We finally made it to Oz! From the point of view of this collection of far off Canadians, reaching Australia was an almost mystical experience. It is a visit to an unimaginably distant and biophysically wonderful place. It was exhilarating to know we had just over three weeks to poke around some of its fine towns, balmy beaches and numerous national parks. Given the vastness of the land, we had modest plans, essentially remaining in New South Wales our whole visit, notwithstanding a dash into the Australian Capital Area. Also, our six weeks of constantly moving around NZ had taken its toll and we needed some stationary time to rest and catch up on writing and homeschooling.
We started our stay with some family friends, a lovely couple my folks had met while living in Mexico. Joe and Deb proved to be wildly generous hosts, especially considering they had never clamped eyes on us prior to our descending upon them in our road weary state. It was to our amazement that they happily agreed to pick us up from the airport and host us for a few days at their lovely country home near Gerringong, several hundred kilometers south of Sydney. We didn’t realize at the time that this was really a whole day’s investment of their time, not to mention four hours worth of petrol. We found though, that these good souls embodied that amazing Aussie trait of faultless generosity coupled with a wildly distorted sense of distance. Driving four hours straight is really just a wee jaunt in their enormous country. Even by Canadian standards, things are far apart down under. Many of their major cities are thousands of kilometers apart. Settlements considered “nearby” are many hundreds of kilometers from one another. These people know how to log in road time. And that is just what Joe and Deb did for us, when after a few pleasant days at their beautiful home, they ferried us to their snug summer coastal getaway near the beautiful Murramarang National Park.
Their cabin was in a large caravan park complete with a beautiful pool, bright playground, mountain biking trails, and best of all, mere feet from the national park boundary and crashing surf of Merry Beach. We loved the coastal location and were lulled to steep each night by the rhythm of the waves. The entire park was largely deserted save us and a few other families – and about two hundred kangaroos. They hopped about in clusters just outside our door, lazed arrogantly in the sun on hazy days, and shivered pathetically under the trees during our one rainstorm. We loved watching their comings and goings, and especially the tender interactions between joeys and their mums. It was especially amusing watching adolescent roos, bulging awkwardly in their mama’s pouch not yet feeling bold or ambitious enough for full autonomous living. These resident roos bounded about with the freedom and ease of animals operating under the full protection of Australia’s enviable national park system. The mandate of the parks and wildlife service is to conserve representative ecological systems from all over the country and manage the nation’s most important heritage sites. As a result, each state or territory plays host to a huge number of massive parks. In the case of NSW, most are scattered along the coastal plains, endowing it with some of the most accessible but truly wild parklands to be found anywhere in world. We loved hiking and riding through the park, watching the sun set, and spotting and hearing positively exotic wildlife.
While at our coastal spot, so far off the beaten track that it lacked cell service and internet, we needed a day to plan the next leg of our journey and the kids needed a day of internet to upload school work. As a result, we looked into our local destination and transport options. We were in luck, as the modest sized town of Ulladulla was just about 40 kilometers down the highway where an ultra modern public library awaited our arrival. Getting there involved catching the once daily bus, which after a 50 minute drive, promised to drop us right in front of our destination. While waiting for our ride we spotted dozens of colourful parrots gather on the overhead wires near the bus stop. After a few minutes the skies opened to saturate the parched ground, the parrots started to swivel upside down on the wire. At first we thought the cables were too slippery for them to hold on and they were slowly, and comically, rotating upside down while hanging on for dear life. Later we learned that no, this was their natural response when the rare heavy rains hit. They were intentionally dangling upside down and enthusiastically shaking their plumage to let the rain soak into their undercarriage to get a thorough cleaning.
Once we reached town, our day was productive, with free fast WiFi and a great tourist information desk situated right in the centrally located library. We were able to make all of next two weeks of bookings and receive helpful information from the staff. What they were less clear about was how to get back to our park. Seems few folks actually use the bus. We had already determined that on our own, as we were the only passengers on the sixty seat bus into town. Turns out the reason the bus is so large is that it also acts as the local school bus. We eventually had the library staff call the bus company to figure out that our only return trip option departed at the local elementary school a few blocks over. We were told to wait for bus 16 and Gary the driver would sort us out. Welcome to rural NSW! It got even more amusing when the empty bus pulled up and we and about forty schools kids clambered aboard. We were the only paying customers. We sat in front of a pair of pigtailed six year olds who were at first oblivious to our presence but eventually clued in to the fact that there was something slightly odd about the four passengers in front of them. Our flip flops, tatty hair and general state of casualness tended to set us apart from the smartly uniformed students. Our two neighbours, chatty best friends, proved to be a riot. They told us everything they knew about their school, their bus driver, where they lived and even let us in on a few new words that they had just learned, most likely from an older sibling. They seemed impressed that we already knew about a few of the four letter words they were convinced were part of their secret vocabulary. Hearing these two sweet girls blurt out a few expletives that might have made a sailor blush was hilarious. We had a very hard time not bursting out laughing, confident as we were that these were not words we, or their parents, wished to have positively reinforced.
Back at the campground, we continued to marvel at the diversity of animal life in the nearby national park. In particular, a close encounter with a goanna, a type of monitor lizard, three quarters the length of Gabe, had us thereafter alert to any rustling in nearby shrubbery. I had noticed it right outside our window and notified the rest of the team that a great photo-op might be at hand if we acted fast. We all tumbled out the door, cameras at the ready, just as it scrambled away from us and disappeared. We searched under neighbouring trailers, lawn furniture and dense bushes. Much later we learned that the beast is an excellent climber and had likely bolted up a tree and was watching us amused at our befuddlement. Other animal encounters included confronting dozens of emerald blue/green jelly fish washed up on shore while strolling the many local beaches. Having been warned to avoid the long, stinging tentacles of these innocent looking creatures, we gave them a wide berth, glad to be on land where we had ample warning to avoid their venom. Also, whilst wandering along forest tracks we stumbled upon an elusive black faced wallaby, whom, after a short time staring at us staring at him, nonchalantly disappeared with a few small hops. Our favourite avian encounter was with the stubby Kookaburra. None of us had ever heard such maniacal sounding creatures and their calls created an enchanting sonic backdrop to all of our outings. We will miss those crazy little fellas. Finally, our least favourite but most comical animal encounter was with a family of about ten bats that had nestled cozily in the rolled up awning above the porch. Gabe, in an effort to stave off some strong wind during his craft time at the outdoor table, inadvertently set the wee family into free fall. This led to the worst animal shrieks you have heard in your life….from Nora and Carolyn who had rushed to the door after hearing Gabe’s initial gasp as he covered his head to avoid contact with the swirling mass of flying mammals. These critters were very upset at having been ejected from their home but rather than attack, they eventually settled back on the unrolled screen and waited for the ape like creatures to stop bellowing and waving their arms. They quickly got back to planning their dusk outing to consume some of the billions of mosquitoes that call Australia home.