Rain­for­est highs

Lee Mylne watches for wildlife along the Mamu Rain­for­est Canopy Walk­way in trop­i­cal north Queens­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

ROM my van­tage point high above the gorge, the North John­stone River gleams in the dis­tance like a shiny snake made wet by the rain. A trop­i­cal down­pour has caused me to briefly re­con­sider my plan to visit one of north Queens­land’s new­est at­trac­tions, the Mamu Rain­for­est Canopy Walk, but I’m pleased I have braved the weather. As the rain eases to a light driz­zle, I’m re­warded by a vista of misty, moody, blue moun­tains and the vivid green of newly washed veg­e­ta­tion.

As I take the first path into the rain­for­est, three young English­men ahead of me take off their shirts and bare their pale tor­sos. As they sky­lark and jog along the path, their hol­i­day mood is in­fec­tious.

We are in Wooroonooran Na­tional Park, in the heart of the wet trop­ics world her­itage area, 116km south of Cairns. I’ve driven north from Mis­sion Beach, turned in­land at the su­gar town of In­n­is­fail and am now in the coun­try of the Ma:Mu peo­ple.

Wooroonooran Na­tional Park cov­ers the slopes of the Great Es­carp­ment, on the east­ern side of the Great Di­vid­ing Range, separat­ing the Ather­ton Tablelands from the coastal plain on the east. Aus­tralia’s new­est canopy walk is in the home­land of the Warib­ara, ‘‘ the peo­ple of the gorges’’, and one of five Abo­rig­i­nal clan groups in Ma:Mu coun­try. The canopy walk­way is about half­way up the Great Es­carp­ment, about 30km from the coast and, at an alti­tude of 330m, on top of the south­ern edge of the John­stone River Gorge.

The 2.5km walk­way starts at ground level, me­an­der­ing about 500m through what was once a forestry track. At first I won­der what is so spe­cial that I should have been urged to stop here. It’s pleas­ant, now the rain has eased, but noth­ing out of the or­di­nary.

But when my feet hit the el­e­vated steel walk­way and I’m in the canopy 15m above the ground, I feel the magic of the for­est. De­signed to have min­i­mal im­pact, the path of the walk­way fol­lows nat­u­ral clear­ings cre­ated when Cy­clone Larry tore through north Queens­land in March 2006.

I squint up at the tallest trees, emerg­ing above the canopy to about 30m, as high as I am from the ground. In­ter­pre­tive signs help me iden­tify what I’m looking at, in­clud­ing John­stone River hard­woods that sur­vived se­lec­tive log­ging early last cen­tury, as well as satin ash, silky oak, tamarind, fig, ma­hogany, wal­nut, lau­rel and beech.

Some trees have bright fruit on them and the ground be­low me is strewn with what has fallen. Creep­ers and climbers are strain­ing to­wards the sun­light. There are stran­gler figs, huge clumps of ferns and wild or­chids. The signs hold out hope of but­ter­flies but the bril­liant blue Ulysses but­ter­fly that has eluded me and my cam­era through­out my north Queens­land so­journ re­mains so. Per­haps I’ll see the dis­tinc­tive green, gold and black Cairns bird­wing but­ter­fly? Or maybe the rain has driven them all to shel­ter.

By the time the springy can­tilevered sec­tion of the walk­way is bounc­ing gen­tly un­der my feet, I’m hooked. I daw­dle along the 40m be­fore tak­ing an­other sec­tion of the walk­way and re­turn­ing to the for­est floor, which is lined with cy­cads and other ground-dwelling plants.

But the high­light is yet to come. Even be­fore I reach the top of the 37m tower, the views are breath­tak­ing. The North John­stone River lies far be­low, hazy in the mist, wind­ing through the val­ley on its way to join the South John­stone at In­n­is­fail. Dou­glas Creek joins the river at a rock face that’s said to rep­re­sent a shield.

Back on the ground I keep an eye out for cas­sowaries. The in­ter­pre­tive signs as­sure me they live here and that a male and his

Wet and wild: Mamu Rain­for­est Canopy Walk­way, north Queens­land’s lat­est at­trac­tion, fol­lows a path carved by Cy­clone Larry in 2006 chicks were of­ten spot­ted by work­ers dur­ing the 14-month construction pe­riod be­fore the walk­way’s open­ing last Au­gust. Alas, again the wildlife eludes me.

As I wan­der along the last sec­tion of the track, the rain sets in again, and a fam­ily group starts out, rustling along in biodegrad­able plas­tic pon­chos on sale at the ticket of­fice. Rain or shine, crit­ters or not, this rain­for­est ex­pe­ri­ence is def­i­nitely worth the de­tour.

Check­list

Mamu Rain­for­est Canopy Walk­way is on the Palmer­ston High­way, west of In­n­is­fail and 116km south of Cairns. The walk­way is open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm (last en­try at 4.30pm). More: (07) 4064 5294; www.epa.qld.gov.au/mamu. The best time to visit is from April to Oc­to­ber; Au­gust to Septem­ber is gen­er­ally the dri­est pe­riod, but heavy rain can fall at any time, with an av­er­age of more than 4m recorded in the re­gion each year.

In the tem­per­ate rain­for­est of the south­ern high­lands, this 500m walk takes vis­i­tors along the Illawarra es­carp­ment at a height of 25m, with views from Bass Point in the south to Bun­deena in the north. A spi­ral stair­case leads to a 45m-high look­out and, from the can­tilevered walk­way, there are views of the canopy of black­wood, gully gum, sas­safras and tree fern, among many other species. www.illawar­rafly.com.

Tahune For­est Air­Walk, Tas­ma­nia: The Tahune air­walk is about 90 min­utes’ drive from Ho­bart in the Huon Val­ley; this walk­way rises 48m above the ground and ex­tends for about 500m over the Tahune State For­est and Pic­ton River. It al­lows for a close-up view of rare tree species, some found only in Tas­ma­nia, such as king billy and cel­ery top pine, myr­tle, beech, black­wood and sas­safras. Other at­trac­tions in­clude the Huon Pine Walk, Ea­gle Glide (a 400m ca­ble hang-glider ride) and an in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre run by Forestry Tas­ma­nia. www.forestry­tas.com.au.

Val­ley of the Giants Tree­top Walk, West­ern Aus­tralia: This walk­way, which rises up to 38m in the Walpole-Nor­nalup

Rare breed: Trees unique to Tas­ma­nia can be spot­ted from the Tahune For­est Air­walk Na­tional Park in south­west­ern WA, winds though a for­est of gi­ant tin­gle trees known as the An­cient Em­pire. The park cov­ers about 20,000ha of tow­er­ing karri and tin­gle for­est as well as coastal heath. At ground level there is a board­walk, suit­able for wheel­chair users. The walk is east of Walpole, only 10 min­utes from the towns of Nor­nalup, Bow Bridge and Peace­ful Bay. www.val­ley­ofthe­giants.com.au/ tree­top­walk.

Ot­way Fly, Vic­to­ria: At 600m long and 47m at its high­est point, this is the world’s long­est and high­est tree­top walk. Most of the walk is at 25m, as­cend­ing gen­tly through a mag­nif­i­cent stand of cool tem­per­ate rain­for­est fea­tur­ing myr­tle beech, black­wood and moun­tain ash. A spi­ral stair­way through the un­der­storey leads to a 45m-high look­out and a spring­board can­tilever car­ries vis­i­tors above Youngs Creek. www.ot­wayfly.com.

O’Reillys’s Tree Top Walk, Queens­land: Aus­tralia’s first tree­top walk (it opened in 1987) is made of wood rather than the steel used in newer coun­ter­parts. The walk, 300m fromO’Reilly’s Guest­house in Lam­ing­ton Na­tional Park in the Gold Coast hin­ter­land, is 180m long and made up of nine sus­pen­sion bridges. Most of the walk is 15m above ground and there are two ob­ser­va­tion decks in a stran­gler fig above the walk­way; the higher is at 30m. www.or­eillys.com.au. Lee Mylne

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