Friday, April 3, 2009

Breakfast with wallabies (Apr. 2/09 - Yeppoon, Australia, mileage 425km)

Add today to our long list of especially memorable days. We woke up early just as it was getting light so we could see the kangaroo action on the beach around dawn. It was still pretty dark when we climbed out of the van, and we almost tripped over a kangaroo munching on grass right beside the van. She didn't seem to care about us at all, as she just kept on grazing as we watched. The sunrise could be seen through the trees, so we left her behind to head for the sand. Sure enough, about a dozen little kangaroos were down on the beach scavenging for seed pods and checking us out as we watched. They were cautious but obviously not threatened by us, and soon we realized why when one of the campground staff ladies came down to the beach carrying a bucket of 'roo food'. The kangaroos bounded along behind her as she set out piles of mixed grains and seeds, occasionally squabbling with eachother over who gets to eat from which pile. She explained that park staff have been feeding them for four or five years ever since the increasing dingo (wild dog) population killed all but three of them in the whole park, and the kangaroo populations have successfully been increasing ever since. Encouraging them to come to the beach also keeps them away from the hills where little ones are endangered by snakes and away from the campsites where they could be a nuisance or harmed by eating human food. She also explained that most of the 14 or so animals there were actually "Agile Wallabies", which look very much like a small kangaroo, but with smaller ears, a convex nose, a coarser coat, and growing only 2-3 feet tall. One of the bunch was an Eastern Grey Kangaroo, noticeably larger (4-5 feet tall as a two year old, will likely grow to 6 feet), with big ears and a cashmere-soft coat. Her name was Brigitte, and she had become quite comfortable around people since they looked out for her as a baby after her mother was killed by a car a couple years ago. It turned out that she was the one at our van this morning, and she totally didn't mind being petted. We watched them devour the piles of food, standing up on their hind legs to "box" when they argued (in exactly the same way and in the same spot as the Lonely Planet cover!), silhouetted by the orange glow of the rising sun. We even caught a glimpse of a joey (baby) peeking out from one of the wallabies' pouches. One by one, they finished up and hopped back down the beach to resume searching for seed pods. It was such a cool, authentic experience to get so close to these special animals. And in such a beautiful setting on the beach at sunrise, it really epitomises the unique beauty that we have come to love about Australia.

check out the joey sticking out of her pouch:

Onwards! We had been forewarned that the 300km stretch of highway between Mackay and Rockhampton is rather boring, so we had toyed with the idea of heading inland again into the outback. But this would mean taking an extra day to go the extra distance, so we stopped at a tourist info office to get some help deciding. Once we learned that the only real sights on the long inland route were old mining towns and a whole lot of not much else, we decided to bee-line it for Rockhampton via the "boring" coastal route. They really weren't kidding - it was a boring drive! Long stretches of straight road bordered by sparse forests. Signs warning of koala bears on the road kept us on our toes, as did the harsh government billboards that say things like "SURVIVE THIS DRIVE!" and "TIRED DRIVERS DIE". Late afternoon, we turned off toward the little town of Yeppoon, on what is called the Capricorn Coast, where people from Rockhampton come to chill by the sea. We tracked down a beachfront campsite (love falling asleep to the sound of rolling waves...) and went for a swim since we're finally out of the marine stinger zone. Unfortunately, we weren't quick enough at sundown to get the van closed up, so we got to play the fun game of "kill the 47 mosquitoes inside the van" game. Good times.

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