Birthday at the Billabong

biillabong sanctuary townsville australia

Today I went out to the Billabong Sanctuary to check out the animals. It was a nice little place, with all the usual suspects. It was great that they had shows spaced out so you couldn’t miss any of them, plus they were interactive. Everyone had the chance of giving a pat or a cuddle to the animals and I learned things I never knew before! It was a small crowd today, considering it was a holiday (Queen’s birthday…which isn’t even her birthday!).

Since there are a lot of photos to post, I’ll start with the snakes first. The snake display wasn’t as large as I thought it would be. There were a few different pythons and the inland taipan which is one of, if not THE most deadliest snake in the world. What I did learn today about poisonous snakes was that last year, 5000 people in Australia were bitten by them but only two died. That says a lot about the efficiency of the hospitals and the education that the general public is given about how to handle a bite. He said that if you have (and you should carry) a compression bandage, to wrap that around the limb…but not too tightly. Everyone that had applied this method ended up living.

He had this taipan in the enclosure with him and the snake was not aggressive and wasn’t even threatened by him waving something in front of it. He spoke for a good 15 minutes while the snake wandered around.

inland taipan

There was a death adder in an aquarium who really blended in with the leaf litter…

death adder

There were some lizards outside who were cold since the sun wasn’t out today (I was even cold!!) and some cute turtles in the many ponds around the park.

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Who could say “no” to those faces?

Then of course there were some crocs. They had freshies and salties. The salties were big…like scary big. One story was about Jaws…one of the largest ones there. Apparently he killed his past 4 girlfriends. Then Madonna came along and as soon as they met, she bit him on the head and it’s been paradise ever since.

Jaws and Madonna
Jaws and Madonna
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And I thought MY thighs were big!

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They're in love
They’re in love

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Can’t leave out a kanga with a joey!

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Some fat little echidnas were wandering around with rocks in their “hair”.

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The dingoes were so beautiful!

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But the real reason I went was for these guys!

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The infamous WOMBATS!! My dad had a sign that said “Beware of killer wombat”. Well they look so cute and cuddly and are usually sleeping on their backs with their fat little paws up in the air. Little did we all know they really ARE killers! They sleep in their burrows with their bony butt plates to the entrance. They have a hard backside that you can actually knock on and it sounds hollow. If a dingo tries to get to them, the wombat can squish the dingo’s head between that bony plate and the top of the log and crush its skull!! WOW! Who would’ve known!? Sometimes they’ll even drag the dead dingo so the others can see it, then wobble back to their log. Guess that’s one reason they don’t have tails either!

Here’s a video I made of the cute couple waddling around their enclosure:

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Another odd thing about wombats is that they poop square pellets. They weren’t as big as I thought they’d be, but they were fairly square (I will spare you the photos, as I didn’t take any). They had a presentation about them and these fellas weigh over 40 pounds! They look like they have no bones inside of them when they’re propped up on someone’s lap. It was so funny to see.

They've got super cute toes!
They’ve got super cute toes!
Slouchy Wouchy Wombat
Slouchy Wouchy Wombat
Like a bag of rocks
Like a bag of rocks

But the highlight of my day and a memorable birthday “present” was to be able to hold one of these fellas. Of course I had to smell him and can say he smells like: nothing.

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He threatened to slide right off of my knees onto the floor in a pile. Man, he was heavy! Only way to cuddle with this guy is to just lie down beside him. His fur wasn’t all that soft either. But still, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and my father will be proud! I wasn’t maimed or eaten or crushed by this guy and you can tell he is just SO over having his picture taken.

As an aside to this particular wombat, when he arrived at the sanctuary after his mom was killed he wouldn’t eat. They ran blood tests on him and couldn’t find anything wrong. They thought he was going to die! But finally, after 3 months he ate and is doing quite well now. The official conclusion? Wombat depression. Well, who can blame him!? It was a great day and I’ll cherish my time with the fat ole wombat!

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Out On the Town(sville)

Townsville ferry harbor
Townsville from the ferry harbor

I’m here in Townsville, across the way from Magnetic Island for a couple of weeks and it’s a lot bigger than I thought it was! There are about 200,000 people here, along with 53 species of mammals, lots of snakes and lizards (my favorite!!) and over 365 species of birds. There are also dugongs (manatees), cassowaries and mahogany gliders (super cute gliding possum) which are all considered on the rare or endangered side. People do seem to love the animals here in Australia. Often taking them to some pretty outrageous sizes, like this spider outside of Reef HQ downtown.

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The house I’m in had a nice visitor the first time I came by (I named her Sylvia) and I had hoped she’d continue to come back but unfortunately she’s missing in action. She’s a carpet python which are very common to find around suburban areas. They help keep down the rat, mouse and possum populations. She was a big girl probably measuring no less than 4 1/2 feet.

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Another VERY cool critter I found on Magnetic, as well as here was the painted cray. It was the size of a lobster and had the most amazing colors. The ones I found here in Townsville weren’t as colorful, but nonetheless, spectacular in their own right.  I loved the zebra striped eyebrows too!

painted cray magnetic island

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I also found this shark egg on Magnetic, which I had been looking for. Wonder who the little cutie was that hatched out of this thing!? It used to be a tiger shark nursery in Nelly Bay, which is where I found it. Although there are a lot of black tipped reef sharks seen in the area as well. Of course I had to smell it and although it was a tad “fishy”, it had a sort of orange or citrus scent to it as well. Weird. Conclusion: baby sharks smell pretty good.

shark egg magnetic island

A wander around The Strand here always has interesting sights to take in. It’s a one mile long walkway that I’ve traversed a few times now. It stretches along the beachfront and has hotels, shops, parks with gas BBQ pits and public swimming pools. Because crocs have been seen along the beaches here and there are stingers (jellyfish) present during certain times of year, there are a couple of man made lagoons that fill with sea water that you can swim in. One of them is called the Rock Pool, which is free to enter and I visited it today and yesterday, although I didn’t get in. Since the beach was right there, I opted to lie on the sand instead. The water was too cold for me to get into (77F today). This is a view from Kissing Point overlooking the pool.

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Speaking of stingers, the wide expanse of beach along the Strand has some signage talking about them and how to deal with certain ones you may come in contact with.

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Hence, the need for this. When was the last time you saw vinegar stations at the beach? They take this stuff pretty seriously. Smart to have it out there in case you forgot to bring your own!

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I saw quite a few American muscle cars and about had a meltdown when a beautiful black, lowered ’68 Camaro passed me by. I wiped the tears away and cheered myself up with this one. I wasn’t exactly a Valiant fan, but there’s just something cool about seeing a right hand drive with a license plate from the Outback. I caught some glimpses of an old ’65 convertible Corvette and a couple of Mustangs too. Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m in Australia, folks!

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There are some really huge houses up on the hill overlooking the sea. This one in particular caught my eye due to its precarious stilts. Party on the deck at your own risk!

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I went downtown today to check out the market and went into this art gallery where they were displaying “wearable art”. Well, you won’t be catching me in any of these (maybe the iguana bra). I swear this stuff looks like something out of a Clive Barker film.

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In about a week I’ll be visiting the Billabong Sanctuary where I’ll have a big surprise (hopefully)! At the very least, a lot of cool pictures of the native animals and a fun day, so check back then!

 

 

Being Drawn to Magnetic Island

Welcome to Magnetic Island!
Welcome to Magnetic Island!

After a short stint in Cairns, I headed a few hours south to Magnetic Island to do a helpx. I met up with a super nice couple who have their own businesses. Joan has a nice boutique shop called Koko Blue near the ferry terminal and Colin has a Hop on Hop off bus tour that takes people around the island and talks about the history and wildlife. He took me out on it my first day here and I really enjoyed it. The island is about 52 square km with 27 square km of that being protected national park land. There are many species of birds here (I often see white cockatoos flying over in many pairs) and allegedly about 800 koalas live here as well (haven’t seen one yet). As for the ocean critters, there are blue marlin, black marlin, sail fish, mackerel, wahoo, tuna and of course sharks. I saw some cute blue spotted stingrays in the shallows at Geoffrey Bay yesterday.

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Flying from Cairns to Townsville with islands off the coast
Townsville with Magnetic Island to the west
Townsville (or “Brownsville” as they call it) with Magnetic Island to the west

I’m living in Joan and Col’s nice Queenslander home on a quiet street, just a 7 minute walk to the beach at Nelly Bay. These homes are built up high to catch the breeze and usually have a wrap around verandah and is a fully open house with super high ceilings. It’s never been hot in here, although we are heading into winter. The nights can get a bit chilly but refreshing…perfect weather to sleep in. The curlews often wake me up during the night with their blood curdling screams. Cute guys with big eyes! Ever so slightly annoying when you’re sleeping though.

Curlews
Curlews

Maggie Island, as I had mentioned before, was named by Captain cook 200 years ago and 1 day before my birthday, “Magnetical Isle” due to the compass on his ship doing strange things as he passed by the island. Nothing has been proven to suggest the cause of his failure came from the island, but nevertheless, the name stuck. It’s a beautiful place, with only about 2000 permanent residents. It’s big enough to not feel trapped and has 2 grocery stores (both a bit over priced as one would imagine). The beaches are clean, hardly anyone on them and lined with trees for shade if you want it.

Nelly Bay
Nelly Bay

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There are quite a few bays here, one of the busier is Horseshoe Bay where they have a stinger net out during the season. They drag a net through the water (outside of the net, of course) and when none show up for 5 days they say the season has ended. I’ve gotten stung by something each time I go in, but I don’t think they were jellies. The pain subsided quickly.

Horseshoe Bay with stinger net set up
Horseshoe Bay with stinger net set up

There are rock wallabies here and at one spot near Geoffrey Bay you can feed them, then head over to the wall and look down on the colorful fish that are in a protected area. You can snorkel here and there are buoys that show you where things of interest are. God forbid you go further out to the orange buoys…those have shark bait on them. Don’t ask me why they do that…seems strange to have them so close to the snorkelers.

Rock Wallaby on Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island
Rock Wallaby on Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island
Fish on Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island
Fish on Geoffrey Bay, Magnetic Island

During the bus tour we went to this magnificent little patch of forest and was surprised to see thousands of blue tiger butterflies doing their thing. I don’t think I’ve seen this many in the wild at once…EVER. It must have been breeding season. I couldn’t stop long enough to check for eggs on leaves/vines, but I’m sure they were there.

Blue Tiger butterflies
Blue Tiger butterflies

On the same path were these tiny lizards who would flick the end of their tails at you.

We drove around a neighborhood and saw a couple of neat houses. This one, a grand Queenslander style newly built.

Beautiful new Queenslander style home
Beautiful new Queenslander style home
Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

The highlight of my day was going out to the reef again. This time with Adrenalin out of Townsville, on a smaller boat with a fraction of the people on it and to a reef were you couldn’t see any other boats in sight! It was so beautiful out there and we spent a good 5 hours in this one spot. The time flew by. After lunch, I went back in and to my surprise was surrounded by about 50 small black cuttlefish! They were very sweet and didn’t float away from me. We got comfortable enough with each other that the group turned into 100 and we all kept our eyes on one another. Some were within arms length from me and others below me, some to the side…they were EVERYWHERE! It was such a thrill to see these little families. The smallest was 2 inches and the mom and pop were about 5 1/2 inches. Their chromatophores were doing their thing, changing color from dark to light as they would sometimes speed off. Often, it reminded me of the pattern on the back of a hummingbird.  I’m so happy I got to see them, after so many cuttlebones on the beaches 😦  Unfortunately there were no cameras to rent on board and I really could’ve used one today.

There were nurseries of tiny fish hovering by their parents; the coral was healthy and colorful; there were midnight blue starfish scattered around and electric blue fish that looked like they had just been painted. It was a fantastic day, the weather was perfect and the sea was calm. It’s amazing to be swimming in mother nature’s aquarium, one simply has to come and do it in person instead of opting for a TV show about it. My suggestion would be to get away from the crowds, no matter the cost!

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Cairns: Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

I arrived in Cairns last week FINALLY…I’ve only been waiting about 25 years for this. However, I didn’t get out there straight away. I first took a rainforest tour and got to see a very special place. A spot where two World Heritage sites meet…the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and the Daintree Rainforest. The rainforest is one of THE oldest ones in the world so it felt pretty cool to be there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as much rainforest time as I had hoped for and the spot we went to at Mossman Gorge wasn’t anywhere near spectacular. A crowded, touristy and sort of dead feeling place to me. Of course I’m biased after visiting places like Guyana, Belize and Costa Rica. I’m sure I missed out on the best it had to offer and I also wasn’t crazy about being with a tour group. Unfortunately it seems that’s what you kind of have to do here unless you’re ‘in the know’….which I’m not.

Let me digress slightly here. When I first got into town, I went into Cairns CBD to have a look around, as I do. When I got off the bus I heard a lot of squawking in a tree behind the stop. I took a glance back but couldn’t make out anything and just chalked it up to a bunch of tropical birds. Later, when I went back there and was sitting across the street from the tree, I saw what appeared to be bats in it! OF COURSE!!! I should have known better. With only minutes before the bus was about to show, and after sitting there for 40 minutes, there was no way I was going to miss it. I would come back to take photos on another day.

Bats in tree behind Cairns bus stop
Bats in tree behind Cairns bus stop

There were tons of them!! Cute little bat bundles of joy! Still chattering away to each other, jockeying for position on the tree and sometimes fighting with each other. A lot of them seemed uncomfortable…moving around and fidgeting. Others slept with their furry heads tucked in between their wings and some peered down at me while I took their picture. Often they would groom themselves and stretch their leathery wings out. Being that it was in the middle of the day, others fanned themselves to keep cool. The tree was huge and it seemed almost every branch had many occupants hanging from them.

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I stayed so long that my neck hurt from looking up at them. I can never get bored watching these guys. It’s cool to look up in the sky at twilight and see them flying over. I’d estimate their wingspan to be at least 3 1/2 feet.

The Esplanade lagoon pool
The Esplanade lagoon pool

One neat feature in Cairns CBD is this salt water lagoon pool in the Esplanade that’s free to go to and there are lots of areas to lie in the grass and get some sun or shade. It looks out over the ocean and can get quite busy. You can enjoy being in the water without worry of crocs or stingers!

The first place that I stayed when I arrived had a bush walk near the beach where I was lucky enough to spot a jabiru stork! Last time I saw one of these was in Guyana and I thought I was really fortunate then! At least this one hung around for a while until he spotted me then flew into a tree. These are the biggest birds in the world, getting as tall as me! Their wingspan is 7 1/2 feet! Beautiful and amazing birds.

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I booked the tour to the rainforest which included a small indoor wildlife park where there were birds, kangas, wallabies, crocs and tree kangas.

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The location at Cape Tribulation and Daintree was beautiful with very few people around, so I got in the water briefly then took some photos of the beach. This area is one of the very few where you could spot cassowary’s in the wild. There were a lot of road signs warning you of their crossing. You may recall my photos of them from Brisbane…the guys you don’t want to mess with:

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Cassowary
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Cape Tribulation

 

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We then took a river cruise to look for crocs and birds and luckily we did see a few crocs. Two small ones and a fairly large female basking on the bank. She was probably about 6 1/2 feet long.

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Cairns CBD
Cairns CBD
The boat out to the reef before it got super crowded up front
The boat out to the reef before it got super crowded up front

And without further adieu, the GBR! Have I mentioned how much I hate being around a ton of people on boats? I wasn’t thrilled to be sharing a ride or the water with 94 other people yesterday, but whatcha gonna do? I kept to myself in the water and avoided people as much as possible. I can’t say I saw any super fantastic animals like I had hoped for, but it was just my first time out. I did see two giant clams which were about 3 1/2 feet long. Some divers saw a reef shark but I missed that one. The coral was spectacular…looked very healthy to me and so many different kinds! The fish were super colorful although I really thought I’d see more of them. I saw a school of very large needle fish hanging out in one area. These were bigger and probably a different species than what I’m used to seeing in Central America. They were about 2 feet long.

An underwater photographer, I am not. Thankfully they rented cameras for $45. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t get one, so I did. Here’s a taste of what was out there:

Safe haven along with a nursery with baby fish
Safe haven along with a nursery with baby fish

Giant clam
Giant clam

Sea cucumber
Sea cucumber

Giant clam
Giant clam

I head out to Magnetic island in a couple of days to do some helpx work which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll take some more trips out to the reef and I’ll be able to snorkel off the shore there. Maggie island is off the coast of Townsville which is about a 5 hour drive south of here. It was named that by Captain Cook, who claimed that his ship instrumentation went crazy when passing by the island. It’s never been confirmed that there is anything amiss about the area. So stay tuned for more exciting stuff to come!