Sounds of si­lence in the rain­for­est

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Australia - CHRIS PRITCHARD

I AM on the road to nowhere, head­ing up­hill to­wards a dead­end des­ti­na­tion. The jour­ney is, un­ques­tion­ably, one of Aus­tralia’s great (if lit­tle-known) drives. I’m so en­thralled, I al­most for­get where I’m headed.

Sheets of trop­i­cal rain slow my progress but the tem­per­a­ture is gor­geously warm. Even if I’m not on cloud nine, it feels that way. When the down­pour ends, thick and eerily swirling low cloud en­velops me.

It’s early af­ter­noon but my head­lights are on. A nar­row paved road winds steeply through dense rain­for­est from Townsville. I stop sev­eral times, join­ing tourists gaz­ing at scenic wa­ter­falls. Then, 24km be­yond the tiny moun­tain vil­lage of Paluma, a for­mer tin­min­ing hub, I reach Hid­den Val­ley Cab­ins, Aus­tralia’s first car­bon-neu­tral re­sort.

Hid­den Val­ley Cab­ins, 720m above sea level and sur­rounded by for­est, is off the elec­tric­ity grid (there’s also no mo­bile phone re­cep­tion). The re­sort pro­duces all its power from so­lar pan­els, which have the bonus of si­lence, in con­trast with noisy gen­er­a­tors at some re­mote Aus­tralian re­sorts.

Most of the 31 guests stay in 10 widely spaced log cab­ins in the for­est, with mo­tel-style in­te­ri­ors and ensuite bath­rooms. A mi­nor­ity opt for a ‘‘homestead’’ wing where bath­room fa­cil­i­ties are shared. My ensuite bath­room is large and heaters are sup­plied, along with warm bed­ding. It can get chilly on win­ter nights but staff say that this all-year re­sort usu­ally basks in T-shirt weather by 10am.

Gen­er­ous por­tions of coun­trystyle fare are served at a ca­sual restau­rant over­look­ing a swim­ming pool. The main at­trac­tion is platy­pus-spot­ting. Nat­u­ral­ists de­scribe this spot as Aus­tralia’s best for eye­balling these ridicu­lous-look­ing crea­tures.

A platy­pus was sent in the 19th cen­tury to Eng­land, where sci­en­tists ini­tially thought they were be­ing hoaxed, search­ing in vain for stitch marks. This small, furry body with duck-like bill and thick brown tail surely had to be a joke.

This crit­ter’s skit­tish­ness ensures it’s sel­dom seen in the wild. Even at spec­i­fied spot­ting lo­ca­tions, many vis­i­tors see noth­ing.

Though tired from a day­time hike deep into the for­est, I can­not re­sist a dusk walk on which I watch three platy­puses frol­ick­ing in a stream. Sight­ings here are all but guar­an­teed.

Af­ter-din­ner guided walks along for­est trails yield mem­o­rable sight­ings of other wildlife such as bet­tongs, wal­la­bies, glid­ers and owls (as well as other night birds). But big and scary-look­ing spi­ders in their webs pro­vide the great­est fas­ci­na­tion for city­d­wellers such as me.

Hid­den Val­ley Cab­ins in north Queens­land is Aus­tralia’s first car­bon-neu­tral re­sort

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