Cape Hillsborough: Kookaburras join the barbie

By Jim Eagles

There is much Australian wildlife to see on the beach at Cape Hillsborough. Photo / Jim Eagles
There is much Australian wildlife to see on the beach at Cape Hillsborough. Photo / Jim Eagles

I began to suspect we were staying somewhere a bit different when a couple of minutes after I started cooking kangaroo steaks on the barbecue two kookaburras flew down, landed on the edge of the plate and looked at me expectantly.

And my suspicion was confirmed when I wandered down to the beach early next morning and a whole posse of wallabies and kangaroos rushed up in my direction. They gave me such a start that I hid behind the signpost for the Turtle Point track.

That's just how it is at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, a beachfront enclave in the middle of Cape Hillsborough National Park, North Queensland.

The resort, with its van and tent sites, beachfront houses (just right for three grandkids and their parents), cabins and huts (a peaceful refuge for grandma and grandad) is surrounded by bush, fringed by the sea and practically overrun with wildlife.

Kookaburra, like my two unexpected dinner guests, are everywhere. We heard them laughing early in the mornings, probably because they thought they had woken us up but, haha, thanks to the time difference with New Zealand I was already awake. And during the day they were always zooming around like fighter bombers, on the lookout for prey ... or a few foodscraps.

Obviously some guests at the resort do feed them because, as I said, I had no sooner lit up one of the gas barbecues they provide - to ensure visitors don't light fires - than, zap, company.

They got so close to the steaks and the very tasty mango and chilli sausages that I clacked my tongs to make them back off. But, next night, as soon as the hamburgers went on the grill, pow, there was a kookaburra again.

There were lots more birds around, and they were lovely to look at, but unfortunately I have no idea what their names were. Oh, except for the brush turkeys, with their amazing red heads and yellow wattles, which were perpetually trying to scratch the sand and leaves outside our hut into nesting mounds.

I found out what they were called on the first morning when the guy in the cabin next door wandered out, checked the footwear he had left outside the door and said angrily: "The stupid brush turkey kicked sand in my shoes."

By the time he got up I had already spent a while watching turkeys kick sand over things, then wandered down to the beach, where a dozen or more agile wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos were frolicking by the light of the rising sun.

As I came down the track they looked up and bounded enthusiastically in my direction. But, happily, it soon emerged that they weren't interested in me but in the smiling white-haired man walking down the track behind me carrying a bucket of feed.

At first they were all over him, forearms waving enthusiastically, but he brushed them aside saying, "No, I'm not going to shake your hand," and they followed him quietly towards the water's edge.

There he laid out piles of food, one for each animal so as to reduce the number of boxing matches, and we all watched in fascination as they gobbled away.

While they ate, the white-haired man explained that he had been providing this food for years. "There used to be a lot more of them but there's less grass around the camp now so the wallaby numbers have reduced. And we can't allow male kangaroos any more because they get too aggressive so that's made a difference too."

Once feeding time was over most of the wallabies hung around the resort, two of them loafing under the trees outside our hut. Our grandchildren had great fun feeding and occasionally timidly stroking them.

One wallaby startled me by picking up a newspaper, looking intently at the pages, then munching away. For a moment I thought it was devouring the news but upon reflection it was probably only interested in the food that had been wrapped inside.

There are other animals here too. Twice I saw possums running past our cabin (they were brushtails so I wanted to run them over). The flowers around the resort seemed to be permanently fluttering with brightly coloured butterflies. I saw several cute little geckoes and a blue-tongued lizard made a brief appearance from a hole under a log.

On our last day I thought I should take advantage of that track sign I had hidden behind so we went for a walk up to turtle point. It was windy and the sea was pretty choppy but we did spy a couple of turtles and apparently they often nest on the beaches here.

What I didn't see were any snakes, which was a surprise because a friend who had stayed at the resort a few years before reckoned they were everywhere.

But the possible explanation for this came when I mentioned to another friend how many kookaburra there were and she said, "It's good to camp where there are kookaburra because they eat a lot of snakes. That's a little tip for you."

So good on the kookaburras. If I go to Cape Hillsborough again I might consider giving them a bit of kangaroo steak as a reward. Haha. Only fooling.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand has regular flights to Brisbane.

Where to stay: Cape Hillsborough Nature resort.

Further information: For more about visiting Queensland see queenslandholidays.com.au.

Jim Eagles paid his own way at Cape Hillsborough but got there with help from Air New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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