Nature, culture and history
Crater Lakes National Park is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and supports a wide range of flora and fauna, with several endemic bird and mammal species.
- A pair of towering bull kauri pine trees Agathis microstaychia at Lake Barrine are a feature of the park. At over 45m tall and more than 6m in girth, bull kauris are the largest of Australia’s 38 conifer (pine) species. Bull kauris are restricted to a small geographic range on the Atherton Tableland between 600 and 1000m altitude in areas of high rainfall and deep loam clay soils.
- Most visitors will see the mound-building Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathamii along the roads in the park and in the day-use areas.
- In summer, male Victoria's riflebirds Ptiloris victoriae can sometimes be seen displaying on exposed perches, attempting to attract the brown-streaked females.
- Listen for the distinctive whip-crack call of eastern whipbirds Psophodes olivaceus and the harsh, mewing call of spotted catbirds Ailuroedus melanotis.
- Groups of chowchillas Orthonyx spaldingii are often found scratching noisily through the leaf litter. Their territorial songs carry for long distances.
- Lake Barrine’s aquatic environment is more favourable for waterbirds than Lake Eacham. Shallow edges with reeds, water lilies and fallen trees act as natural perches that attract a large and diverse waterbird fauna. Look at the lakeside for Pacific black ducks Anas superciliosa, wandering whistling-ducks Dendrocygna arcuata and little black cormorants Phalacrocorax sulcirostris.
- Amethystine pythons Morelia kinghorni, reputedly Australia's largest snake, inhabit the forest surrounding the lakes. Averaging 3m in length, but occasionally reaching around 5m, these magnificent reptiles are patterned brown and yellow with an iridescent sheen. Non-venomous, they hunt mammals and birds at night using heat-detecting organs in their jaws. When driving through the park at night during the warmer parts of the year, these pythons can occasionally be seen crossing the road.
- The venomous, red-bellied black snake Pseudechis porphyriacus is often found along the walking tracks and near water where they feed on aquatic animals and small reptiles. Do not approach these or any other snakes.
- Boyd's forest dragons Hypsilurus boydii have a habit of perching on small tree trunks, about one or two metres from the ground, to watch for passing insect prey. Although up to 45cm long and quite colourful, these lizards are surprisingly well camouflaged.
- Longfin eels Anguilla reinhardtii are commonly seen in Lake Barrine. These unusual looking fish spend up to 30 years in fresh water before migrating to the sea, via Toohey Creek and the Mulgrave River, to breed and die. Young eels spend 3 years in the ocean, near New Caledonia, before they swim upstream and travel across land in search of fresh water to repeat this cycle.
- Saw-shelled turtles Wollumbinia latisternum are commonly seen. They are mainly carnivores, feeding on a variety of foods from crustaceans and molluscs to tadpoles and frogs. They can appear very tame, paddling over to visitors when they appear. Do not feed the turtles, fish, eels, or waterbirds.
- On the forest floor, it is not unusual to see the smallest member of the macropod family, the musky rat-kangaroo Hypsiprymnodon moschatus. It is one of the few species of marsupials active during the day.
- Spectacled flying-foxes Pteropus conspicillatus are social animals that usually live in large colonies or camps and can be seen flying over the lakes near dusk and dawn.
- The cool, wet rainforest of Lake Eacham is well suited to frogs with three species of treefrog, the dainty green treefrog Litoria gracilenta, eastern dwarf treefrog Litoria fallax and orange thighed treefrog Litoria xanthomera, being found at Lake Eacham. These species are less likely to be heard at Lake Barrine, as even though the cool, wet rainforest of Lake Barrine is well suited to frogs, they are not abundant.
- Camouflaged in the leaf litter are mottled barred frogs Mixophyes coggeri and northern barred frogs Mixophyes schevilli. Flattening their bodies and lying very still, they’re nearly impossible to see.
- Male ornate nursery frogs Cophixalus ornatus ‘beep’ from perches up to 2m from the ground.
- A freshwater crocodile lives in Lake Eacham. Unlike estuarine crocodiles, freshwater crocodiles are considered timid and non life-threatening to humans. Very few incidents have been reported involving people.
- This crocodile may become aggressive and cause injury if disturbed.
- Do not approach or interfere with this animal.
- Take care if swimming.
- Report any sightings of the crocodile to the CrocWatch hotline on 1300 130 372.
Until the mid-1980s three types of native fish—the Lake Eacham rainbowfish Melanotaenia eachamensis, purple-spotted gudgeon Mogurnda sp. and flyspecked hardyhead Craterocephalus stercusmuscarum—had lived undisturbed in Lake Eacham for thousands of years. These fish grew to about 10cm long and shared the water with freshwater crayfish, platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus and saw-shelled turtles Wollumbinia latisternum.
In 1984 numbers of these fish began to decline and by 1987 the flyspecked hardyhead was the only native fish remaining. Gone too were the freshwater crayfish. At the same time, other species of fish began to appear, thoughtlessly introduced into the lake. Although these intruders—archerfish Toxotes chatareus, barred grunter Amniataba percoides, mouth almighty Glossamia aprion, eastern rainbowfish Melanotaenia splendida splendida, bony bream Nematalosa erebi and others—are native to Australia, they are not native to this lake and have out-competed Lake Eacham's ‘true locals’.
In 1989 an unsuccessful trial reintroduced 3000 Lake Eacham rainbowfish into Lake Eacham. None were found in surveys conducted six months later. Today, at least nine types of fish are found in Lake Eacham.
Although the lake’s true residents are available in captivity and breed readily, they could only survive in the lake if all of the introduced fish were first permanently removed—something impossible to achieve.
A lesson can be learned from the mistakes made at Lake Eacham. Animals belong in their own habitats where they make important contributions to the local ecosystem. When different animals are introduced, plants and animals in the area are affected.
Lake Barrine has not been immune to invasive pest species either, with tilapia being found in the lake. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service works with Fisheries Queensland, the Traditional Owners and Lake Barrine Teahouse and Cruises to monitor the tilapia population and its effect on the natural environment.
Geology and landform
The volcanic features of the landscape on this part of the Atherton Tableland are between 10,000 (Pleistocene) and two million (Pliocene) years old. Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine are maars— volcanic craters formed by two massive explosions from superheating of groundwater. These vents now form the catchment of the lakes and the water depth of both lakes is 65m deep. Some of the original underlying sedimentary rocks occur today as metamorphics outcropping in parts of the crater rim.
No streams flow into or out of Lake Eacham, with water only lost through seepage and evaporation. The water level can fluctuate 4m between wet and dry seasons.
Toohey Creek drains Lake Barrine, which means the water level of the lake remains fairly constant throughout the year, except during periods of severe inundation. The water from Toohey Creek feeds into the headwaters of the Mulgrave River.
Differences in soil type, drainage and past disturbances have a profound effect on vegetation type around Lake Eacham. Beside the road to the east lies a structurally ‘simple’ rainforest type that occurs commonly on less fertile soils, derived from metamorphics. These grey soils are distinct from red basaltic soils. Notably absent in this forest type are trees with large buttresses and great complexity of life forms. Here the trunks are more uniform in size, producing a ‘pole forest’ appearance, and are typically covered with white and grey lichens. This contrasts with the forest growing on the more fertile basaltic soils which occur around most of the crater. This complex forest has tree trunks of variable size, an uneven canopy, and epiphytic plants and vines at various heights. Fishbone ferns, characteristic of forest on metamorphic soils, are replaced by maidenhair ferns.
Early in the century, a large part of the forest to the east of the lake was cleared and used for a variety of farming. At the start of the track, travelling clockwise from the picnic area, a 5 acre (2 hectare) section was again cleared during the second World War. These previously cleared areas show a marked change in vegetation type, evidenced by a predominance of wattles in the canopy and a large number of young rainforest species in the understorey.
There are 10 known species of near threatened and threatened plants around Lake Eacham.
Lake Barrine is entirely complex forest (type 1b) except for a small granite intrusion that has resulted in a patch of related notophyll forest. The complex forest type is found on fertile basaltic soils and has tree trunks of variable size, an uneven canopy, and epiphytic plants and vines at all heights.
Crater Lakes National Park is within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450km between Cooktown and Townsville. Consisting of nearly 900,000ha, vegetation includes tropical rainforest, open eucalypt forest, wetlands and mangrove forests. The WTWHA meets all four natural criteria for World Heritage listing. These criteria recognise the area's exceptional natural beauty and the importance of its biological diversity and evolutionary history, including habitats for numerous threatened species. The WTWHA also has cultural significance for Aboriginal people who have traditional links with the area and its surrounds.
Find out more about the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Culture and history
The Traditional Owners ask that you take care and respect their country during your visit.
In 1888 the natural and recreational significance of the lake was recognised and it, along with a narrow band of shoreline vegetation, was proclaimed a scenic reserve. It wasn't until 1934 that Lake Barrine was gazetted as national park.
George and Margaret Curry pioneered tourist use of Lake Barrine in 1920, with George working as a ranger appointed by the Lakes Trust. The teahouse was built as a recreational hall in 1928 and converted to a guesthouse in 1935. During the second World War it was used by the Australian Army as a convalescent home. The Curry family has been running the teahouse and boat trips around the lake for more than 80 years.
The area was first surveyed in 1886 and subsequently subdivided into farm blocks for settlement. In 1888 the natural and recreational significance of the lake was recognised and the area of the lake and a narrow band of shoreline vegetation was proclaimed a scenic reserve. At different times during its history, Lake Eacham had a guesthouse, and power boating and water skiing were allowed on the lake. It wasn't until 1934 that Lake Eacham was gazetted a national park.
In October 1943 the Commonwealth of Australia cleared 5 acres (2 hectares) of the picnic area and developed an amenities centre for Australian Military Forces (AMF) personnel. While in this area, the AMF installed a new diving platform and jetty, and built toilets, changing sheds, picnic facilities, paths and steps. The dressing sheds and turtle viewing deck were also repaired. Concrete steps, toilets, changing sheds and a jetty were also built. The AMF used the area for 2 years.
- Upcoming works: Childrens walk, Lake Eacham, Crater Lakes National Park 5 June to 7 August 2023