yellow-breasted Boatbills can be seen from the boardwalk around the huge strangler fig tree and Topknot Pigeons feed at treetops. This is one of the largest trees in North Queensland and displays a curtain of aerial roots almost 50 ft to the ground. We will visit the elusive Golden Bowerbird and Satin Bowerbird bowers. At Hasties Swamp we can watch Plumed Whistling-Ducks and Sarus Cranes and maybe find the attractively patterned Zodiac Moth. Lunch (included) will be at a dairy, cheese, and chocolate factory where you can see Mistletoebirds from the dining room window while you embark on a culinary delight. In the late afternoon, driving through blue gum (sclerophyll) woodlands we could see Emus and many Eastern Gray Kangaroos, as well as Common Wallaroo, Pretty-face Wallabies, and Whiptail Wallabies. At night we will spotlight on a private tract near Ravenshoe, seeking rainforest possums such as Lemuroid Ring-tailed Possum, Herbert River Ring-tailed Possum, and Coppery Brush-tailed Possum. On our return trip we can drive the quiet roads near Ravenshoe, seeking Rufous Owl and Masked Owl, using our guide to aid in the search.
Day 9: Your choice today: go birding with Bert and our excellent local guide or tour with Shari to The Coffee Works, The Peanut Place, and maybe even squeeze in a visit to a winery, a coffee plantation, a macadamia farm, or pick some strawberries. The Coffee Works displays the world’s largest collection of coffee and tea treasures, some as old as the early 1700s, and offers unlimited samples of coffee, tea, chocolate, and liqueur. How about tasting peanut ice cream at The Peanut Place! This popular tourist destination sells 13 high oleic varieties of locally-grown peanuts. These peanuts have a different oil chemistry than regular peanuts.
Birders will visit more of the Atherton Tablelands sites such as Green Valley, Dagarty, Tumoulin, and enormous man-made Lake Tinarro. Birds of the day likely could include Cotton Pygmy-Goose, Brolga, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, White-throated Treecreeper, and Jacky Winter. Near the Tinarro dam Scarlet Honeyeaters are attracted to the flowering eucalypts. The rainforests of Queensland yield a disproportionately high number of endemic birds, many localized to the areas we will travel. Visiting Granite Gorge in the dry country we are in range for Tawny Frogmouth, Common Bronzewing, and Weebill, and amongst the huge boulders are numerous Mareeba Rock Wallabies. Along Tinaroo Creek Road we can find Blue-winged Kookaburra and Silver-crowned Friarbird.
Day 10: Two choices again today. Shari will take a group to the Gem Gallery which specializes in cutting, polishing, and designing opal jewelry. The group will arrive early enough for breakfast served with locally grown coffee and tea, with still enough time for some shopping before joining the others at Lake Barrine.
Birders may wish to join Bert at Lake Barrine in Crater Lake National Park. The Tablelands is a World Heritage Site known as the Wet Tropics. Atop a high volcanic plateau rising to over 3200 feet, we walk in the dark, cool rainforests. A real prize would be finding the bird-of-paradise Victoria's Riflebird which, at this season, could be showing its strange display, arching its wings to silhouette its head as the male attempts to seduce the female. Camp near Mission Beach. (Travel ~67 mi.).
Day 11: At our secluded seaside campsite near Mission Beach often roams a Southern Cassowary, a threatened species whose numbers have dropped precipitously owing to introduced predators, auto collisions, and destruction of rain forests through storms and clearing. This amazing flightless bird can weigh over 130 lbs. and its Papuan name derives from its unusual horned head, a helmet of tough skin which acts like a bumper as it runs through the rainforest. You will certainly want to photograph this strange bird as it wanders along the sandy beach. Our next campsite is at Ingham. (Travel ~90 mi.).
Day 12: We visit Tyto Wetlands where dozens of Agile Wallabies roam. The wetlands sport a bonanza of wildlife, including colorful birds such as Crimson Finch, Green Pygmy-Goose, and Olive-backed Oriole. Walk the grassy trails or take the story-high boardwalk between the informative visitor's center and gift shop to the cafe that serves delicious iced coffee. From here we travel to Townsville where we will camp two nights. (Travel ~69 mi.).
Day 13: Sleep in or join the early morning birders and visit the wetlands at Townsville Common Environmental Park where we can see Royal Spoonbill, Pacific Baza, Bush Stone-Curlew, Latham's Snipe, Eastern Koel, and Rainbow Bee-eater. Later, everyone will be anxious to visit the Billabong Sanctuary for the thrill of being close up and personal with Australian animals and learn of the plight of Koalas, Wombats, and other environmentally threatened species.
Day 14: Most of the day will be spent driving north to Cairns where we will return our rental RVs. Overnight at a Cairns hotel. (Travel ~216 mi.).
Day 15: Air flight from Cairns to Brisbane. Van or bus transportation to Lamington National Park, high in the mountains south of Brisbane. Dinner at O'Reilly's, a fabulous resort atop the mountains. Overnight at O'Reilly's resort with stellar views of the valley below (3 nights).
Day 16: Breakfast at O'Reilly's. At the resort we have a smorgasbord of activities to choose from: bird outings, wine tasting, wildlife encounters, and trekking on a sample of the many half-day and full-day walks within the confines of the national park. We could easily be surprised by a Red-necked Pademelon, a cute miniature version of a kangaroo. Pamper yourself with an optional "mind-melting" massage and skin treatment at the Lost World Spa. We will also have available a local naturalist guide and 4-WD transport in Lamington National Park. Dinner at O'Reilly's.
Day 17: Breakfast and Farewell Dinner at O'Reilly's where meals are so good you will want to lick the plate. Guide and 4-WD transport in Lamington National Park.
Day 18: Breakfast at O'Reilly's. Van or bus transportation to Brisbane airport. See Sydney tour for continuation of Australia travel.