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Friday, March 16, 2007

Tony's Tropical Tours take us to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation

Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation

Our hotel recommended that we go on an excursion with Tony's Tropical Tours.
We left from our Hotel at 8am, an unusually early start for the Trader Pods and went on a 4WD wilderness experience.  We were lucky to get Hans van Veluwen as our tour guide.  "Hans from Cairns" (pronounced HANS from CANS) was a botanist and naturalist who was full of knowledge about the plants and animals of this region.  He had spent much of his career leading survival trips, raising native plants, and living in isolated areas of the region that were without electricity.  There were 4 other women in our group and we had a superb day of adventure and discovery.

The Daintree Rainforest is one of the most diverse and beautiful examples of Mother Nature in the world.  It is the largest chunk of tropical rainforest in Australia and the home of many diverse kinds of plants and animals.  Like the Great Barrier Reef, it too is a World Heritage Site and contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare, or threatened with extinction, anywhere in the world.

On our first foray into the forest we saw a sleeping python snake.  This was a rare treat, and Hans assured us held no threat, unless we went after it.



Right away we also got another rare sighting - a very shy dragon lizard.  They aren't seen in captivity at all because the ecosystem that supports them is so complex it can't be replicated, and they never live for long once captured.



We also saw fabulous trees with buttresses holding them to the earth.  Most of the rainforest trees have shallow root systems and these buttresses give them the stability they need to withstand all but the cyclones that come through every 30 years or so and level the other trees and plants.





The most dangerous rainforest plant was "the stinging bush".  This plant would grow in areas that had been hit by cyclones and was in an open area flooded with sunshine.  The leaves were heart shaped and the edges looked like they had been cut with zig zag scissors.  The pain from coming into contact with any part of this plant would make you want to cut off the body part affected.  Pain could last over a year and cause major nerve damage.  



There was one other plant Hans pointed out that had small needles covering every part of its long vines that he said was really dangerous - even to the point of advising us not to have arms out of car windows as we drove on the road, because sometimes the long vines drift over the roads in a wind, and could cut right thru you.  But other than these two plants, he said the only major danger in the rainforests of Australia were slippery rocks and logs, not the snakes or spiders, etc.  People often fall, and there are many areas of very rapid waterfalls and rivers - like these.  In fact, many are prone to flash floods from further up the mountain.  Remember - it gets over 400 inches of rain in this area a year...








We took a river trip and saw one of the most well known animals living in this area - the Estuarine Crocodile.  He was casually swimming downstream - all 15 feet of him.  You can see him against the bank of the river here (and the streaking you see in this picture is torrential rain.  We were wearing ponchos, and under a roof, but the sides of the boat were open and we were soaked!)...



The crocodile is a cold-blooded animal and needs to regulate its own body temperature closely, so many times they are seen basking on logs with their mouths gaping - a cooling process that maintains their body temperature between 86-90 degrees F.   The female crocodiles lay her eggs in huge piles of compost materials that she has heaped into giant piles.  The composted material creates heat which acts as an incubator for the eggs - actually a compost pile.  This week in mid March was the time for the babies to hatch.  They make a squeaking sound to let the mother know that they're ready to come out of their eggs.  She digs them up and although there may be as many as 100 eggs only about 25 of them mature.  The mother inadvertently steps on many of them as they hatch from their eggs.  And often times the eggs are eaten by predators.  After they hatch the male takes over feeding and watching them until they are old enough to leave the nesting area.  The young adults then find themselves a small area and live there by themselves.  They often spend much time basking on logs to protect themselves from the sharks that also live in the river.



While we were on the river, we also pulled up right next to this tree that had a river snake on it - we were able to get very close...



and we also saw this mangrove heron sitting on a log in the pouring rain...



We'll continue the rainforest story in another blog entry - so read on...