Macropods and Monotremes

We stopped for four nights at Cape Hillsborough National Park about 40 km north of Mackay. It’s not somewhere that’s on everyone’s must see list for Australia but we’d been recommended to visit so thought we would give it a try. It was also an opportunity for a trial run of our camp set-up before we joined our tagalong trip in Cairns to travel to the tip of Cape York over 18 days, camping every night.

Cape Hillsborough formed around thirty million years ago as a product of volcanic lava flows. The Pennant Rock is a volcanic plug remaining from that time. The first human inhabitants were the Juipera Aboriginal people and the current name was given by James Cook in honour of the Earl of Hillsborough. Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park was first developed in the 1950s and this was to be our home for the next four nights.

When we found our tent pitch it would be fair to say that we were pretty impressed; less than 50 metres from the beach, and with a million-dollar view of the ocean. Handily, we were a similar distance from the camp kitchen which was very well equipped. There is a diner on the site but it’s not open every evening so you really need to come to Cape Hillsborough prepared to self -cater. Given the length of our trip, we were determined not to resort to the camp favourite of barbeques every night. We therefore have with us a range of stock cupboard staples including herbs and spices so we can cook pretty much as if we were in more permanent accommodation. We will get round at some point to writing more about our camp set up in a post in the planning section – watch this space*. For those not inclined to tents, the site also takes caravans and motorhomes and has a range of cabins for hire.

*February 2019: we have eventually got round to writing about our camp set-up. You can read about it here if you’re interested.

One of the highlights of a stay at Camp Hillsborough are the local kangaroos and wallabies. At sunrise they gather to eat seed pods that are washed up on the beach. This daily event has become fairly well known, and so we weren’t alone in being up before light to wait on the beach with and watch the macropods* as the sun came up. It was pretty magical and at the risk of making this spot more well known, we’d recommend it to anyone visiting Queensland. We’d certainly put it above a trip to the Gold Coast.

*Kangaroos and wallabies are marsupials from the family Macropodidae or Macropods, meaning large foot. Hence the first part of the title of this post.

There were a number of walking trails around the park and during our five days there we managed to walk them all. They gave some awesome views from the headlands and included sight of turtles in the ocean below. Along the Yuiberra plant tree we saw the stone traps that the Juipera people had constructed to catch fish below and learnt about the native plant life from the useful information boards along the path.

During our stay we also drove west for about an hour and half to the Eungella National Park, it’s a similar distance if you go straight from Mackay. The last bit of the journey was a windy ascent up to Eungella township but we were rewarded with fantastic views back down across the valley.

A couple of kilometres on from Eungella was Broken River where you can walk some more rainforest trails. The big drawcard here, however, is that its one of the best places in the country to spot platypuses in the wild. Platypuses are one of only two types of animal which fall under the category of monotremes, the other being echidna. The name, monotreme, is derived from the Greek, monos (single) and trema (hole). This refers to the cloaca, a single duct for urination, defecation and reproduction – there’s efficiency for you.

Other fun facts about platypuses:

  • They are mammals that lay eggs
  • When they were first discovered by Europeans in 1798, a pelt was sent back to Britain and it was assumed to be a hoax. They thought that someone had sown a ducks beak onto a beaver.
  • The males have venomous spurs on their ankles.
  • They can detect their prey through electroreception, locating electric fields generated through muscular contraction.

They really are fascinating animals and are difficult to see in the wild so we weren’t really expecting to get lucky, especially as they are most active at dawn and dusk. However, the helpful staff at the information centre assured us that during winter, they could be seen throughout the day and that there had been sightings earier. We waited patiently by the creek for about ten minutes and eventually saw some air bubbles indicating that there could be a platypus under the surface of the water. Sure enough, on the other side of the creek, difficult to see, but it was definitely a platypus. During the course of the afternoon we saw another 4 or 5 and some quite a bit closer. Even then, they moved a bit quickly for us to capture them in a photo so you’ll have to take our word for it. It was a big Australian wildlife tick for us and rounded off a fabulous visit to Eungella National Park. You can watch a video of some of our drive back down from Eungella  below.

So there you have it, our first camping experience proved to be pretty successful. We seemed to have remembered everything, we experienced a beautiful part of Queensland and got an Aussie wildlife fix with macropods and monotremes.

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