The crazy thing about Australia is that its wildlife is all around you. Kangaroos are eating in the short grass near the bus. Wallabies are hopping from rock to rock while you hike. Emus are stalking through the tall grass at the park. Koalas, well, koalas are just sleeping away in eucalyptus trees.
After a 5 am wake up call at Riviera Backpackers YHA, we booked it to Raymond Island in the Gippsland Lakes to see wild koalas. We’d tried so hard the day before but just couldn’t manage to see any while driving on Barry Way. I think it’s an oxymoron to say “wild koalas” since they can hardly be compared to a wild tiger or bear. But that’s besides the point.
As we drove, Disco told us that we were guaranteed to see koalas today. If we couldn’t find any, he’d buy us all lunch. What a deal! Raymond Island is residential and not a wildlife preserve, but for more than 50 years it has served as a home to a growing population of koalas. Koalas were first introduced to the island to combat their declining numbers. Because the island is only accessible by a five-minute ferry ride, no predators can get their claws into the sleepy koalas.
The Raymond Island community felt like a quaint settlement of retirees. However, this might be because it was still early when we arrived and we only saw older people out walking. As a group, we strolled the streets with our neck craned backwards and our eyes heavenward trying to spot gray balls of fur among the leaves. We had to remember to keep our mouths closed though in case a koala (or bird) decided to find us first.
Within a few minutes, someone spotted our first koala and the group pounced on the tree like the hungry tourists we were. Nestling high atop the tree, the koala was asleep wedged between the branches. Talk about sleeping wrong and waking with a back ache!
As we walked deeper into the residential area, we found more and more koalas. Many of them were asleep, but we were lucky enough to find a few who were up and eating. None did anything acrobatic, like jump from one branch to another, but that was okay.
Waking up to a koala in your tree every morning must be amazing. Disco said that once a koala finds a tree it likes, it’ll never leave. It makes the tree its permanent home until it dies. If you remove it from the tree, it’ll somehow find its way back home.
Later we drove to Wilsons Promontory National Park to spot some wild kangaroos. On the short walk through the bush to an abandoned airfield, it was already clear that there were hundreds of kangaroos around. Their feces littered the ground, but luckily it was dry and they only feed on grass.
When we reached the air strip, a mob of kangaroos were literally 50 feet away from us. Amazing! They weren’t too scared of people and continued to munch on grass as we once again began the paparazzi action. The kangaroos were everywhere, but with 21 people it’s kind of hard to sneak up on them to get a great shot. Within five minutes, our group had scattered in various directions. Everyone did their best National Geographic photographer impersonation – walk and pause, walk and pause, snap a photo, pause. Further afield we saw a couple of emus, but they could never be as cute as the kangaroos. Sorry emus.
After an entertaining and relaxing day of animal spotting, we finished our tour with a long drive to Melbourne. The first leg of the tour was really amazing, and I was able to see and do so much in such a short time. I couldn’t wait to see what the next section – Melbourne to Adelaide – had to show me.
|Slide Album: Australian Wildlife|