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Big Things : The Big Kookaburra, Kurri Kurri NSW

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Possibly one of the newest big things, this 4.5 metre sculpture of a kookaburra was erected in 2009 to celebrate Hydro Aluminium’s 40th year in the area.  Hydro Aluminium is a Norwegian company that has projects in more than 50 countries.  The aluminium plant is nearby but Hydro decided to close it in 2012.

 

The kookaburra is a symbol that has been used by the community for many years. The sculpture stands in Rotary Park in the centre of town.  We love kookaburras and we were really pleased to stumble across this well built and beautifully painted Big Kookaburra – it’s definitely one of our favourite big things.
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Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

Attraction : Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

Imagine a place where you can walk amongst the animals, climb above the treetops and feel on top of the world before floating back to earth.  You can experience all of these things at one place – Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome.

 

You won’t believe it until you see it for yourself, but that ornate dome atop the Reef Casino in Cairns is home to an open wildlife exhibit with various rope courses, zip lines and the opportunity to get the best view in town.

 

Wildlife Dome

Animal lovers don’t need to travel far from Cairns to get their fix.  The Cairns Wildlife Dome is essentially a small tropical zoo within a 20 metre high glass dome that showcases native Australian animals.  Built within the surroundings is Cairns ZOOm, an elaborate rope course with zip lines, a spiral staircase and a platform at the top to soak in the views of the region.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

There are various talks throughout the day so that you can learn and interact with animals such as crocodiles, snakes, koalas and various birds.  The animals are all fairly used to the presence of people so you can get up close without startling them.  One of the best presentations is the crocodile feeding, where you can see and hear Goliath the saltwater crocodile snap at morsels of meat.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

While many of the animals have their own separate enclosures, birds and small marsupials roam free in the rainforest environment.  Kookaburras, frogmouths, curlews and cockatoos are easily spotted from the ground while parrots, herons and doves fly above and can be accessed from a circular boardwalk.  There are over 400 animals within the dome, including an albino kookaburra that can turn the day into a game of hide and seek.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

While many of the animals are visible during the day, such as the turtles, crocodiles and lizards, if you stick around after sunset, the nocturnal animals come out to play.  Bettongs can be seen visiting the feeding stations, the mahogany gliders leave their cosy log for breakfast and curious pademelons are ready to meet the visitors.  While we were in the pademelon section, they were so friendly, one even hopped into Dave’s lap for a kiss.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

ZOOm Courses & Ziplines

When you enter the Wildlife Dome, the overhead ZOOm course is not hard to miss.  It is the world’s first rope course set up in a wildlife exhibit and has over 65 different crossings, including ziplines, ladders, tyre bridges, rope webs and small platforms.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

There are two ZOOm levels – the mid level course is great for beginners, kids and those who may be afraid of heights.  Once you’ve completed the Mid-ZOOm, you’re ready for the Hi-ZOOm.  This course is twice as long, with more crossings and climbs to nearly 10 metres above the floor of the dome.  The view is amazing and dizzying at the very top.  On the way down, there are three ziplines, with one that goes directly over Goliath’s pond.  Don’t worry – there’s no chance he can jump high enough to get you, and there’s even a camera set up so you can take a cool photo souvenir home.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

We were excited about getting up in the air, and the harnessing and safety processes by the friendly staff was nice and quick.  The Mid-ZOOm course was a great introduction into what we were in for with the Hi-ZOOm, and we certainly worked up a sweat.  It’s a great workout for your arms and core, trying to stay stable on wobbly bridges and holding onto ropes and rails.  For the Hi-ZOOm course, we opted for a GoPro helmet for Dave.  We are so happy to have video of the experience, especially the narrow beams at the top of the course that provide nothing to hold on to.  They reminded Juz of the photos from the 1930s of the Rockefeller building construction workers sitting on beams up in the sky.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

Dome Climb

After the Zoom courses, we ducked out for lunch before returning just before sunset for the Dome Climb.  We ascended the spiral staircase that takes you up to the top of the dome and were connected to a belay system before stepping through an opening to get outside.  A tour guide was with us and she gave us a great run down on the history and geography of Cairns.

 

Needless to say, this is THE BEST VIEW OF CAIRNS, and it was even more magical at sunset.  We dangled ourselves off the edge, walked all the way around the Dome and took heaps of pictures before climbing back inside.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

Power Jump

After soaking in the great views of Cairns from the Dome Climb, we had no intention of walking back down the spiral staircase, so we chose to jump down… or POWERJUMP down! The PowerJump involves stepping off a platform 13 metres high and falling at a speed of about 30km/h to land safely at the bottom.  The descent is controlled by a special fan that dissipates the potential energy and allows for a fast fall and soft landing.

 

Dave suggested Juz go first so he could film her with the GoPro.  He probably could’ve filmed from the bottom, but then you wouldn’t be able to see the expression of her face at the edge of the platform before she jumped – or to be more accurate, crumbled – and let out a nice scream on her way down.  HAHAHA!  After she landed, she promptly curled up into the foetal position.  Dave went next and owned it.  He didn’t even make a noise.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

After de-harnessing, the Dome was dark so we did another lap to meet some of the critters that come out at night.

 

We had an incredible time at Cairns ZOOm and Wildlife Dome.  The open plan of the zoo provides the opportunity to interact with some the animals, while the rope courses above are a great way to get an active thrill.  If the physical aspect of the rope course is not your cup of tea, then the Dome Climb is certainly a must do activity because those views are absolutely magnificent.

 

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

 

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Undara

Natural Wonders : Undara Volcanic National Park

Undara

 

About 190,000 years ago, when Australia was a lot different to what it is now, there was an eruption.  Not a violent, ‘Dante’s Peak’ eruption.  The ground grumbled, dark smoke and steam billowed from a crack in the rocky terrain, and molten rock from below the earth’s crust oozed from the fissure.  When Undara erupted, it left its mark on the land and today, we can get a glimpse into the tremendous enormity of volcanos.

 

Located along the Savannah Way, Undara Experience is a remarkable opportunity to explore Australia’s natural geological wonders and experience true hospitality in a brilliant outback environment. 

 

The Collins family were the first white settlers in the area and have owned the property since 1862. It wasn’t until 1987 when fourth generation member Gerry Collins submitted an application to showcase the lava tubes while still maintaining sustainability and environmental consciousness.  In partnership with the regional and state governments, Undara Volcanic National Park was gazetted and tours of the caves were to be provided via the Collins family lodge.

 

The birth of the Undara Experience followed in 1990 when the Collins family acquired the old railway carriages. They were used during the early 1900s and once they were decommissioned, the Queensland Government was planning to scrap them.  When Gerry caught wind of this news, he negotiated a deal and took them of the government’s hands, refurbished them, and set them amongst the trees.  They now have a new life, providing a unique style of accommodation and an eccentric atmosphere to the bar and bistro.

 

The Lava Tubes

Undara means “long way” in the local Aboriginal dialect, referring to the distance that the lava flowed from Undara volcano 190,000 years ago, and today, 164 craters can be found in the national park.  The only way to see the lava tubes is by guided tour, and we were stoked to go on the Archway Explorer tour with 20 other lucky explorers.  We learnt a lot about the geology of the surrounding area, from the pink granite boulders that are 350-400 million years old, to the vesicular basalt that has bubbles in it caused by gases from the last volcanic eruption, about 190,000 years ago.

 

We descended into a valley that was green and lush compared to the savannah scrub above, and strolled along boardwalks until we got to our first set of lava tubes.  These valleys were created by sections of the lava tubes that had collapsed and are now vegetated with semi-evergreen vine thicket.

 

The lava tubes are a result of the eruption of the Undara volcano.  It was a shield volcano about 340m wide, and the eruption was a non-violent event, more like a pot on the stove boiling over.  The lava flowed out of the volcano along water courses at about 900m per hour – the outsides of the lava cooled while the centre stayed fluid and kept flowing.  The lava tubes extend about 160km from the volcano, making the lava tubes at Undara the longest flow from a single volcano in the world.

 

So far, 69 tubes have been found in Undara Volcanic National Park.  Tours allow the public access to eight of them, as the others are not safe for humans due to their extremely high levels of CO2.  The Archway Explorer tour was so interesting that before we knew it, time was up and we were back on the bus and heading back to the resort.  Other tours include the Active Explorer, Volcano Valley and Wildlife at Sunset, which gives guests the opportunity to see the wildlife that visits the tubes at dusk.

 

Undara

 

The Resort

Accommodation varies from fully air-conditioned Pioneer Huts, restored Railway Carriages, Swag Tents and Safari Shelters, or you can bring your own tent or caravan and set up in one of the powered or unpowered sites.  Facilities include a guest laundry at $2 per load, fuel and Wi-Fi access.  Wallabies and kangaroos wander around the park, some with joeys hanging out of their pouches.

 

Undara

 

 

Activities around the resort include meals at the Fettlers Iron Pot Bistro (watch out for the thieving kookaburras), a nightcap of their delicious Undara Lava Tawny at the Saloon Car, self-guided walks that explore the surrounding bush, or a lazy afternoon by the pool.  In the evenings from 8pm, there are also various campfire activities.  We sat and listened to readings from great Aussie poets, like Banjo Patterson while treating ourselves to their delicious signature chocolate volcano dessert.

 

Undara

 

One of our favourite activities was the Bush Breakfast.  We had just returned from a sunrise hike around Kalkani Crater and our tummies were grumbling. A path through the bush brought us to a clearing with the most wonderful smells.  There were two campfires – one for bush tea and coffee, the other for toasting your own bread.  There were also sausages, eggs and bacon on the BBQ, with beans and vegie ratatouille on the side.  A table was set up with all the breakfast staples – juice, milk, soy, four kinds of cereal, butter and vegemite, and a wide variety of fruit – with tin cups and plates and log stumps for tables.  We feasted, and did not need to eat again until dinnertime.

 

 

Undara

 

The Essentials

Undara Experience is located 40km east of Mount Surprise, and the road in is fully sealed, so it’s easily accessible by car and caravan.  We cannot express how impressive the Undara Experience is.  We could have easily spent a week going on the tours and guided walks, playing pool in the Saloon Car or just relaxing by the pool.

 

To have your own Undara Experience, book now by calling 1800 990 992.  For more information, visit their website at undara.com.au

 

Please be aware of wildlife on the way into Undara. The road in is nicknamed Kangaroo Alley, and we actually clipped the backside of a kangaroo on the way back from Kalkani. We’re happy to say that it continued to bounce away but would have copped a nasty bruise on its backside.

 

Undara

 

A blue kookaburra at Lake Argyle

Wildlife : The Kookaburra

Rufio and his mate

Name: Kookaburra

Scientific Classification: Dacelo genus

Alternative Names: tree kingfisher.  The name kookaburra comes from the Aboriginal Wiradjuri word guuguubarra, and is also an onomatopea for its call.

Location: they are found in a variety of habitats around Australia, from forests to deserts.

 

Fast Facts:

  • There are two species found in Australia – the blue-winged kookaburra (Dacelo leachii) is found mostly in the north while the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) is found in the south.  In the areas where their territories overlap, they are in direct competition with each other.
  • Laughing kookaburras are best known for their loud laughing call, which is usually heard at dusk and is their way of establishing their territory.  Blue-winged kookaburras have more of a deep cackle.
  • The laughing kookaburra is the largest of the kingfisher family, and by largest, we mean the heaviest, weighing in at close to half a kilo!  Their bills are about 10cm long.
  • They are carnivourous and are known to eat insects, small mammals, other birds and snakes.  Watch your BBQ because they’ll steal your snags if you’re not careful.
  • They can live for more than 20 years and have the same mate for life.

 

Cuteness Rating:  they are pretty cute, but some of them can give you the crazy eye.

Danger Rating:  There’s no need to be afraid.  They’d probably fly off before they’d do any harm to you.

 

Our Encounter:

Our favourite kookaburra experience so far was while we were camping at Coobobbonee National Park in Victoria.  Just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon, it began.  A kooka in the distance started laughing.  The calls got louder and louder as more kookas joined in and within seconds, we were completely enveloped in their hysterical chorus of laughter.

 

We had a more personal encounter while camping in the NSW outback.  We had a resident laughing kookaburra hanging about our camp and while Juz was cooking dinner, she chucked it a piece of off-cut beef, which it pried off a branch and gobbled up.

 

 

Up north, we saw a blue-winged kookaburra in the picnic park at Lake Argyle.  It was loitering around looking for scraps and wasn’t concerned with Juz walking up to take a photo.

A blue kookaburra at Lake Argyle