The rainforests in tropical Queensland are a nature wonderland. You only have to walk a couple of metres into the dense forest and you will be surrounded by sights and sounds that are distinctively unique. You will see huge palm trees and fern trees, mosses and grasses, ancient gum trees and paperbarks. You will hear birds, singing to you in thousands of voices, rustles of lizards big and small in the undergrowth, the playful trickle of water coming down from heights and cliffs.
You will see ants the size of your thumbnail and colourful bugs on the undersides of large leaves. You will see butterflies, hundreds of them, in all colours of the rainbow, each one of them vainly competing in brilliance and colourfulness.
Butterflies belong to tropical Queensland just like crocodiles, stingers and cassowaries. They are everywhere. In particular the bright blue Ulysses butterfly is striking and cannot be overlooked. When we recently glided above the rainforest canopy in a cableway from Cairns to Kuranda, it was the Ulysses that stood out with its blue iridescent colour. Like little elfish dots it would dance playfully among the trees, like a child skipping home after a long day at school.
As we wanted to learn more about Queensland’s butterflies, we visited the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda near Cairns. It is the largest butterfly aviary and exhibit in Australia, the best place to come really close to not just butterflies but also moths, caterpillars and of course the eggs. We couldn’t wait to see the display of 2,000 live butterflies with our own eyes!
And it didn’t took long to have our first butterfly encounters. The second we stepped through the doors and into the aviary we were surrounded but dozens, if not hundreds of butterflies. They seemed everywhere. On the plants, on the floor, on the fences, on people’s heads and on the tips of their fingers. There were nectar dishes set up to feed the butterflies, but really, you didn’t need to wait patiently next to one of these feeding stations, as the butterflies would just be all around you.
It was the perfect way to see the butterflies like this, as they were sitting on the leaves, fluttering around, and even mating before our very eyes!
Perfect also for taking photos. Even when you only have a smartphone, the butterflies would come so close, they could fill the whole frame easily. Tame as a pet they would sit on the tips of our fingers, making it really easy for wonderful shots of their colourful wings.
And here’s a tip: The easiest way to attract butterflies is by wearing flower colours on the day that you visit – think pink, yellow, orange. This should give you a great advantage if you want to befriend a butterfly or two while you are visiting the sanctuary.
It took us maybe 20 minutes to explore the full depth of the aviary and to spot all the different butterflies species that the team at the Butterfly Sanctuary is breeding themselves. How this is being done can be seen in the small annex that houses the breeding station and a laboratory of some sort.
In petri dishes we could see the eggs that the team had collected in the last couple of days. Now filled with the species’ preferred food these eggs would eventually turn into caterpillars, true eating machines whose sole existence was designed to eat as much food as possible in as little time as possible (lucky them!).
Once the caterpillars would have finished their eating spree they would turn into pupae, and after that a brand-new butterfly would emerged. Once the butterfly’s wings had dried they would be released into the aviary where the circle of life would start all over again.
A visit to the Butterfly Sanctuary is perfect if you are visiting as a family. To see the live butterflies in action is an amazing experience not just for the kids – it brings out the inner child in most adults, too. In the backroom we found the display of the different life cycles, could see minuscule details of the wings under the microscope and witness the work behind the scenes. A great way to show the kids the use and reason of existence of caterpillars. We discovered that some of the caterpillars were indeed real stunners, and the silk worms – while not native to Australia – were a pleasant surprise.
A family of four will be able to visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary at a discounted rate of just under $50.00 but if you want to combine it with another rainforest themed attraction in the area you should opt for a combo pass. We found Rainforestation to be a good addition to the experience, and you can easily visit both attractions on the same day while you are in the Kuranda area (but you don’t have to!). For more info on the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, please visit their official website: http://australianbutterflies.com/