Goomburra Section, Main Range National Park – In Search of Aliens

Lace monitor Goomburra

She “shakes my soul like a pothole, every time.” I smiled as these lyrics played on my car radio and wondered if Ed Sheeran had ever driven on remote roads while touring Australia, where some of these giant craters could swallow a small car. If he has, then I’m not sure I envy his experiences of love if they inspire an association with suspension annihilators. While enjoying the humour of these words and Ed’s soulful singing, uneasiness lurked in my mind. I was hoping my unfortunate history with potholes wouldn’t be repeated on the final 6 km of unsealed road to the Goomburra section of Main Range National Park, 175 km south-west of Brisbane.

Goomburra falls

Earlier this year, naturalist and photographer, Robert Ashdown,  highly recommended Goomburra to me. Robert is also one of those passionate, hard-working Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Rangers committed to protecting the natural environment and educating others about its worth and beauty. He often takes time out of his busy schedule to answer questions and give encouragement to others. His blog is a wonderful resource, so please check it out, especially his post about a Goomburra visit in summer and this one with more detailed information about the area.

colours water rocks Goomburra

While I was desperately hoping to sight a very special alien at Goomburra, my initial motivation for this trip was to oxygenate my lungs. My Saturdays  are often spent catching up on weekly chores and shopping, but on this spring morning I woke to discover my street shrouded in choking haze – a mixture of pollution blown over from industrial estates in the east and local bushfires. While I’ll be focusing on this first escape to Goomburra, I did return a week later to supplement my album and I’ll be including these shots too.

After I descended to the western side of the Cunningham’s Gap section of Main Range National Park,  bucolic scenes  dominated the landscape.

Farmland Goomburra

Horses Goomburra

Vast tracts of forest have been cleared for timber, farming and grazing. In fact, in Queensland, tree clearing is still currently being undertaken at an alarming rate due to land clearing legislation changes in 2012-2015.  According to the Queensland Conservation Council, “Over the last five years, more than one million hectares of native forests and bushland has been cleared in Queensland. Queensland is the land clearing capital of Australia. Our current clearing levels lock in continued widespread devastation to wildlife and the habitats they depend on.”

Darling Downs Goomburra

Farms and grazing land do provide an excellent place to spot birds of prey, such as this nankeen kestrel which uses  fence posts, power lines and solitary trees as vantage points.

Nankeen kestrel

A Richard’s Pipit flitting from post to post also delayed my arrival.

Richards Pipit

As I approached Goomburra, the land seemed  increasingly denuded. It is easy to contrast the effects of unrestricted grazing when properties border a national park. Greener plant life on unprotected creek banks is  eaten away and along with the action of hard cattle hooves, this facilitates erosion.

windmill Goomburrra

There are many benefits to declaring a region  a national park, including serving as an historical warning. Their existence reminds us what the surrounding land used to be like and how rapidly it can be changed.

cattle Goomburra

It seemed to take forever to negotiate the gravel road and I started to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn.   I often find that fearing the unknown can stretch the kilometres out when driving to a new destination, while a return trip can have me wondering why the road seemed so long the first time. After heavy rain, creeks flow across the road, at times making it only accessible to 4WDs. Sometimes wet conditions may even cause road closures.  Kangaroos and unfenced cattle also kept me vigilant.

cattle Goomburra

Creek crossing Goomburra

Only one shallow creek was flowing across the road on this occasion. The unsealed road was generally in good condition apart from some corrugated areas and the odd pothole. I began to relax and when I glimpsed the information sign up ahead,  briefly  took my eyes off the patchily shaded road surface. That’s when it happened.

My left wheel clunked heavily into an enormous pothole. I hadn’t had time to react when the right wheel landed in another deep pothole. Berating myself for managing to hit not just one but TWO of the biggest potholes on the entire road, I pulled up at the sign and spent about half an hour examining the underside of the car for damage and leaks, for once oblivious to the dangers of ticks crawling onto my head.

There was a slight drip of bluish fluid but where was it coming from – was it fuel, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid? Was it old? New? Was it serious? WHAT WAS IT?  I wiped it away and the drip didn’t continue. I suppose I should have smelt it to try to work out what it was, but I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer at the best of times.

I was tempted to turn around and drive all the way home just in case there was a new leak. I didn’t want to be stranded at Goomburra where there is no phone signal. In the end, I decided to assume everything was okay. The head in the sand approach is quite liberating at times. I might try it more often. This male superb fairy wren in the car park encouraged me. Who could refuse such a handsome fellow’s invitation?

Superb Fairy Wren Goomburra

I chose to complete the Cascades Circuit which incorporates part of the Dalrymple Creek Circuit. It’s a class 4, 6.5km trail and combines many of the best features of the park – numerous creek crossings, cascades, falls and waterholes, cool lush forest, and rocky, open eucalypt and grass tree country.

Waterfall Goomburra

Leaves water goomburra

Tree ferns Goomburra

Goomburra pool

Rainforest Goomburra

While 6.5km doesn’t sound like a long walk, if you’re like me you’ll spend all day scouting for birds and reptiles at the creeks and enjoying the colourful leaves and reflections.  And remember, I was also on the lookout for an alien or two.

Leaves Goomburra

Leaves Goomburra

leaves Goomburra

leaves water reflections Goomburra

National Parks recommends a clockwise direction. The reason for this became clear on the final stages of the walk. Although the first section winds upwards and can be steep in places, it takes you through heavily shaded wet sclerophyll forest, cool rainforest and across multiple creeks, while the final section takes you downhill along exposed fire trails through open woodland. I wouldn’t recommend attempting the fire trails in an anticlockwise direction, particularly in the heat. In the wetter months you need to take care crossing creeks and be prepared to get a little wet. On my  visits, nearly all the creek crossings were running, but there were always enough exposed stepping stones to keep my feet dry.

Goomburra creek

As I meandered along Dalrymple Creek, magnificent flooded gums, Eucalyptus grandis,  towered above me. It was interesting to compare their smooth white trunks  to other species.

Flooded Gums Goomburra

Trees Goomburra

tree trunk patterns Goomburra

Nocturnal Red Triangle Slugs (Triboniophorus graeffei) leave behind these feeding marks on trunks.

Red triangle slugs goomburra

This stump is the remains of a 500 year old tree and a reminder of what the forest may have looked like before timber-getting. It took two men half a day to saw through it.

Tree stump Goomburra

Epiphytes such as these flowering king orchids clung to many tree branches and trunks.

king orchid goomburra

epiphytes goomburra

epiphytes goomburra

Waiting quietly by  creeks rewarded me with satin bower birds, rose robins,  golden whistlers, fantails,  honeyeaters, flycatchers, kingfishers, wrens and even a glimpse of a Pacific Baza (or Crested Hawk).

Rose robin Goomburra

wren Goomburra

Golden whistler

Grey Fantail Goomburra

Rufous fantails are one of my favourite little birds to watch on walks. They almost seem to enjoy showing off around me, often venturing closer and closer.

Rufous fantail Goomburra

Eastern yellow robins tease me in a similar way.

yellow eastern robin goomburra

This was my first recorded sighting of a crested hawk (or Pacific baza). It can be easy to mistake them for a big fat pigeon in the canopy until you see their hooked beak and crest.

crested hawk goomburra

Occasionally, I’d be rained on by small red berries as crimson rosellas feasted on piccabeen palm fruit.

Eastern rosella goomburra

Bell miners flitted about in the canopy. A few curious individuals came down to check out the weird human and to bathe and preen themselves.

bell miner goomburra

bell miner goomburra

Satin bower birds were feeding on tiny green berries.

satin bower bird

Reptiles made their appearance as well. Earlier, I mentioned a purpose of this trip was to spot aliens. After seeing pictures of adult southern angle-headed dragons, Lophosaurus spinipes, on Robert’s Goomburra blog, I desperately hoped to see my first one.   To me they represent something from an outer space fantasy – I suppose many such reptiles look a little alien to me. In the end,  after carefully scanning trunks and rocks, I almost stood on this…

uthern angle-headed dragon goomburra

Can you see it? I’ll make it easier for you…

Southern angle-headed dragon

southern angle-headed dragon

When I first saw the hint of a crest and the angular brow, my excitement skyrocketed. Was it really one, though?  I took numerous pictures. On arriving home and checking online, my hopes plummeted as it really didn’t resemble the impressive adults.

southern angle-headed dragon Goomburra

Deflated, I sent some pictures to Robert Ashdown in the forlorn hope that I’d found some other curious species. To my delight, he replied that I had indeed found my longed for alien but it was just a very young one. People say romantic love can be like riding a roller coaster, but identifying species can take you on a tumultuous ride also. You might think I’m exaggerating, but at one stage I was hyperventilating . Who says being a wildlife nerd is dull?

Adult southern angle-headed dragons have a large and continuous nuchal crest with a moderately large vertebral crest and angular brows. Check out Robert’s blog post here for a picture. As you can see, the crest is much less obvious in the young one I nearly stepped on.

southern angle-headed dragon goomburra

Now the other special feature of these creatures is their tendency to remain as still as possible. Unlike some lizards, which tend to dash for cover when you approach them, southern angle-headed dragons prefer to remain still or slowly slip away. They are well camouflaged and often resemble a branch or part of the tree trunk.

While scanning trunks for these “aliens”  I almost stood on this marsh snake, Hemiaspis signata. According to the Queensland Museum Fact sheet these snakes “can deliver painful bites and should be treated with caution.”  They are only “mildly envenoming” though and are generally known to have a mild disposition.

marsh snake Goomburra

Marsh snake Goomburra

As with all snakes, they are best left alone and their beauty enjoyed from a safe distance. It’s hard to tell by my photographs but this one was less than a metre long. They usually feed on skinks, frogs and tadpoles.

One of my favourite reptiles is the lace monitor so I was delighted to come across this magnificent specimen. Don’t you just love their skin patterns, powerful muscular features, and impressive claws?

Lace Monitor Goomburra

Lace monitor Goomburra

While on the subject of reptiles and aliens, I’ll squeeze in a few pictures of this  bearded dragon I saw on a return visit to Goomburra. It was originally lying on the road surface ready to be squashed by my car wheels. When I got out of the car to move it off the road (there was other traffic coming) it fled up a leaning post.

Bearded dragon Goomburra

Bearded dragon Goomburra

Enlarging them on a computer screen allows me to better appreciate the details around their eyes.

Bearded dragon Goomburra

Bearded Dragon Goomburra

Bearded dragon Goomburra

Goomburra is also home to the Fleay’s Barred Frog (Mixophyes fleayii), which is in danger of becoming extinct. I didn’t come across any but I did notice these large tadpoles. The image is blurry as I took it from from the top of a steep bank, but perhaps a frog expert out there might be able to suggest a species.

tadpoles goomburra

There was also evidence of dragonflies or damselflies on creek rocks but unusually, I couldn’t see any adults. Robert Ashdown’s visit in summer yielded beautiful pictures of “Whitewater Rockmasters, one of Queensland’s five species of huge damselflies in the family Diphlebidae.” In fact, one of his images was selected to be used on the first day cover and packaging  of postage stamps featuring dragonflies and damselflies.

exoskeleton

The final stage of the walk was a marked contrast to cool,  wet, shaded forest. Open woodland gave little relief from the sun but the sight of grass trees, Xanthorrhoea, always raises my spirits. I’ve even written a  blog post about my romance with them. How nerdy is that? Unfortunately, I needed to pick up my walking pace though so I wouldn’t be driving home at dusk.

Goomburra grass trees

Goomburra woodland

My head was also rapidly rising out of the sand about the possible damage to my old sedan caused by the potholes earlier. I wondered how big the puddle under the car would be or if both tyres might be flat. To my surprise the car wasn’t oozing anything and I managed a nervous but successful drive back to my hazy abode.

What can I say about potholes? Sometimes you’ve got to hit a few to arrive at a beautiful destination. If we spend our lives never moving forward or taking risks because we’re scared of the inevitable potholes, we might end up missing out on some very special moments in life.  There may be a few new squeaks and creaks emanating from my old car, but in the end they’re just adding to the fancy chorus of groans that already existed. I’d do it all again just to see another alien.

southern angle-headed dragon

For more information about the Goomburra Section of Main Range National Park, please check the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife website here.

37 thoughts on “Goomburra Section, Main Range National Park – In Search of Aliens

    • Thanks very much, Susan. Goomburra has to be one of my top five wildlife spots to visit. I’d barely gone a hundred metres along the trail and I’d seen multiple bird species and a lace monitor. I have some other trip albums sitting on my hard drive that need to be written up. Your comments always encourage me to keep going. It’s a pleasure to share my part of the world with you. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Mary Lou. Yes, I’m glad the potholes didn’t do any significant damage. My car is about 20 years old now so it is starting to complain a lot when I take her on rough roads. I’m sure you would enjoy visiting Goomburra. 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Marina. I was a bit cheeky to write aliens in the title. I’m borrowing some of the click-bait techniques of the online news stories. Goomburra is an amazing place to visit and I hope it remains protected. Greetings back to you from down under. 🙂

  1. Thanks for raising the issue of land clearing. It’s happening at a heart breaking rate – I think the culprits know they’re on borrowed time. I loved your idea that National Parks serve as a historical warning. My visits are always tinged with grief when I think about how much we have lost.

    • Thanks, Neil. I’m afraid I’m like you when I visit places like this now. I can’t help but feel sad about the destruction of surrounding land and how much has been lost. Our national parks are proof of how much the surrounding land has changed. I also can’t help but ponder the western world’s idea of “progress” and productive land. Goomburra was regarded by many early European settlers as dangerous, untamed scrub. A place to be conquered, used for timber and turned into “productive” country . It was not regarded as life-sustaining, oxygen producing, or a treasure of biological processes yet to be discovered. This supposedly dangerous, scrubby landscape was a source of natural food, medicines, shelter, tools and spiritual significance for the Indigenous Australians who lived there and cared for the land. It’s incredible how much land clearing has been done in such a short time and the massive increase following those legislation changes in recent years is truly heartbreaking. Let’s hope the legislation changes.

  2. Amazing photos.
    I think this has to be one of your best hikes ever. I never would have spotted most of these birds and reptiles and it truly was fun to see what was in the next photo in the series in this post. It was almost as good as walking beside you on the trail.
    Thanks for sharing (as usual), Jane 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Vicki, but it’s due to this fantastic location that there are more wildlife shots than usual. Most of the time all I had to do was sit by the many creek crossings and wait. There were many more bird species I saw that I couldn’t get a shot of. I went back a week later and supplemented the album with a few more. It is such a shock to go from sparsely vegetated cattle country into thick forest. I found it hard to believe that the surrounding land used to look like that. This was truly one of those walks I’d never want to rush. Of course during school holidays and on weekends it is much busier and you are less likely to see wildlife. I was lucky not to see anyone on my return trip. Thanks for your continued encouragement. I’m pleased to have been able to take you walking with me by blogging. 🙂

  3. I am horrified to learn from you how much clearing is still happening in Queensland. That situation makes places like Goomburra all the more precious. I am not a tramper or wild life adventurer in reality but I love a virtual trip. Yours was entrancing. Hope the haze has cleared. I had one of more worst asthma attacks on the Gold Coast, a long time ago,

    • Yes, it is horrifying that given all we know about the environment now that we still allow such habitat devastation to occur. You would think we’d learn from past mistakes. It’s profit-driven of course. That’s partly why I share so many wildlife pictures. I figure that if people can see what is actually being destroyed they might do something about it. I’m pleased you are able to enjoy my trips vicariously. That makes me feel less bad about using fuel to get there. I am car pooling in the virtual sense. 😉 I read somewhere that Brisbane is or was the asthma capital of Australia. I don’t know if that is still true. I guess it might be partly because of the subtropical environment – more pollen/spores and the way the air currents move. Pollution is blown west towards the Great Dividing Range, and is then pushed back over the outer western suburbs where I live. Bushfire smoke adds to this of course. Thanks very much for reading and commenting. I appreciate hearing your thoughts. Best wishes. 🙂

  4. I was so pleased to see a post from you tonight! Your photographs of the birds and reptiles you saw are stunning! With reference to land-clearance I commented on another blog about it only a day or so ago. https://toffeefee.wordpress.com/2017/09/15/dunrobin-und-die-landplagen/ which refers to the Highland clearances in Scotland in the 19th century. Do you read Dina’s blog?
    I am glad your car seems to have got off without damage after its encounter with a couple of potholes. I also hope you managed to keep tick free too! Best wishes, Clare 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Clare. I always enjoy hearing from you, too. I will have to have a read of the blog link you gave me. I have heard something about the removal of forests in Scotland but not actually read very much. I assume many of the bare hills used to be forests though. No, I haven’t read Dina’s blog yet. I do apologise for not reading and commenting on your blog and others. I was going to stop blogging because I didn’t have the time to read all the blogs I follow anymore but then people asked me to keep writing anyway so I did.
      Goomburra is such a special place that I hope remains protected. It really is a reminder of what has been lost though so I can’t help feeling a sense of sadness when I do visit. Hopefully, by sharing pictures of wildlife it reminds people of why national parks exist. Yes, I was most relieved that my little old sedan survived to drive another day! I do wonder when it will finally give up the ghost. I hope you have a lovely week, Clare. Best wishes. x

      • Thank-you Jane! National Parks aren’t only evidence of what we have lost but also they are a starting point for the future when (I hope) we all come to our senses and try to live in harmony with nature. We must do all we can to make sure that happens. I haven’t had time to blog recently and also haven’t been out anywhere or taken many photos. I have tried to keep up with other people’s blogs just so they don’t think I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth! I understand the lack of time you have and am so pleased you manage to send us such beautiful images of your wonderful country. Clare xx

    • Thank you, Mikki! Goomburra is a wonderful location to spot wildlife and take photographs. The many creek crossings are delightful. I’m sure you’d love it. 🙂 x

  5. Hey Jane

    Another really enjoyable blog post, thanks. It’s a great place, and you’ve seen a lot on your visits. Some wonderful photos as always.

    It’s hard to know where to start with the land-clearing issue in Queensland. It’s a complex, deeply divisive subject that reflects the entrenched conservative nature of this State, where ‘the science is wrong’ is a common view, and where the big picture of the long-term health of Queensland’s environment just does not even seem to be on the agenda. Witness, for example, the recent article in The Courier Mail discussing Brisbane’s future rapid development, where not one of the gathered team of ‘experts’ talked about sustainable development or conserving green space, let alone biodiversity. It was a depressing read.

    How did we get to this point? We have cleared so much that we just have to slow it down, to not do this is pure folly. (An interesting overview of the history of land-clearing in Australia can be seen here: https://academic.oup.com/jpe/article/5/1/109/1294916/Little-left-to-lose-deforestation-and-forest)

    The statistics on vegetation clearing in this State are alarming. The figures show that there has been a large increase in clearing of endangered and threatened ecosystems – not just of regrowth such as brigalow (see https://theconversation.com/ecocheck-can-the-brigalow-belt-bounce-back-57128) that has been under farm for decades. (See also: https://theconversation.com/queensland-land-clearing-is-undermining-australias-environmental-progress-54882 and http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-19/land-clearing-rates-qld-need-to-be-lowered-new-study/8628524).

    There are farmers who may be justified in their need to clear some vegetation, such as brigalow regrowth on their land, and there are many exemptions available in the legislation to do this already (see, for eg: https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/vegetation/clearing). However, this is a State where people just do not like being told what to do by Government and mistrust every guideline or restriction, for whatever reason. It’s also a place where no-one seems to care. Main Roads allows clearing of road-side vegetation corridors to allow for the all-important road-widening; regional councils allow clearing for projects with little apparent thought given to alternatives; private developers just see dollars and trees just as being in the way of a profit. The rate of clearing of coastal eucalypt woodland vegetation by land developers for suburban estate has been staggering in south-eastern Queensland. These developers largely have no soul – profit (under the guise of providing ‘homes for battlers’ or ‘driving growth and prosperity’) is the only thing that seemingly motivates them.

    Our need for ‘progress’ over-rides our need to protect vegetation at every point. While I would hope that planners attempted to reserve what remnant vegetation they could, the massive clearing of vegetation associated with new Toowoomba range crossing is simply astonishing. Wildlife carers report a huge increase in road-kills as wildlife moving from this cleared area wanders onto busy roads. The iconic koalas is a species clearly on the way to extinction in this State.

    The ‘big-picture’ just cannot be seen by many Queenslanders. We are told at every turn that tourism must make money for the State and it will save us economically, yet we continue to box in and threaten those reserves of ‘wild’ areas that are the big draw-cards for international and interstate visitors. Putting aside the concept of immediate money, or the economic value of vegetation, the impact on our biodiversity from land-clearing will surely affect the health of all Australians in generations to come.

    In a State with a history of massive vegetation clearing, the importance of our remaining reserves is immense, and their future uncertain, as conservatives call for less restrictions on what people can do and the numbers of people wanting to recreate in natural areas increases. At the same time our biosphere is being hammered by human impacts from every direction. With the issue of climate change surrounding us, you’d think that this was a time to protect every bit of vegetated land we have left in this arid country.

    Cheers, look forward to more posts, Jane.

    • Thanks so much for your detailed comment with all the useful links and information. I’ve been very grateful for your help with wildlife questions I’ve had over the years. There are so many good people like you working in Parks and Wildlife and it must be incredibly disheartening and frustrating for you to see what has happened. I don’t have anything I can really add as you’ve said it all. Hopefully, your comment will be read by others who read my blog. Thanks again for everything that you do to help protect these important areas. Just the land changes in my own immediate area have shocked me these last few years. I’m already seeing damage done to White Rock as a housing development has been built right at its borders. It’s so disappointing. Best wishes. 🙂

  6. What a delightful trip you took us on Jane. So much to see and appreciate. To paraphrase David Farragut, damn the potholes and full speed ahead! The superb fairy wren would have definitely encouraged me to continue my journey! Great photos. –Curt

    • Haha…I was looking for a short quote about potholes for my blog. That one would have worked! I used to get really excited about briefly glimpsing superb fairy wrens in the undergrowth but these days they seem to be come right up to me. Maybe I’m just more observant these days or slower and less intimidating? They’re such delightful little birds. Thanks for those kind words about my post, Curt. I hope all is well in your world. Full speed ahead! 🙂

  7. Wow Jane, those wildlife photos are stunning – I’ve got no idea how you do it. And as for that plunge pool, you’d be struggling to get me out of it I think 😉 Thanks for posting about a great spot that I’m yet to visit, it’s definitely on my ‘to do’ list now though it looks beautiful, maybe we can visit next time I get up there.
    Cheers Kevin – hey did you like the rainbow in my last post ? 🙂

    • Thanks, Kevin, for your enthusiastic response regarding my photos. The key is to take at least 500 photos. That way there is a good chance 20 might turn out in focus! Seriously, I used up a 16GB card on just one walk once. A 5km walk may take me 8 hours though! Yeah, I’m sure you’d love the waterholes and creeks at Goomburra. I went there at the end of a very dry winter, so you can imagine what it would look like in a wet Queensland summer. Apparently, the cicadas are deafening then though. The camp sites are really cheap there as well. Yep, I saw the rainbows…on your cap and in the waterfall. Good stuff. 🙂

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