Today we are in Melbourne, our only other mainland Australian port, and I couldn’t visit this country without my koala and kangaroo fix. It was a hot day for a walkabout with temperatures reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Boris and I were scheduled for the afternoon departure, but we wanted to get back so we could go into the city late afternoon. The Land Discoveries director told us to go ahead and come down at the time for the morning departure and see if anyone didn’t show up. There were no “no-shows”, but she asked if they could fit us in anyway. We made it. Another good reason for the morning departure was that we were pretty sure that the animals would not be active in the afternoon heat.
We had an amazing guide Scott Roberts who is with Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours, a group dedicated to animal and habitat preservation. Guiding is only half of what he does. A researcher with Scott’s organization has “discovered” and educated about a new way to identify individual koalas by the unique markings inside the koala’s nose.
We were picked up at the pier by coach and driven to the You Yangs Mountain Range (more like tall hills) for the first stop at the You Yangs Regional Park part of Victoria Parks, the state park system. (Sydney is in the state of New South Wales; Melbourne is in the state of Victoria.)
Only one hour outside the city of Melbourne and we were in the bush. The grasslands were flat and dry, although we did see sheep and horses in the fields. There was even a miniature horse farm just before we arrived at the reserve. The eucalyptus trees are everywhere, even along the roadways leading out of Port Melbourne where we are docked. There are 700 species of gum (also known as eucalyptus) trees; koalas will eat 100 of these species.
The bus pulled into the parking lot of the regional park and we were told where the restrooms were and our meeting spot. Before we got out of the bus, we looked over and there was a koala climbing first down and then up a tree. Anytime I have seen koalas they have been sleeping or repositioning themselves to sleep again. It was really exciting. Since we had to go to the area as a group, everyone made the rest stop and then collected.
Unfortunately, by the time we were all together again, Donna (the koala) had decided it was too hot in the tree and was resting in the bushes on the ground. It made it particularly hard to see her. We then walked over to see Pat, a older female who was asleep in a tree that was better shaded.
Although we waited quite a while, neither koala made much of a move so we boarded the bus to tour the park. It was a particularly nice setting near the mountains. We thought our koala sightings were over when one of the passengers spotted Cruz up in a tree. We got the bus driver to back up (not particularly easy) and we got a good look at Cruz, a male koala. The higher seating in the bus actually gave us a better vantage point. At one point Cruz did look up and check out our guide on the ground, but then went back to sleep.
It is actually the peak of mating season for the koalas. The males have a distinctive snore and the louder the snore the more attractive the koala. Boris would do very well with female koalas. A male koala is easily identified by the large sweat gland on his chest. The scent is used to attract the females.
I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get the climbing shot of Donna with my camera, but was very pleased with the pictures of Cruz. It is always a superior experience to see animals in their natural habitat although there is no way to predict how much you will actually get to see or capture on film/disk.
After leaving the Regional Park, we made a 10-minute drive over to Serendip Sanctuary. First stop was for the toilets and then Morning Tea-coffee, hot tea, or cold water served alongside sweets. In this picnic area I found trees filled with large cockatoos. I was fun watching them in flight and grabbing some pictures.
Next we walked as a group into the bush in search of kangaroos. This particular reserve was started in the late 50s on an old sheep farm so some of the tree plantings are new and in rows giving us a greater opportunity to see these unique animals. In cooler weather, the kangaroos will be out in the middle of the grasslands, but in this heat they seek the shade of the trees. (While the smaller wallaby is always found in the forest.)
As we learned from Scott, you do not walk directly at the kangaroo (unless you want to scare it off) but approach from an angle. If we stayed together as a group and kept our distance, they might let us stay and watch. Scott gave us very specific instructions and then had to stop and give them again as soon people would try to wander on their own, separating the group and scaring away the kangaroos.
We were rewarded seeing them at rest, hopping through the reserve, and just staying in the shade as the temperature reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are 4 species of kangaroos and we saw the Eastern Grays. To the north the kangaroos are smaller and lighter in color due to environmental reasons. The male eastern gray kangaroo can reach 6 ½ feet tall and weigh 200 lbs.
The reserve generally does not tag the kangaroos, except those used in specific behavioral research. A few of the kangaroos we saw (but not all) were tagged. Making our way around the droppings that Scott had used to pinpoint where the kangaroos were, we made our way back to the bus.
Our final stop was a billabong. I have heard the word many times in rhymes, songs, and even as a name of a clothing company, but I didn’t really know what it meant. “Billa” is the Aboriginal word for water. A billabong is the area of the river that has been isolated when the river diverges or part dries up. The billabong is used as a watering hole. I learned part of the meaning from Scott and the rest from Robin, an Australian guest on our cruise.
Magpie geese dominated this particular billabong. You couldn’t miss the honking. Scott said that when he started working at the reserve there was water on both sides of the bridge. One side was completely dry on our visit. He said it would take two or three years worth of rains to fill it back up.
Scott had told us about the many birds we would see, but I didn’t spot as many varieties as I thought I would. However, just on the way back we saw a Galah, a beautiful bird Scott had told us about on the way out of Port Melbourne. He said its coloring was like Neapolitan ice cream with white, pink, and brown stripes; it was an apt description.
On the way back into town, Scott passed around a children’s book written by an aboriginal member of the research staff who is a descendant of the Wamba Wamba tribe. She used it as a tool to describe the animal’s behavior but also to educate on the dangers that the koala faces, primarily loss of habitat. There are no more than 80,000 and maybe as few as 43,000 koalas in Australia today. I bought a copy of the book because it was well done, but mostly because 100 % of the proceeds benefit their preservation efforts.
Once back at the ship we found out the trams into town were not working (some said it was probably due to a strike, others said a bridge was out) and buses were nowhere in sight. After a late lunch and with the temperature at 107, Boris said no to the $40 cab ride to town. I was going to go for it, until I saw that where were no cabs around. They probably decided anyone that wanted to go had done so or were working the area around the Australian Open that started that day.
I was bummed to not see Melbourne, but instead I downloaded my pictures of Donna, Pat, Cruz, and the roos. Besides, I need another excuse to come back here to visit Melbourne and see the blue penguins on Phillip Island (the #1 referral on an attraction in this area). Natasha is off to Tasmania next.