Goanna at Alligator Creek

Goanna Varanus varius
Serious Varanus varius

We visited Alligator Creek today. It was very beautiful after recent rain and more photos will appear here soon but the goanna we saw in the picnic ground gave us so much pleasure that it should have a post to itself.

It was a Lace Monitor, Varanus varius, and must have been nearly fully grown because it was about 1.7 m long and they only grow to 2.1 m, according to Wilson’s Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. Continue reading “Goanna at Alligator Creek”

Dry-country goanna

Australia has just over twenty species of goanna (aka monitor lizard) but if anyone talks about seeing ‘a goanna’ they usually mean the largest local species. In our case, that’s the Lace Monitor, Varanus varius, which happens to be the second-largest in the country. (The Perentie of the central deserts is a little larger, growing to 2.4m as against the Lace Monitor’s 2.1m.)

The normal colour scheme of our Lace Monitors (I’m simply going to call them ‘goannas’ from here on) is dull grey-black with a generous spattering of creamy spots, as in my photographs of goannas at Wallaman Falls, on Whitehaven Beach and in the hills above Mission Beach (scroll down each page for the pics).

Crossing open ground. The tip of the tail is right on the edge of the photo.

When we saw this reptile crossing the back yard of a weekender on Hervey’s Range we were surprised enough to check the reference books. It was close to two metres from nose to tail, so there weren’t many possibilities. Continue reading “Dry-country goanna”

Wallaman Falls

Wallaman Falls from the lookout

Wallaman Falls are 268 metres in height, making them the highest permanent single-drop waterfall in Australia. The gorge below them is one limb of a branching network, the Herbert River and its tributaries, reaching up into the ranges North-west of Ingham. Stony Creek tumbles over the lip and the water picks up so much speed on the way down that it has drilled a hole twenty metres deep at the foot of the falls.

Wallaman-Mt-Fox-mapThe drive from Mount Fox (see previous post) to Wallaman Falls is not long on the map but includes a long winding road down the escarpment and an equally long, equally winding, but slightly wider, road back up to the top. Both boast spectacular views.

The road forks just over the crest; turn right for a short drive to the Wallaman Falls lookout or keep going straight ahead for an even shorter drive to the National Parks camping ground. The road ends a few hundred metres further on, continuing only as a walking track which is part of the Wet Tropics Great Walk (map, pdf).

There are several linked viewing areas at the lookout, some looking across the head of the gorge to the falls, as in my top picture, and others looking down the gorge towards the coast:

rainforested valley
The zig-zagging gorge downstream from Wallaman Falls

A steep walking track winds down into the gorge from the latter, into a dim environment eternally damp with spray from the falls. I didn’t make the effort this trip but remember it, from my only previous visit to the falls, as a place of slippery boulders, chilly mists and mossy trees; swimming is possible but discouraged. The swimming holes near the camping grounds are far better on all counts – prettier, safer, easier to get to, and with nicer picnic areas nearby. An 800 metre loop track through the lush tropical rainforest connects them to the camping ground.

Stony Creek swimming hole near the campground
Stony Creek swimming hole near the campground

This tranquil section of Stony Creek above the falls is home to turtles and platypus. I saw plenty of the former and I think I saw one of the latter but it was too far away to be sure.

two turtles
Saw-shelled Turtles in Stony Creek near the camping ground

Around the camping ground I saw lots of Scrub Turkeys (they were a bit of a pest, actually, continually threatening to make off with any food left unprotected) and one 1.5m goanna, more formally known as a Lace Monitor, Varanus varius. It was wandering around on the lawns when I returned to camp but unhurriedly climbed a tree when I approached.

black goanna
Lace monitor
goanna close-up
Keeping an eye on me

There was plenty of smaller wildlife, too – birds, insects and spiders – around the camping ground and in the rainforest nearby but I have put those photos in an album on flickr rather than here.

Cassowary and Goanna in tropical rainforest

Cassowary on gravel road
Southern Cassowary

While I was in the Mission Beach rainforest (see previous post) I saw lots of local wildlife. The big, special, local species is of course the Cassowary, one of Australia’s (and the world’s) largest and heaviest birds. Indeed, wikipedia says it is, “the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu.” There is only one Australian species of cassowary, the Southern Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius. Its range extends to New Guinea and nearby islands where it co-exists with the other two (smaller) species. For more information about it, visit this Department of Environment and Heritage Protection page.

rear view of cassowary
Cassowary about to re-enter the rainforest

Here in Australia it is endangered, largely because of habitat loss and consequential fatal interactions with cars and dogs. They are big enough to be a threat, in return, to humans but the statistics are as lop-sided for cassowaries as they are for sharks: there is just one recorded human death due to cassowary attack in the last hundred years.

When the one in my top photo emerged from the rainforest just a couple of metres from me I stood very still, posing no threat to it; it ignored me and walked ahead of me down the track before stepping calmly into the wall of greenery on the other side.

Dinosaur descendant 2

The next-largest creature I saw was another dinosaur-descendant, a metre-long goanna. It was roaming around near the resort buildings, looking rather scruffy because it was midway through shedding its skin. This Australian Museum page presents on overview of the family’s history. Australia has 25 species, all in the same genus, Varanus, and all rather similar in appearance except for their size. I think mine is a Lace Monitor, Varanus varius.

Goanna in leaf litter
Goanna shedding its skin

Most of the other wildlife I saw was very much smaller – skinks down to insects and spiders – because the numerous birds were constantly audible but only fleetingly visible. Many of the species are not found in the drier climate of Townsville and I have put 30 photos in an album on flickr, here, for anyone interested.

Whitehaven Beach

view of Whitehaven Beach, Queensland
Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island (map) is justifiably famous for its seven kilometres of gleaming white sand. The island is one of the Whitsunday group comprising 74 islands and islets, and is a National Park like many of the others. There are no roads and no permanent residents, just a few campsites and walking trails (details on DERM site). Like most visitors, we went there on a day trip from Airlie Beach with a stop-over on Hamilton Island; it’s not the most flexible way of getting around but the cruises are well organised and do their best to minimise visitor impact on the island. Others come by small boat, as seen above from the cruise boat before we disembarked.

In the middle of winter it’s cool by our standards (a top of about 22C), even on such a gorgeous day as this but the water is nearly as warm as the air and people from colder parts of the world (i.e. nearly everywhere) were delighted to swim and sunbathe. We waded around the reef fringing the rocks at the southern end of the beach and then took the bushwalking trail up to the saddle which looks down on Whitehaven one way and Chance Bay the other.

view of Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island
Chance Bay, Whitsunday Island, from the walking track, with Lindeman Islands on the horizon

I’m always on the lookout for local wildlife, of course, and was rewarded within minutes of stepping ashore: this goanna was just under the edge of the scrub behind the beach and was obliging enough to emerge onto the sand for a shot (click on the pic for a larger version, as usual) before vanishing.

Lace Monitor, Varanus varius, on Whitehaven Beach
Lace Monitor, Varanus varius, on Whitehaven Beach

We are always more likely to over-estimate than under-estimate in such situations but I reckoned it was 2 metres long, and at least 1.5m, and therefore probably a female because males are usually smaller.

A cloud of smoke appeared on the horizon soon after we arrived and we were told that it was from a National Parks burn-off on neighbouring Haslewood Island. It is visible in the picture below but didn’t otherwise affect us.

view of southern end of Whitehaven beach
Visitors discovering fringing reef at the southern end of Whitehaven beach