The wetlands in North Queensland form a vital part of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem by acting as a filter for water flowing off the land and providing a nursery for fish. They are also a stopping off point for migratory birds from Siberia and are a haven for wetlands bird watching.
Despite their importance to the environment many of the wetland areas along the coast of NQ were compromised in the past by agricultural practices as well as urban and infrastructure development.
However, times are changing and local community groups are taking action to restore them to their former glory, which is bringing the birds (and fish) flocking back.
Nestled amongst 5,000 acres of grassland and open savanna woodland in the Atherton Tablelands, the Mareeba Wetlands is actually an artifically formed wetlands area but it has become a sanctuary for a variety of Australian wildlife and approximately 220 bird species.
The reserve has eight lagoons which all feed off each other, with water coming from Lake Tinaroo and the Barron River.
The main lagoon and the one most photographed at Mareeba Wetlands is Clancy’s Lagoon.
It was aptly named after Banjo Patterson’s well-known poem ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, as this lagoon’s water supply comes from an overflow of water from Lake Tinaroo.
Early morning or sunset are the best times to visit.
On our last visit we saw rare cotton pigmy geese, ibis, jabiru, pelicans, swans, cockatoos, magpie geese, ducks and even wallabies by the water at sunset.
The impressive Mareeba Wetlands Visitor’s Centre overlooks Clancy’s Lagoon, doubling as a café so you can enjoy a coffee as you admire the view.
Throughout the day there are also boat cruises on the lagoon and you can book a 4WD tour of the reserve to visit the other lagoons on the property.
And if you want to stay overnight so you can admire the wetlands as the sun comes up, there are a number of deluxe safari tents on the property as part of the Jabiru Safari Lodge Resort.
Located about 4 kms from Atherton, Hastie’s Swamp has a double storey bird hide making this spot a favourite with bird photographers. It dries out quite a bit after the dry season so the best time to visit is during or just after the wet season.
Only 15 minutes from the centre of Cairns, the Cattana Wetlands is an expansive 80 hectares of artificially formed habitat for birds and wildlife.
This land was once used for sugar cane farming by the Cattana family and then later for sand and gravel mining.
Today it has freshwater and saltwater lakes, rainforest with boardwalks, parkland with picnic areas and birdwatching viewing areas.
Cattana Wetlands attracts a wide variety of birdlife and as you wander around the wetlands, there are informative signs scattered throughout the reserve with pictures of the birds you can see with factual information on each of them.
You can very easily spend an hour or more here just wandering around the lakes, watching the birds in their natural surroundings and looking out for other wildlife like turtles, frogs, butterflies, scrub turkeys and lizards.
Close to Ingham, about an hour north of Townsville, Mungalla Station is owned by Nywaigi Traditional Owners.
Since taking over the ownership of the property the Traditional Owners have been very committed to restoring its wetlands.
There has already been a significant change since they removed a wall that was holding back the salt water. The invasive weeds are disappearing and the water is flowing again.
Mungalla offer tours to their property, which incorporate birdwatching with cultural activities for those interested in learning more about the history of Mungalla and the Nywaigi people.
The name says it all really doesn’t it? This is is a large natural wetland area that is home to saltwater crocs but there is a boardwalk for visitors. Look out for the sign off the Bruce Highway just north of Innisfail.
travel nq fast facts:
- Take care in natural wetland areas, besides being a magnet for birdlife, they are also home to saltwater crocs so stick to the walkways
- Take insect repellent