The dulcet tones of rainforest life echoed around the bewildering vegetation. Giant ferns brushed with the gentle breeze and birds murmured in the trees. Savouring the moment, pausing to listen for every screech, hum and nibble, I couldn't believe I'd made it to the Australian rainforest. I didn't want to miss a peep.
As I stood comfortably cocooned in the Queensland foliage, swaddled beneath a giant canopy of ferns and Eucalyptus trees, England felt like a million miles away. Dan, my travelling companion wasted no time settling in, relishing the tranquillity as an opportunity to crack open a cold beer — camping and beer go hand in hand in this huge continent after all. The only thing we were missing was the sizzle of snags (sausages) on the barbie, but I wasn't complaining. We had plenty of time for that. Setting up camp was first on the agenda.
And this was to be our first taste of what Australian bush-camping life would have to offer. We'd driven almost 1,000km north from Brisbane and 80km west of Mackay to Eungella (pronounced 'Young-g'lla') National Park, Queensland's largest rainforest national park spreading over 50,000 hectares. Platypus Bush Camp was our home for the night, a shady spot just outside the lowland area of Finch Hatton Gorge. Established 18 years ago as a campsite with a single hut, it's now only slightly less basic, offering three timber-slab huts, a camp as well as a kitchen. Oh, let's not forget the luxurious flush toilets (you won't find ablutions of the composting types here!) and rainforest showers. Perfect.
No sooner had we set up camp and settled in, but we had company. People are keen to offer anecdotes on Australia's maurading wildlife when you tell them you're planning a visit, so from what I'd heard (foraging kangaroos, prowling goanna lizards, sly snakes...) naturally I exercised caution. He appeared from inside a hollow log, and slowly padded along the floor towards our camp. A quick discussion and flick through our trusted guidebook, we soon identified our newfound furry friend as a common brushtail possum.
As soon as I put down the book, our possum friend sprang onto action, leaping as high as possible onto the table, grabbing a generous chunk of bread from my plate, before flying at lightning speed back to the undergrowth to share his tasty prize with his friends in the foliage. Clearly he wasn't in the mood for getting acquainted. Most parks don't encourage the feeding of the wildlife, but it's fair to say this was an exception to the rule. Rule number one — keep all food out of harm's way.
The following day, as I sat in my chair nursing my sore legs after an exhilarating 10km hike through the rainforest Dan suddenly shouted, "don't move!" He was staring transfixed at a spot under my chair. I suspected the worst. It had to be a snake. I desperately tried not to leap out of the chair. Instead I gazed down towards my feet peering out through half-closed eyes, only to be pleasantly surprised. I watched as a gigantic monitor lizard — almost a metre long — took a leisurely stroll through our camp and underneath my chair. Now that is something I will never forget.
Parks and forests protect Australia's wonderful natural diversity and scenery. And it's insisted that you follow some basic rules, to help keep these places special.
Protect the wildlife. Remember, plants and animals are protected. Try not to trample plants when putting up your tent or walking.
Be careful with fire. Preferably use a fuel stove for cooking. Use fireplaces, where provided, not an open fire. Put the fire out with water when you leave your campsite. Don't collect firewood in the park; bring your own clean, milled wood. Obey fire restrictions.
Leave no rubbish. Take your rubbish with you when you leave. Don't bury rubbish.
Be considerate. People visit parks and forests to enjoy the sounds of nature, not noisy radios or generators.
Camp, walk and drive softly. Leave your campsite better than you found it. Stay on track.
Use toilets. If toilets are not provided, bury waste well away from tracks and water bodies.
Leave pets at home. Domestic animals are not permitted in national parks.
Protect creeks and lakes. Don't use soap, toothpaste or detergent in freshwater lakes or creeks — they pollute the water. Apply sunscreen after your swim.
Respect Indigenous culture. Rock art and other sites in parks and forests represent thousands of years of living culture with special significance to Indigenous people. These sites are easily damaged and are irreplaceable. Look at them, enjoy them, and don't touch them if you can resist.
--- This is the last in a three-part series by Ellie. Other articles ran June 27, and July 4 in Pique ---