Sunday, 3 September 2017

A weekend in the Bunya Mountains

One of the many adorable locals on the Bunya Mountains.

It was my 34th birthday last month, and I celebrated it with a group of close friends out in the Bunya Mountains. I have only ever been to this place once before, as part of a weekend away with a birdwatching club when I was a teen. My memories of that experience are a little blurry with time, but I recall being enraptured by wallaby-packed hillsides, and an amazing sunrise.

The wallabies—red-necked wallabies, to be precise—made a big impression on me this time as well! They’re everywhere on the mountaintop, whether it be in the National Park, in public areas or on private lawns! They’re also common here on the outskirts of Brisbane and in the surrounding shires, but locally they tend to be shy animals that are usually seen alone or in small groups. I suspect that their abundance and approachability at the Bunyas is a result of many generations of wallabies living there peacefully, with little to no hunting pressure or harassment from humans and dogs, so that the only thing they have to fear are the occasional droughts that reduce their food supply.

We saw the wallabies as we drove into the mountain township on the Friday night, quietly feeding along the roadside verges. I was already in full ‘wildlife mode’ because further down the range, we had seen an echidna ambling out into the path of our vehicle. Luckily my friend Leah is an alert fauna-friendly driver who avoided a collision, and she then turned the car around and insisted I get out for a better look. 

This was actually my first ever wild echidna sighting, and it was happening on my birthday, so I was absolutely thrilled and very grateful to Leah for the opportunity! I followed the incredible creature into the scrub with just my phone light guiding the way, whereupon I realised there was a second echidna present also. I got a quick keepsake picture with my phone, and then left the gorgeous things in peace, hopefully discouraged from approaching the road again that night. 


The native mammal sightings continued on the mountaintop, where amongst the grazing wallabies, smaller marsupials bounced around at the approach of our car headlights. They were bandicoots, either the long-nosed or northern brown species, I’m not sure which, as they did not stay put for very long. 

The bandicoots and wallabies were seen inside the estate grounds where our weekend lodgings were situated, and indeed, the wallabies were so bold as to even frequent the carport of our house at times!

Speaking of the house, it was a stunner! I finished my birthday evening off with drinks around a fireplace, enjoying fantastic company in total comfort. What more could you want on your birthday?! The high chalet-style ceiling design, complete with mezzanine level, was another appealing quality, and I couldn’t help but sleep on a bed up there for one night, just for the novelty of it! I may have turned 34, but let’s just say the inner ten-year old is still alive and well also!

A relaxing way to birdwatch!

By day, one of the best things about the house is the back deck, where stunning rainforest views can be had, and for which the property is named after. Quite a bit of birdwatching can be done while stationary on the deck, perhaps while also enjoying lunch, drinks or conversation. I managed to see satin bowerbirds, crimson rosellas and laughing kookaburras from this vantage point, and heard paradise riflebirds and noisy pittas calling from deeper within the forest as well.

If you’re keen to check Rainforest Views out yourself, visit the website and take a look. Thank you so much to my friend Lou and her family for arranging such wonderful accommodation for the weekend!

Friday night’s joyful celebrations ensured that Saturday bushwalks started late, but there was still plenty to see. The Bunya Mountains township is nestled within the National Park, so that no matter where you are, the start of a walking trail is never far away. 

Around Brisbane, bunya pines are mostly solitary trees, so to see an entire forest of them is an amazing sight.

We walked the 4km Scenic Circuit track, which immediately plunges you into a breath-takingly ancient bunya pine forest. These incredible trees belong to a genus that co-existed with the dinosaurs and are regarded as living fossils; weaving between their gigantic trunks in the dappled forest half-light, I almost expected to see a sauropod materialise in their midst. 

Lou was quick to point out a variety of other plants to us as well, having grown up in the area. Being able to identify the giant stinging trees and numerous stinging nettles in the undergrowth was an important matter of safety, but the cunjevois and native raspberries were more benign beauties. 

The sound of a wailing baby then echoed through the forest towards us—or was it a loud cat? It was neither, actually, but it put grins on the faces of many bushwalkers who were stopping to listen. The call belonged to the green catbird, of course, a plump, emerald-hued relative of the bowerbird. I had only a brief glimpse of this particular individual, as it kept to the leafy canopy above us. Nevermind, it was the call that was the magical part, and we heard it so well that my friend Chantelle was able to convincingly imitate it after.

Next, we came to a small patch of grassland adjacent to the rainforest that offered superb views out to the horizon. Quite a few of these open patches—known colloquially as ‘balds’—exist around the Bunya Mountains, and the grass itself is a Threatened species. Local Indigenous tribes would have once maintained these clearings through regular controlled burns, but when they were dispossessed of their land at the turn of the 20th century, the fires consequently stopped occurring, and the forest advances into the clearings further each year as a result.

While my friends and other bushwalkers enjoyed the view from the grassy hillside, my attention was distracted by a pretty butterfly fluttering through the groundcover next to us. It was a medium-sized species with emerald-green wings, and proved to be my very first sighting of a Macleay’s swallowtail. The caterpillars feed on temperate rainforest plants and trees, which are not so common down on the Brisbane coastal plain, but occur more frequently along the Great Dividing Range.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: superb fairy-wren, feral honeybees, wedge-tailed eagle, Macleay's swallowtail.

The rest of the circuit wound through the dry rainforest once more, and my pace slowed down to a crawl so that I could marvel at the epiphytic ferns, golden whistlers and brown cuckoo-doves. On one stream crossing, I looked down to see the water-polished rocks were teeming with feral honeybees coming in for a drink, a sight I wasn’t expecting to see. Eventually emerging from the National Park back into the bright sunlight, we walked back up to our accommodation for a brief rest, before yet another adventure began.

Having grown up on the mountain, Lou still knows a lot of people in the area, and had very kindly sought permission from a local landowner to watch the sunset from a hilltop on their property. The site is nicknamed ‘Champagne Rock’, and is a place that Lou and her husband Paul have enjoyed a sunset or two at before, so the rest of us were honoured to be taken to such a ‘secret spot’. We took some drinks and nibbles, found a boulder each to sit on, and took in an amazing, fiercely orange sunset as it sank beyond the distant plains. As the sky then transitioned from orange to inky blue, and the first stars and Venus began to show, we were treated to a chorus of laughing kookaburras nearby. The whole thing was a uniquely Australian experience.

Sadly, the next day was the one that would see us leave this beautiful place, but we made the effort to squeeze one more walk in during the morning, making the easy ascent to the summit of Mount Kiangarow. The 2.3km return trail has only a gradual incline towards the mountain top, being a much easier walk than any of the Glass House Mountains for example. It passes through dry vine scrub for most of the way, and is then dominated by stunning blue-leaved grass trees further up. The view looks out from what is the highest elevation in all of the Bunya Mountains, and is a great place to spot birds soaring over the plains below; whilst there, I was lucky to see a wedge-tailed eagle and a pair of dusky woodswallows.

All in all, my weekend at the Bunya Mountains was superb, and a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday. As much as I loved the excellent wildlife experiences I had there, it was equally the great human company I had that made it such a special occasion. Thank you Leah, Katie, Paul, Lou, Chantelle and Meryl for such a memorable weekend away in the mountains!

Crimson rosellas are common birds on the Bunya Mountains, feeding on lawns and in open spaces.

1 comment:

  1. What a great way for you to spend your birthday. Love the blue wren and rosellas