Nature, culture and history
World heritage listing
Tully Gorge National Park is in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Proclaimed in 1988, the area is almost 900,000ha and extends for about 450km between Cooktown and Townsville. The area's vegetation includes tropical rainforest, open eucalypt forest, wetlands and mangrove forests. The area 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. It also has cultural significance to the Aboriginal people who have traditional links with the area and its surrounds.
For more information on the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, see the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Severe tropical Cyclone Yasi crossed the Queensland coast near Mission Beach around midnight on 2 February 2011. The parks and forests within the cyclone’s path suffered extensive damage with tree falls; loss of branches, epiphytes and vines; and leaf stripping of the canopy. Tropical cyclones are a natural part of the dynamics of the Wet Tropics landscape. These rainforests are ‘hyper-disturbed ecosystems’, with patches of damaged forest constantly recovering from previous cyclonic events. Rainforest plants are resilient and have evolved many strategies for recovering from the damage caused by high winds; and some species (pioneers) are ready to spring to life and fill the gaps created in the canopy. The rainforest is quick to recover from cyclones—changes can be seen day-by-day.
Gouging out the gorge
The Tully River has ‘captured’ the headwater of a number of waterways, including Davidson, Jarra and Banyan creeks, offering them a shorter downhill route. These new contributions have strengthened the Tully River, giving it the power to gouge into the escarpment. The river also follows a major north-west-trending fault system that cuts through the area. The more powerful river, combined with the fault system, has led to the formation of Tully Gorge.
Big basalt flows on the northern side of the river form large columns. On the southern side there are huge round boulders of decomposing granite. Rafting down the river is picturesque—the water flowing over the basalt columns like giant steps with dripping ferns.
The Tully River is 130km long and, from its source in the Cardwell Range, flows north for about 50km before turning eastward and finally discharging into the sea at Rockingham Bay.
Tully Gorge camping and day-use areas
Discover some of the beautiful Wet Tropics butterflies at Tully Gorge. Many species are seen here, including banded demons, blue triangles, narrow-winged awls, green-spotted triangles, tailed emperors, orange aeroplanes, bronze flats, orchard swallowtails and Ulysses butterflies.
Alligators Nest day-use area
This day-use area, at the junction of Boulder and Derra creeks, is surrounded by tropical rainforest. Look for the colourful foliage of the hard alder Pullea stutzerii. These trees are rarely seen without new leaf tips of brilliant red, changing to bronze. A variety of ferns grow in the understorey close to the creeks. Look for the distinctive black tree fern Cyathea rebeccae with its dark, glossy leaves and the weeping fronds of the potato fern Marattia oreades.
On the grass in the day-use area, flocks of red-browed finches Neochmia temporalis feed on seeds, ‘peeping’ quietly to each other. Macleay’s honeyeaters Xanthotis macleayanus search for blossoms and insects in the surrounding vegetation. Pacific bazas Aviceda subcristata soar overhead in shallow circles. These birds of prey perform spectacular tumbling displays before swooping to capture frogs and insects. Along the creeks, shy eastern water dragons Physignathus lesueurii lay on tree limbs, plopping into the water when disturbed.
The granite slopes of Mount Tyson are steep, with exposed rhyolite on the ridge crests. Rainforests of bull oak Cardwellia sublimis, rusty laurel Cryptocarya mackinnoniana, and brown silky oak Darlingia darlingia occur on the deeper soils of the lower slopes and valleys. Patches of woodlands containing black she-oak Allocasuarina littoralis and pink bloodwood Corymbia intermedia dominate the exposed ridges, with brush box Lophostemon confertus growing in thickets in areas of shallow soil. The vegetation becomes stunted and wind-sheared with elevation and includes heath species like grass trees Xanthorrhoea johnsonii, grasses Gahnia spp. and scrambling coral fern Dicranopteris linearis. At the summit of Mount Tyson, the colours of the vegetation are stunning. Huge boulders are covered with beautiful white, orange and lime-green lichens and are surrounded by yellow flowering northern banksia Banksia aquilonia and red barked Eucalyptus pelita.
Hydro-electricity on the Tully River
After World War II the electricity needs of North Queensland increased and the Tully River was selected to provide hydro-electric power. In the 1950s, Koombooloomba Dam was constructed, followed by the construction of two separate hydro-electric power stations.
Water is captured from the dam and released back into the river through the 7.3 megawatt (MW) Koombooloomba hydro-electric station. From here the water flows approximately 13km to the Tully Falls Weir, just above the Tully Falls. The water is then diverted down the range, via a concrete intake structure, and into the 88MW Kareeya hydro-electric station located about 2km below the falls and about 50km north-west of Tully.
Scheduled water releases from the dam support commercial white-water rafting in the Tully River.
The Jirrbal people are the Traditional Owners of the western sections of Tully Gorge National Park. Their dry forest and rainforest country extends from Herberton in the north, west to Ravenshoe, east to Evelyn Central and south to Davidson Creek at the bottom of Tully Gorge.
The Gulngay people are the Traditional Owners of the eastern sections of the park. Their country extends from the coast, up the Tully River in the west, across the Murray River in the south and up to and including the Walter Hill Range in the north. These Traditional Owners have an intimate knowledge of traditional country and close kin affiliations with neighbouring groups. They maintain traditional links with their country and are involved in its management and protection.
The Nganyaji Interpretive Centre in Ravenshoe showcases the Jirrbal's traditional lifestyle, their rainforest base-camp villages, hunting and gathering practices, food processing, rainforest cuisine, community life and contact history.
The Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre in Cardwell represents artists from nine Traditional Owner groups, including the Gulngay people. The stories and environments of their ancient culture have been transformed into visual images and designs and show a continuing close connection to place.