Upon awakening bright and early in our jail cell in Bundaberg, we had a bit of a false alarm. I awoke with a start, thinking that it was my allotted time back in NC to sign up for summer classes (super important because they are the last two I need to graduate in August). My time was 5 pm to sign up, and so I needed to be on the internet at 7 am sharp, so I could make sure I got into these necessary classes. Ethan and I drove around Bundaberg looking for an internet cafe where I could sign up, but nothing was open yet. Last resort: I used Ethan’s international roaming to call my brother to talk him through the whole complicated process for me. We finally got to the sign up page, and it blocks him, saying that my time is the next day. Boy, did I feel like a fool. My fogged-over morning brain had gotten the best of me. By this time it was 8 am, so we went to go get some breakfast, and then back to the hostel to pack up and go.
We had a long day of driving ahead of us – we were determined to get to Mackay that night, and that was a 625 km (390 mile) drive from Bundie. So we bailed out (hah!) of the hostel and headed north.
I have to give props to Ethan for being such an excellent driver – he drove pretty much the entire time while I tried to motivate myself to work on my Marine Plants and Algae dinoflagellate paper. There wasn’t much along the way that we hadn’t already seen before – we were travelling along the A1 again. One thing that was interesting was that we drove through Rockhampton, the self-proclaimed “beef capital of Australia”, but also where very recently (like the day before) a Chinese tanker had wrecked itself onto the Great Barrier Reef. Well, obviously not precisely where, but the closest mainland point. We had just found out about it and we happened to be so close to it.
About 10 hours later, we finally arrived in Mackay. I had called and booked a room at the Gecko’s Rest, Lonely Planet’s choice for Mackay. We checked in about 7:30 pm, and went up to our room. The hostel was a little hard to find, but is pretty sweet. It was colorful (think rainforest murals), clean, and very comfortable. For dinner, we walked to Sorbello’s Italian restaurant, the place we had eaten at in Mackay on the way down. We ordered some tasty pasta dishes and a salad for take-away, and scarfed it down back in our room. The plan for the next day was to get up super early and head west to Eungella National Park. The earlier, the better, because the best chances at spotting the park’s platypuses is at dawn and dusk. Fun fact!:
There is no universally agreed plural of “platypus” in the English language. Scientists generally use “platypuses” or simply “platypus”. Colloquially the term “platypi” is also used for the plural, although this is technically incorrect and a form of pseudo-Latin; the correct Greek plural would be “platypodes” or “platypoda”.
Unfortunately, we ended up leaving much later than planned due to some unforeseen circumstances……..but it was all swell in the end. We left Mackay behind and headed for some beautiful nature. Eungella (which means “land where cloud lies over mountains”) is particularly special because it is Australia’s longest continual stretch of subtropical rainforest. It’s also been isolated for a long time from other rainforests, and as a result has produced some interesting species such as the Eungella gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus vitellinus). Sadly, this species went extinct around 1990 for unknown reasons. But these frogs were absolutely fascinating, from a reproductive point of view! As the name implies, after her eggs were externally fertilized by a male frog, the female swallowed the eggs, where they brooded in her stomach. She didn’t eat during this time, and the eggs (and subsequent tadpoles) were covered in a protective substance that turned off hydrochloric acid production in the stomach. After they hatched and fully developed (the eggs had a larger-than-normal yolk supply) the female effectively regurgitated her young. Maybe they’re still around, somewhere, hiding in the park….Also exclusively endemic to Eungella NP is the Eungella honeyeater, Mackay tulip oak, and orange-sided skink. That is quite amazing for one park!
Eungella is about an hour’s drive west of Mackay. We drove through lots more sugarcane farms, and the road slowly got smaller and rougher. Eventually, it turned to hard-packed sand. What we weren’t forewarned about was that we would have to cross several creeks to get to the park. In our precious little rental car? We took the risk. A couple of them were rather intimidating, shin-deep, rapidly-flowing streams. For these, I got out to see if it was relatively doable, and then cringed as I watched Ethan make the crossing, imagining the car getting swept off the concrete crossing and onto the boulders below. Lucky for us, our little car made it across all the streams and creeks, safely to the parking area. There were a few cars already there, all big 4WD trucks. But then, as we turned in to park, hidden behind a truck, we saw a tiny two-door Mazda which had somehow made it as well…those crazy Aussies!
Immediately, from the parking lot, we were treated to a pleasant visit by a kookaburra – I love these birds! And there was also a pied currawong, a member of the corvid (crow and raven) family. These guys look fierce, with their serious black plumage, stout bill, and hypnotic yellow eyes…
We planned to hike to Araluen waterfall (unfortunately the Wheel of Fire waterfall trail was closed due to washout) andswim in the pool below. As we stepped into the lush rainforest, I took a deep breath – I absolutely love rainforest, it feels like home to me – there is something immensely comforting about the lush greenery, towering trees, and hot, humid air. We stopped several times along the way as I tried to ID as many birds as possible.
We eventually reached the waterfall, only to realize how perfect it would be for Ethan’s underwater camera. Soooo we decide to go back and get it. It was only 2.2 km one way, and if we speed-walked (no stops for birds! :() we’d be back soon….so we hiked back to the car and got the camera. I also grabbed the last Zywiec (delicious Polish beer) that we had. One the way back, we spotted a large lace monitor hanging out in a tree, sweet as! I love monitor lizards. They look so much like little dragons.
So once again we hiked back up to the waterfall. Since it was getting a little later in the day, more people were arriving. Too bad the Wheel of Fire was closed (it was a further hike and would have filtered a lot of people out). We found our own little boulder and stripped down to our bath suits. The water was COLD!!!!! I decided to down the beer before I attempted getting in. It helped a little. I felt like such a wimp, there were children (albeit chubby, so better insulated) that were happily swimming around. I managed to get in halfway, I just couldn’t overcome my body’s extreme resistance to being submerged in the frigid water.
We moved to the main pool, which the waterfall spilled into. There was a big rock from which some guys were jumping off…and there was a girl that was cringing on the edge of it, ignoring the coaxing of her boyfriend. We watched for a couple of minutes as she stood up and then sat back down. I told Ethan that if she jumps in, then so will I. It was a bold statement that I, of course regretted because about 10 minutes later she jumped, kicking and screaming. So I had to keep my promise….and with a sense of impending doom, I climbed up the rock with Ethan at my side. And once you make a climb like that, you cannot go back down. There was only one way down, and that was jumping off. I was really afraid of jumping off height into water, because one time I had done this when I was younger, and seriously hurt myself on a submerged rock. Ethan jumped off with no hesitation, leaving me at the edge, feeling just like the girl before me had. And she was watching me now. I hesitated a few minutes…but knowing that putting it off only made it worse, I took a deep breath, stood up, and jumped in. A millisecond later I plunged into the freezing, deep water.
The current from the waterfall was so strong, pushing us away. It was so cold! But jumping in was the best way to get in. That way, the adrenalin took away the cold pain a little bit. But within a minute my teeth were chattering, so we swam to the edge of a rock and wrapped ourselves in the big beach towel.
Part of me wanted to jump it again, just to reinforce some sort of sense of accomplishment….but I couldn’t be bothered. Time had passed quickly, and it was in the afternoon already! We didn’t want to get to Townsville too late, so we had to start heading back. We hiked back to the car, crossed the creeks (with confidence, this time), and stopped at a little hide-away for some quick food. Then it was back on the road, for good, all the way back to Townsville. I was disturbed at the thought of this, as that meant that our adventure was coming to an end, and in a couple of days I would be saying goodbye to my sweetheart for another 2.5 months. I felt this strong aversion to return to Townsville, return to school, have to say goodbye, and all I wanted was just to keep driving, past Townsville, to keep exploring, never stopping until we had gone all around the entire coast of Australia. But we had to save that for another time. Of course, reality meant that Ethan had to go back to work, and I back to school.
We never got to see any platypuses in Eungella…..but we had earned so many wonderful memories and experiences along the way there. Ethan’s visit couldn’t have been more perfect.