Friday, 22 March 2013

Easter bilby came early: Dryandra Woodlands

27 Feb to 5 March 2013

Warning: It's another of my long blog posts!

From the time we hit Esperence I kept asking all the families travelling in the opposite direction if they had visited Dryandra Woodlands on their way through. Most had never heard of it and none had been there.  It’s something I’d read about on the DEC website before we left Brisbane and had planned to visit.

Dryandra Woodlands are 2 hours south-east of Perth between the small towns of Williams and Narrogin.

The real drawcard of the visit was Barna Mia an animal sanctuary that runs nocturnal tours to see bilbies, woylies, boodies, quendas and mala. (If you’ve only heard of one of these, you are not alone!)  So we arrived on a Wednesday to join the tour that night and thought we’d probably leave the next day. 

But we were taken with the beauty and peace of the place and we ended up staying 6 days and it’s one of the most special places we’ve been to on this trip. 

Our first proper drive through the wandoo woodlands was on sunset/dusk and it was just outstandingly beautiful. The light colour of the trunks of the Wandoo trees was really accentuated at this time of night, and with the beautiful golden glow it was just breathtaking. The track to Barna Mia is quite narrow in parts and surrounded by this beautiful woodland – we’d never been in anything like it before.

I hope the photos we add to this blog do the trees and woodlands justice but I suspect they won’t. But trust me, this place is amazing.

The chance to see bilbies in their natural environment was what initially appealed to me about Barna Mia, but it was the mala and her pouch young that captivated me on that first night. And in fact, the bilbies looked quite awkward and gawky compared to their very cute peers. 

So a woylie is a brush-tailed bettong and a boodie is a burrowing bettong. The woylie is more upright (like a little wallaby) than it’s boodie counterpart but the boodies are boisterous and bold and cheeky. They are the ones you see first, fight over their food (snatching the tray of food from each other) and are fun to watch. They store much of their fat in their tail and as these boodies are very healthy, they had very fat tails!  They liked to shake their boodie!

In WA the bilby is often referred to as a dalgyte, the Indigenous name for it here. The quendas we know as bandicoots and the mala is the rufous-hare wallaby.

All of these nocturnal marsupials are small (most are around the same size as a ring tail possum) and they are either endangered or extinct on the Australian mainland. So to see them up close, and watch them just a metre or so from you was a real treat.  I wasn’t sure if we’d see any of the animals so our group (our family and two middle-aged couples) were excited that by the time we’d walked just 20 or so metres into the enclosure we’d spotted our first woylie, closely followed by a bilby hiding behind a bush but still just visible. I thought this was as good as it was going to get, but it just got better and better.

You could hear the brush either side of the walking track alive with creatures as we made our way down to Station 1 – a small clearing where they have a built a small hutch where they feed the animals. They have logs to sit on around the hutch and the animals get 10% of their diet from these feedings on the nocturnal tours.  So they are all waiting at this station to get their feed.  Some even hopped down the track behind us!

We sat and watched for at least 20 minutes and in that time were fortunate to see all five species come and eat.  The remainder of the two stations were not as busy as this first one.

Isobel woke up the next morning and asked that if we are anywhere else with a nocturnal tour that we do it.  Simon and I talked about it and decided that Barna Mia is a once in a lifetime experience (how many Australians have seen a bilby in their natural environment?) and it was a very affordable ($45 for our family to go on the tour and hear the lecture beforehand) so we booked into the next tour on Friday night as well!

Our guide was surprised we were back, obviously visitors don’t normally come back quite so quickly!  I had prepped the kids that we may not be so fortunate this time, and not to expect to see all the animals we had on our first night, but to our delight we saw just as many (although the quenda didn’t show itself on the second night but that’s OK as we had seen quite a few in our annexe back at Herron Point including one with pouch young).  The bilbies were much more entertaining on Friday night and would zig zag their way to the food (that’s how they got their scientific name) and right at the end we saw a big adult bilby come into view.  He was significantly bigger than the two juveniles we’d been admiring and it was great to see a big one.

We heard how one night there were only two Germans on the tour.  They were sitting in the dark, quietly watching and admiring the young bilby which had just come out of its mother’s pouch; what they hadn’t realized was that a carpet python had also been admiring it. Before their very eyes they saw the snake attack and eat the young one.  The guide tried to console them by saying not many people in the world had seen a young bilby come out of its mother’s pourch and that certainly the numbers of people who had ever witnessed a snake taking one was even less – so they were one of the lucky ones! 

We learned so much and were so taken in by these gorgeous little critters.   It was great to see one of the world’s largest conservation projects, WA’s ‘Western Shield’, in action and it looks pretty successful to us. 

The woodlands are one of the best places in the world to find a numbat, the WA fauna emblem, so it made us even more determined to spot one while we were here. It’s one of only two marsupials in Australia that is diurnal (does it’s eating/playing during the day and sleeps at night) and is much, much smaller than we imagined. Unfortunately the closest we got was a stuffed one at Barna Mia. We may have seen some of their diggings but no-one (not even the guide) could tell us if they did much digging to eat the termites they rely on, or what their poo looked like; they are notoriously shy so the chances of seeing one with our noisy tribe was minimal.

It was such a lovely, peaceful week at Dryandra. We even got to take in our very first campdraft which we all enjoyed (we’d seen a sign weeks beforehand that Williams was having a campdraft during WA’s long weekend) and Otto wanted to go back to it again the very next day.

We’ll always remember Dryandra not just because of the amazing wandoo woodlands and fauna there, but because our very precious and gorgeous little boy burnt his left leg there. The morning after, as we were packing up, Otto said to Simon and I in his inimitable way, that ‘Wished not I burn my legs’.  Don’t we all, beautiful boy.

 Barna Mia's website:

Perth and family ties

20 February - 27 February 2013

From a cheap camp on the Harvey Estuary, where we tried our hands at “scooping” (trying to catch sand crabs with nets) we headed into the big lights of Perth for a week to spend time with my sister.

It was fabulous to see Kate, and the kids (especially Otto) were so excited to have an aunty in their midst for a few days! Otto was just in heaven actually.  He’d go swimming with Kate when he wouldn’t go in with his dad, even.

We saw our very first Sturt’s Desert Pea (SA’s floral emblem) in flower in Kings Park, hung out at Scarborough Beach (where our Dad once slept in his younger days), walked around the city so Isobel could get her fill of shops and people, visited the Margaret River Chocolate Company, and enjoyed much of the entertainment on offer from the Perth Festival and the Fringe Festival. We were entertained by mermaids and mermen, giant film screens, grains of rice, a labyrinth of water, got tangled in elastic at Tangled and missed out on our chance of getting Alison Lester to sign our copy of “Are we there yet?” because we were too tired to get into the family day of the Perth Writers Festival.

The highlight of Perth city was the WA museum – we went on three separate days!

But the highlight of the entire week (other than spending time with Kate) was going out to Rottnest Island for a day. We caught a ferry from Freemantle and the whole ferry was entertained by a man flashing on a boat as it whooshed by. I guess they’ve pretty much put a ban on flashing at the WACA and other cricket grounds so they’ve had to resort to flashing full ferries of tourists. 

It’s hard to do justice to Rottnest in just a day – even though we were on the 9.30am ferry and left on the last ferry at 4.30pm.  Simon and I snorkeled at Parkers Point and saw the pink coral there but were disappointed that most of the snorkel trail was unreadable (once you found the plaques under water) but it was hard going because of the choppy water and the currents.  Kate decided that without her glasses it was pointless going snorkeling as she wouldn’t be able to see much, which is such a shame.

We continued to catch the bus around the island and enjoyed our lunch with the very friendly quokkas. They were much cuter than I imagined they’d be and we all found them fun to watch (they hung around our feet as we ate our lunch).  Next time I’d stay a couple of days to make the most of it as I was surprised how interesting the ‘settlement’ looked when we hurriedly walked past all the old cottages you can still stay in (they’ve just added corrugated iron sheds out the back to provide a bathroom and toilet to each). We didn’t even have time to get an icecream in before we boarded the ferry!

We did sneak in a quick swim/snorkel at The Basin but again it was hard going snorkeling but a fun place for a swim. The water is just beautiful and clear. 

The return ferry was really rough with waves hitting one side of the ferry and splashing up over the windows.  Isobel, who is always a bit scared of going on boats, was excited about the boat hitting the waves and wanted to sit on the other side to get ‘splashed’.  She’s a funny one that she can go from scared to exhilarated by the same thing in the wink of an eye.

We also caught up with Simon’s Uncle John and his partner Moon and the town of Freemantle again, had a great BBQ with an old schoolfriend of mine who has recently moved over to Perth with her family, and snuck in a quick concert at Freo where we heard “Misty Hoogans” according to Otto (Missy Higgins) which was part of the “Save the Kimberley” campaign. 

Perth is a great city but we all left feeling a little tired….and sad to farewell Aunty Katie.   We snuck in one last coffee with Uncle John and hit the Albany Hwy heading south again.

Forget Margaret River

17 Feb 2013 

We weren’t planning to spend any time at all in the Margaret River region but for one reason or another we did.  When we arrived in the Karri forests near Pemberton we really regretted not sticking to our original plan and skipping the Margaret River. It has absolutely nothing on the Karri forests of Pemberton.

There’s something pretty magical and soul restoring to be in a towering forest and breathing in beautiful air.  It was cool and damp when we were there and just so breathtakingly beautiful, just as we remembered it from a few years ago.

In the one short day we had we visited Beedlelup Falls (which weren’t falling at all as the river dwindles to a stagnant pond over the summer months), the Heartbreak Trail that takes you on a one way track through old-growth karri forests alongside the Warren River, and then to the trout farm which we remembered fondly from Hugo catching his first ever fish/water creature when he caught a marron.

The trout farm is a lovely spot to spend a few quiet hours. We got three fishing rods, some pellets to throw out to the marron and some nets. We were told the big ones are quite smart and if they see us they will disappear quick (so we tried to disguise ourselves in the shadows).  They disappear backwards so the advice is to stick the net behind them quietly to get them as they make their escape. The trick to this though is figuring out which is the back end. We again didn’t catch a single trout but we were more lucky with the marron. Most of them were too small but Simon got a good sized one just as we were heading off.  They cooked up the marron for us, just lightly grilling it on a BBQ and it was absolutely delicious!  We also had some trout and all five us had a fabulous (although very late) lunch.

We camped that night at the Big Brook Arboretum under more towering trees (from a safe distance though) and just drank in the quiet, peace and solitude of a big forest. We were surprised when we left the following morning to discover this part of the forest is new growth, from around the 1920s or 1930s.  We didn’t even have time to check out the somewhat neglected and unloved arboretum….next time.

Oh, and one of the best things about our visit to Pemberton? Blackberries were in season!  We collected a whole basin full of them and the kids just ate and ate and ate them as fast as they could pick these – regardless of how prickly the bush is!

So learn from our mistake, skip Margaret River and head to Pemberton – a much more authentic town, with amazing forests and if you’re after wines and food, you still get a pretty good mix of that here too!

Bloody backpackers and dogs

Mid February 2013 

We’re staying at Big Valley about 12km out of Margaret River on a working sheep farm.  Although it had been recommended to us by a few families, and the price is good, no-one had told us it was a backpackers hang-out.  We are in a sheep paddock with great views and at night we’re loving the big open sky and stars but we’ve decided that we’re over backpackers and dogs in camping grounds.  Particularly when the backpackers are loud, 21 year old foghorns from Ireland and the dogs are just as large and loud and the owners don’t control them.

But apart from that it’s great! The farmers who run it are friendly, Otto has finally fed the sheep (although he was too frightened to actually hand-feed them himself and threw his pellets at the sheep) and he’s patted the pet goat that rides on the back of a motorbike.   Isobel’s biology is coming along nicely as she could identify the ram in the group. So all is mostly good, especially the hot showers that are not dependent on solar heating!