Paperbark Nature Walk

On-site guided and self guided nature walks: Paperbark Walk

On your walks you might wonder at piles of leaves on the footpaths ! These are kicked there by our hard working Orange-footed Scrubfowl. If you hear loud gurgling and cackling, it is probably this rainforest bird. They use their powerful legs to scratch up huge mounds of leaf litter on the forest floor. They then lay their eggs inside the mounds. These are some of the biggest birds nests in the world, sometimes being 5 m in diameter and up to 2 metres high. They are not very popular with our gardeners as every night they kick leaves all over our paths, which have to be cleaned up the next day!

This walk starts at Reception. Walk towards the entrance. Look out for the small step in the slate floor. This is marked by a white stripe on the floor across the top of the step.

Just 3 metres from this step turn left down a narrow paved path. The path passes through a narrow gap between two Paperbark trees. They are also known as Ti Trees. An aromatic oil extracted from their leaves is a natural antiseptic and is used for medicinal purposes. We recommend that you pause here as there is a lot to see. Examine and feel the bark on these trees. These trees have amazingly thick bark, often more than 120mm thick. Aboriginal people have many uses for this bark. They use it to waterproof their shelters, rubbed between the palms of your hand it makes excellent tinder for lighting fires, food wrapped in this bark cooks slowly in an earth oven and because it is soft they even wrap their babies in it.

Notice that there are many epiphytes growing on these trees. At eye level on the right hand side you will see a Ribbon Fern right on the side of the tree. This is not a parasite, it only uses the tree bark as a support. It does not damage the Paperbark Tree, neither does it derive any nutrients from the tree's sap.

As you walk a few metres further on, you will see that the paved path goes onto a gravel path. You will notice a very large Paperbark Tree ahead of you. This tree could be 200 years old. Look to your left at the path between bungalows No 1 & 2. Here you will see spectacular examples of the beautiful Fan Palm(Licuala ramsayi), which is only found in the rainforests of Tropical Queensland.

From here face the swimming pool walk across the lawn towards the swimming pool and you will see a small palm that looks like a bottle. This little Bottle Palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) comes from the Mascarene Islands. It is interesting because it is now virtually extinct in the wild because many years ago sailors released goats onto the islands. The goats have eaten all the small palms.

Now walk down the gravel path past the large Paperbark Tree and follow the gravel path around to the left heading towards the beach. Notice the Travelers Trees (often referred to as Travelers Palms) on each side of the paved path to No 3. Look high up and you will see the large banana-like leaves. These Travelers Trees are originally from Madagascar; so called because they store water at the base of the stems.

Pause next to the No 4 sign on the left hand side of the path. Right next to this sign, close to the ground you will see a plant that looks like a palm. You will see that it has prickles on the lower stem. Whilst this looks like a palm, it is not. It is a Cycad. This is an ancient plant which has survived from the Jurassic period. Its ancestors would have been grazed by dinosaurs.

To protect itself from the activity of grazing dinosaurs, it has developed a powerful toxin. These primitive plants are very slow growing. Each plant is either a male or a female. The female cycads produce large clusters of nuts, about 25 mm in diameter with a very hard shell. These nuts are also highly toxic and very dangerous. If eaten without treatment, they will cause severe damage to the nervous system and can be fatal. So it might come as a surprise that cycad nuts were one of the main seasonal food sources for local Aboriginal people. However they could only eat them after very extensive treatment followed by leaching in running water for several days to eliminate the deadly toxins.

Walking towards the beach, a few metres further, you will see the path forks. Here on the right hand side you will see another palm-like plant. This is a Pandanus (there is a sign near its base). Aboriginals carefully noted where pandanus were growing and used it as a sign indicating subterranean water. Pandanus produces a pineapple-like fruit which is red in colour and very fibrous. It is not very palatable but nevertheless was eaten by Aboriginal people.

Looking towards the sea, you can see a fine stand of Coconut Palms. These individuals are upto 25 years old and can produce coconuts for about 90 years. They can reach heights of more than 30 metres and there can be 100 coconuts on each palm. Palms are very strong and are resistant to strong winds so they survive cyclones better than most other plants.

Every part of a coconut palm can be used. Pacific Islanders use coconuts to produce food, drink (including alcohol), oil, shelter (fronds woven for thatch), structures (trunk used as timber), and fuel for cooking. The seeds float and remain viable after several weeks immersion in sea water.

They can be transported by currents from one place to another. When undertaking long ocean voyages in canoes, islanders took a supply of coconuts. They will keep fresh without refrigeration for several months. All this makes the coconut one of the most useful plants to man in the tropics.

At this fork, walk down the path to the left. There is a small mound ahead of you, follow the path through the gap. Just 5 metres beyond this gap, you will see a small tree on the left, which has leaves with silvery undersides. This tree is called Red Ash and often called The Soap Tree.

The leaves when crushed in water can be used as a substitute for soap. Another 5 metres further on, again on the left hand side look at the base of a small tree where you will see another epiphytic fern common to the rainforests of this area. This magnificent specimen is a Basket Fern. High in the canopy of the rainforests, these Basket Ferns can grow to enormous sizes.

Their tissue can absorb a huge quantity of rainwater. Sometimes increasing their wight so much that large rainforest trees can become unstable.

Walk slowly towards the open thatched building near the beach. You pass between two large coconut palms. Pause briefly here and look up at the trunks. You will see a large number of epiphytic Elkhorn Ferns.

Now walk onto the paved area ahead of you between the two thatched buildings. If you look at the ground around here, you will see it is all beach sand which has been deposited in comparatively recent times. The trees here with pine-like needles are Beach Casuarinas. They also indicate that there is freshwater close to the surface.

With your back to the beach, you will see a sandy path on the right leading back towards the restaurant and pool area. Walk slowly 50 metres up this path, keeping an eye out for birds in this area. Just before the path becomes paved, look to your right at the magnificent cluster of Pritchardia Fan Palms. Their leaves are so huge, they can even be used as umbrellas during heavy rain!

This is the end of the Paperbark Nature Walk.

Please go through the gate back to the main building, or explore more of our gardens..

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