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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
A Richard’s Pipit flitting from post to post also delayed my arrival.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nocturnal Red Triangle Slugs (Triboniophorus graeffei) leave behind these feeding marks on trunks.
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.
Epiphytes such as these flowering king orchids clung to many tree branches and trunks.
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).
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.
Eastern yellow robins tease me in a similar way.
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.
Occasionally, I’d be rained on by small red berries as crimson rosellas feasted on piccabeen palm fruit.
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.
Satin bower birds were feeding on tiny green berries.
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…
Can you see it? I’ll make it easier for you…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Enlarging them on a computer screen allows me to better appreciate the details around their eyes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information about the Goomburra Section of Main Range National Park, please check the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife website here.