Bugs and Beauty in an Australian Rainforest

by Tracy Zadra

Tracy, smiling, suvived the night in one of Syndey's rainforests
Tracy, smiling, suvived the night in one of Syndey's rainforests

Around New Year’s Eve, Sydney gets a lot of attention. Falling as it does in one of the earliest time zones, the city’s famous celebration and its elaborate fireworks display are broadcast around the world. But what I found out during a holiday visit to Sydney is that the real show happens far from the iconic shells of the Sydney Opera House. A little-known adventure, but one that should be on every travel bucket list, is hiking through a rainforest, and an amazing one happens to be situated just outside of the city of Cairns, Queensland — some 1,500 miles north of Sydney.

In the week before New Year’s, we chose to take an overnight hiking adventure. It was a guided tour, with a total of eight people. To us, a couple of Alaskans, the place was a true jungle, complete with wild, loud screeches and calls from the local wildlife. (Umm … those were birds, right?) Coming from a place with no poisonous spiders and no snakes whatsoever, this was a journey into the unknown. Steve and I joked that yes, we have dangerous animals in Alaska, too….but at least you can see them coming!

As we started out, our guide gave us all a whole laundry list of “Dos and Don’ts” and what not to touch, but then laughed it off, saying “no worries” in a carefree and fun-loving way that we were learning was typical of the Aussies. While spiders the size of one’s hand gave us pause, another form of local wildlife really “sucked.” Our guide told us to be on the lookout for leeches. They dwelled on the forest floor, in trees or on branches. They were virtually ever-present. Our job as single-file hikers was to watch the backs of the legs of the person in front of us, and to let them know if they had a leech on them — which happened every three to five minutes. The environment was very hot and humid, so we were all in shorts, and we all had numerous occasions to flick the little suckers off.

We stopped for a rest and lunch at a beautiful waterfall pool, and followed up our meal with a luxurious swim. The scene was something right out of a brochure, and I drank in the extraordinary beauty of our surroundings.

We eventually tore ourselves away from the waterfall to hike another four hours to our destination to make camp. We all helped carry supplies, water, food, sleeping bags and the like. Because a great number of animals made their home on the forest floor, we all slept in hammocks. We each made our beds with a couple of firm knots and prepared dinner as darkness fell. As night descended, the whooping and screeching grew ever louder. Were those monkeys? We made a campfire and started cooking, sitting on large rocks to keep ourselves off the critter-covered forest floor. A great variety of small, strange animals came through the campsite, perhaps drawn to the fire. Small furry mammals and slimy foot-long centipedes. In fact, a long centipede crossed just in front of me at the campfire. When I asked the guide if he was poisonous, he said, “Yes, just don’t scare him.” Scare HIM?

At night, we actually put clear plastic sheeting over us and around the bottom of the hammock, basically forming our own cocoons. It protected us from both rain and any flying insects that might have tried to nestle with us. This was not a trip for the claustrophobic. However, after our lengthy hike and with a stomach full of food, sleep was not a problem, even in an environment as foreign as this. We all slept with headlamps in case we had to get up in the night. I slept with my shoes on as well, lest I need to make a late night trek to the outhouse. Soon the screeches, songs and whistles of the jungle subsided – for the most part.

If I had thought the jungle made interesting sounds at night that was nothing by comparison to the morning, when every bird of the jungle belted out its unique song. The effect was an entirely appealing natural alarm clock. As I emerged from sleep under my plastic drape, I couldn’t help but giggle. Slowly lifting my head (as hammocks can get tippy with quick movement), I could see that my husband had a visitor. The biggest grasshopper I’d ever seen was gazing into his eyes from around his bellybutton. He was apparently harmless, and I watched my husband flick him to the ground.

Some of the other campers managed to stay asleep — somehow. Maybe they had earplugs. I continued to watch as my husband, still lying prone under his plastic sheeting, gave a stretch that seemed like a sign that he was ready to take on the world — and promptly flip his hammock. He barely suppressed a yelp and jumped up quicker than I think I’ve ever seen him move, then did the most intensive self-inspection I could imagine, shaking out various folds in his clothing for potential hangers on. Being on our honeymoon, you would think I might have asked if he were alright, or maybe even have assisted him. But no, I just laughed, and today I still laugh thinking about our extreme adventures in the rainforest.