My spring break was off to a super busy start with a two-day bushwalking hike to Cape Cleveland followed directly by a two-day field trip to Orpheus Island. After a couple of days on campus to catch up on sleep and work on a scientific report, I finished off my Aussies Spring Break with another two-day trip, this time with the JCU Zoology Society. Our destination was the town of Tully, the UFO capital of AU. But, we were actually in the pursuit of wildlife around Tully Gorge, not unidentified flying objects.
Our trip began with a morning departure from JCU. We had a 12 person van with every seat occupied and all of the remaining space stuffed with sleeping bags, back packs, tents, binoculars, and field guides. When I arrived, I didn’t know a the name of a single person, but I did recognize someone from mutual friends. Sitting next to him on the bus, I learned that his name is Richard, but despite learning this, I still accidently somehow ended up calling him Robert for most of the trip. He was much too polite to correct me. (Sorry, Richard!) Richard is from Slovakia, which I loved getting to hear about. In fact, everyone was from really interesting places. Over all, there was someone from Slovakia, Italy, Holland, South Africa, Norway, Japan, Spain, France, three people from Denmark, and myself from America. No local Aussies on this trip, it was internationals only, which made for a lot of great fun with the road-trip music.
When we first started driving, I could see that the person in the front left seat was looking down at their phone. This concerned me. I do not like it at all when people use their phones while driving. As I watched and got increasingly nervous as I wondered how in the world they were making all of the turns without even glancing at the road, I finally realized when they said “take a right” and the person in the right hand front seat said “okay” in Australia and the driver sits on the right…. Apparently after two months of living here, I am still getting used to the basic differences between America and Australia. Once I was done fretting about people texting and driving, which much to my relief they never were, I turned my attention to the music that was playing. After we had been driving for about an hour, we began going around having everyone select a song that was in their native language to play. It was super fun getting to hear songs in so many different languages, and thanks to technology each of them were only a quick internet search away.
Once we were 2 1/2 hours down the road we stopped for a swim at the popular spot called Alligators Nest. Don’t worry about the name, there aren’t any alligators in AU, just crocodiles. But this is apparently a safe place to swim, or walk around on slimy river rocks and try to not fall over. After wading around Alligator Nest and at times having to swim because there were sudden and random deep spots that I couldn’t even touch my toes in, we piled back into the van and continued driving north while rocking out to music from around the world.
Once we arrived in the teeny-tiny town of Tully, that has a population of less than 2,500 people, we found a Subway to buy lunch at and stocked up on water for the next day. While eating lunch, we spent a good deal of time looking at some birds in a tree. They were Metallic Starlings, iridescent-black in color with bright red eyes. They make round-shaped nests that hang from tree limbs. While I wasn’t able to come close to capturing it on my phone camera, we could see little hatchlings in the nests. Now, honestly, despite trying a few times, bird watching just really does not hold my attention for very long at all. I feel like this may be a bit different if I had a camera with a good zoom, but even then, I think after snapping a few shots I would go searching for other interesting things. Looking around at what wasn’t squawking up in the tree is exactly how I came across a sign that was all about the UFO history of Tully, which was way more fascinating. I learned that a banana farmer spotted a UFO back in 1966 and since then, one local resident has recorded over 2,000 sightings in the last 40 years.
Once we got back into the van, it was a short drive to our campsite at the Tully Gorge National Park. We chose a large flat camp site and all began to pitch our tents here, there, and everywhere. We also worked hard to string up a tarp over the picnic table, to prepare for rain that we actually hoped would come, because it increases reptile and amphibian activity. In the end, it never actually did rain. But had we not set up the tarp, it surely would have down poured. After setting up camp, we began our explorations of Tully Gorge. We began with the rainforest trail right behind our campsite, but it was only a few hundred meters long, so we then headed to the river. Now, I am not sure if anyone goes fly fishing in AU, but once I saw this river, for some reason fly fishing immediately came to mind. I think it would have been a good place to try if it weren’t for the crocodiles lurking in the water. As we walked along the shore, and kept a distance from the water’s edge, we all looked for crocos but never spotted any. However, we did spot a stick bug as long as my hand, a praying mantis, a colorful moth, and some pretty flowers. After we walked along the bank of the Tully River, we made our way back to camp to have dinner. I was once again loaned camping supplies from a generous member of the Townsville Bushwalking Club, and this actually meant I had a luxury little cooking stove that I was able to heat a can of soup on. It worked so well! I am looking forward to getting one of my own someday. I shared my soup and Oreo cookies with Richard, who had Nutella and bread, which greatly resembled my peanut butter and bread that I took on my first over night bush walk a couple of weeks ago. It felt like such an upgrade to be eating hot soup!
Once we all had something to eat and the sun had set, we grabbed our head torches and hopped into the van. We were headed out spot-lighting, something that I had never done before. It ended up consisting of driving down the road looking for shining eyes. The two people in the front could obviously see best. Multiple times the van came to a speedy stop as someone yelled “Snake!!” The club member who has a dangerous snake handling license would then hop out and see what kind of snake it was. If it didn’t slither away, everyone else would get out too, and the photographing would commence.
For a bunch of uni students, these kids sure had some serious camera equipment that I think all together I could sell and more than pay off my current student loans. As they took to getting their field-guide worthy shots, I usually wandered off to see what I could spot with my head lamp. I quickly picked up on the shine of spider eyes, something that I would have rather not seen. They truly were everywhere! And I got so good that I could tell a big spider from a small spider by the end of the night based on those glowing dots. And let me tell you, most of them were all big spiders by my standards.
After hoping in and out of the van as we drove along the road, we finally came to a long gravel road that we spent hours walking along in pursuit of more AU wildlife. My favorite thing that we saw along the entire road was right at the very beginning. Near where we parked the van, there were two trees aglow with Australian fireflies. I had recently heard about fireflies in AU, but I had no idea that we would be seeing them tonight. I have only seen fireflies one other time in my life while I was on an 8th grade field trip to the East Coast. I could have sat and watched the fire flies for a very long time, but there was so much more to see!
Richard was the master snake finder of the trip. He spotted the one in the photo below in the top right, a Northern Crown snake, drinking from a little trickle of water coming down the side off the hill. I also was able to spot several cane toads which were introduced into AU to control a pest attacking sugar cane crops, but has now become a pest of its own. It was learned after they were introduced that the pest lives at the top of the cane plant while the frog hops around at the base, so they never fulfilled their intended purpose. I also saw a cockroach, a Stony Tree frog (lower right), and a bandicoot (not pictured, but something you should google.) Since pretty much everything I see around here is new to me, it is hard to know what is rare and what is super common. But on this trip, I was able to gauge the “rarity” factor of what we found based on how excited everyone else got. By far, everyone was most captivated by the blind snake (not pictured) that was found because, even though blind snakes have a high abundance, they are rare to come across because they live under ground.
Once we finally were back at camp, I was very conscious to not look around my tent for shinning spider eyes as I tucked myself in and prayed that the bed bugs wouldn’t bite. It seemed like not long before the sun was up and people were getting up to go morning birding. I debated whether or not I preferred looking at birds off in the distance or counting sheep right on my eye lids. After weighing the options, I decided to be adventurous and go check out the morning birds along the river with the rest of the group. But little did I know that I would soon be wishing I had stayed in bed….
So, here we were, supposedly birding along the shore of the Tully River again. And, well, there were no birds to be seen or heard. So, naturally I got a bit distracted by what I could see: a smooth river and a rocky bank. I began skipping rocks and wasn’t doing so well, I think because of the angle of throwing the rocks down from the bank above. Thus, once again I shifted my attention, this time to a fern that was growing on the bank. First, I thought I should take a picture. Then, I thought to myself maybe not because it wasn’t the prettiest fern I had ever seen. Then, I reasoned that in the day of digital photography, there is no reason to not take a picture. This is where things went down hill fast, literally. As I pulled my phone out of the pocket of my rain jacket, somehow my fingers got caught up and my phone decided to go rogue. The next thing I knew, I was staring down at my phone resting a meter below in the water. After I blinked few times, I said a slightly more PG 13 version of “shoot!” and quickly drew everyone’s attention.
“I just dropped my phone in the water!” I said feeling like such a stereotypical millennial. Despite how close it looked, I knew that getting it back wouldn’t be quite as easy as just hoping on in, because well, crocodiles. I also totally figured that the phone would be a goner, but I wanted to try to still get the phone in hopes that the memory card that my dad wisely got for me would be alright.
After spending about five minutes trying to convince the main student leader of our group that I would just hop in and grab it really fast, and that if I did get eaten by a crocodile that I gave everyone full permission to write about me in the news paper and quote me, Richard came over already in his swim trunks. Now, let me say here that we could see in the water around the phone and were (fairly) sure that there weren’t any crocs around, but still there could have been. Richard the master snake spotter also became the heroic phone saver as he hopped into the super cold water and grabbed my phone for me. I took the pieces apart to get the memory card out once I got it back, and thanked Richard like a broken record. However, I still figured the phone was totally dead so I didn’t even make much of an effort to dry it out. After this exciting start to our morning, we all walked back to camp to pack up while I wondered how I was going to tell my dad that I drowned a second cell phone while on another adventure.
On our way back to campus, we stopped at a lookout with an incredible view of Hinchinbrook Island. Since I didn’t have any way to snap a photo, I really made a point to memorize it as much as I could, and I must say, I remember it quite well. This ended up being a good reminder to not always be looking at things through a screen, but to also see them directly with your own eyes.
We also stopped at Jourama Falls where we spent some time swimming. Here, Richard snapped a couple photos of me at the upper look out. You can see that it is definitely the dry season here in Queensland as there isn’t nearly as much water flowing as I imagine there will be in a few months, if the area gets as much rain as it needs.After our swim, we continued back to Uni. Once I got back, I checked the photos on my memory card and was relieved to find them all. Then, I was trying to figure out how to explain to my dad that I drowned my phone. I was planning to not mention the part about wanting a photo of a fern. Actually, I didn’t really want to mention any of it. As a way to stall, and a last-ditch effort, I decided to put the pieces of my phone back together. I figured I would watch it flash and fry right before my eyes. But instead, it turned on perfectly fine. Surely the screen won’t work then, I thought to myself. But it worked fine. Then I tested the cameras, both worked as good as always. Then I was sure that the speaker would be totally blown since there was nothing on my case preventing water from entering it, but it too worked just fine. In the end, my phone was, and still is, working perfectly. The only explanation that I have is that it is a miracle and that I may have dropped it in a river the flows from the fountain of youth. So, Daddy, as you read this, know that the next time I go to the mall I promise that I will buy a water proof phone case just like you told me to the first time I drowned a phone in a tide pool a few years ago.
Thankfully, the end of my Aussie Spring Break ended on a high note, rounding off a wonderful week of three epic AU adventures. I never had planned to visit the UFO capital of Australia, but I am happy to say that I have added it to my list of places visited while exploring the vast world down under.