Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The images that come to mind when thinking of Australia are as varied as the country itself. There’s the wide open outback, the glittering cities of Sydney and Melbourne on the southeast coast, the Gold Coast area just south of Brisbane, and of course, koalas and kangaroos. We had heard from friends who had been to Australia that kangaroos where everywhere, especially once you get out of the cities. Some had even talked about seeing roo road kill, and I had read where they are a real danger to drivers, especially at dusk and dawn, much like deer in the States. I had also heard and read that there were several sanctuaries where we could see koalas, and figured that was where we were most likely to see the adorable creatures that ewoks were clearly modeled after.
While in Melbourne, where we had good internet access for the most part, I found a cottage outside the coastal town of Lorne, which was offering a good post-holiday rate and separate bedrooms for Annie and I and the kids. The website for the Allenvale cottages featured a koala clinging to a tree branch, with eyes that begged you to fly Qantas airlines sometime soon. The picture didn’t show the koala lounging in a deck chair on the deck of one of the cottages, so it could have been a random eucalyptus tree, of which there are many in Australia. Still, I had hopes of spotting one during our four days there. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. I had just pulled our rental car (this time, a sporty-looking Holden Cruze, a model we had seen in New Zealand and hoped to rent in Australia) up to the side of our cottage and got out, and before getting anything out of the boot (a much more charming word than trunk don’t you think?), I looked eagerly up into the nearest eucalyptus tree, and there he was. Our own little one-koala welcoming committee.
After leaving Melbourne Saturday mid-day, we headed in the direction of Lorne, toward the Great Ocean Road. It’s a famous stretch of asphalt that hugs the Australian coastline for a few hundred kilometers. The cottage we had reserved was not available until Sunday night, so we needed a place to stay Saturday night, and thought we might be able to find a place along the way, possibly in the town of Anglesea. Being that it was the final weekend of the summer holiday in Australia, no rooms were to be had there, so we headed a half hour or so down the Great Ocean Road to Lorne. Luckily for us, the woman at the information center there who said they were also all booked up was wrong. We found a room big enough for us at the Lorne Hotel, and it was within easy walking distance of the beach. More magicality!
Knowing we would have a car for about a month, and that much of that month would be spent near beaches, we bought the kids some bargain boogie boards and they enthusiastically hit the water. They had a blast joining the hundreds of others in the water, learning how to work the waves to get the longest ride toward the beach. That fun continued the next day, a cloudless Sunday afternoon, a perfect beach day.
The sandy stretch was filled with people, many enjoying their final day of their summer vacation. Our cottage turned out to be available a couple of hours early, but Ben and Marley were having a blast and begged to stay at the beach, so we hung until almost three. Tossing our beach belongings back into the car, we drove up into the hills overlooking Lorne, and after a quick five-minute drive, we arrived at Kero Cottage and the greeting from the koala.
The koala in the tree just behind the cottage had our complete attention as we tried to get the best view of it. The interest was not mutual as it continued it’s afternoon snooze, leaning on a branch about thirty feet up. We unpacked and got settled in before heading back out to see what if anything the koala would do. After a few minutes, either out of hunger or being tired of the stares from the humans below, he/she slowly moved higher up the tree and started eating some eucalyptus leaves. Those leaves make up the entire diet of the koala, and the only time they drink water is if they don’t get enough out of the eucalyptus leaves. Our koala bellowed a bit, making a noise we didn’t expect from such a cuddly-looking creature. It’s much throatier and deeper than we thought it would be. Ben enjoys making what he calls dinosaur noises and he directed some of those toward the koala, who continued up the tree a bit with a few more bellows. We then silently agreed to co-exist, as he hunkered down on a branch with a belly full of eucalyptus, and we went back inside the cottage for some takeaway grilled chicken we had bought in town.
After dinner, we were getting ready to watch the Men’s finals from the Australian Open, with mi hombre Rafael Nadal taking on Novak Djokovic. Annie and the kids took a stroll down the road toward some horses that Ben and Marley had seen on a walk earlier in the day. Rafa and the Joker were about eight or nine games into the first set when Marley came running back down the path with breaking news: kangaroos! I followed her back to where there were about a dozen kangaroos munching on a pre-dusk meal. They are fascinating creatures, even when not hopping about. Their short front legs dangling as they lean forward to bite at some grass, then lean back up and look about, with their ears pointing up, making it seem as though they are about to ask a question. What a day! First the koala just outside our cottage, now a herd of roos a short walk away. We got a closer view of some kangaroos about the same time the next night. A path that trailed off the gravel road that led to our cottage followed a stream for a while, back tracking around the area where we saw the herd the night before. This time we spotted them across the stream through some trees. There weren’t as many as the night before, but here we were within about one hundred feet of them.
There were at least two females with joeys in their pouches. What an engineering marvel the kangaroo pouch is! When the mother leans forward to eat, the joey also gets the chance to much on some grasses as well. The roos seemed fairly interested in our interest in them, looking intently at us. Once they seemed satisfied that we were no threat, they would go back to their evening grazing, occasionally hopping from point to point.
It was great for the kids and for us to have this experience in a natural setting and not a zoo or sanctuary. Who knows, in three weeks or so when we leave Australia, seeing kangaroos and koalas might become comparable to seeing deer and squirrels back home, but for now, we were thrilled to see two iconic animals in their natural habitat. It was one of the main goals of the trip, one we weren’t sure would happen. Sometimes things work out better than you hope.