It started off as a damp and cold day in Sydney. The icy rain pounded mercilessly as we shivered in our padded jackets while we waited for our pick-up from the hotel. People huddled under their umbrellas rushed by. The puddles of water began plinking as the rainfall became heavier and we couldn’t help but wonder if our Wildlife Discovery Tour was going to be washed out!
Suddenly a silver luxury Mercedes 4WD pulled up into the hotel lobby. It had cute paw prints of different Australian wildlife all over it. Out jumped Cliff, our cheerful driver and tour guide for the day who first introduced himself and then the other guests inside the vehicle. He assured us that the weather at where we were heading to was going to be perfect.
We a sigh of relief, we sank into our comfortable seats and listened to Cliff’s enthusiastic explanation on what was in store for us. We were excited!
It was about 12.30pm by the time we managed to snake our way through the congested Sydney traffic and we soon heard our belly’s rumble. As though he heard the wails of our tummies, Jeff passed a lunch menu and asked us to select our choice so that by the time we arrived; steaming lunch will be ready and waiting for us at the café.
We soon heard him calling the café with our choices and with that taken care off he started off his commentary on the history of the first settlers and cultures and traditions of the natives. The landscape meanwhile had changed. The dark brooding brow of the city changed into vast expanse of the Australian bush lands. The sun seemed to have peeped out of the clouds and there were miles and miles of land as far as the eye could see.
Our first stop, lunch! We were in a quaint little village called Berrima located some 122 km south-west of Sydney. If big cosmopolitan cities are what you are used to, just 5 minutes in Berrima will have you feeling as if you just time travelled. Time has pretty much stood still here but there was something truly beautiful about its colonial heritage and sandstone buildings.
My beef and capsicum pie with a side of salad
There is no cake more Australian than the Lamington
Though not an elaborate affair, lunch was very satisfying. After a delicious beef pie and my first introduction to Lamingtons, a soft sponge cake coated in a layer of chocolate sauce and desiccated coconut, we had a few minutes to explore our surroundings. We noticed a couple of antique shops tucked away in the corner, still selling what appeared to be Christmas decorations, a few tiny restaurants, lots of birds in their animated chatter and a few local folk who smiled warmly as we passed by.
We were soon back on the road and some 20 minutes later we arrived at Megalong Park which housed some of the private farm-lands that we would be entering in search of koalas, kangaroos, platypus, emus and wombats – known as the Australian big 5!
Cliff handed each of us binoculars and started to drive through the pristine bush land of the beautiful Southern Highlands in search of wildlife. We presently encountered small mobs of kangaroos hopping across green grassy meadows. We were still inside the vehicle and we snapped pictures through the window openings and sunroofs. I must say those Kangaroos move fast; they soon disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
As I stood up and pushed my head through the second sunroof, I couldn’t help but notice that the sky was like a dome of plasma-blue. The clouds looked like airy anvils drifting under the gleaming disc of the sun. Cliff was right, the weather was perfect!
He drove deeper into the valley and we looked long and hard for a koala sighting from inside the vehicle but to no avail. After 20 minutes, we got off at a lookout point and gazed at the V-shaped valley below. “You will be walking towards the valley floor”, said Cliff. “I shall meet you there”, he added. We were thrilled. There’s nothing like having some time to explore on our own.
Making our way down to the valley floor
Just like any safari experience in Africa, we were prepared to be floored with what we would see and also prepared for no shows as we’re dealing with nature; it’s not a performance and animals don’t appear on cue. They are least interested in us, I mean really, what’s interesting about us humans anyways.
As we walked through the towering forests of Grey Gums, we kept our eyes peeled for koalas. We passed a number of termite mounds and plump wombats. Wombats are short-legged, muscular quadrupedal marsupials with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws.
We managed to come extremely close to several solitary wombats and I couldn’t help but think they look like miniature bears. They are quite shy like most wild animals are but as long as we didn’t get too near, they remained where they were and we managed to photograph them quite easily. Their burrows can go up to 30 metres long and several metres deep.
Wombats are Australian marsupial mammals that are the closest relative to the Koala. They have a backwards facing pouch so that when they are nursing young in their pouch they can still dig burrows and not fill their pouch with soil!
A wombats best form of defence though is when they are in their burrow. Here if they are cornered they can crush their would be predator/attacker underground using a large solid plate in their backside against the roof of their burrow.
Off to spot some koalas…
We continued to explore as we walked by a calm lake hoping to see a few platypus’ around but unfortunately we didn’t see any. They were no emu sightings as well. Well, it was one of those unlucky days when a place that’s teeming with wildlife just decided to take a holiday. Perhaps they just decided to hide and watch us pass by from dense undergrowth.
The landscape on the other hand was truly spectacular and we felt a sense of peace and serenity. The honking and shrill sounds of civilization were nowhere to be heard. The birds flew past us calling out as they returned to their nests. We were in the middle of bush land with no mobile reception and totally immersed in the beauty of untouched nature.
Cliff picked us up an hour later and reported that he saw a field of kangaroos on the other side. The sun was already setting so we knew photos weren’t going to be good but we were keener on the experience to see them up close and in their element.
As we drove through woodlands and pastures, mobs of kangaroos were grazing for their supper. They jumped high and fast as we approached them in the vehicle so we got off and got a spotlight each to seek them out on foot. The orange hues of the sun had set and a shroud of darkness engulfed us. We turned on our spotlights and trudged through the grasslands. We could sense them moving away as we approached. Hopping away quickly and softly. Occasionally they turned and starred into our spotlights and hopped a few meters away.
Kangaroos are the largest marsupial surviving on earth today. They are well known for their style of movement; hopping on their hind legs whilst using their large, muscular tail for balance
Don’t let appearance fool you, wombats are very alert and are capable of reaching speeds of 40km an hour!
It was truly an amazing sight to see them so close, some were even having a boxing match. This playful boxing match would turn fierce during the mating season, so we were told by Cliff. But you could stand there transfixed amidst them watching them in their natural surrounds rather than in captivity or confined zoo enclosures. There is nothing more liberating for the soul than to see animals roam freely in their own surroundings. Watching these mobs of kangaroos in open meadows, stumbling over a wombat in the middle of a burrow excavation or trying to spot an elusive koala on a tree is truly fascinating.
And we marvelled at Mother Nature and her gifts. Sometimes if she is generous she may let you see the big 5 in your Wildlife Tour in Australia. Sometimes like today she may show you a few, but she would stun you with her beauty and grace, just as she might frighten the living daylights out of you in her fury.
Time had flown quickly and dinner beckoned. We headed back to Berrima and dined at Bushranger Bistro located inside the Surveyor General Inn, Australia’s oldest licensed pub/inn.
Doesn’t that look delish?
Built in 1834 and constructed out of local convict-hewn sandstone and sandstock bricks, Bushranger Bistro is a longstanding part of Berrima’s history, serving up classic pub-grub daily to travellers and locals alike. This 150-seater bistro puts a unique spin on dining-out with a large barbeque where guests can cook their own steaks.
While I was too lazy to cook my own steak, I chose a hearty lamb shank dish for dinner and it was delicious! There are vegetarian and seafood options as well, if you so choose. After dinner and pleasant conversations, we continued our wildlife exploration by seeking out nocturnal possums high up in the nearby trees. We were all thrilled to find one glaring at us as we photographed it.
Brush-tailed possums are about as big as domestic cats, and have a pointed snout, pink nose, long whiskers and large ears. They also have sharp claws, which they use to climb trees and comb their fur
It was getting late into the night and we soon got into our car and headed back for a 90 minute ride to Sydney. I sat back in my seat reminiscing the day that just ended. It was a fabulous experience. I have travelled far and wide into cities and seaside’s, into mountains and monuments and zoos but this was different. This trip gave me a glimpse of the wild, a fascination I shall stroke in the near future.
I was amazed at our excitement of finding wildlife after hours of searching the bush lands. We were happy and thrilled. There were no great photo opportunities, nature played with the lighting and even stole our communication signals. Ordinarily it would be irritating but the experience of this trip was extraordinary. You would only know what I mean if you do this trip yourself. And like me you too may discover that wildlife improves the quality of human life.
The 1 Day Tour: Wildlife Discovery from Sydney by BeMyGuest operates on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. For more information, click here to visit their official website.
Travel and Beyond was hosted by BeMyGuest but as usual all opinions are our own.