Our group loaded the bus today at 7:30 am this morning, with Paul driving once again. During our transport, we spoke of some of our adventures from the day before. Jo, Cam, and Raven traveled to Steve Irwin’s Australian Zoo (which sounds amazing!), while Devin, Scott, Camille, Kayla, Byrne, and I rented sea kayaks to explore the Mooloolaba harbor and mouth. Both parties had a great time (though I wish I had taken my friend Brent’s advice and gone to the zoo, as Cam and Raven were able to hang out with Kangaroos and hold Koalas). Cam and Jo mentioned that the animal habitats were all very open and beautiful, and that they all had running water, such as streams. The roo habitat alone was perhaps the size of five or six football fields.
The kayakers paddled up and down the fairly large bay, circling two small islands with massive houses erected on them. We traveled closer to the ocean into a shallow inlet, where we waded into the cool waters and dug small blue and pink sand crabs. On our paddle back to the pier, we ducked under a few docks for some excitement, though the hanging barnacles were quite precarious.
Regarding our adventure today, after our hour-long drive, we arrived at a small hardwood plantation forest held by a private landowner. The Private Forestry Service Queensland (PFSQ) is a nonprofit organization which is very similar to the Extension Service in the United States. They are dedicated to helping small landowners manage their lands, and also work in native forests to control noxious weeds and stabilize hillsides. Camphor laurel, a tree that is quite common in Queensland and is harvested for its aromatic wood, is actually an invasive species from China.
Andrew Sinclair, landowner, displaying a small sawmill on his land.
Within the plantation, many unique bird calls could be heard, including one that sounded like a loud drop of water, which Laurie informed us was a whipbird.
Andrew Sinclair, the landowner, was felling trees as we first arrived at the stand, and came to speak with us after a second tree had gotten caught up in another. He informed us that the majority of the trees on his land were eucalypt hardwoods. Spotted gum, one of the species on his land, has very thick sapwood, which allows it to take chemical treatment very well. One of the common UV treatments available in Australia is called Intergrain, a relatively new treatment that has been shown to be more durable than the chemicals available in the United States. The forests on this plantation are actively thinned and pruned for timber use, which is a very intensive and expensive process, but necessary to prevent widespread use of herbicides.
When asked of the cost to start a small timber stand of this size, Sinclair told us that the startup cost was about $200,000, and that the profit yield was relatively low, making it not possible to live solely off of the plantation. Perhaps small-scale forestry in Australia is more of a rich man’s hobby than a practical application for landowners.
After our tour of the eucalypt plantation ended, we boarded our bus once again and drove out to the Noosa Everglades, one of two named everglades on the planet (the other being in Florida).
We waited for a short time and hopped onto a boat that looked like a floating greenhouse with its numerous windows. We traveled down the river, which quickly became bordered by houseboats and various abandoned boats; thankfully this only lasted for a short distance. As we motored further into the river, it became bordered by mangroves and various eucalypts and we saw many bird species. Someone asked Ben, our tour guide, if we would see any crocodiles, and he didn’t think so, as the last reported sightings in the everglades were about 20 years ago. Though there wouldn’t be any crocodiles, Ben mentioned that 8 of the 10 most deadly snakes live in the Noosa Everglades, and that bull sharks have been known to swim up the river. The invasive (and poison-skinned) cane toad also calls this area its home, but the keelback snake, a freshwater species, is immune to the cane toad’s poison, and loves the taste of the toad. Many other species have fallen due to the toxins in the skin of the toad, but kookaburras have learned to flip the toads over and eat their undersides, which are apparently free of the toxin.
The river transformed from having relatively clear water to a dark brown to black water, where the melaleucas (tea trees) boarder the river. The tea leaves stain the river into a presumably strong (and probably microbe-saturated) brew. Due to the tannins in the water, the acidity is too high for mosquitoes to breed in the water, though the bugs can be a great irritation in the area in the Australian summer.
Crossing a shallow lake, Ben slowed the boat to a near-crawl, to keep the boat as flat as possible on the water. We scraped along the sandy bottom until it became deep enough to increase our speed slightly, where we came to a startling discovery: a small catamaran tipped onto its side, with no signs of any people. A few members on board, including Jo and myself stepped onto the front of our boat and scanned the water for any signs of survivors, to no avail. Ben called the police as I continued to scan the water, ready to enter if necessary. After some time, I noticed a small boat in the distance heading our way; I flagged them down as they neared, assuming that they were with the police. Instead, to our surprise and joy, it was a small motorboat containing the fallen catamaran pilot. He had tipped over and swam to shore—an amazing feat for not only his age (of perhaps 50), but there were strong waves in the lake, and the shore which he hailed from was well over a mile away!
Extremely thankful for the circumstances, we continued across the lake and into the next section of the river. We slowed again; the dark waters appeared as a sheet of glass, creating beautiful reflections of the trees at the water’s edge. Ben told us that rangers who manage the Noosa Everglades try to keep the river as natural as possible. When a tree falls across the river, they cut out only enough for a boat to pass though and nothing more.
We traveled further and came to a small wood plank house known as Harry’s Hut, where we enjoyed afternoon tea and lamingtons. Harry, who was a landowner when the area was converted into part of the Great Sandy National Park (circa 1999), who was unwilling to sell his land to the government at the time. After some discussion back and forth, Harry finally told the government that they could have his land, if he could still stay in his hut that he had lived in for many years. They agreed, and after his death a number of years ago, his hut is now a protected part of the majestic Noosa Everglades.
Tomorrow, we will be heading back to Noosa for a third time, but this time, our journey will take us into the Noosa Biosphere, a 150,000 hectare nature reserve.