Tag Archives: Australian Wildlife

Crocodile Adventures!

Day 21 of my Australia sojourn. I waited eagerly in the reception area of the resort to catch my 7am bus to the Daintree Rainforest. As I’ve mentioned, I’m sort of obsessed with plants.  I also love heat and humidity, so rainforests are my kind of environment.

A German couple sat on the couch opposite and we chit chatted about where we were going. Their bus came and went.  An Aussie couple I had made small talk with at the pool came out, said they were going on “a brekky reccy,” and left.  It was 7:15.  An English family of four came and we didn’t talk because their bus pulled up as if queued to their arrival and whisked them away.  I began to feel anxious.

Jim had said 7:00, right?  Maybe I had misunderstood.  Maybe he had said 7:30; it was just 7:30 now, and maybe the bus was late.  It was probably me—I had gotten too relaxed yesterday.

People came and went.  It was just past 8:00.  The Aussie couple returned and were surprised to see me.  Maybe I imagined it but I thought they looked at me pityingly.

Pangs of emotion welled up.  It wasn’t all the couples and families and no one else sitting by themselves waiting for a bus that never came.  It was not wanting to waste a day.  One day of leisure was enough for me.  I want to do and see everything.

Jim arrived to open the office and did a double take when he saw me.  It turned out there had been a mix-up on the tour company’s end, and he apologized.

“It’s not your fault,” I told him.  “What can I do, still today?”“All the tours are either full day or half day,” he said as he rifled through piles of brochures.  “It’s too late for the full day ones,” so the reef and the Daintree are out.”

“The two things I came all this way to see,” I replied glumly.

“There’s Hartley’s

Crocodile Adventures,” he suggested weakly.

I had seen ads for this place in the airport, on the street, and in brochures for other attractions. They certainly were good self-promoters.  I felt a surge of fear at the word ‘crocodile.’  Did I want to spend 5 hours in being surrounded by them?  The place sounded like a totally tacky tourist trap.

“Sign me up.”

Hartley’s turned out to be pretty fun.  There was much more wildlife than crocs.  Did you know Cassowaries are prehistoric Kung Fu fighters with giant claws with which they can disembowel you?  They’re actually very shy and avoid humans, but here’s video about how to survive a cassowary attack in case you decide to plunge into a jungle, locate one, and provoke it.

There was an interesting small exhibit about the break-up of Gondwana, the mega continent that had included almost all the continents.

And about first encounters with kangaroos.  People back in Britain thought the explorers’ tales and early depictions of roos were tall tales until someone managed to bring back a live specimen.

There was the obligatory croc boat ride, where a young blonde guy named Matt fed dead chicken parts to gigantic crocs and made dismemberment jokes.

Having worked up an appetite, I had a burger in the café.  It had beets in it; beets on burgers are an Australian thing.

I toured Hartley’s crocodile farm. I’m not sure to which end of the spectrum this sign was directed—animal rights activists or poachers.  Maybe both.

Our very earnest guide downloaded so much knowledge about breeding and raising crocs I felt confident I could start my own crocodile farm.

You could pose with a Koala for $$.  The poor things.

I bought yet more souvenirs in the gift shop.  All my unsuspecting friends’ and family members’ birthdays and holiday presents for the next year were now covered.

Which nativity scene would you have chosen—kangaroos or koalas?

I went to pay, the cashier asked for ID, and that was the moment I realized my passport was gone.  She let me pay anyway.  I said the only logical thing: “It must be in my room.”

But I knew it wasn’t.


We pulled up to Healesville Sanctuary at 11am, grabbed our rain gear from the boot, and ran for the entrance.  The line wasn’t bad, since it was raining. We were handed a map, which looked like a bowl of, well, spag bol.

So we ran headlong, following signs to the platypus show, and rocked up as an employee was securing a chain across the entrance.

“I’m sorry,” she said firmly, “but it’s 11:15.  You can stand here and watch.”  Really.  You give some people a bit of power and it goes to their heads.

Still, we were close enough to get the gist of it; a ranger stood in a tank playing with a frisky platypus named Milton, and after the “show” we were allowed in to take a closer look.  This was the best of my photos.

Did you know they are frisky as kittens? Did you also know they have a spur which can excrete venom that causes excruciating pain?

Milton sure looked like he was having fun.  The ranger had a devil of a time getting him to stop fooling around and get back into his pen.

You may be wondering, “what’s the difference between a sanctuary and a zoo?”  None, I don’t think, except branding.  I did some freelance grant writing for the Minnesota Zoo back in the 80s, and they were talking about it being a “living ark” back then.  That is, zoos/sanctuaries are the only place to breed endangered species until and if their habitat can be restored.

I’m sure they all struggle with conveying educational messages while allowing people to have fun.  And so there was the platypus show, a birds of prey show which was astounding, and all sorts of signage about not wasting water, etc.

At the end of the bird show they handed out refrigerator magnets about not using balloons at birthday parties.  One can only imagine what goes wrong when an eagle “captures” and eats a balloon.

It rained all day, but that meant we almost had the place to ourselves.

There were goannas and snakes.

And a building lighted with infrared, with every size and shape of hopping marsupial that lives in the Australian desert.

I have never claimed to be a great photographer, and they didn’t make it easy at Healesville.  I tried to just be in the moment.  When would I ever be back?

The bird area was a treat, at least for us humans.

I made a lot of—probably—annoying comments like, “Tasmanian Devils remind me of pigs!” and “I didn’t realize XXX were so small/big!”  But really I was delighted with everything; I really felt like a kid.

Did you know Tasmanian Devil’s ears turn red when they’re agitated?  I read that they make “spine-chilling screetches” but didn’t hear any that day. Goodness me—I just found a recording of the noise, and it is indeed frightening.

Milton was a hard act to follow, but as we left the Tasmanian Devils I gushed to no one, “Those are my favorites!”

Sadly, they are endangered by the highly contagious Devil Facial Tumor Disease.  This really is a case of separating out healthy individuals until a cure is found.

We had a late lunch in the nearly empty cafeteria while watching rangers play with echidnas.  That’s not a sentence you get to write every day.

I had really hoped to see a wombat, but only glanced the backside of one.

I felt sorry for the koalas until I read that doing nothing all day in a small space is their normal.

We sauntered through the kangaroo enclosure, then we slipped through a gate and there were the tree roos.  This really was my favorite.

After four hours on the road and five in the rain, it was time to leave for our friends’ house in Melbourne proper, which took an hour.  I was tired, but I managed to make conversation over a Thai takeaway before abruptly excusing myself and doing a face plant into bed.

Hoppers and Hunters and Kookas

The plan was to leave by 8am for Melbourne so we wouldn’t be driving in the dark.  However as things sometimes happen, we didn’t leave until 1:00pm so I had time to nose around the farm while Heidi and Danielle made sure Des and Hedy would be okay during the girls’ brief absence.

I ambled down the lane to the main road.  I gazed over the fields and thought, “This looks just like Minnesota.”

Except for the kangaroos.

I spotted this mother and her joey, and a couple other adults, and was entranced by the way they hopped.  It looks so inefficient and tiring.

Back in the house I reported my sightings to Hedy.  “They’re coming in closer and closer to towns and houses because of the drought,” she said.  “Last week I opened the blind on the kitchen door and there was a joey napping on the patio.  He looked up at me as if to say, ‘What are you looking at?’”

“There’s a Huntsman in the hall,” Danielle said casually, “If you want to see some proper Australian wildlife.”

Thankfully I am not afraid of spiders.

“Do you kill them?” I asked.

“Nah, we just let ‘em be,” replied Danielle.  “They’re good for hunting bugs, as their name implies.  That one’s been hanging around for a couple days.”

I walked around the house and noted the boxes of photo albums and strongboxes stored by the front door, ready to load into the car and spirit away in case of a bushfire.

“We keep the grass cut really short,” Heidi had told me.  “It’s not for appearances. It’s a fire deterrent.”

Scary stuff.  Australia routinely deals with deadly bushfires; the worst was the Black Saturday fire in 2009 that killed 173 people.  Two months after I returned home, we Americans would be watching in shock as the Camp Fire in northern California killed almost 90 people and nearly wiped the city of Paradise off the map.

As an aside, while reading up on fires I learned that the largest one in US history was in Cloquet, Minnesota in 1918—453 people died, 52,000 were injured or displaced, 38 communities were destroyed, and 250,000 acres were burned.

I admired the family photos on the baby grand piano, Hedy’s collection souvenir spoons from her travels, and shelves full of books.  I could easily spend a couple months here, curled up on the couch reading.

The only photo I took of the interior was one which illustrates an Australian oddity.  At least, it’s an oddity to Americans.

Yes, the toilet is in a separate room.  I don’t know what the thinking is behind this.  Entering this room removes any doubt about what activity you may be performing.  You are prevented  from running the water to cover up any awkward sound effects you may need to produce.  [And may I just insert here—Australian toilet paper is really thin.] Then, after you have finished, you have to exit the Toilet Room and into the Bath Room to wash your hands.

It ranks up (or down?) there with the Dutch toilet’s “viewing platform” and the English deep-bowl sound-enhancing toilet.

We made half a dozen stops on the way to Melbourne, but Facebook unhelpfully deleted almost all my photos.

Before exiting Blayneyshire, we cruised through the historic town of Carcour, population 200.  You will have to take my word for it; it was very picturesque.

We stopped at several botanical gardens, since I had clearly established a reputation as someone obsessed with flora.  And why wouldn’t I be?  Here’s another massive tree.

GPS was intermittent, so there were some false starts and turns.  We passed Mandurama, Wattamondara, Koorawatha, Wombat, and Wallendbeen.

We stopped at a park in Cootamundra so I could receive a tutorial in cricket.  Cootamundra is the hometown of Donald Bradman, Australia’s most beloved cricket captain, and the park featured busts of every captain since the dawn of time.

Suddenly I was startled to hear insane laughter coming from the trees.  “My God, what is that!?” I called to Heidi.  It took her a few seconds to realize what I was talking about.  “Oh that?  That’s just kookas.”  Kookaburras.  Here’s a sample from YouTube.

Next stop: Wagga Wagga and the Sandrakan Memorial.