Living in a Marsupial World
 
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From Mossman Gorge, the four of us made our way back to Cairns on some beautiful coastal roads, then on through the Atherton Tablelands once more. After showing off the Curtain & Cathedral Fig trees to Dev and Em, we headed southwest to Undara National Park for our first glimpse of Outback Queensland. I'm sure many Aussies would argue that Undara is not "true" Outback, since you don't have to ford any rivers or scale entire boulders with your turbo diesel Landcruiser to get there, but the scenery and wildlife were still incredible to see. 

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The camping area for Undara is located in a vast forest, surprisingly thriving in a dry, dusty desert landscape. Though the park is most famous for its underground lava tubes, we were not willing to pay the $45 price for a short tour, but were content to enjoy the beautiful scenery and bush walks around the park.  Itching for a good hike, we created our own trekking itinerary from the handful of relatively short, interconnected trails. For the most part, we found ourselves blissfully alone out on the trail, which allowed us to have some of our first real encounters with wildlife out in the bush. The first was a small wallaby some distance from us in the tall grass, quickly followed by a single, very large, male kangaroo who seemed to have little interest in us, so much so that Ben was able to sneak fairly close to get some amazing photographs National Geographic style!

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We were really excited about the kangaroo, but we were blown away shortly after when we entered the nearby wetlands to find a field teeming with kangaroos. There must have been close to a hundred within eyesight and most payed us no mind. There were kangaroos of every color, joeys, adults, and one particularly crusty looking fellow who, for several minutes, stood up and vigorously scratched his side like a crotchety man in a kangaroo suit. Stuff of gold. If only we had gotten it on video. 


As we were observing the roos, we were lucky enough to spot a wild dingo running across a plateau behind the field. Unfortunately he was out of range for photos, but it was an amazing scene to witness in the wild. Another thing that struck us was how peacefully quiet we found the scene. The kangaroos seemed entirely at ease, munching on grass and laying about, as if they were having one big family picnic.

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Old man kangaroo scratches himself on left...
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Earlier in the day we had purchased a meat pack from the main office and, after listening in on a session of poetry around a communal bonfire, we set up our own pyrotechnics for some caveman-style feasting under the desert stars. While Ben worked his grill magic on steaks, bangers, and some lamb (jumbuck) chops, I marveled at the full scale planetarium above us and spotted no less than 7 shooting stars and 3 satellites. Pure awesomeness. The meat was of course beyond delicious and the only element of our bush meal that night. Hooray for carnivores. 

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That evening was also our first (but not last) encounter with yet another member of the kangaroo family - smaller than a wallaby but larger than a kangaroo rat - the Rufus Bettong! Potentially one of the cutest bush animals ever, one of these little guys hopped happily into our camp late that night and was completely oblivious to our existence, so much so that he practically jumped over our feet and into our laps while looking for food. We had no idea what this animal was called on this first sighting, so we gladly named him Alfonso or The Fonz for short. He visited us several times that night, much to our delight. 

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