25 March 2020
Did I say I thought Australia might deliver the occasional kangaroo? How wrong could I be! From our first days in the country we were seeing strange and unusual beasts, some whose names were completely new to us, and had the kind of up close wildlife encounters that we never tired of.
Road signs made hopeful promises of sightings of koalas, wombats, platypus and Tasmanian devils but there was really only one species that delivered – on the road at least, the kangaroo.
We must have seen literally thousands of kangaroos and what shocked me from the outset was the number of dead ones we saw on the roads. Turns out those road signs were right to issue their warning.
Those of you who have been reading this blog from the start will know that to begin with I was keeping a kangaroo count at the bottom of each post. It started as a bit of joke, recording my astonishment at the sheer numbers of them but the numbers of dead just got a bit overwhelming and I had to stop. We were seeing about 50 dead to every 10 alive and I never got used to it, passing their bigger than human size bodies in the road, wishing they had learnt some road sense and wondering too how the vehicle that hit them fared.
So I turned to concentrate on the alive ones and had my first of many up close encounters at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The kangaroos there were so tame we could hand feed and stroke them. An incredible experience to be so up close with them.
But on the beach at Bribie Island I nearly learnt the hard way that not all kangaroos are quite as tame and very quickly learnt to keep a careful distance when trying to photograph them!
The campsite at Woody Head in the Bundjalung National Park will remain our favourite of kangaroo encounters. We were greeted at the entrance by a mother and joey and by afternoon their relatives were everywhere.
Come golden hour we were surrounded and I will never forget being able to sit amongst them, watching the tiny joeys emerge from their mothers’ pouches.
Equally my birthday outing to the kangaroo orphanage in Coober Pedy was pretty special. Seeing this skinny little joey happily bouncing in and out of his human’s pouch after his mum had been killed on the road was life affirming.
Along the way we saw lots of other bouncing marsupials too. To start with it was hard to tell the different between kangaroos and wallabies but we soon started to recognise the different species, especially the beautiful brown brush tailed rock wallabies. It was extra special to spot a pure white wallaby in the woods of Tasmania.
And Tasmania delivered yet more unique bouncy things in the smaller shape of the pademelon. I thought Stefan was making it up when he returned to the tent from a noctural trip to the bathroom and told me there were pademelons about. I had never heard of such a thing but we went on to see lots of them. They were everywhere, like more appealing giant rats, but sadly as roadkill tallies go second only to the kangaroo.
We saw none of the promised potoroos, though. No, we’d never heard of those either!
There was one better known marsupial, however, that we spent a great deal of time and effort trying to spot in the wild.
My trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary sparked a love of these fluffy (not) bears. They were just so endearing chilling out in their trees, if a little smelly close up. Leaving Brisbane, encouraged by the copious road signs, I was filled with hope of seeing koalas everywhere in the wild, just looking up in the tree and seeing them hanging out
but, no, it would be four months, a lot of fruitless walking around eucalypt forest and two very sore necks before we finally saw a koala outside a wildlife centre. I would tell Stefan that there was a good chance of seeing koalas somewhere, striding out purposefully in full koala hunt mode and he would roll his eyes and say “They don’t exist!“. It really did begin to feel like he was right.
We had pretty much given up hope by the time we started down the Great Ocean Road but then we had to go no further than step outside our caravan and there was one right there in the tree above us at the campsite in Cape Otway in Victoria! We didn’t care if this was the only koala we saw in the wild, we had seen one!
In the end we did have one more wild koala encounter. We had to take a ferry to Raymond Island in East Gippsland,Victoria and we had to look pretty hard because they are so well camouflagued but we saw another three pretty camera shy fellas.
Wombats were just as shy as koalas in the wild. We started our wild wombat search in South Australia in Beachport and the Coonawarra wine region. We earnestly tried and found lots of evidence of their diggings but no actual wombats.
We begun to think they were as mythical as the koala but finally got to see two wild ones at Wilson’s Promontory. I’m not sure exactly what I thought a wombat was going to look like but it wasn’t a giant, muscular guinea pig! How baby wombats in their pouches don’t just bump along the ground all the time remains a mystery to us.
It wasn’t just all these cuddly marsupials, there were also the carnivorous ones and the monotremes (the what??!) as well as all the sea and water creatures, the creepy crawlies and the evil bats but they will have to wait until next time…