Kalkajaka National Park (CYPAL) contains an imposing mountain range of black granite boulders. These formidable boulders, some the size of houses, stack precariously on one another—appearing to defy both gravity and logic.The wet tropics and drier savanna/woodland regions meet in this park, making it a refuge for wildlife. The extraordinary combination of flora and geomorphology provides a habitat for an unusual range of wildlife, including species that are endemic (entirely confined) to this boulder-jumbled mountain. Kalkajaka (meaning ‘place of spear’), is an important meeting place for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people and is the source of many Dreaming stories. The mountain is also a feature of local non-Aboriginal folklore.
Read more about the nature, culture and history of Kalkajaka National Park (CYPAL)
The name Kalkajaka literally means ‘the place of the spear’ and was the site of bloody battles between warring ancestral clans and the spirits of the Dreamtime. It’s been dubbed the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of Queensland, with stories dating from the late 1800s to 1930s of early explorers, horses and whole mobs of cattle disappearing into the labyrinth of rocks, never to be seen again.
There are many sites of cultural Significance on the mountain. These include Kambi, a large rock with a cave where flying-foxes are found; Julbanu, a big grey kangaroo-shaped rock looking toward Cooktown; and Birmba, a stone facing toward Helenvale where sulphur-crested cockatoos are seen. There are places that are taboo at the foot of the mountain range
Kalkajaka is known for making loud, explosive noises, which can happen without warning. “You can hear big cracks and explosions. That is the granite, it peels like an onion,” Mr Dear said. “The black colour, which is actually algae covering it, gets very hot and it expands and contracts with the heat of the night and day as well as with thunderstorms and rain and things like that. “So you get these rapid episodes of weathering and ‘pow’, the skin just falls off.”
The granite rock is actually a light grey colour and composed of mineral such as feldspar, mica and hornblende. Kalkajaka’s distinctive dark appearance is due to a film of microscopic blue-green algae growing on the exposed surfaces. Grey patches and boulder fractures indicate ongoing rock disintegration—a process accelerated dramatically when cold rain hits rock, sometimes with explosive results.
The topography of the mountain, with its boulders sitting on top of each other with large gaps in between, could make it a perilous place, Mr Dear said, and may have contributed to disappearances of unlucky explorers in years gone by. “Some of those boulders are actually balanced. You can leap on a boulder the size of a car, and occasionally you can actually feel that boulder move, it’s very unsettling,” he said. “There are big boulders in odd shapes sitting on top of each other. There is a lot of open space to fall down and keep falling, basically.” Adding to the mountain’s unusual features are three endemic species – a skink, gecko and bright yellow frog – found nowhere else in the world. Unique flora also appeared to flourish on Black Mountain…
Despite being a man of science, Mr Dear said he still believed there was something supernatural about Kalkajaka that could not be explained. “I still have a belief that it’s a very powerful place and I can see why some Indigenous people hold it in deep fear, and always in respect,” he said. “I sort of have a rule that I do not upset the mountain. There is something very karmic about that mountain. You need to keep on its good side.”
The blend of rainforest and open forest in the park supports rich birdlife. Overhead, look for black kites Milvus migrans flying leisurely with slow wing-beats and glides. Above the boulders look for near threatened (rare) Australian swiftlets Aerodramus terraereginae. When in dark caves and crevices these birds use echo-location, emitting sharp clicks and using the echo that bounces back to navigate. In flight they utter shrill cheeping and squealing notes. Australian swiftlets are endemic to Queensland.
Around the base of the mountain are a number of plants normally found in rainforest. Self-mulching ferns, umbrella trees and stinging trees have adapted to these very different conditions. Monsoon forest, technically known as semi-deciduous mesophyll vine forest, grows around the edges of the rock masses. This vegetation is a haven for animals that venture from or to the rocky shelter of the mountain.