When last I left off, MT and I had just left Mallacoota to head towards home, rather than the Christmas with family we’d planned. We’d decided to take the long, long way home, with two nights back at the Buchan Caves Reserve, in the original owners’ home, Caves House. On our way back to Buchan, we were going to make a few stops along the way, to places Finding Australian Birds – the best bird book I’ve ever found – recommended.
The first was Cape Conran Coastal Park, and when my phone’s GPS spit out the directions, I thought Siri was nuts; she told us to turn right on “Old Coastal Road” which was a 28km dirt road. MT was more willing to believe, or maybe he just wanted an excuse to go off-road. Those 28km took us through some of the most remote, often teeth-rattling, dry eucalypt forest I’ve ever seen, and when it was finally over we got a short reprieve on a paved back-road through gorgeous rainforest. Then, back onto more desolate dirt roads that took us to the coast, and here the road was lined with banksias and touted a flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos – who are un-paralleled at hiding behind tree limbs.
Once we parked though, I started thinking this might have been a whole lot of off-roading adventure for very little result. Not a lot of bird action and not a lot of area to walk or hike, just the road in. Then I heard MT off in the distance shouting for me to ‘come towards the camping area as fast as you can’. I figured he’d either spotted a koala or injured himself. Instead it was something totally different that made our long drive out to the middle of nowhere absolutely worth it.
When I found MT, he was standing less than 3 meters away from a very large lace monitor, or goanna. It took me a moment to spot it because I thought it was a fallen tree limb, but once it moved, I took several hundred photos of it because it was magnificent.
I am really terrible at estimating size, but MT is pretty accurate. I knew this guy was almost as long as I am tall, and MT agreed. At about 5.5 feet long, this tree monitor comes close to the maximum size for his species, which is the second-largest monitor in Australia. He was amazing, and quite sanguine about me standing there taking a bazillion photos of him.
When we finally gave him some peace, we turned the corner and found this little guy:
and the dichotomy made me laugh. Then I found out he’s a Jacky Dragon and it seems even more amusing.
We left Cape Conran soon thereafter and after a few more back dirt roads, came to Cabbage Palm Tree Creek Preserve, a mouthful for what was a tiny gem of rainforest tucked away far from civilisation. It only took 20 minutes to walk the entire pocket, and it was a true rainforest, with intermittent rain and a burbling creek running through it. We spotted Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos hiding in the canopy, and assorted honeyeaters, silvereyes and a new one for me, rufous fantails in the understory.
It was all so beautiful, I had to walk through it twice, rain or no rain. After that, we toyed with another stop, but started worrying about getting back to Buchan in time to check-in. This ended up being a good call because we got there at 3.45 and they’d shut at 3.00. More luck for us that MT found a park ranger still around and she got us the keys to the Caves House. Where I promptly dumped my stuff and headed back out to explore.