Sounds of silence in the rainforest
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