GLASS HOUSE MOUNTAINS, Queensland  |  The cackling from some kind of tropical bird just before dawn was so loud that I jumped up in bed. It sounded like a nightmare come to life.

But this state on the northeastern side of Australia is anything but a bad dream. It’s a huge paradise filled with so much biodiversity that you can’t believe your eyes.  

Two hours north of Brisbane by plane is the Daintree Rainforest, a protected park thought to be 130 million years old. It’s the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. There are more than 400 species of native mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and snakes. Trees and vines tower 200 feet in layers from the forest floor in this fragile ecosystem filled with more than 12,000 kinds of insects and 3,000 species of plants.  

Just miles away offshore is a slice of the Great Barrier Reef, which has bountiful corals, fish and loads of other marine life.  Off the coast of Port Douglas, we snorkeled and saw everything from Nemo fish — clownfish — darting in anemones to reef sharks, angelfish and green sea turtles. Waters in this northerly area of the reef, which stretches 1,400 miles, apparently are still warm enough to continue to sustain abundant marine life. But remember how huge the reef is. It has 133,000 square miles of coral, which would fill the state of Texas.  

The rainforest and reef are ecological sanctuaries. Both are world heritage sites. And both are threatened by climate change, with half of the reef’s corals bleached and killed in recent years. To see one of these natural wonders is thrilling. To enjoy both in two days was, as Australians say a lot, “awesome.”  

According to the Daintree Discovery Center, these two icons of biodiversity  “seem like separate realms but together they make one of Earth’s richest and most complex ecosystems. The well-being of one depends on the other. The rainforest acts as a giant natural water filter reducing ocean pollution while most air carried off the Coral Sea by trade winds is stopped by the mountains and converted to rain.”

It is humbling to see these natural wonders and daunting to realize how they are threatened. If there’s anything we’ve taken from this trip to Queensland, it’s that we need to nurture our Earth more and find ways to reduce impacts on the environment. We’ve also learned some other things:

Sister-state relationship. Queensland has about the same population as South Carolina. In the late 1990s, the two states joined in a sister-state partnership, but it seems to have fizzled over the years. That’s a shame because Queensland is booming with investment and the Palmetto State could learn a lot from the Sunshine State. There are new skyscrapers and tunnels in Brisbane, compared to what we saw 15 years ago in a visit, while the countryside has good roads and all mod cons (all modern conveniences).

Friendly folks. The people of Queensland are just as friendly as those in South Carolina. They, of course, sound different (think Crocodile Dundee) and use different words. What we call trash is called “rubbish” here. They have the car “boot,” while we have a trunk. They greet people with “G’day,” while our go-to distinguishing word is “y’all.”

Big place. It is a two-hour flight from Brisbane to Cairns — and we did not even get to the top of Queensland, which is 1.8 million square kilometers. That’s more than 22 times the size of South Carolina. Most people, however, live in towns along the coast. 

Traveling opens one’s eyes to the world. We hope you can visit somewhere new and get inspired with great ideas to make South Carolina better.

Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to:

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