By Guest Lecturer Dr. Ken Beattie, PhD

Australia, the amazing southern continent, has much more to offer than kangaroos, koalas and Uluru.  Australia’s land surface was part of a much larger land mass for most of its history – first as Pangaea, when all continents were amalgamated into one supercontinent, and then it was followed by the great southern continent, Gondwana.  The island continent didn’t occur until its separation about 45 million years ago. This massive movement over an extreme timeline birthed Terra Australis with its ever-changing populations of animals, plants and peoples. The Australian relic rainforests offer a unique glimpse at what this region of earth was like millions of years ago, before humankind was here.

Australian Relic Rain Forests

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Portions of Tasmania, along with scattered pockets of relic rainforest, still exist along the eastern regions of Queensland. These remnants tend to exist where 600 to 800 millimeters of rainfall occur as well as ideal weather conditions. The veritable museums of ancient plants are not to be missed if you enjoy history and, of course, plants. Much of the continent was cloaked in such greenery during the Early Tertiary period (65 to 2 million years ago).

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These precious relics are “closed forests” as they are functioning only as closed ecosystems – for a good reason, as human intervention over time along with climate changes, have diminished their scope. In North Queensland, the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics include Kuranda Rainforest and the Daintree – the oldest tropical rainforest on earth. Ports that give you access to these are Cairns and Cooktown. If you’re truly fortunate, your guide may point out the oldest living vascular plant on earth!

Australian Animal Ancestors

Australia is akin to an ark, transporting its Gondwanan heritage into the future. Animals, specifically marsupials, existed here over 100 million years ago. Today you will see their ancestors as wallabies, kangaroos, bandicoots, and platypuses (if you are very fortunate). Reptiles of all manner existed in abundance on the ancient continent and today you will see them as giant monitors and the fierce yet notable Komodo dragon of the Indonesian archipelago, considered a severed section of Australia.

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Open eyes and a curious sense of adventure are mandatory for any visit to Australia as it is an amazing and mysterious continent indeed. Some of our ports of call include Darwin in the Northern Territory, Cairns, Perth, Hobart, Brisbane and Sydney. There is little doubt that you will see all that you would like to, but for the regions that you explore, keep a keen eye open for the remnants of an ancient time. Our well-informed guides are always open to discussion and in general, very proud of the remarkable conservation efforts that are currently in place for these endangered relics of an ancient epoch.

I will return aboard MS Sirena to circumnavigate this incredible continent on the Southern Cross Sojourn from March 6th to April 9th 2017, and hope to see you on board!

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