Days 229 – 235 (Jan 16th – Jan 22nd) Yeppoon and the Capricorn coast

Yeppoon is the gateway town to the southern islands of the Great Barrier Reef, notably Great Keppel Island and is situated close enough to Rockhampton to be considered a commuter base / weekend retreat for the better off people of that town. Dreadful weather conditions, in the form of a cyclone which had formed in the Coral Sea, pushed heavy wind and rain all down the east coast of Australia from the very north to Brisbane and this meant we had to cancel our trip to the Broken River Mountain Resort in the Eungella National Park. This would have been the ideal tonic for too many days in the city with numerous walks in the tropical rainforest and platypus watching from our balcony. Not being able to move north (or west) because of road conditions or south because we’d been there already, restricted our options to staying put for a while in an apartment overlooking the ocean.

Monsoon conditions combined with the sound of roosting rainbow lorikeets

Finally, the rain eased off for a while and we took ourselves to the Koorana Crocodile Farm. This was initially stocked with “problem” crocs removed from residential areas and they now have a huge area set aside for thousands of crocs thanks to their breeding programme, producing meat and leather goods as well as offering tourists an attraction in its own right. The tour consisted of crocs of different sizes being fed chicken carcasses accompanied by a number of good stories and information from our guide. We were shown and told how to recognise croc activity in the outback around rivers and lakes. Basically if there’s no grass on the riverbank, turn around and go back, if you get chased by a croc, run in a straight line and don’t climb a tree. They can go months without eating, so who would give up first? We were also told, if a female mates with the same male, they will all produce the same amount of eggs (40-80), the female will always produce the same amount of fertile eggs, around 70% and then these figures are passed on down to the next generations. Is this true? I have no idea.

On leaving the farm we headed for Emu Park, a seaside town south of Yeppoon best known not for it’s emus but for the, quote, “remarkably beautiful Singing Ship sculpture”, yet another tribute to Captain Cooke who discovered Keppel Bay between the 26th and 28th May 1770. This area is shared with a large tribute to the Anzacs.

Up in the hills between Rockhampton and Yeppoon are the Capricorn Caves, a privately owned site next to the Mount Etna Caves National Park, home to a large proportion of the entire Australian population of Little bent-wing bats. There are 3 types of cave tour available, a short one for those of a more delicate nature, an intermediate one which includes some ladders, tight spots and mud and a third one which includes all of those things plus some climbing. We embarked on the intermediate tour, looking at three separate caves, all accessed after a walk through “dry rainforest“, an apparent contradiction in terms. Patches of dry rainforest are now increasingly rare as they are very susceptible to bush fires and encroachment from invasive plant species. None of the caves had an entrance such as you might find in the Blue John caves in Derbyshire, instead it was scramble through the undergrowth and into a narrow entrance on the hillside, so much more authentic! These caves are created from limestone and are quite large inside with dramatic views. In one section some of us were guided through some very narrow tunnels, through a deep puddle and then up a steep slippery slope to re-join the group. It was so much fun!

On leaving the Capricorn site we moved to one of two access points to the Mount Etna National Park which was created primarily to protect the rare bats that use the caves as a maternity site. The history of the park is very interesting as it was originally owned by a cement company who started blowing up the caves so they could use the limestone in their products. A long protracted fight with environmentalists and bat conservationists resulted in the project being halted and the park was established. Evening bat walks can be booked where a ranger escorts you to the cave entrances to set the bats streaming out at dusk to attack the local insect populations…

Given our prolonged stay in Yeppoon we dropped in at the local tourist information centre to enquire about walks and birdwatching places along the coast. This was our 2nd visit, the first being to ask about trips to Great Keppel Island, and both were noteworthy for the incredible welcome and advice we received from the volunteers who run these places. On this occasion one of the volunteers told us she’d lived in Southampton for years and was planning to go back on a cruise this year as part of a Europe-wide trip.

The sun was now out, temperatures were in the high 20s and we headed out to one of the better birding places on the coast, the little known Kinka Wetland, an amazing local initiative set up as part of a wider project to ensure the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef. We drove up the flooded dirt track, parked at the end of the road and set off up the path. The sun was very hot, there was no breeze and much of the swamp was dry despite the recent rains.

Helen was armed with sticks to ward off marauding snakes and then we ran into a chap with binoculars and very large camera and telephoto lens. Andrew, being his name, was supposed to be working from home but had taken time to check the swamp for birds as he is a volunteer for Birdlife Capricornia, and assists with many of the surveys and initiatives of the group. He started to describe what he’d seen, saw the blank look in our eyes and offered to guide us round, an offer we couldn’t refuse. He’s also provided information on a lot of sites up north and around where Tali is at the moment in Woorabinda so our meeting was extremely fortuitous.

Our next stop was at Bluff Point, part of the Capricorn Coast National Park, which consists of several headlands along the coastline which all retain rainforest and other protected environments. As is usual, the carparks are situated near shade and picnic areas equipped with barbeques. The walk up to one of the lookouts and then onto the beach resulted in spectacular views.

That evening we were serenaded by the roosting rainbow lorikeets..

The next morning Lammermoor Native Gardens were visited on the recommendation of our birding friend. The carpark is by the beach and tracks lead both into the gardens and up the beach, giving a range of different routes and habitat types. The bird life was spectacular, the most dramatic bird being the huge Red-tailed black cockatoo but a large number of species have been reported there. Our next destination was to be the Byfield National Park, a largely inaccessible park just north of Yeppoon. In fact it turned out to be entirely inaccessible as a river crossing was still deemed too dangerous following the recent rains.

Instead we drove over to Wreck Point Lookout, where there are good views along the coast as well as over to North and Great Keppel Islands as well as bit of seafarer-related history, notably Captain James Cook and a less well-known navigator called Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated the entire continent and charted the coastline as he did so.

Our final stop was inland at Lake Mary, a water body known for attracting a variety of bird species.

On the way we encountered the strange looking Pheasant coucal, one of the many cuckoo species which breed in Australia but the only one which doesn’t parasitize other birds in order to breed. At the lake itself we came across what looked like an adult Brolga and 2 young

Accompanied by several kites (probably whistling and black kites) and a beautiful Wedge-tailed eagle, the largest eagle in Australia. What these predators were doing is unknown but it’s more than likely they saw one of the young cranes as potential prey and the adult crane was getting quite agitated.

The following day Tali came over and we revisited some of the places described above. Firstly Bluff Point where we did the full walk this time

Then back to Lammermoor where we had an encounter in the carpark

Coastal taipan

Described better here. Tali first noticed it in an area of scrub, in the process of swallowing a rat-sized animal. A few people came over and spooked the snake which regurgitated it’s prey and tried to escape. In doing so it crossed paths and areas being used by people so caused quite a stir, eventually finding a more secluded area and disappearing from view. Note to selves : buy the 1st aid snake compression bandage to have to hand in case the next encounter doesn’t end so happily!

Tali returned to Rocky and we prepared for our postponed trip up north…