Anyone who knows me knows that I love animals. I especially enjoy seeing animals in the wild. While we’re traveling, whenever we get the chance, we take advantage of the chance to see the wildlife. I didn’t really expect to see any animals so soon, but one day when we were swimming in Waimea Bay in Hawaii a sea turtle swam within ten feet of me. Another swimmer saw it and warned me that since they’re protected, legally I had to keep a distance of 100 feet. I didn’t try to get any closer, but somebody ought to tell the turtles that law, since they just swim up around the humans. Also in Hawaii, we hiked up to Ka’ena Point, which is the northwestern tip of O’ahu, for the chance to see an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. There are only about 1300 remaining in the wild. We saw plenty of nesting shearwaters, but by the time we reached the beach, we hadn’t seen any seals yet. We sat down and gazed out at the rocks and the beautiful blue ocean. After about a minute, one of the rocks moved and turned its face to look at us. Jackpot! A seal. I didn’t have my camera, though, so I didn’t get a picture. It just goes to show you that patience pays.
Further on in our trip, I was thrilled to learn that in Kaikoura, New Zealand, there are several colonies of NZ fur seals. They hang out on the beach and relax in the sun, and they’re used to having people come by and gawk at them. They’re not endangered at all- we easily saw upwards of a hundred. For $90, you can even swim with them for one hour, through a outfit called Seal Swim. Next time! However, I was happy enough just to watch the seals on the beach. I think they know that photographers have their cameras ready, because one of them struck this pose:
Australia offers plenty of chances to see animals. There are myriad zoos housing Australian animals, usually featuring the opportunity to pet or hold a koala or kangaroo. If you’re dying to hold a koala, you have to go to the state of Queensland, because that’s the only place it’s legal. If you’re happy with simply petting one of the little guys, you can go anywhere. We really liked the Hunter Valley Zoo, because it was so small and intimate. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, and it’s a bit hard to get there. On the other hand, that means it’s not very crowded, so no waiting to pet the kangaroos! There are only a few dozen animals, including Australian animals, birds, monkeys, and farm animals, but that was fine for us. We can see tigers and bears in zoos at home. We spent a few hours there, feeding and petting the kangaroos, koalas, and wombats. Interesting fact: Kangaroos are MUCH softer than koalas.
For the ultimate animal experience, you can’t go any further than Phillip Island. Just off the coast near Melbourne, PI has seal colonies, resident penguins, and a wildlife preserve with koalas, wallabies, birds, and echidnas (supposedly.) Inside the preserve is the Koala Conservation Centre, which does not allow koala petting, but visitors are allowed to get fairly close to the trees where the koalas sleep and eat. It’s summer now, so the joeys are out of their mother’s pouches, and we saw one on its mother’s back and one off on its own. Too cute! The seals- over 10,000 of them- live off the coast on the Seal Rocks, so in order to see them we had to either take a boat tour ($67) or content ourselves with viewing them on a camera. We drove over to the Nobbies, at the tip of the island, and went inside the Nobbies Visitor Centre to see the seal-cams. Unfortunately, they are not free- but fortunately, we happened to be there at the same time a tour was coming through, and the tour guide put a few dollars into the machine, and we loitered nearby to catch a glimpse of the seals. It really didn’t feel any different than watching seals on a nature show, so I’m glad we didn’t pay for it.
The #1 reason we went to PI, though, was to see the penguins, and this did not disappoint. While walking around the Nobbies, we saw a few penguins in their burrows, thus providing us with a preview of the Penguin Parade we were planning to see.
The penguins on PI are called little penguins, formerly known as fairy penguins, and they are only about 12 inches tall. There are thousands of them on PI, and they used to make their nests all around the coast, but unfortunately their habitats have now been destroyed in all but one place on the island. Penguin males and females take turns going fishing and taking care of their chicks. When they go fishing, they are gone for a few days at a time. They come back at dusk, in several battalions of several dozen penguins each- this is the part dubbed the Penguin Parade. As soon as they’ve arrived, their mates and chicks come out from their burrows as if to say “Welcome back!” and the chicks beg for food. There have been quite a few twins this year, more than usual, so naturally the siblings fight over who gets to eat first. They all squawk, wave their flippers, and generally carry on. It’s hilarious.
There are, of course, quite a few rules at Penguin Parade: no photographs, no touching the penguins, and above all, check under your car before you leave. Penguins have been nesting here for who knows how long, and the (relatively) new arrival of the parking lot still confounds some of them. The rangers try to coax them to nest closer to the dunes and away from the cars, but there are a stubborn few who continue to burrow in the parking lot area. So when visitors depart, they are asked to check under their cars in case a penguin is hiding under there. This was so funny to me and Bob that we were joking about it as we walked back to the car, but as we got closer, the thought of getting inside a nice warm car took over and we went to open the doors without checking. A man nearby called over to us to warn us that he had seen a penguin in this very lot, and we had better check. I laid down on my stomach, and there, smack in the center between the two front tires, was a tiny, scared penguin. This of course attracted a lot of attention, and spectators gathered around, trying to take pictures. Thankfully, a ranger came by pretty quickly- I think someone had already alerted him- and helped us to get the little guy out. Bob had to back up very slowly while everyone else watched the penguin to make sure it wouldn’t dart to the right or left. As soon as we were clear, we all breathed sighs of relief, and the penguin ran to hide under another car. (They really hate being exposed, it makes them feel insecure.) The ranger radioed to another ranger, saying “We’ve got a serial car-hider.” He said he would stay in the lot until all the cars had departed, to ensure the penguin stayed safe. Let this be a lesson to anyone going to the Penguin Parade: the rangers are not joking when they say penguins like to hide under cars, and please don’t forget to check!