Bartle Frere, Aus. 2012


     In Mid-November of 2012, Becky (my wife) explored and trekked the Mount Bartle Frere area in Queensland, Australia.

Queensland area map 2012

     Northern Australia’s highest mountain, Bartle Frere, is set amid the rugged, wet, and humid wilderness of the Bellenden Ker range in Queensland’s Wooroonooran National Park.  Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker dominate the landscape, and when not cloaded in mist and cloud, the summit of Bartle Frere offers the chance to view the coastal lowlands and the Atherton Tableland.

Becky is standing in front of the Josephine Falls near Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia 2012

     However, this wilderness area, (and its associated Josephine Falls, Ellinjaa Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, and Tchupala Falls), are subject to extremes of cold, wind, rainfall, and leeches, and swimmers have died in the turbulent waters of these falls. 

     Pictured above, the Josephine Falls are situated at the foot of the southern face of Mount Bartle Frere in the Wooroonooran National Park. They descend from the Atherton Tableland at an elevation of 192 m  above sea level in the range of 150–300 m near a popular recreation site as the water flows over a large rock to form a natural waterslide on Josephine Creek, a tributary of the Russell River.  We found a great number of swimmers there. 

Becky is standing in front of the Tchupala Falls near Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia 2012

     Pictured above, the Tchupala Falls are situated in the Palmerston section of Wooroonooran National Park, descending also from the Atherton Tableland.  A walking track was accessible via the Palmerston Highway and  lead us to  approximately 600 m from the track-head to the Falls.

I’m standing in front of the Ellinjaa Falls near Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia 2012

     The Ellinjaa Falls is a ledge waterfall that is located on Ellinjaa Creek, on the Atherton Tableland.  We gained access to the base of the falls via a walking track leading from the picnic area and carpark on Theresa Creek Road.

Becky is standing in front of the Millaa Millaa Falls near Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia 2012

     Pictured above, the Millaa Millaa Falls are approximately 18.3 m in height and are formed from volcanic basalt which has weathered to create distinctive vertical striations (pipe formations) in the surface of the rock and which gives the falls its pleasing textural backdrop. There is a large pool below the falls that is surrounded by rainforest, except for a grassed viewing area facing the falls and a concrete block pad on the waters edge.

Millaa Millaa volcanic pipes in the back wall behind the falls. Image is taken from a sign at the site and is public domain.

     The Tablelands are the result of several periods of volcanic activity.  The most recent major eruptions were between 4 and 1 million years ago.  Lava flowed out from at least six shield volcanoes in the southern Tablelands.   The basalts that form the Falls come from the Millaa Millaa shield volcano, which is believed to have erupted approximately 1-1.5 million years ago.   As the lava spewed out, it flowed down filling ancient valleys.  Later weathering changed the black basalt to red soils, and erosion removed the crater (pictured below) and cut gullies into the mass of lava.  The wall of the Millaa Millaa Falls is formed by upstream erosion of Teresa Creek, which has removed much of the basalt in this location.  As the lava surface cooled it contracted and cracked, much like mud cracks form as mud dries out.  These cracks propagated down through the basalt flow as it cooled, producing the basalt columns, which can be seen in the rock wall behing the falls. 

The Crater found near Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia 2012.

     The Crater is the result of an explosion pipe or diatreme with no eruptive material.  In depth: The Crater is not a vertical cylinder but a submerged passage.  It turns under us, 80m below the water level.  The water’s surface is covered with a thick layer of duckweed. Underneath live perch-like fish and small crustaceans.  Deep silt and tree litter cover the cave floor.  Further exploration may reveal the Crater’s extent and facets of a unique habitat.

The Crater evolution/x-section.  Image is taken from a sign at the site and is public domain.

       To the local Noongyanbudda Ngadjon people,  Mount Bartle Frere is known as “Chooreechillum,” their spiritual home.  This jungle area was once so remote and impenetrable that it was only in 1886, and with Aboriginal aid, that a European first climbed the summit.  The rainforest is considered to be closest to the humid tropical lowland forests of Southeast Asia.  Vine fern forest and thickets occur on the slopes and summits of the high peaks.  The canopy is low and dense and shows the streamlining effects of ongoing strong winds.  Pictured below, I’m standing in front of a “Curtain Fig Tree” found in the tropical forests.

Curtain Fig Tree, found near Mount Bartle Frere on the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia 2012

       Pictured above, the “Curtain Fig Tree” is of the strangler fig species Ficus virens. Normally these figs germinate on top of another tree and try to grow roots into the ground. Once this important step is accomplished, the fig will grow vigorously, finally kill the hosting tree and then grow on independently. In this case, the hosting tree tilted towards a neighboring tree, and the fig also grew around that one. Its curtain of aerial roots drops 15 m to the ground.

The Curtain Fig Tree evolution. Image is taken from a sign at the site and is public domain.

     Although these figs kill their hosts, they are an epiphyte which basically feeds from the ground, unlike a parasitic plant which feeds from the sap of the host plant/tree.  Giant strangler figs such as the Curtain Fig Tree are considered to be wonders (or even freaks) of nature.

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