Saturday, 27 August 2011

Uluru Kata Tjuta

Ask people who are about to head off to Central Australia what they expect the landscape to look like and most will describe the typical desert lots of sand, very little vegetation and hardly any life. Central Australia is far from like this, with several types of landscape and an abundance of flora and fauna, although not always visible.
  Uluru NT Tourism

This is an ancient and spiritual place where around 550 million years ago the basin was involved in a major upheaval which formed a mountain range known as the Petermann Ranges Orogeny. With no plant life at this time bacteria and algae were able to break down the ranges along with normal erosion. As they eroded, the sediments were washed out to form alluvial fans and their remains now form Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
The inland sea disappeared around 300-400 million years ago and another upheaval, now known as the Alice Springs Orogeny, took place and raised the area above sea level. This is also when Uluru and Kata Tjuta were rotated to their present angle.

Kata Tjuta NT Tourism

No-one understands the landscape and its relationship with its surroundings like the traditional owners, the Anangu people. The Anangu identify with 6 different landcapes, each having its own unique habitats and diverse flora and fauna.
Karu is the creekbeds and gullies found around Kata Tjuta at Walpa Gorge and The Valley Of The Winds. Anangu collected grass seeds from native millett and naked woolybut along with wood for tools and firewood from trees such as bloodwood and river redgum.
Puti is the open woodland areas of the park and often have large stands of mulga and other trees such as bloodwood and blue mallee. Shrubs include witchetty bush, wattles, grevilleas and hakeas. Ground cover can be grasses and Spinifex. Honey ants nest after rain and witchety grubs were a favourite food of the Bilby when they inhabited the park. Red kangaroos can sometimes be seen feeding when food is available.
Puli are the rocky gorges and stoney slopes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and many animals use these areas for shelter, but graze and breed in other habitats. Euro, echidnas and fat tailed antechinus call this type of habitat home along with many birds who come here for shelter and water.
Pila is the spinifex plains that lie between the many sand dunes. They are the home of the desert oak and are the most prolific habitat in the park. Along with spinifex and desert oak you will find bloodwoods, umbrella bushes and honey plants such as the honey grevillea. Spinifex hopping mice and striped and giant desert skinks can be found along with the woma python, blue tongue lizard, emu, bustard and feral animals such as the fox and cat.
Uluru NT Tourism

Tali is the sand dunes, and taking a walk across one in the early morning will reveal a network of tracks left by the nocturnal inhabitants of the region. Spinifex hopping mice and other inhabitants of the Pila also inhabit Tali and some animals such as small skinks and other reptiles live specifically here. The marsupial mole has adapted itself to living under the sand and is completely blind. It is rarely seen and the tracks it leaves just under the surface are extremely hard to spot.
The last habitat is Nyara,the areas left behind after fires. Fires can be caused by natural reasons such as storms, accidentally caused by people or deliberately lit to protect and regenerate areas. Some animals such as spinifex hopping mice like Nyara for foraging for food whilst others will stay away till Spinifex cover returns. Desert raisin, bush tomato and edible grass seeds are part of the regeneration growth that occurs.
Of the more than 400 species of plant life, one is considered to be a threatened species within the park and that is the desert quandong. It is also considered vulnerable within the Northern Territory due to the fact that it is a favourite food of the many wild camels that roam unhindered across the landscape. The Anangu would pick and eat the fruit, which was a great source of vitamins, straight from the bush. Oils from the kernals were used as a conditioner for their hair.
Most of the plants in the park have a use to the Anangu whether as a source of food, medicine or to be used for purposes such as tools, bowls or ceremonial use such as didgeridoos and clapsticks.

Bush medicine NT Tourism

Many of the rare and exotic plants exist around waterholes etc which are also the places frequented by tourists and this has to be considered when talking about looking after the park.
Fauna species within the park number nearly 300 with 28 types of mammal, over 70 reptiles, 180 birds, 4 frogs and 4 types of bats.
Birds range in size from the emu to tiny finches and wrens and they are the most common animals visitors to the park will notice. You may not see them at first but you will hear their sounds as you travel through the park. Remember to look up sometimes as you may see a wedge tailed eagle or other birds of prey circling the skies looking and waiting for their next meal.

Superb Fairy Wren
Reptiles include Kuniya (or woma python) and stimson python both of which are non-venomous. There are 8 types of Liru (poisonous snakes) including the western and king brown snakes. It is best to treat all snakes as venomous and avoid them.
Lizards can be seen as small as 300mm (pygmy goanna) and as large as the perentie which can grow to 2metres in length. A species of dragon that people love to see is the thorny devil and watching one move as they use a gentle rocking motion is incredible.
Red kangaroos are the largest marsupials in the park and they will graze in grassland where spinifex is not as common while the euro prefers rocky areas and might be seen around the slopes of Kata Tjuta. Some mammals such as the small mulgara (about the size of a small guinea pig) live in burrows beneath the sand.
The mala (rufous hare wallaby) was extinct in the park before being reintroduced within a feral animal proof enclosure. It is hoped in time to be able to release them into the general population of the park.
The mala and southern marsupial mole are both classed as endangered along with other animals such as the great desert skink, fawn hopping mice, brushtailed mulgara, princess parrot, emu and the Australian bustard. These animals are being monitored and management programs will be considered.
NT Tourism
Visitors to the park have an important role to play in protecting the natural values of the park for without proper vigilance we can unknowingly bring in unwanted guests. Seeds and burrs love to travel with us, stuck to our clothes and vehicles and we should check both regularly to prevent this from happening.
When in the park we must stay on the pathways as this not only protects the native flora and fauna but also reduces the risk of spreading exotic plants etc. It can also help if we report sightings of feral animals to park staff so that if necessary they can take the appropriate control measures.
The Park is a fantastic asset to Australia and if we all work together to keep it that way it will be there for future generations to enjoy.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

William Ricketts Sanctuary

The William Ricketts Sanctuary is in the Dandenong Ranges National Park just under an hour's drive from Melbourne's CBD.

Amongst the beautiful bushland are clay sculptures of aboriginal people and native wildlife. The sculptures are the creation of William Ricketts who was born in Richmond Victoria in 1898. When he was a child his mother took him and his siblings regularly to the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne where he began his facination with nature.

Later moving to the Dandenongs his love of nature and fascination with aboriginal people grew. He travelled a number of times into the Northern Territory where he lived with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte Aboriginal people. Their traditions and culture inspired his sculpture.  He was particulalry fascinated with their connection to country and love of the land.

Whilst he was not an Aboriginal himself he believed he was from the lyrebird totem and he considered himself adopted by the Pitjantjatjara nation.

The sanctuary has a number of winding paths that allow you to meander through the bushland and view the range of scultures. William's cottage and kiln are still on the property and form an intregal part of a visit.  There is also a cafe located next to the car park where you enjoy morning, afternoon tea or lunch.

If you like William Ricketts scultures many of his central Australian works can be found at Pitchi Ritchi Bird Sanctuary near Alice Springs.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Botanical Gardens Cranbourne

These amazing gardens have been established to showcase Australia's native bushland and include 363 hectares of untouched heathlands, wetlands and woodlands.

Established on the ancestral home of the Boonerwurrung people the gardens are an hour's drive from Melbourne. The ancient wetlands used by the Boonerwurrung still exist within the Cranbourne Gardens and some areas are rich in indigenous plant foods.  Birds and animal life are also in abundance drawn to the area by the water.

The Gardens includes a number of areas including the red sand garden which reminds me of some of my favourite areas in Outback Australia. Just love the red of the dirt against the blue of the sky!

An area called the Dry River bed illustrates the power of water in shaping the landscape and river beds.

The Rockpool Waterway provides a great spot to sit and rest whilst you watch the water cascade down the sloping area to a small waterfall. 

Children also enjoy the Rockpool

Other areas include the Eucalyptus Walk, water saving gardens and drought tolerant plantings.

There are a number of walking tracks around the gardens and also a bike trail. With a cafe, shop and playground the gardens appeal to people of all ages.

Gardens through the ages

The recently opened second stage includes The Ian Potter Lakeside Precinct, Weird & Wonderful Garden and River Walk and is as stunning as stage 1.  A second cafe is also located within the new precinct. 

River Walk

Creating your own relaxation hub 

Ian Potter Lake

Friday, 5 August 2011

Wildlife encountered on tours

Australia has a range of unusual and interesting wildlife many of which we encounter whilst on tour.


One of the most popular is the koala as most tourists are keen to see these cute and cuddly marsupials.
On our tours we observe koalas in their natural environment whilst touring the Great Ocean Road or Great Otway National Park. Sometimes they will climb down out of the trees and wander across the road so care needs to be taken not to injure or kill these amazing animals.

A baby koala is known as a joey and when small is not so cute being hairless, blind and earless. When it is born it crawls into a pouch on its mother's belly and attaches itself to a teat where it feeds on milk for 6 months. During that time its fur, ears and eyes grow. Once outside the pouch the joey will stay close to the mother often riding on her back. Which is an amazing sight to see.

Koala with her joey on the Great Ocean Road

Koalas live in a particular type of gum tree that is also the source of their staple diet.  The eucalyptus leaves they eat are low in protein and are toxic to many creatures. Given this a koala lacks energy and can be virtually motionless for around 16 to 18 hours a day.

The long term future of the koala is threatened due to a number of factors including habitat loss and the impacts of urbanisation. Most Australians would be pretty devastated if we lost these amazing creatures.


The kangaroo is probably one of Australia's most recognised wildlife and is also another marsupial that's popular with tourists.  There are over 60 species of kanagroos and their close relatives which include wallabies, wallaroos, tree-kangaroos and forest wallabies. The larger red kanagroo is found in arid regions and the eastern and western grey Kangaroos are found in great numbers across much of southern part of Australia.

Like the koala a baby kangaroo is called a joey and when born they find their way to their mother's pouch and fasten onto a teat where it remains for about 6 months. The joey then pokes its head in and out for a couple of weeks until it feels safe enough to fully emerge. Over the next 2 months it will still spend some time in the pouch before it becomes self sufficient. 

Kanagroos are herbivorous and eat a range of plants. They use their strong back legs to hop along and their tail provides balance.  Its not true that they jump down the streets of our cities but they can be found close to residential areas in some parts of Australia.


The dingo is a free roaming wild dog found in Outback Australia. Dingo is a European adaption of a name used by Aboriginals in NSW with many other clans calling them by different names.

Dingoes are nocturnal creatures in warmer areas but can roam during the day in colder parts of Australia. They are often observed on their own but in reality live in a social environment with other dingoes.

Often maligned by many our experience is that as long as you take care when close to a dingo, don't offer it food and pack away all your food and belongings at night they pose minimal threat to humans.

This dingo was photographed whilst on tour in the Outback at Glen Helen Gorge.

We're also lucky on some tours to encounter a range of birdlife.

Boobook Owl

The Boobook Owl is a small brown owl found in Australia they hunt mainly in the evenings and early morning and are sometimes active overnight. This owl was captured whilst on tour in the Outback.

Superb fairy wren

The Superb fairy wren is a beautiful bird that is found in Australia. Like many birds the male has bright colouring whilst females are plain fawn.

Little penguins

The most popular spot for viewing the little penguins and the highlight of any visit to the Island is the iconic Penguin Parade. At the Penguin Parade you can watch the little penguins make their way across the beach heading towards their nesting areas after spending their day hunting in the ocean.

Penguin Parade
Tourism Victoria

Once upon a time, you could sit on the beach in the evening and the penguins would wander past quite close to you.  It was an amazing experience, but as crowds grew the need to protect the penguins and their habitat meant viewing platforms and walkways were constructed. Today there are a range of experiences that you can purchase including having a Park Ranger guide you to a private area to view the penguins on the beach (Ultimate Experience) or enjoying the penguins in the comfort of a Sky Box (VIP Experience) where you’ll also have fantastic views across the beach and help the Ranger count the penguins as they return for the night.

For more information see  Phillip Island's Nature Park for more information.

Come join us on a tour and you can experience this wildlife firsthand. Longhorn YOUnique Tours