Friday 23 June 2023

JJ's on Tour - O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, Lamington National Park, Queensland, Australia

Carolyn's and my odyssey to Australia, earlier this year, left off with us boarding a plane back to Sydney after spending a couple of amazing days seeing the wonders of Ayers Rock and the terrain of the Red Centre - link below.

The original flight had been booked to take us direct to Brisbane and the next state on our list to visit, Queensland, but due to the capricious nature of airlines in general, that plan had changed, which meant that we now had to fly to Sydney and then pick up a connecting flight to Brisbane before getting a hire car to complete our journey out to the McPherson Mountain Range in the Lamington National Park.

JJ's on Tour - Ayers Rock and Australia's Red Centre

There is something of an eager anticipation that developed each time we travelled to somewhere we had never been before and this particular leg was right up there in terms of that eagerness as the drive from Brisbane would see us heading towards the rainforest clad mountains and the fascinatingly named O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, of which we had read about and checked out various travelogues, but as we had found with previous changes of venue, the seeing personally is a completely different experience from the second-hand version.

Our route so far having completed our trip to Ayers Rock in the red-centre we flew back to Sydney and then north to Brisbane from where we drove to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, just outside of Brisbane in the Lamington National Park, Queensland.
Map courtesy of

By the time we had landed and picked up our car at Brisbane, the day was getting on and with the combined flights to Sydney and Brisbane meant that we arrived at O'Reilly's in the dark which meant a very interesting drive up into the Lamington mountain range along narrow twisting roads with rainforest either side and the odd critter sat on the road, caught in the headlights.

So our awareness of our new home for the next few days was somewhat limited, and our tiredness, after collecting our keys to the chalet, left in an envelope at reception, meant we simply climbed into bed and crashed until the morning light allowed a better appreciation of exactly where we were.

The view out over the Lamington National Park from our chalet balcony that greeted us the next morning.

The view that greeted our gaze the next morning from our chalet balcony compared with that from where we had come from could not have been more different and the cacophony of bird-song only emphasised the change in environment and added to our eagerness to explore, after, of course, a good breakfast.

The bar area up on stilts, next to the café building and walk-booking office to right, forming the main reception block at O'Reilly's
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat

On getting ready to go over to the reception block and the restaurant area for breakfast, we started to notice a few other things about our new home, parrots, and lots of them for one thing and the cool temperature from being up here in the mountains compared with the very warm airs we had experienced lower down on the coast when driving up here the previous day.
The next morning and the path to our chalet was crowded with Crimson Rosellas - Platycercus elegans

Crimson Rosellas clearing up feed dropped by kids on their way to breakfast

The other thing, I had missed completely whilst driving up here in the dark, which rather surprised me the next morning was this life size replica of a Stinson tri-motor airliner from the thirties that recorded the history of a rather famous Australian adventure from 1937 and another chapter in the history of the place we were staying in and the family that have owned it since its inception.

Replica Stinson used in the Australian TV drama, 'Riddle of the Stinson' from 1987 recounting the dramatic story of Bernard O'Reilly's successful efforts to find the missing plane and rescue the survivors.

The O'Reilly's business was started originally as a dairy farm in 1912, set up amid virgin rainforest on a large plateau on the McPherson mountain range by the O'Reilly brother's, which struggled as a business until the authorities decided to create the Lamington National Park, which immediately opened up another business opportunity, namely tourism and the ever growing number of visitors to the area needing somewhere to stay, with the forest retreat established in 1926.

In February 1937 an Australian National Airways Stinson disappeared on a flight from Brisbane to Sydney with five passengers and the two pilots on board and with the search for the missing plane led astray by reports of it being seen and heard near to Sydney and subsequently not finding any sign of it in the following days, the search was called off.

Bernard O'Reilly enjoying a brew after his discovery of the Stinson crash site

Bernard O'Reilly had followed the search efforts, being familiar with the route normally taken by these aircraft passing over the retreat, and aware from his own observations and those of neighbours that the aircraft had passed close by and flying low in bad weather on the day it went missing decided to follow a hunch that the plane might have hit the mountains nearby.

Following the route he suspected the plane was flying when it went missing eventually revealed the plane had indeed crashed just over five miles away in the forest clad mountain range and led to his managing to lead a rescue party back to the site enabling two of the passengers to be rescued after a harrowing nine days alone in the forest and with one of the passengers with a badly fractured leg.

I subsequently found The Riddle of the Stinson on Youtube and I have attached the link above if you're interested.

After a restorative breakfast, after the previous day's travelling, we immediately set about planning our activities for the three days we had to explore our new home and O'Reilly's is set up to facilitate that exploration at your own pace; be that doing walks on your own, using the several signed paths that introduce the visitor to the wonders of the local fauna, or taking advantage of the several organised guided events arranged during the day, for which we decided to create a combination of each.

On our way back to our chalet we soon discovered that we weren't the only ones enjoying breakfast as the staff regularly arrange feeding sessions for the local parrots, well King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas to be precise, and the visitors, especially the kids, are encouraged to get involved using feeds of seeds specially produced for the birds so that any droppings will not cause the seeding of invasive species of plants to the local area.

The seed feeds are on sale in the reception shop so that visitors can feed the birds themselves, although the preference is not to feed them near or at the chalets as they do become persistent feeders and can cause mess on balconies and nearby paths.

Australian King-Parrots - Alisterus scapularis

We had a couple of regular 'chancers' visit our chalet balcony in the mornings hoping for an extra feed, though we resisted the temptation, but perhaps others are not so disciplined.

To start our exploration of the paths and to enjoy being back on terra-firma after all our flying the day before we decided to walk the several paths that make up the Booyong Path, named after the magnificent and dominant species of tree that dominates the surrounding forest, the Black Booyong, with its staggering root system looking like the buttressed walls of a fortified city and like all ancient rainforest trees just doing the straight-up and tall method of growing.

The paths are well laid out and prepared, allowing visitors to penetrate this natural landscape with plenty of signs discreetly arranged to point out specific plants and animals in the area that frequent this natural habitat.

Once I had got my bearings in terms of the animals, and particularly the birds to lookout for, I was ready with the camera to see if I could spot as many of the species mentioned and more.

The pictures don't do full justice to the assault on the senses that walking into the rainforest is as an experience, with the calls of the birds echoing across nearby valleys and through the surrounding trees, and the constant rustling of foraging going on in the leaf litter, mixed with the buzzing of insects and the dappling light as shadow is suddenly pierced by beams of sunlight breaking through the tree canopy above.

It was not only birds that were causing the rustling in the leaf litter and on this occasion it turned out to be a skink, otherwise known as the Land Mullet, one of the largest members of the skink family.

Skink or Land Mullet - Bellatorius major

On another occasion my pace through the forest was brought to a rapid halt as my eyes became accustomed to the light after turning a bend in the path, but with my abrupt halt causing Carolyn to crash into me from behind as I exclaimed 'Oh s..t, that's a snake!

Red Belly Black Snake - Pseudecchis porphyriscus

Across our path lay a very long black snake with a coppery red belly, I later identified as a Red Belly Black Snake, that looked up at me as I stumbled to grab my camera, before it decided to make an amazingly fast departure off the path into the nearby undergrowth and was rapidly gone from sight.

The variety of birdlife to be seen in this part of Australia is simply stunning and to be seen to be believed, but much of it is quite illusive, with particularly the smaller forest floor dwelling birds fast moving among the cover and requiring a patient eye to allow them to settle long enough to grab a perfect picture, so the ones you see here probably come from at least another five of the same bird but slightly blurred and out of focus.

Australian Brush Turkey - Alectura lathami

Adult male, Southern or Australian Logrunner - Orthonyx temminckii

The Green Catbird mentioned above was one of those birds heard but not seen, and does indeed sound extraordinarily like a cat calling, but I guess the archetypal bird call that will forever make Carolyn and I remember Australia and O'Reilly's in particular is the distinctive call of the Whipbird, that I did manage to get a picture of and have linked a sound recording of from Youtube below to illustrate the point.

Eastern Whipbird - Psophodes olivaceus. These stunning birds were to be seen in pairs duetting among the trees with their chuk-chuk call followed by a long rising whistle and then their trade-mark loud whipcrack call

During our stay we did the forest walk twice, once on our own, just reading the notice boards and taking our time listening and seeing what we could spot ourselves and then we booked in to one of the guided feeding walks when the birds were encouraged to leave cover and actually feed from the hand and I have to say doing both is the best way to get a feel and good understanding of this extraordinary environment.

Eastern Yellow Robin - Eopsaltria australis

Yellow Throated Scrubwren - Neosericornis citreogularis

White-Browed Scrubwren - Sericornis frontalis

Grey Fantail - Rhipidura albiscapa

Brown Thornbill - Ancanthiza pusilla

During the guided walk our guide pointed out a mass of web covered moss on the bark of a nearby tree with a very noticeable crevice that we were told was the lair of the local species of funnel web spider, that occasionally would come forth bearing its fangs with a gentle tap of a ballpoint-pen, sadly not on the day we passed and we were encouraged not to have a go ourselves!

The Northern Tree Funnel Web Spider created the web seen on the tree above, and our guide attempted to draw this fascinating and potentially venomous spider out from its hideaway in the bark, but it was not up for coming out to play on the morning I took the picture.

Queensland Funnel Web Spider - Hadronyche lamingtonensis

Another path leading away from the main forest route took us to the beautiful Green Mountain Botanical Gardens established in 1966 and maintained by local volunteers.

A bit further along from the gardens we followed the path out to the first rainforest treetop walkway in Australia, built in 1986, and allowing a view of the forest from the canopy as well as getting up close to some of the canopy birdlife and the astonishing variety of climbing vines, none more so than the mighty Strangler Fig, and its disturbing ability to completely immerse a host tree in its vines, thus killing it over time and leaving a massive tree like structure in its place that is the Strangler Vine less its host.

One of the canopy residents I managed to catch in the camera during our treetop walk was this glorious Golden Whistler - Pachycephala pectoralis

Back on the ground our walk continued with notices explaining how ancient this land is and the effects of time on it with large boulders looming out of the surrounding forest recalling the effects of the last ice age, some 20,000 years ago and reminding me of the Tors back home on Dartmoor with similar boulders simply dumped by the ice on high ground during a similar period in the history of Blighty.

Back at our chalet and spending some down time in the complex, one was reminded of how close to nature you are in this part of the world, especially when you pass it on the path on your way to lunch!

Fledgling Welcome Swallow - Hirundo neoxena 
These species of Swallow are native to Australia and were well into their breeding season when we arrived.

Satin Bowerbird - Ptilonorhynchus violaceus

Lewin's Honeyeater - Meliphaga lewinii

Female Regent Bowerbird - Sericulus chrysocephalus

It was only five months prior to our trip to O'Reilly's, that I posted about our trip to Stratford on Avon during which I got to enjoy a bird of prey experience courtesy of Will, my youngest son, (link below), which he got me for a Xmas present; and so it was with much anticipation I sat down to have a similar presentation, Aussie style, where we got an opportunity to meet typical Australian birds of prey up close.

JJ's Wargames - Stratford upon Avon Bird of Prey Experience

The Wedge-Tail Eagle was a real treat to start things off and an absolutely stunning example of this magnificent bird.

Wedge-Tailed Eagle - Aquila audax

Next up was a beautiful female kestrel, more commonly referred to in Australia as a Nankeen Kestrel, in reference to the light brown colouration of the bird, but our handler pointed out on confirmation with Carolyn and myself, that we have the exact same bird in the UK and there it's known as a kestrel, pure and simple.

Female Kestrel - Falco cenchroides

Unlike the male bird we saw in Stratford this lovely female was very well behaved and didn't need the radio tracker on her rump, performing as required and even demonstrating her hovering ability to perfect effect.

I immediately recognised the next bird on display as a Barn Owl, but this is the Australasian version.

Eastern Barn Owl - Tyto javanica

Finally, perhaps the star of the show and wonderfully at ease hopping among our gathered audience was the gorgeous White Bellied Sea Eagle, producing gasps of admiration when she appeared on stage.

White-Bellied Sea Eagle - Haliaeetus leucogaster

To round off our stay at O'Reilly's before we jumped back in the car for the short drive to Brisbane, we decided to take a walk out to the Moran Falls and its stunning lookout with views out over the Albert River Valley.

The falls tumble over 260 feet to the bottom of the drop with a good flow on the day we visited but sometimes reduced to a trickle in the height of the summer.

Moran Falls

Western Gerygone - Gerygone fusca

The Albert River Valley in all its splendour from the Moran Falls lookout.

Carolyn and I will never forget our stay at O'Reilly's and on a trip jam-packed with highlights is easily up there with the best of them.

An abiding memory of our stay at O'Reilly's was sitting on the balcony of the bar enjoying some evening drinks and chatting about the day just gone, watching the sun setting out over the park - simply marvellous.

Thank you to the management and staff who made our stay even better with their friendly service and enthusiasm for sharing the delights of their beautiful home.

Next up the odyssey continues with our visit to Brisbane, perhaps my most favourite city in Australia.

More anon