Well, it’s a new year folks – welcome to 2014! And with that comes the realisation that we’ve been a bit lax in keeping you posted on our adventures down under over the past year. In truth, this is partly due to the fact that we now actually “live” here; so, our days are taken up with more work around the garden (and at the office) and with fewer excursions. That said, life is always an adventure, so we’ll do our best to write a little more in 2014. What? That’s sounding very much like a resolution… and we know how those turn out, typically. Ah well, we’ll give it a go.
Let’s start with our latest adventure, where we spent the last day of December 2013 on a koala hunt! No, this did not involve any guns or camo; we were armed only with our cameras, sunblock and bug spray, as we traveled to a Koala Reserve not too far away from home to see if we could catch our first glimpse of a koala in the wild. This wasn’t our first attempt at viewing the koalas at Narrandera; we tried – unsuccessfully – a year or so ago, but the flooded areas of the reserve meant that there were no koalas to be seen. And despite our desire to join the annual koala counts at the reserve, these were cancelled the first two years we were here (again, due to flood conditions) and then held in 2013 while we were back in Canada (sigh!). However, after hearing some stories from friends of their successful koala spotting recently (thanks Joy and Denise!), we decided to hit the road to see if we could get lucky. We packed a picnic lunch and jumped in the car, along with one of Lisa’s PhD students and a friend/colleague visiting from the US. What better way to spend part of New Year’s Eve day?
Now, before we continue this tale, there are some key facts that we need to share with you about koalas. First, they are NOT koala “bears.” Despite the common use of this term (yes, even Paul McCartney got it wrong in his little ode to koalas) these animals are not bears. They are not related to bears, they don’t look like bears, and they won’t kill you like a bear will (well, they may kill you… but not in the same way that real bears kill you). They do hang in trees, but they don’t drop from the trees on unsuspecting tourists.
Second, koalas are a “vulnerable” species (although some say they should now be classed as critically endangered). Their habitat is shrinking and they do fall victim to bushfires, dog attacks and cars. Koalas spend most of the day (18-20 hours) sleeping in one of their favourite types of trees, the River Red Gum; this tree (and a few other select eucalypts) serves as their only source of nutrition. They also get 90% of their water from the leaves of this tree, rather than from drinking water directly, which explains why they are named after an ancient Aboriginal word meaning “no water.” Koala habitats are quite limited, so finding these animals in the wild is a bit of a challenge – especially around Wagga.
Once in Narrandera, our spirits were high; Joy and Denise had reported seeing a few koalas within only a 10-minute walk of the car park. Our first stop was the info booth in town to get directions to the reserve entrance. Now, you have to love a small town. Dan asked at the desk and was told to “drive down this way and then turn left at the police station.” Seemed simple enough, but after passing a couple of cop cars setting up for a breathalyser check stop (it was New Year’s Eve, after all) – not once, but three times! – we found the turn-off and were on our way. Note to others, in future – the police station is in an old, historic building, without a sign. The locals may know where it is, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it. Be sure to ask for a map and have all passengers listen to the instructions so that you don’t miss the turn you need!
Once at the reserve, Dan spotted our first koala sleeping (what else?) in a tree, after only a 10-15 minute walk along the track. We walked along the river, on a raised track, which gave us a perfect view of this sleepy little koala perched mid-way up the tree. After several photos we realised that someone had actually scratched a big arrow on the track pointing to the exact spot of the koala. Not sure if it had been there for hours, days or weeks – but it’s clear that they they don’t move around too much!
Our second koala was further down the track; Lisa spotted this one, with a view only from the back. We all scrambled down the hill to get the perfect picks from the other side of the tree, braving mosquitoes the size of small birds to do so – but it was worth it. This koala moved and posed a bit for us and gave us a wonderful view of this special animal, from only a few feet away. After several minutes watching him sleep and reposition himself on his chosen branch, we decided to call it a day and head to town for a celebratory picnic in the park.
To be able to see these remarkable creatures in the wild – with only a few feet separating us – was the perfect way to end one year and look ahead to the next. We’re really pleased to see that there are koala signs popping up in other areas between our home and Melbourne, so we’re hopeful for the koala population in NSW and VIC. Here’s hoping for more koala spotting – and other fun adventures – in the new year.