Teun and Loes had managed to get hold of a holiday home for the weekend, down on the eastern coast of Australia near to Eden.
It was possible to get there from our home in Canberra by road, but it was also possible to draw a straight line diagonally across the map and travel through the bush, so of course this is what we did. Loes’ sister Ninke happened to be in Australia at the time, and at the last minute she decided that rather than travel in the back of the characterful but somewhat uncomfortable Wahoo, she would hitch a ride in our slightly more comfortable Nissan.
It is a good many hours of off-road driving from here to there, and we convinced Ninke that it would be a great idea to learn to drive the truck, since in Holland all the cars are tiny. She ended up having a lot of fun, and although on a couple of mountain passes Bronwyn and I were wondering whether the nearside wheels were actually hanging over the edge, we thought it best not to mention it until later that evening.
Eventually after a long day in the bush, we arrived in Narooma, finding the house to be an enormous property with a verandah looking out over the sea. We soon got down to some beer and food and some serious partying, some time next day on the beach, local seafood – including the famous Moreton Bay Bugs which taste fabulous but which look like nothing on this planet.
Next morning it was time to head down to the beach to board the Whale Safari. When we arrived, though, the operators were looking pretty glum. The early voyage had come back empty-handed, and the signs were that the whales had moved on. We’d still see seals, they said, but they were more than happy to refund our money if we wanted to cancel, because they reckoned we only had about a 10-15% chance of seeing anything bigger.
Never mind, we boarded anyway. The boat was going to take us to Montague Island, a local tourist attraction, and look for whales on the way, so we thought we’d go along for the ride.
Once out of the fierce harbour exit, it was a pleasant summer’s day cruise, although Ninke was looking a little green from the motion. Then, suddenly, a humpback whale surfaced, and within moments we realised that we were right in the middle of an entire pod, all apparently delighted to see the boat. We were then treated to nearly an hour of the whole gamut of whale behaviour: showing heads, showing tails, breaching, tail diving, swimming upside down, diving under the boat, and generally having a pretty wild time. The boat operators were ecstatic, they said they’d never seen a display like it. Then a second pod turned up to join in the fun.
I did take quite a few pictures, some of which grace this page, but really I spent most of the time staring at them in wonder. I’ve been on whale safaris before, seeing Sperm and Minke Whales in Norway, and Blue and Beluga Whales in Canada, but I’d never before seen them playing around and having such a great time, just like enormous dolphins.
Eventually it was time to move on, to nearby Montague Island, home to generations of lighthouse keepers and also to a thriving seal colony. They lay like huge sacks of lard over the sun-baked rocks, bulls guarding their harems and staring haughtily as our boat chugged by, pups off to the side on their own rocks, looking incredibly cute but stinking of stale urine, wet fur, and rancid fish.
To finish off the evening, we sat and watched as the islands colony of little penguins waddled up the beach, a much smaller and more intimate display than the huge tourist attraction at Phillip Island. I can’t show you any photos here, because they are startled by camera flashes, but suffice it to say that watching them climb out of the surf and amble up to their nests is always an edifying and somewhat comical experience.
All too soon it was time for the long drive home, but our wildlife experience wasn’t yet over. Partway up a bush track we came across a goanna, a huge lizard, rooting about in an old log.
Somehow or other we got separated from the Wahoo, which wasn’t carrying a radio, so we decided to drop down to Cooma for a bite to eat before getting thoroughly lost in the dark while attempting a short cut through the Kosciusko National Park, finishing off the holiday in unseasonal rain with an entertaining slide around through muddy dark outback farms, avoiding randomly scattered white goods which looked suspiciously as though they contained the body parts of the last visitor, while trying to simultaneously get off private land defended by Keep Out Or Else signs, dark and sinister deserted buildings, and once the suspended body of a dead kangaroo, in an attempt to find the national capital.
My attempts at entertaining the girls with a selection of late-night horror stories didn’t seem to go down enormously well, and Bronwyn and I got very wet climbing in and out of the car opening and closing gates as we worked our way across the bush. All in all, I doubt that Ninke will forget this trip for quite some time.