One of the wonderful things about not planning things is the adventure you can have with unexpected new friends.
I was sharing a room in Kalbarri with a girl from Belgium, and having mentioned that I hadn’t planned my trip back to Perth, she suggested I join her, driving back as she was going back the same time. Perfect.
Myself, the Belgium girl and another guy from the hostel, loaded into her little hire car on Friday morning. Me with a sore head from a spontaneous drinking game the night before and also with a heavy heart – not quite ready to return to Perth and say goodbye to the residents of Kalbarri Backpackers.
We ambled our way down the highway towards Perth, stopping in various places of interest along the way, to maximise the opportunity of having the freedom of a car.
The first stop was Cervantes. A town with a Spanish name, and Spanish named streets. There is not much going on in Cervantes to be honest and for that reason we had the hostel to ourselves, bar the two resident cleaners from Taiwan. The hostel was spotless with plenty of homely touches – books, magazines, herbs and spices, toilettries.
What Cervantes is known for is its proximity to the Pinnacles Desert. This is an eerie place, which we visited at sunset, and if I were a more talented photographer, perhaps I could have captured better its science fiction-like atmosphere. Strange stones rise out of the desert making you feel as if you have walked onto a Star Wars set and you should be carrying a light saber!
Driving through yet another national park as we made our way down the coast, we stopped at Hangover Bay – wonderfully named place with a beautiful beach. I would LOVE to cure a hangover there!
Next stop was Lancelin – because my big brother told me to go there, so we dropped in for a photo op and a toilet stop.
Nearer to Perth, and the departure of our other passenger was Yanchep National Park – where koalas were sitting in trees, wallabies were nibbling the grass and Kookaburras were singing up above.
Temp: 25 C
I arrived at Bungalow Bay Koala Village and wondered why I hadn’t chosen this hostel. It had a very relaxed vibe, yet the organisation and trustworthiness of a YHA hostel. A-frame cabins dotten in around the trees and a chilled out decked bar/reception/pool area. It’s a little more pricey than Base but it’ll be on my list should I return there. This hostel also has its own wildlife (mini) sanctuary and although I don’t like paying for these things, I feel I got my money’s worth.
A small group of us (7) were lead around the little enclosures by an English ranger who clearly loved her job. She spoke confidently and answered questions gladly about all the animals she introduced to us. I came away feeling I had just had a really interesting biology lesson about Australian wildlife and also had some of my fears about snakes and other venomous creatures greatly reduced.
First was Barbie, a 6 year old Freshwater crocodile. I discovered that some crocs can live up to 180 years and can grow to over 5 metres long! Barbie had her mouth taped shut, which considering she has multiple layers of teeth, I was quite pleased about. They are instinctive animals, with no social skills and live territorially. They don’t get energy from food; they only need it to grow. With no sun, they are very lethargic and not really interested in eating. Maybe you know this, but I found it interesting. They only mate to reproduce and don’t form relationships with other crocodiles or need to have a social group (loners!) and can go for a long time without eating. They are also ambush hunters, which means, a crocodile will not see you and run after you on a river bank or beach. It is the crocs you can’t see that are the most dangerous, as they will leap some 3 metres out of the water to surprise the mammal they have chosen for dinner.
After Barbie was Shadow, a Lorikeet. This was a big, slightly grumpy bird, more interested in men than women, and proved this by puffing out his feathers each time he was sitting on a man’s arm. Not known for their intelligence, unlike Cockatoos; who can be quite cheeky and therefore unpredictable, Lorikeets are a safe bird to have as a pet. I was fascinated at the way Shadow took a seed from the ranger’s mouth: using his curiously shaped tongue to seize the seed and then his large, frightening beak to break the shell and eat the centre. It wasn’t a show; All of us who held him did the same trick, and seeing that huge hooked beak some towards my face made me a little apprehensive but shadow, delicately took the seed from me with his tongue and ate it.
Next; Captain, the cockatoo. Quite a cheeky bird, who speaks and pecks and performs little tricks, and did not like being put in his cage for the night. The birds are locked up night for their own safety, so night animals can’t harm them and so no one can steal them!
The huge wombat was next, called Harry. He was asleep in his log, but we managed to have a peek in as he was waking up from his all day nap. Their closes cousin is the koala, as they have the most similar traits; sleeping aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalll day.
The koalas were just delightful and it was the closest I had ever been to a Koala, so yes, I did pay an extra $14 dollars to hold one and have a photo with Noah, the 2 year old koala. This is the cheapest place to do it in Australia and apparently it’s Queensland law to pay for a photo with a koala. I hope my $14 dollars got the best quality eucalyptus leaves for little Noah. Christina showed us her little baby, very recently born and still in the pouch. Koalas carry their young for a total of 18 months, which I believe is one of the longest periods of time to “mother” their young. This is still not as long as the Spanish, who carry their young until about the age of 30…
Our second to last visit was the lizards and skinks. I held a skink called Sheila, who was one of the ugliest things Mother Nature has produced! They have a tail that looks like a head, appearing double-headed, as their only form of defence. Poor things.
Finally… the snakes. Yes, I held one. Yes I wanted to vomit. No it wasn’t poisonous, nor did it try to bite me, but it was an uncomfortable moment. I still fail to understand why anyone would chose to have this as a pet. Snakes have no feelings and cannot feel comfort and love for a mammal. The only they curl around you ( if they don’t want to squeeze the life out of you) is to get your warmth which is why their favourite place is your neck. Yuk. But at least I can say I have done it.
I was assured that if I am bitten by a venomous snake in the bush (one of my constant fears as the lethal Brown Snake is prominent in this area), I am unlikely to die as long as I can get to a hospital within 4 hours. I have worked out that this is possible, even if an ambulance makes the journey out to the station, I can also “buy” myself two hours by correctly immobilising the area. People in India and Africa die of snake bites fairly regularly because they simply don’t have the medical facilities to deal with it: Australia does. So, stamp your feet whenever you are bush walking and the snakes should slither away. Ok. Noted.
Almost forgot the parakeet feeding! These beautiful birds were just fascinating to watch and feed. Some soggy bread in my hands and a dozen birds swooped down onto me, scratching my arms with their tiny claws and pooing on my head, but making me laugh and smile incredibly. I took nearly a hundred photos of them, in my obsession and awe of them, and a video too, which I hope captures the noise and madness of the moment!
Life in the bush – 3 weeks in…
I have been here for almost three weeks, and already it feels like an eternity. Not in a bad way, it’s just that despite some fairly surprising elements to life here in the bush, it was relatively easy to slot in.
I now know to flush to loo before I use it, as the frogs tend to tuck themselves under the rim of the toilet, and slip out when it’s flushed. That saves me fishing them out when I’ve done what I needed to do…
I also now shake my hand towel before drying my hands or face after a lizard dropped out of its folds onto the floor the other day.
My washing machine seems to need to be asked to work about 4 times before it reluctantly shunts into gear and has a go at washing my clothes. It does a fairly good job and I have got over the fact that my clothes can never be worn more than once without washing because a dog has jumped up to say hello, I’ve done the burning or gone for a muddy walk. The burning is done everyday. All food scraps go to the chooks (who since I arrived have doubled their daily egg contribution to 10 and upwards every day!) and everything other than glass and metal is burnt. This bothered me at first, but then I wondered who was going to travel out here to collect rubbish or recycling.
My afternoon walks don’t seem to be accompanied by my two legged bushes anymore, but a group of my four-legged friends instead. The Chocolate Labradors are not working dogs, so always around the in the afternoon, and the pregnant Collie is on maternity leave from mustering duties (more about her later) so they have accompanied my on my afternoon stroll and we’ve become a good team. Maggie, Missy, Milo and Kelly came along with me once they smelled the sandwich in my bag.
Kelly, the pregnant Collie was due to be shot last week for being a lazy dog. Did you gasp? Yes, me too. But farm life is ruthless and animals cost money, so if they’re not pulling their weight, or perhaps in her case, pulling too much, they are done away with. We looked at her and M said “Oh, look at Kelly, that’s a puppy tummy! I’ll tell D not to shoot her.” I hadn’t realised she was due for extermination and helped plead her case. She seems to have taken a shine to me, and likewise I have to her. She visits me at least once a day for cuddles, maybe she notes my own motherhood desires…
My regular meetings with ‘roos are always fun. The other day on a solo walk I met a kangaroo and instead of bouncing away from me he bounced closer. We sat and looked at each other for what seemed like ages. He bounced to the left and right a few times, but didn’t seem scared. We just relaxed in each other’s presence. I kicked myself for not taking my camera but enjoyed taking a good look at this absolutely marvellous creature that I’d waited 7 months to meet and now see daily.
Bush life is not bad. Not bad at all. If fresh air, wildlife and isolation are what you want or need, I can’t think of a better place to be right now.
Emerald Airport: smaller than Bournemouth used to be. It had one check-in gate, one departure gate, one luggage belt and weirdly about 6 flights a day to and from Brisbane.
The “short drive” to Trelawney was over 3 hours and half of it was along a dirt track. We passed a few wallabies, kangaroo rats, echidnas and a great deal of cattle. “You don’t get car sick do you?” I was asked. “No,” I replied relieved, as this would be a horrendous journey if that were the case: 1 3/4 hrs drive mostly along a dirt track to the nearest town. I then got a nose bleed, which I tried to make out was no big deal, but wondered if I had burst a blood vessels on the rough terrain.
I arrived at the farm and was shown to my “room”. A shipping container. I thought she was joking when she told me on the way, but she wasn’t. I live in a metal box that has one window. It also has a kitchenette, fridge-freezer, table and chairs, tv and very uncomfortable bed. My “bathroom” is another outbuilding and I have camped in places that have more inviting washing facilities.
The toilet, I was warned, could be shared with a few frogs, as they seemed to like it, and sure enough the following day I peed on one! I will now always check the toilet bowl, because scooping a very pissed off frog out of the bog after I had flushed was not a fun way to start the day!
Day one on the farm and in the classroom I am assured was not a normal one. At about 9am a chopper arrived carrying passengers who had come to have detailed talks about the building of a railway that will cut through the farm land to assist the mining communities around here.
After “school”, I was taken for a bush walk by the two children. We did about a two hour round trip across the land, sadly camera-less rain was descending on departure. My two bare-footed “bushies” tramped along without a care in the world for Brown snakes or cow shit and found it funny when I repeatedly asked them if it was SAFE to step off the path. The first kangaroo I saw made me squeal with joy and the following regular appearances of wallabies where just as fun to spot. Camera will be taken next time without doubt.
Important facts learnt so far:
- I am 135km west, along a dirt track from the nearest town, which has an occupancy of about 800 people
- If it rains, we simply cannot go there, as the track is too dangerous
- There is such a creature as a Wallaroo: a cross between and roo and wallaby
- There are about 7000 cattle here, of about 4 breeds
- This is a cattle station, not a farm!
- There are 9 dogs, 3 cats and about 20 horses in residence
- It’s not very hot. At all.
- Brown Snakes and Red Back Spiders live here. Possibly the most deadly of both animal
- Nearest coast is about 600km
- Osicones are the knobs on top of a giraffes head
Dinner tonight was a prime cut of home-grown beef, which I know I would have paid a fortune for in Melbourne. This is going to be a fulfilling time in more ways than one!
7 Thais 1 Colombian and Me + chocolate + koalas + wallabies + little penguins = Philip Island
Of we set early one Sunday morning to Philip Island, which in my opinion is a bit of a con: you pay lots of money to see things that you would and should be able to see for free elsewhere.
Still, a silly hour playing games and enjoying chocolate at Panny’s chocolate factory was a good way to start followed by photos of geese and cattle on Churchill Island.
Next we went to the koala sanctuary and did the “koala woodland walk” which showed us plenty of mechanical Koalas. I was and am still somewhat convinced that the koalas were far too conveniently situated to have been real. I could have sworn the park ranger skipped along in front of just in time to switch on the koala…
Absolutely torrential rain came next as we made our way to the The Nobbies and Seal Rocks. The seals were nowhere to be seen, but instead at the end of the island once the rain clouds had rolled away, a rainbow arched across the sky and the most spectacular panoramic views out into the Bass Strait.
The final stop at Philip Island was the Little Penguin Parade. We huddled together as dusk fell, sitting on wet steps patiently waiting for the Little Penguins to emerge from the surf. They are the world’s smallest penguin and undeniably cute. Whilst we waited, instructions were given to us in English and then a variety of Asian languages informing us of the Little Penguins’ sensitivity to camera flashes, the importance of not making too much noise and that under no circumstances must we attempt to take one home. Shame. They were expected at 18:18 and were fashionably late, but when they waddled up the beach out of the surf, checking to see if they were still in their groups, there was a collective gasp at their cuteness. It was then very amusing to invent dialogues between them as they squawked and squeaked to each other whilst making their way to their burrows in the dunes.