Adventures at Shipton’s Flat …

The wet tropics are famous for being wet. Even here, though, there are drier times and wetter times. The wet season had not yet arrived. Lewis and Charlie were working hard to keep their cattle fed. Lewis was cutting grass along the road and fetching it home to hand feed some of the more pampered animals while Charlie was walking others all over the district, an old Aussie tradition referred to as using the long paddock.

At the end of a hard days work Charlie was more than happy to take us spotlighting. Our targets were any of a number of possum species that are found only in that particular neck of the woods. So off we went, on foot and off trail. After about 45 minutes we were examining some very promising scratch marks around the lower parts of some tree trunks when the back of my right hand came in contact with the leaves of a Dendrocnide moroidies.

Stinging Tree

They are more popularly known as the Stinging Tree or Gympie Bush. Note the heart shaped leaves covered in fine hairs. This illustration was shamelessly filched from KrackersWorld. The plant is a pioneer that loves to grow in disturbed places such as alongside tracks. Small plants are as unpleasant as the larger ones maybe more so.

The pain was immediate, intense and persistent. Within half an hour the lymph nodes in my armpit were sore and swollen. The pain overnight prevented much in the way of sleep. Charlie was most apologetic … initially. This soon gave way to war stories about the numerous occasions on which he had been stung and what I could look forward to because this is no passing inconvenience. For any where up to 18 months hot, cold, getting wet or knocking the affected part causes pain. It is now five weeks since that momentary contact. The flow of cold air over my hand on the steering wheel is enough to cause severe pain.

Interestingly, although the pain is reminiscent of a burn there is no visible injury to the tissues.

Back at camp Charlie poured vinegar over my hand. This was as good an approximation of the recommended treatment as we could manage. Better would have been the application of a solution of 10-15% hydrochloric acid in water, followed by waxing the area to remove the stinging hairs.

If you’re heading to this region it is well worth knowing what these plants look like. They are often quite insect eaten when they look like <this>. The Cape Tribulation Research Station page is an excellent source of further information. Kids are particularly vulnerable. Long pants, closed shoes and dire warnings about wandering off the track are all useful preventative measures.

The following day it was Lewis’s turn to give up his time. He took us birding and then we switched our attention to a very special mammal. Both the brothers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world around them. Their conversation is peppered with the scientific names of the plants, frogs, birds and lizards. They know every bird call, when each plant will flower and what will visit them when they do. After showing us a goodly collection of Honeyeaters and calling up a Barking Owl we set off in search of Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo. It took some finding but we got it. We had about an hour of hard going over steep and trackless terrain in hot weather. Then we had to retrace our steps. On the way there I was buoyed by the chase, on the way back all I could think of was a long cool drink. Unlike the Lumholz Tree Kangaroo on Mount Hypipamee this guy did not present himself in the open for a photo session, but just to prove it was really there …

Bennett's T K

Honest, look carefully, it’s right in the middle.

Wet …

Most of Australia is very dry

Australia Rainfall

If it’s brown, yellow or the lightest green on the map then average annual rainfall is less than 400mm (less than 16 inches). That’s most of the country. Rainfall is highest near the coast, on the mountains and in the far north. In the southern half of the continent rainfall in winter exceeds that in summer. In the north summer rainfall predominates.

We pick up our journey at Alligator creek just south of Townsville. Even at the scale of the map it’s possible to see that from there heading north is a journey into a part of Australia that is way wetter than the average.

The wet tropics stretches up the Great Dividing Range  from Townsville in the south to Cooktown in the north. The highest point along the way is Mount Bartle Frere at 1,622 metres and not far away is Bellenden Ker (1,593m), This part of the region enjoys 8 metres of rainfall per year. The mountain range has been dissected by at least nine significant rivers leading to plenty of opportunity for local evolution and the region as a whole is cut off from other wet areas by the surrounding dry country. This is a formula for high levels of endemism in flora and fauna.

Wet Tropics

Driving up from the south the first chance to get amongst it is at Paluma 90km from Townsville. It’s a steep drive up from the coast. Your first stop has to be the Ivy Cottage tea rooms! Take scones on the balcony overlooking the forest, fight the birds off  your food with one hand whilst taking photos of them with the other.

Ivy Cottage

Macleay's Honeyeater


Victoria's Riflebird


Rainbow Lorikeet

I recommend the cheesecake.

When we tore ourselves away from there we had to work a little harder for our birds but not too far away we found the maypole bower of the Golden Bowerbird.


The male constructs and maintains this remarkable edifice, decorating it with lichen throughout the breeding season. Females visit to inspect his work, if impressed they mate with him. He plays no further role in the raising of his offspring. He was keeping a watchful eye on his bower when we were there.

Golden Bowerbird

Our next objective was Wallaman Falls. We could have retraced our steps to the coast turned north and run up the escarpment again but we opted to take the road less travelled on the inland side of the range via Home Valley and Fox Mountain. This was a fairly rough track mainly through dry eucalypt woodland. Wallaman Falls has the longest drop of any Australian waterfall.

Wallaman Falls

Not exactly Niagara especially at the end of the dry in this El Niño year. What we really wanted to see here was a Cassowary which would have been a tick for Mark. No luck. So on to our camp site for the night, at Etty Beach near Innisfail.

Why camp at a caravan park when there is so much national park in the neighbourhood?


That’s Dad with the chicks and this is a reliable place to see them.