Phillip Island (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 25 Jan 2008

Phillip Island

I'm in Melbourne, for But I'm spending the week before the conference exploring greater Melbourne ... beginning with Phillip Island.

After a couple of days in Melbourne to recover from the flight, I checked out of my hotel and faced the scariest task of the day: schlepping across town to the rental car place carrying all my luggage, fearing that when I got there they'd take one look at my driver's license and say "Are you crazy? We don't give out cars to people who only know how to drive on the right!"

But as sensible as that would have been, in fact they gave me the keys to a Hyundai Elantra and directions out of town. I was on my way to Phillip Island.

It took me a couple of hours to get there, being very mellow and repeating "left, left, left" to myself. But in fact, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to stay on the correct side of the road, and Victoria's ubiquitous roundabouts actually make it easier, oddly enough. The only hard part is keeping from wearing out the windshield wipers, which stubbornly persist in coming on when I flip the stalk where the turn signals ought to be.

Anyway, Phillip Island. The point of going there is the island's famous Penguin Parade, a huge tourist attraction involving watching penguins come up out of the water and trek across the beach to their nests. This happens at sunset, which was still many hours away, so I decided to while away some of the time checking out the wild animal park.

The wildlife park is down a short dusty driveway. There were only a couple of cars parked there, which surprised me since Melbourne is full of brochures from at least ten different companies that run bus tours to what sounded like the same place ("See koalas! hand-feed kangaroos and emus!") It looked like the kind of place you'd expect to find one tiny corral with a couple of sad, moth-eaten animals enduring the hordes of tourists. But there I was -- might as well give it a chance.

I'm glad I did. The place is huge and has a very good selection of Australian animals, kept in large pens and apparently well cared for. I saw koalas, all right -- four of them, snoozing on branches in the afternoon sun, barely more than an arm's length away from the elevated boardwalk. I lost count of the different species of kangaroos and wallabies, some of them in large pens and some just wandering around at large, begging food from passing visitors. (A wallaby's facial fur is very soft as it snuffles your hand; its back and neck fur are coarser.)

The emus found out early on that I was an easy target. I fed the two adults and two youngsters through a fence, only discovering later that their enclosure also houses red kangaroos and you can walk in. But when I tried, the emus recognized me and came running, to surround me and peck at my pocket where the food was; eventually I gave up and made my escape from the emu compound.

There were a few animals that remained hidden. Their two or three Tasmanian devils were all in hiding, alas. But I got some close looks at several animals I think of as fairly exotic: the echidna obligingly came out and stood in a patch of sun to get his picture taken, and the quolls were snoozing in a hollow log that was fortunately quite easy to see from where I was standing (though too dark for photos).

All in all a very fun experience, made better by the lack of crowds (I was very glad to have arrived at a time when no tour buses were around, so I shared the place with three or four families). I spent an enjoyable hour or so, leaving me plenty of time to wash the wallaby spit off my hands, have dinner and drive out to the Penguin Parade (which deserves a separate article).

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[ 13:14 Jan 25, 2008    More travel/melbourne08 | permalink to this entry ]