Today was a day full of activities. We started with an early morning canoe trip, starting at 5.45 am on Lake Tinaroo near Yungaburra. Steve, the guide from the hostel, normally takes big groups out on canoe trips, but he doesn’t normally take children under 10, so we presented a bit of a problem. Added to that, it was his day off. However, he bent over backwards to help us – he’d arranged a special early morning canoe trip with us, so that we could all go, and he could find out what the early morning canoeing is like (he normally takes groups in the middle of the day and at night). By going so early in the morning it increased our chances of seeing some of the wildlife, and allowed us to escape the heat of the day. In fact, it was so cool that we went down to the canoes with our fleeces on – the first time we’d worn them since arriving in Queensland.
Charlotte got to share Steve’s canoe, and Emily, Sarah and I shared another one, as we set off across the lake. The water level was very low – the lake has fallen over 50 feet from its normal level due to the drought. The lake was created in the 50’s by the construction of a huge dam, and later on the neighbouring farmers were given the right to pump unlimited irrigation water from the lake. So now, even though the lake is at 27% of its normal level, the farmers keep on pumping water out 24 hours a day to water their fields. Mind you, the water restrictions in place all over Queensland seem very lax compared to European restrictions – typically they limit garden watering to two hours a day – which hardly seems like a sacrifice! So along the shores of the lake were the familiar sights of dried and cracked mud that we see every time we start to run out of water in Britain (seemingly every summer!).
The trip took us an hour of gentle paddling, and the highlight came at the end, when we were in a creek further up the lake (well, it’s a creek now that the water is lower – its moved from being a 400m wide inlet to a 10m wide creek). As we came around a corner we saw a circle of ripples in the middle of the water, so we stopped and waited, and our patience was rewarded with the sight of a duck-billed platypus surfacing a minute later. It swam around in front of us, and each time it went under we were able to paddle a little closer until we were about 3 metres away from it. As we continued, we saw a few more, and the girls got a real treat – they were thrilled to see them, as we’d talked about them before the trip. Although they’re small animals, we’d got a really good view from close up.
By the time we got back to the hostel at 9am, we were all feeling a bit sleepy, so the rest of the morning was spent relaxing around the hostel, and catching up with laundry etc. After lunch, we went out for a walk around the rainforest and then for a swim in Lake Eacham, which is a marvellously cool volcanic lake nearby. The day had gone from 27 degrees in the morning to 41 degrees in the afternoon, so a cold lake was just the ticket!
In the evening Sarah and I went on a night canoeing trip, while the girls stayed at the hostel with Laura, one of the other hostel guests. After being with us 24 hours a day for 3 and a half months, the girls were quite excited to be left on their own, and had no intention of going to sleep while we were out. And for Sarah and I it was our first significant break away from them in all that time too! We went canoeing at 8pm, armed with huge spotlights, and spent 3 hours paddling across the lake by moonlight, making our way up tiny creeks, and dragging our canoes across mud banks. This time there were more of us in the group, with 5 canoes, so we weren’t in any danger of getting lost. In fact, the pair of Australian girls in one of the canoes even showed us where not to stand in the mud, as they sank knee deep and lost their shoes in the black yuck! The idea of canoeing at night is to see wildlife in the trees along the banks, but unfortunately the water had dropped so low that the trees were quite away from the shoreline, and we couldn’t get into any of the areas with thick tree cover. Our sightings for the night were one pair of orange eyeballs (possum) and one pair of red eyeballs (tree kangaroo), and lots of frogs!
When we got back to the hostel at 11pm, the girls were still wide awake, and poor old Laura had been made to sit through a puppet show, a game of battleships, and listen to every story that they could think up. She looked exhausted, which was the wrong way round, as the girls had been up for 18 hours at this point!