A mag­i­cal moon­light de­liv­ery

The Es­cape fam­ily gets up close and per­sonal with a nest­ing tur­tle in a mem­o­rable brush with na­ture, writes Donna Kramer

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - Family Affair Mon Repos - The writer was a guest of Tourism Queens­land and Bund­aberg North Bur­nett Tourism.

LIFE’S most en­joy­able mo­ments can oc­cur at sur­pris­ing times. I was cer­tainly not ex­pect­ing a moon­lit beach in Bund­aberg in south­ern Queens­land to de­liver one of my fam­ily’s most re­mark­able ex­pe­ri­ences of the past year.

We went pre­pared, wear­ing com­fort­able walking shoes and car­ry­ing back­packs filled with in­sect re­pel­lent, water, blan­kets and food to keep us go­ing un­til dawn. Not to men­tion iPads, iPods – well, iEvery­things – to keep the chil­dren en­ter­tained.

We’d been warned, you see.

Vince, the man­ager at the Bar­gara Shore­line Apart­ments, our home for the week­end, told us that pre­vi­ous ho­tel guests had stayed out un­til 2am watch­ing the tur­tles nest. I later learnt that th­ese peo­ple en­joyed their orig­i­nal ex­pe­ri­ence so much they’d se­cured passes to ev­ery avail­able ses­sion where, over the course of one evening, they wit­nessed five en­dan­gered log­ger­head tur­tles come ashore to lay their eggs.

As soon as I heard of the 2am tur­tle vigil, I be­gan men­tally pre­par­ing for an en­durance ad­ven­ture. Thank­fully, Mother Na­ture had a dif­fer­ent plan. Af­ter a day of tast­ings at Bund­aberg Brewed Drinks, vir­tual hang-glid­ing at the Hin­kler Hall of Avi­a­tion and swim­ming in Bar­gara’s fa­mous Basin Rock Pool, my fam­ily ar­rived at Mon Re­pos beach, the largest log­ger­head tur­tle rook­ery in the South Pa­cific, for our moon­lit Guided Tur­tle Tour.

Here we were met by en­thu­si­as­tic wildlife rangers and vol­un­teers who told us: ‘‘ Folks, we are go­ing to skip the for­mal­i­ties and head straight down to the beach as we have a lovely lady who has emerged from the ocean and is mak­ing her way up to the dunes.’’ Ma­jor win. Along with 50 other ex­cited turtle­watch­ers, hus­band, Chris, chil­dren Ella and Meghan and I made our way silently along the moon­lit sand (tur­tles can be dis­ori­ented by bright lights so all torches are banned) un­til we were met by Ranger Joe 300m along the beach. It was here the magic hap­pened. To­wards the sand dunes lay a 95cm log­ger­head tur­tle that was silently lay­ing her eggs.

To the un­trained eye, she could have been easy to miss as she was pro­tec­tively cov­ered in sand and plant-life as she de­liv­ered her 100-150 off­spring into the nest be­low.

Here, in the dark­ness with only a back­drop of crash­ing waves, Ranger Joe ex­plained the awein­spir­ing sci­ence be­hind the an­nual tur­tle mi­gra­tion.

Only one in 1000 tur­tles sur­vives to make the re­turn jour­ney of more than 2000km to reach their nest­ing des­ti­na­tion and th­ese tur­tles in­stinc­tively re­turn to the beach they hatched from 30 years ear­lier.

We also learnt that the sex of the tur­tles is de­ter­mined by the tem­per­a­ture of their nests and that the warmer sands of Mon Re­pos pro­duce mainly fe­male hatch­lings.

Af­ter 45 min­utes, the log­ger­head tur­tle, which we later found out via her track­ing tag had not been ashore at Mon Re­pos since 2004, had fin­ished lay­ing her eggs. Our group of tur­tle-watch­ers parted like the Red Sea as she hastily made her way back down the beach be­tween us and slipped into the waves.

If she even no­ticed the 50-plus peo­ple watch­ing, there was no in­di­ca­tion of it.

Walking back along the beach to­wards the tur­tle in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, we were fu­ri­ously look­ing at the waves to see if an­other tur­tle had come ashore. We, like oth­ers be­fore us, wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence it all again.

Tur­tle tourism is big busi­ness in Bund­aberg, draw­ing about 30,000 peo­ple a year. Yet the beaches, cafes and shore­line parks are peace­ful and it’s not dif­fi­cult to find a quiet space.

I can tell when Chris likes a hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion if I find him look­ing in the real es­tate win­dows.

In Bar­gara, I found him do­ing that a lot.

He’ll have to set­tle for a trip back in Jan­uary to see the tur­tle hatch­lings emerge from their nest and scurry down to the ocean.

Pic­tures: Donna Kramer

AMAZ­ING NA­TURE: A log­ger­head tur­tle re­turns to the ocean (above); and a log­ger­head lay­ing her eggs (right).

SEA AND AIR: (clockwise from left) Peo­ple wait for tur­tles to come ashore at Mon Re­pos; Donna Kramer and Jaala Las­sig at the Hin­kler Hall of Avi­a­tion; Jaala and Ella Las­sig play­ing at Tur­tle Park, Bar­gara; and Meghan and Ella Las­sig on a hang-glid­ing sim­u­la­tor at the Hin­kler Hall of Avi­a­tion.

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