Our friends the animals (part II, Australia)

A week after my first article dedicated to our friends the animals, here is the second one focused on the extraordinary fauna of Australia. Of course, there are koalas and kangaroos, but not only… Have a look for yourselves!

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At the beginning

I landed in Australia on the 29th of June 2016, at around 8.30am. It wasn’t 9am yet when I met my first endemic species, directly on the parking lot of the Gold Coast airport in Queensland: a couple of white ibises. I wasn’t aware at that moment that many Australians called them “bin chicken” as they often feed on leftovers, and I was very pleased about that welcoming committee!

ibis-gold-coast-airport

My first destination was Byron Bay, a place renowned for whale watching, at the easternmost extremity of the country on the Pacific coast. Once again, I didn’t wait long before observing my first cetaceans; as I was hiking around Cape Byron in the next morning, I spotted a few backs and fins on the surface of the ocean.

Still during these first days, I also witnessed a much more unexpected sight: a colony of glow-worms illuminating the ceiling of an abandoned railway tunnel in the countryside close to Byron Bay.

Glowworms, Murwillumbah

Scary animals…

You’re probably aware that Australia is full of dangerous animals: the most poisonous snake on Earth (the inland taipan), 150.000 saltwater crocodiles inhabiting the coasts and estuaries in the North, two potentially deadly kinds of spiders (the famous redback and the funnel-web spider), many species of sharks including the frightening great white, a beautiful but extremely venomous octopus (the blue-ringed octopus)… and so many others! Luckily, I didn’t meet any of those from too close, but when I was in the region of Daintree in the north of Queensland, I saw a lot of huge crocodiles during a cruise on the Daintree River…

…as well as a couple of snakes!

The Daintree Rainforest further north is home to what is considered the most dangerous bird in the world, the cassowary. It’s a big ostrich-like animal that can measure up to 1,80m, with two huge and sharp claws at its feet. But it’s a very endangered species because of human activity (there are only about 1,000 remaining) and the only cassowaries I saw were drawn on road signs.

Cassowary warning sign in the Daintree Rainforest

Does anyone know anything about spiders? I can only tell you that the ones below aren’t the deadly species I mentioned before, but I still have no idea if they might have been dangerous or not!

I also caught sight of a shark when I was snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef: a shy and harmless reef shark, too far away for a picture. But a year and a half later, as I was on the other side of the country, I went to a place called Coral Bay where there’s a “shark sanctuary”: a beach with shallow waters where dozens of adult and juvenile reef sharks gather very close to the shore between September and March.

Sharks, Coral Bay

Finally, I saw a lot of different kinds of lizards everywhere around the country. I hardly think that any of them were dangerous for humans, but they always had that serious and foreboding expression on their faces that made them look so much like dinosaurs. If some of them looked quite funny, I have to say that some others were very ugly…

…friendly animals…

But thankfully, there are also numerous nice and friendly species in Australia! One of the cutest is probably the echidna, a sort of big hedgehog endemic to the country. Like its cousin the platypus, it’s a monotreme which means that they both share attributes of mammals (they have hair and breastfeed) and reptiles (they lay eggs and only have one opening called a cloaca for doing all their businesses and mating).

Mornington Peninsula, echidna

One of the icons of the country is the wombat, a big marsupial that can measure up to 1m. Unfortunately, the only one I saw was quite shy and quickly hid himself in the vegetation. Fun fact about the wombats: their poop is cube-shaped!

Wilsons Promontory, wombat

Hard to be seen as they are nocturnal animals, even if they often live in the centre of cities such as Sydney or Melbourne, the brushtail possums are also native to Australia.

melbourne-possum

Halfway between friendly and scary, the Tasmanian devils have a fierce reputation, but they are vulnerable and endangered. They are very hard to observe in the wild, and the only ones I saw were in a conservation park in the north of Tasmania. They can move very quickly from cute balls of fur to aggressive beasts with impressive teeth, as soon as there’s something to eat around them!

Did you know that penguins lived in Australia? They can be found on the coast of Tasmania as well, but also in the harbour of St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne!

As I was travelling in South Australia, I did a short detour to a city called Whyalla, because I read somewhere that dolphins could often be spotted in the harbour. And it was true! As I was sitting on a pier, a curious dolphin came swimming very close to me.

Dolphin, Whyalla, South Australia

One of my most memorable encounters with an animal in Australia was when I was snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Apart from the previously mentioned shark that I briefly glimpsed, I swam next to a beautiful sea turtle for a couple of minutes. It happened again while I was snorkelling on the second coral reef of Australia, the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. There, I also observed a sea turtle laying eggs at sunset on an empty beach facing the Indian Ocean. An unforgettable moment.

Australia has koalas and kangaroos, but none of them can compete with the friendliest animal in the world: the ever-smiling quokka. They can only be seen in a very specific part of the country and are mostly found on an island called Rottnest Island off Perth. They don’t have any predators and aren’t scared of humans which means that you can approach them from super close. Have you ever seen a cuter animal?

…lots of birds…

Do you know which animals are on the official coat of arms of Australia? It’s the kangaroo and more surprising, the emu. Both are endemic to the country, and they share a particularity: they can’t move backwards easily. So as they only move forward, they symbolise progress! This is one of the very few emus I saw while I was visiting the country, in the Grampians National Park.

Grampians, emu

Another bird is an icon in Australia: the kookaburra. It is easily recognisable by two features: its long beak if you see it, or its call if you hear it, sounding a lot like a human laugh, or a monkey screaming. I miss so much these mornings in my van, waking up by the sound of a few kookaburras “laughing” in the eucalyptus around…

Among the many other birds I observed in Australia, there’s the beautiful (and very shy) lyrebird with its long tail which gave him his name…

Blue Mountains, lyrebird

…the Cape Barren goose that can only be found in the south of the country (this picture was taken on Phillip Island south of Melbourne)…

Phillip Island, Cape Barren Goose

…this stunning kingfisher on that same cruise on the Daintree River, easily spotted with the electric blue of its feathers…

Kingfisher, Daintree River

…the much more common black swan; many of them live at Albert Park in the middle of Melbourne, and can often be seen with juveniles…

…the galah, a cockatoo quite similar to a pigeon but with a pink face and chest…

magnetic-island-galah

…and this gorgeous little bird called the “splendid fairywren” which truly deserves its name!

splendid-fairywren

There’s also one very special day that I’ll never forget, during which I visited the Booderee National Park south of Sydney. This place is famous for its beaches where the sand is supposed to be the whitest on Earth (especially Hyams Beach just before the entrance of the park), but what I’ll always remember are the dozens of extraordinarily gorgeous parrots that flew everywhere in the forest. They were of three different kinds; the king parrot, the rainbow lorikeet and the crimson rosella, and I can hardly say which one was the most beautiful as they were all outstanding.

…and of course kangaroos and koalas!

I obviously couldn’t end this article without talking about kangaroos and koalas, probably the most emblematic animals of Australia.

Kangaroos are pretty much everywhere around the country…

…they fascinate adults and children

Kangaroos, Pinnacles

…they are so cute with a baby in the pouch

Kangaroo, Joey, South West Rocks

…they can be very curious

Kangaroo, South Durras

…yes, they sometimes fight like boxers

…and they are on the most famous road signs in the world!

Kangaroo sign, Jervis Bay

I even saw an albino kangaroo once, in that same conservation park in Tasmania…

albino-kangaroo-tasmania

…but my most memorable encounter with kangaroos was on the beach of Cape Hillsborough in Queensland at sunrise, for what is still one of my best travelling memories.

It’s not so easy to see koalas in the wild, but there are at least three places where you can approach them from very close. The first is Magnetic Island also in Queensland…

…the second is the Great Otway National Park, part of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria…

…and the third is the Morialta Conservation Park, directly outside of Adelaide in South Australia, where I saw this adorable koala deeply asleep on a branch…

Koala, Morialta Conservation Reserve, Adelaide

…which is in my opinion the perfect conclusion for this article!

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