Travels in Oz

I'm off - for 6 months of adventure (er, research) in Australia.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Final Post - Part I

It’s been ages since I’ve written, so I’ll have to break this final post up into two. I’m now back in the States, settling in for the transition back to reality after an action-packed and wonderful final two weeks in Australia. My parents arrived excited and jetlagged, and we spent the first weekend in Sydney doing all of the typical tourist stuff (a play at the opera house, dinner by the harbor, drinks in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Australia Center Tower). Bright and early Monday morning we were on a flight to Melbourne for the start of the road trip. My mother turns into a narcoleptic in the car, so my dad and I did most of the driving. And actually, I found that driving on the other side of the road isn’t as hard as I’d imagined. The only problem was that since the steering column was on the wrong side, so too were the signals – meaning that every time we went to signal a turn, we inevitably hit the windshield wipers. I never realized how instinctual driving was until I changed lanes while cleaning the windshield for the 30th time. But the up side of our ineptitude was that our car was always spic and span.

We started out by heading east to Healesville, a tiny town that happens to have a huge and beautifully kept wildlife sanctuary. They provide free guides if you call ahead, so we were shown around by a friendly and very informative woman who spent three hours giving us interesting facts about the animals and answering our (sometimes very inane) questions. Kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies, dingos, koalas, emus, platapus (platapuses? platapi? whatever.) – we saw them all. I had heard somewhere that much of Australia’s koala population suffers from chalmydia, and it turns out to be absolutely true, although you’ll be happy to know that the Healesville koalas are disease-free. What might be less than true was my dad’s announcement a few days later that the koalas first contracted chlamydia by eating dirt – I’ll just leave that one up to you to decide.

Next it was off to Philip Island on the southern coast to see little penguins. During the summer there can be upwards of 2000 of these miniature birds crossing the beach every night, but during the winter they hibernate, so there were only about 400 making an appearance in our “penguin parade.” They come ashore to sleep and lay eggs, but are vulnerable to predators while out of the water, so they only make the trip under cover of darkness, in groups of 10 or 20. It started a few minutes after the sun set – we began to see a few huddled together on the shoreline, where they waited nervously until the leader suddenly got up the courage to go. The group ducked over en masse and waddled like mad to the long grasses on the other side of the beach. A few times one or two would get spooked and the entire group would abort the mission, plunging quickly back into the water until the coast was clear. Afterwards, we walked along the boardwalks by the beach, and got a fantastic close-up view of the penguins settling down for the night. It was adorable, and well worth sitting in the freezing cold for an hour. Plus, I’m pretty sure that none of them had chlamydia.

From Phillip Island we looped back past Melbourne and started heading west, through the forests of Victoria, where my dad – the ecologist – took approximately 837 pictures of leaves. He could describe this part of the trip to you in detail, but all I can say is that there were many nice paths through the woods, a few waterfalls, gigantic trees and thankfully, lots of little towns with coffeeshops. It was very relaxing.

I’ll leave it there for now – will wrap up the trip (adventures with giant lobsters and other sea creatures) after the jetlag starts to wear off…

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