Touring Queensland: My Family And Aussie Animals

On a tour of tropical Queensland, Isabel Lloyd's young sons learn to love stinging spiders, soaring eagles and rather large crocodiles

'Ohmigod- whatis- that?" I looked at where my husband was pointing, with a visibly trembling finger. There, apparently floating between the trunks of two trees, was a spider. A spider almost as large as my face.

"Umm, Big Tom?" I quavered. Big Tom barely looked up from the camp stove. "Nephila maculata," he said, over a khaki-clad shoulder. "Golden orb weaver. Strong web: local people use it as a net to catch fish. Bites, but not too hard. Little Tom?"

"It's cool, mum. Look, its legs have got red bits." And my 10-year-old son gave his wimpy mother a reassuring pat.

I couldn't complain. Half the reason for going camping half the way around the world was getting close to nature - even the bit that bites you. Since he was old enough to stagger, wordless and wildly gesticulating towards the nearest zoo, our younger son has been channelling the spirit of the late conservationist Gerald Durrell. If it wiggles, wriggles, or simply lies there breathing, Tom is compelled to rehouse it, usually in his bedroom.

So tropical northern Queensland, home to some of Earth's unlikeliest creatures, was Tom's Shangri-La. If we went there, sharing personal space with its most aesthetically challenged arthropods would be inevitable - but we wanted to encourage both our children to understand, value and protect the Anti- podean environment.

This is where Big Tom, aka Tom Warnes, came in. He runs Wilderness Challenge, a small tour operator that concentrates on introducing people to and educating them about the wildest parts of Australia's remote north-eastern corner. Other companies will drive you into the Daintree rainforest, or charge about in 4WDs up and down Cape York, but unlike many of these, Wilderness Challenge has the highest level of creditation from Eco Tourism Australia (ETA). This means it has met a truly enormous amount of environmental criteria: the application form runs to 174 pages. Wilderness Challenge's stock in trade is getting people in touch with the environment, and teaching them to respect it.

Our ecological education began as soon as we crossed the Great Dividing Range. Like many of his employees, Big Tom is a qualified Savannah Guide, which meant he was more than able to handle our barrage of questions on everything from the geology of Gondwana (me) to whether or not Captain Cook ate kangaroos (Tom). His knowledge was encyclopaedic, and he manoeuvred our two children into "ohmigod" moments as skillfully as he manoeuvred the trailer around potholes.

The first came as we drove into the eucalyptus forest of Lakefield National Park. Big Tom chucked a bird-spotter's guide into our older son's lap. "Look at page 103, Jack," he said. "Then look up at the sky."

"Ohmigod!"

Circling 50ft above was a bird of prey the size of a large dog, its cream and brown wing feathers sieving the sky. "A wedge-tailed eagle," said Big Tom. "Shall we see how many more birds we can spot this trip?" Jack's eyes glowed.

We found the croc after a breakfast of toast and cereal. He - or she - was having an early morning sunbathe on the opposite bank. Big Tom led us one by one, tiptoeing and silent, to a spot about 300 yards away, and handed us the binoculars. "Look Mum, it's a dinosaur," breathed our Tom.

"Big fella," agreed Big Tom. "Fifteen foot if he's an inch.

"Oh," said my son.

Big Tom raised an eyebrow at me. "He sounds disappointed," he whispered.

"Yes," I whispered back. "Fifteen foot? That's just a bit too big to fit in his bedroom."

Wilderness Challenge, PO Box 254, Cairns, Queensland 4870 (00 61 7 4035 4488; wilderness-challenge. com.au). A three-day private safari costs from A$1,250 (£500) per person. Isabel Lloyd's family offset the carbon cost of their flight to Australia by making a payment to The Carbon Neutral Company (020-7833 6000, carbonneutral.com)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week