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