Category Archives: animals

Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 15: The Huntsman

animals, Sydney Expat Interviews

This post is brought to you by the Tourism Board of Australia. Just kidding!

You know that old chestnut about how every critter in Australia is out to kill you? Well, the Hunstman spider is not one of those things. It is, however, an extremely common and enormous spider that people routinely find behind doors, in shoes, or crawling out from under the car’s sun visor. Encountering one is sort of an expat rite of passage. 

Toughened up Aussies will tell you, “ah, mate, it’s just a Huntsman! Leave it be. It eats the other bugs.” And, I suppose that is one possible response to seeing a spider the size of a basketball in your living room…

I have somehow managed to escape my Hunstman initiation, and every time I say that, I think I’m cursing myself. I don’t know why I’d put it in print.
Here are some other expats and their tales of Huntsman bravery. 

This is the 15th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants linked below, and join me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney.Sydney Expat Interview Series - Hunstman spider


Question 15: Have you encountered a Huntsman spider?

Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 6 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers

Yes! The first one I encountered in my house was literally thudding across the carpet it was that big! Think a house spider on steroids that can run faster than Usain Bolt…not much sleep to be had when one of those is running wild in your apartment!

Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 7 years

We had one make its way off our terrace into our lounge one evening – and was positioned just next to my husbands head when he walked back in – I have only ever seen a spider that size in a zoo before – so I am so so thankful that my husband was home to deal with it – my first reaction on seeing it was to scream and jump onto a sofa – it was actually bigger than the shoe my husband hit it with – after that I made a comment about not being able to live in Australia anymore!!


Name: “Bushranger”
Country of Origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5 Years

Yes on our balcony ceiling – it took at least a quarter of the ceiling and retreated fast.

Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States

Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram

Ohhhh yes. The first time was in my son’s closet. I shut his closet door, then his bedroom door, and ran out into the living room and stayed there. I left it as a present for my husband. The second time it was chilling inside my bedroom window sideways. I was calm and did not freak out so I didn’t scare the kids. The third time, our front door was open and it had come in from under the screen. It was chilling on the TV. I mean…we’re trying to watch a show here, Mr. Huntsman!!! My husband got a plastic container and tried to capture it but omg those things move faster than I eat a bowl of ice cream. We (he, definitely not me) got it and threw the ENTIRE plastic container on the front lawn! They’re freaky looking and they move fast but the good thing is, they eat all the bugs and won’t eat YOU!


Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England

Lived in Sydney: 1.5 year
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

Thankfully not and I hope to avoid one for as long as possible! I’ve heard they are super speedy though and that I shouldn’t be scared of them as they eat all the other bugs!

Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

Plenty! The most memorable story took place in our first house, out at Galston. It was winter time so we were using the wood burning stove daily. I opened the door to sweep out the previous days ashes and lay a new fire, I was really close, had my head almost in the stove while I was reaching to the back when my hubby suddenly said really urgently ‘move, get away from the stove now’. When I looked up there was the biggest spider we had ever seen sitting right there on the door of the stove. I leaped away and we both stood there just looking at this monster. We made a plan, hubby got a broom and I got a mesh waste paper bin. Hubby knocked the spider off the door, at which point the bloody thing made a beeline straight for me and the thingwas FAST, somehow I managed to get the bin over it just before it got to me. We thought it was a wolf spider, but others think it’s a huntsman.


Name: Mollie
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 4 years

Only safely on in the woods or in our garden. I left them alone.

Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

I did once find a spider at a friend’s house that I feared was a Huntsman because of its size. Please keep those spiders away!

Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year

Melissa blogs at Leche Love

Yes, we had a big one living in our basement! One day, it disappeared, which is even scarier. We finally cleared piles and piles of boxes (thanks, Ikea), and she reappeared. We had named her Charlotte. After a few days, we gave her a new home-outside.


Name: Erin
Country of origin: Texas, USA
Lived in Sydney: 7 1/2 years
Erin blogs at TexErin-in-Sydneyland

Ohhhhh….emmmmm…geeeeee! I hate spiders. With a passion. I was in the passenger seat, looked over, on the window (yes, the outside, but still scary in my book) was the hugest, ugliest, scariest spider I’ve ever seen. I started to crawl into the backseat of the car. My guy still quotes my very weak cry to “Help me!” whenever a spider is around.

Name: Rachel
Country of Origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 Years

Earlier this year I had my first close encounter with a Huntsman. I was hanging out my laundry in our sunroom, and low and behold a super fast huntsman shot out from amongst my bed sheets (had been airing on the outside line) and shot diagonally across the wall. It seemed to be larger than a dinner plate. I screamed and my friend Kate helped me capture it. A glass proved too small and we had to resort to using a Tupperware tub before successful capture and subsequent release back into the front yard.

Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets

Can’t say I have…but lets not jinx me.


You made it to the end!
Are you ready to cancel your ticket to Australia, or do you think that we expats are a bit soft?
Tell us your Huntsman story. 

Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney
Read Part 11: A Sydney Weekend
Read Part 12: Australian TV
Read Part 13: Something I Miss From Home
Read Part 14: Favorite Sydney Restaurant

Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 5: The Birds!

animals, Sydney Expat Interviews

After two near-misses with dive bombing magpies and a seagull snatching an entire sandwich out of my toddler’s hand last month, I thought the time was right to tackle the hard-hitting question of birds in this month’s Sydney Expat Interview Series.

We’re lucky to have such vibrant wildlife in this city, but honestly, some of the birds seem dead set against us. Some are loud, some aggressive, and some of them just cock their head and look at you funny. If you’ve ever seen The Birds, you know this is not something to take lightly. There’s even a website dedicated to tracking magpie attacks in Sydney! They’re a big part of life here, and we all have that one bird that just rubs us the wrong way (well, most of us, anyway).

This is the 5th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants here, and follow me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney.Question 5


Question 5: Which Sydney bird do you find the most aggravating and why?

Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 5 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers 

Probably the magpies, they are massive and aggressive and annoyingly loud!

Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 6 years

The magpies that swoop – very scary . Now that I have my daughter, I don’t want them swooping anywhere near us!! I don’t like the way they just stare at you.

Name: Nom de geurre – “Bushranger”
Country of origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5yrs

Magpie because it screeches like it needs WD-40.




Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram

I feel like most people will see the Magpie but I’m going to tell you a secret. IT’S NOT!!! The Magpie is only annoying a couple months out of the year and they are easily avoidable. The worst one is the Myna bird. Honestly, they are psychotic ALL months of the year! They swoop you repeatedly and flap their little wings over your head. They steal eggs from other bird’s nests and they generally are in a group of 5 or 6 which can feel like a million if you go near their nest! Anytime I’m at a playground, these silly birds are flying at my head and flapping their wings at me. Ugh! They are so annoying!!!

Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

The Noisy Miner because when they all get going they are so loud you literally cannot hear conversation over them.


Name: Rachel
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 3 years, 7 months

The sulphur crested cockatoos. They were in abundance near my first apartment in Manly and remind me of monkeys. They’d wake me most mornings with their ear piercing squawking and you can guarantee, there is never a solitary cockatoo. They hunt in packs.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 1.5 years

Crows, as when I first heard them, I literally thought a baby was crying.

Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 7 months
Melissa blogs at Leche Love

I haven’t learned which one is the one that sounds like a kid screaming or a cat dying yet, but that one.

Crow. (Or, as some of us call them, “the screaming child” birds).

Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 months
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

The crazy long beaked birds that assert their authority over Hyde Park and the Botanic Gardens. They come far too close when you’re trying to have a relaxed lunch in the park and their beaks look like they could do some serious damage.

Australian Ibis

It’s called the Australian Ibis

Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets 

The Ibis. They’re like seagulls in Sydney. The Cassowary is pretty nifty however.

Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

Ibis birds, all the way. I was fascinated by them at first, considering how different they are from anything we’d see regularly back home, but I now despise them. The park near my office where I often eat lunch is filled with them. They’re aggressive, always grabbing my trash from right under me, and they smell awful.

Name: Erin
Country of origin: Texas, USA
Lived in Sydney: 6 1/2 years
Erin blogs at TexErin-in-Sydneyland 

Ibis. Can a woman just have her lunch in Hyde Park in peace?!? Geesh!!!!

Name: Mollie
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 4 years

I love them all and still get amazed by seeing them and how exotic they are.

Have you had any encounters with the birds of Sydney?

Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie

Possum Tragic


When you move to Australia, people from home are sure to ply you with links to whatever horrifying listicle Buzzfeed has just come out with about all the deadly and gigantic wildlife the Lucky Country has on offer. So far, we’ve been fortunate to not have had any run-ins with dastardly or exciting critters, though I do live in constant fear that my luck at never having had a Huntsman spider is destined to run out any day … Why would I tempt fate by putting that in writing?!

Recently, however, we have been having close encounters with Australian wildlife in the form of a clan of possums who have taken up residence on our balcony.

photo (12)

Australian possums are marsupials, and no relation to the absolutely disgusting spawn of Satan North American opossum. The brush-tailed possum is a common sight in the city. The first time I ever saw one not long after we moved here, it was digging through the trash on the street, and unperturbed by human passersby. Once you discover that they’re not actually a rat – thankfully, as they’re probably triple the size – they’re sort of cute, at least in a “you stay in your corner and I’ll stay in mine, and we’ll get along just fine” sort of way.

We’d seen some outside our apartment from the first week that we moved in. They’d scurry across the balcony railing and jump into a nearby tree, not to be seen again until at least the next night, if not longer. One of them was a mother carrying a baby on her back, which was, I must admit, sort of sweet.  I didn’t love having them right there, but never gave them too much thought until one morning a couple months ago when I was sweeping the balcony to prepare for a BBQ we were having with some friends. I heard a rustling in the built-in bench, and then the next thing a possum bolted out from under and off the balcony. Then another. And then another.

Cue shock, horror, screaming, and the immediate rousing of the sleeping husband, who needed a couple of minutes to make sense of what his raging wife was hissing and gesticulating about. We discovered that they’d made a nest of leaves inside the bench, which we Partner-in-Crime cleared out. That night, with our very game guests present, the Family Possum made another appearance around the time of the cheesecake course, the littlest one running right under our feet. Much shrieking and insistence that we GO INSIDE IMMEDIATELY on the part of the female contingent surely set the feminist agenda back a decade at minimum.

A week or so later, my little family was having dinner on the balcony on a lovely summer evening, feeling safe that the nocturnal possums wouldn’t reappear for at least a couple of hours, when Bam!, from the balcony above, they raced down, one of them coming within inches of my little Hushpuppy.

That was certainly the end of our happy cohabitation, and we’ve been in an uneasy sublettership ever since. We alerted our property manager who consulted with The Possum Man (really), and they came back with the unfortunate-for-us news that possums are protected in New South Wales and, furthermore, as they are extremely territorial, it’s illegal to re-home them. If they get into the roof of your home, you can evict them, but from a balcony, there’s not much you can do.

Per the Possum Man’s advice we Partner-in-Crime blocked off all entry to the bench unit, and we’ve also been spraying a deterrent spray from the hardware store that they promised us was just stinky to possums, not poisonous to either them or nearby toddlers.

It hasn’t done much good. We see them almost every night now, at least once, and often P-i-C, who is nocturnal himself, sees them coming back from their night’s adventures. He’ll go out and bark at them to move along, in which case they’ll usually head to the balcony above us, but if we don’t see them come in, they’ve been pretty crafty in trying to find new digs on our balcony. The picture above was taken when we found them sleeping in our BBQ grill. I cannot even figure out how they got in there under the hood! They’ve also tried a few times to get back into the bench, so the blockade is an ongoing enterprise. Hushpuppy is rather intrigued by them, and she loves to point to the balcony and say “possums!” Though I think she’s only actually seen the a couple of times, they made a distinct impression. I, on the other hand, have soured on the whole lot of them, and get particularly cranky when she asks me to read her Australian favorite Possum Magic. Magic my (13)

If it hadn’t been for our close encounters with them, I probably wouldn’t be so bothered by their presence, but as it stands, I’ve pretty much given up on using our balcony. I’d had fantasies of summer nights out there after Hushpuppy went to bed sipping some white wine and chatting, but I’ve had to give that idea over to the reality of our unpleasant tenants. I am reminded of high school English – it’s a classic battle of man vs. nature, and despite my hubris and burning desire for an al fresco glass of Riesling, nature once again wins the day.


Day 17: The Things We See

animals, expat blog challege

Today is a photo prompt: Something I never would have seen if I’d stayed home. 

There are, of course, endless things I never would have seen if I’d stayed home, and that goes for living abroad, or just travel. Thinking about this prompt, it occurs to me that I’m really a “look at things” kind of a traveller. I like a good adventure, now and again, but the ideal of travel, to me, isn’t about bungee jumpingk or abseiling, or kayaking wild rapids. When I go somewhere new, what I really want is to stuff as many new, interesting images into my brain as possible.

This picture came straight to mind. On our trip to Tasmania, which was a full-on experience of adding amazing images to my mental slideshow, I was dead-set on seeing a wombat in the wild. My obsession with wombats, since arriving in Australia is well-documented. I find them far superior to the more famous Aussie animals, and joke that they need to hire the koala’s PR person. We’d I’d been stalking them in a national park for, I’m not going to lie, at least an hour and a half, while Partner-in-Crime sat in the car. Not finding any, I sadly gave up, and we got on the road to go back to our hotel. Buuuuut … on the way out of the park, we spotted one! We got out to take a closer look, and sat nearby for awhile, a handful of other tourists doing the same. And then, across the street, another one. All total, I think we saw about half a dozen, just grazing away, doing their business. They were completely unperturbed by us humans. I have another picture of P-i-C about 3 feet from one.

They were every bit as cute and sweet as I’d imagined, and even if I never happen upon another one in the wild, I’ll treasure this picture forever.wombat

Garden Party

animals, Sydney

One of the most primo perks of my job is its proximity to the Botanic Garden. I can see the park across the street from my desk, and almost every day that it is not raining and that I can liberate myself for 30 minutes, I take my lunch onto the Rose Garden lawn. It’s a free and easy daily respite.

During the Winter, the park was fairly abandoned during lunch hour, but now that Spring has arrived, the lawn is almost always full with a combination of business-suited men and women sitting directly on the grass, outdoor yoga classes or joggers taking a little rest, retirees/tourists admiring the foliage, and families. Yesterday I was in the vicinity of a family with a girl who was about 6, who kept exclaiming with glee at the roses.

Though there are many people and groups on the lawn, it is a sprawling park and I can always find a quiet spot to tuck myself into. Sometimes I do have to defend my lunch from overzealous ibis. When I first started having lunch in the garden, I chose a bench under a tree, only to get cold clocked on the back of the head by a territorial bird on a fly-by mission. This happened twice in the same spot, so I decided that it was not a coincidence and that I would do better planting myself out in the open. I’ve been unmolested ever since.
Ibis. Curious, but non-aggressive, unlike some of his feathered brethren.
The other day, in a true sign-of-Spring moment, I had had some company when a ladybug crawled up on the screen of my Kindle. I was delighted enough to take a photo, which I imagined I’d pop onto the blog, but when I looked at it, I realized that I happened to be on the porniest page of my book, and it appeared in a non-croppable way that I was reading 50 Shades of Grey (which I was not), rather than Freedom (which I was). So, just trust me, the ladybug was cute.
Many days, I also get serenaded by the sounds emanating from the Conservatory of Music next door. And, I am often in the Garden at 1pm when I hear the cannon fired off daily with unwavering punctuality from Fort Denison.
Conservatory of Music:
just needs a moat to keep the violinists and opera singers safe.
Though I inhabit roughly the same territory daily, the atmosphere changes constantly. One day, there will be a bright pink tree on offer, and the next, it will have dropped its flowers. Marigolds have recently sprung up some of the flower beds. The rose bushes were all trimmed back during the winter, which I must admit, made for a rather desolate Rose Garden experience. But, lo and behold, over the last two weeks, they have returned in all their ostentatious glory, reminding me that I know the best little lunch place in Sydney.

Jervis Bay – Whale Edition

animals, national parks

The week after we went to Dubbo, we hit the road again for an overnight to Jervis Bay. This was our second trip to Jervis Bay, and it was a treat to find out that we loved the place as much, if not more, than the first time. It had been such a magical place when we first went, I actually felt nervous that when we visited the sites of such vivid memories from last year, that they would not hold up. It had been our first trip out of Sydney, so everything seemed amazing, at the time.

Indeed they did hold up, though, and our experience with our beloved Booderee National Park and the crazy-weird Moona Moona Creek were deepened by seeing them at a different time of year, particularly since it was Winter and mid-week, and thereby very nearly deserted. My favorite part of the trip was sitting on the pristine Murray’s Beach during what photographers would call “the golden hour,” with Partner-in-Crime, a bottle of wine, and not another soul, except the dolphins who moseyed past from time to time.

I won’t say much more about these spots, since I wrote about them the first time, but I’ll share a few photos before I get on to the real adventure of the trip.

Booderee National Park
Booderee National Park
At last, kangaroos on the beach! (Booderee)
If you look closely at the Mama kangaroo, you can see a little joey in her pouch. (Booderee) 
One million crazy little blue crabs. Moona Moona Creek.
Moona Moona Creek.
Life in the cracks, Moona Moona Creek

The main purpose of our trip to Jervis Bay was actually to take a whale watching cruise. It was nearing the end of the season when whales migrate south to north, and can be seen off the coast of Australia. I wasn’t sure if we’d see much, since it was the tail end of the season, but good news for us was that it was an amazingly clear, blue sky day, so visibility was top notch.

From the boat, heading out of Jervis Bay. 

We also lucked out big time because, taking the trip mid-week and outside of school holidays, there was hardly anyone on the boat. On a huge ship with room for 150 or more, there were maybe 20 of us. Prime viewing for everyone.

My fears about not seeing much were for nothing. We ended up seeing nine whales and two fur seals on the three hour tour (very Gilligan’s Island, no?). Basically, once we were out to sea, one of the lookout crew would spot a whale in the distance, and the boat would head in that direction. For awhile, we were chasing some whales that were near a pair of moored Navy ships, and we had to retreat, lest we be seen as threatening the security of Her Majesty.

We did see one whale breach a ways away. And, the absolute highlight of the day came, at the very end of the trip. We’d been following a trio of whales at a bit of a distance right before we needed to turn back for the day, and the captain suggested we could stay where we were for just a couple more minutes to see where they came up. And, holy mother, they came up for air right next to us … practically touching distance. I was snapping away on my camera, but too excited to pay attention where I was looking, so instead of some amazing shots of whales mere feet from me, I got a bunch of pictures of the mast at various angles. Not that I could photograph the best parts, anyway … the sound, the feel, and my deligthed surprise.

Ah well, sometimes these memories must only live in your mind.

Whale breath.

About the only shot I got of the whales near the boat. Could be whales. Could be old tires. Who can say?


animals, holidays, restaurants

A few weeks ago, we were feeling some wanderlust, invoked in no small part by the weeks of drenching rain that Sydney was experiencing. So, we decided to get out of Dodge on a couple of brief road trips designed to placate our need for feats of daring and adventure, or at least get out of our wet wellies for a day or two.

First up, we drove out of town a few hours west to the regional town of Dubbo, which not only has the cutest town name ever, but is also home to the Western Plains Zoo.

It was a solid day’s drive to Dubbo from Sydney, on a day that just so happened to be my birthday. I was full of sass and crank about the way my day was unfolding, even though Partner-in-Crime let me be the DJ all day and encouraged my purchase of Tim Tams, salt and vinegar chips, and giant cans of Solo lemonade. Even the “This American Life” where Starlee Kine gets Phil Collins’s advice on writing a breakup song could not cheer me out of my birthday funk.

This sunset, as we drove through regional New South Wales, helped lift my mood tremendously, though …

When we reached Dubbo, my ever-loving husband asked the hotel check in clerk for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested a steakhouse, which based on the above average prices, seemed to me like a good enough bet. I’m not in the habit of naming establishments that I don’t enjoy, but I will simply suggest the hard-earned logic that if you are in Dubbo, you may find far superior dining options than a chain steakhouse. It was the sort of place that would have charged $16.99 for a T-bone, baked potato, salad, and veg at home, and my sauce-drenched fillet did nothing to further elevate me out of my self-inflicted malaise. 
Thankfully, birthdays only last one day, and I was in far better spirits the next day. We raided a local bakery for croissant breakfasts and afternoon snacks to carry into the zoo with us. It was a beautiful morning, and we decided to see the zoo by renting (“hiring,” as they say here) bikes. It was a great choice because the zoo is a bit of an expanse, which is well designed for bike traffic (you can also drive, rent motorized carts, or walk). Because it was a weekday, there were very few other guests, so we usually had the road to ourselves.
It was such a lovely zoo experience. Most of the animals have a good swath on which to roam, but we also got the feeling that we could get quite close to them. It was easy to navigate and manageable in the four hours we spent there. We checked in on the public feedings of the elephant, tortoises, and lemurs, which were narrated by enthusiastic handlers. We were also blessed with a gloriously beautiful day on which to roam.
A few of our favorite friends …

It had started raining when we left the zoo, so we were hard-pressed to find something to do with the rest of the afternoon. Anything outdoors was out, so we headed over to a local winery – Red Earth Estate. P-i-C talked world affairs with the highly intelligent and wordly winemaker, while we spent a good hour with him tasting everything on offer. We’ve been to a lot of wineries, and this one was decidedly among the best I’ve been to. It was hard to decide what to buy, and we could easily have walked away with a lot more than the two bottles we did.
The rain had let up when we finally bid adieu to our new friend Mr. Winemaker, so we took a sunset walk at a local park, which had the prettiest pedestrian promenade along the river.

We finished the day with a perfectly acceptable Thai dinner and a lot of Master Chef.
We drove home, in no hurry, the next day; but not before stopping for breakfast at Short Street Cafe, which our winemaker compatriot had recommended. It was the sweetest restaurant in a sprawling house, with tables and funky local art in every room. I can still taste the amazing eggs benedict with lime-infused hollandaise. If you’re ever in Dubbo, eat there. What a great way to spend the morning. It reminded me of a lot of converted house restaurants I’ve eaten at in the South, and I wish we had a place like this in Sydney.
We meandered rather aimlessly on our way home, just wanting to see some more of the countryside. Our “destination,” if you will, was the Ophir Gold Mine, which was the first working gold mine in Australia. Purportedly, it is still in operation, but we’d arrived on a weekend, and after driving down dirt road after increasingly bumpy dirt road to get there, it hardly seemed like a bastion of commerce. Nor did we see anyone working, unless you count the industrious pack of wild kangaroos we frightened. We went through a bunch of gold mining towns, including one with the fortuitous name Lucknow. I got a bit snap-happy, so I’ll leave you with a few  photos of New South Wales’ gold country …

Balanced Diet


Today, I had a doctor’s appointment – just a regular check up. All was well, except that the doctor said my iron level was low.

No big deal, she suggested, but she wanted me to boost it.
So, in an only-in-Australia diagnosis, she told me that I could take iron supplements or, if I’d rather, eat more kangaroo.
I took the supplements.

Kangaroo Island and the End of Our Grand Adventure

animals, day zero project, food, giant roadside attractions, national parks, restaurants, South Australia

First thing in the morning on ANZAC Day, we rode the ferry from Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Island, a place purported by numerous websites we read to be “magical” and “pristine.” It’s a 45 minute ride from the mainland onto the large island, and we were happy to have sunny and warm weather so that we could sit on the top deck for the ride.

Coming into port, all I needed to see was the color and clarity of the water to know that we’d arrived somewhere wonderful.

Once we had the car off the ferry, we made a beeline to the tourist information office.

May I just sidetrack for a moment to give a hearty plug to tourist information offices? I can’t tell you how often stopping and having a quick chat with one of the lovely staff members has made all the difference in our vacations. Tourist Information workers … I salute you.

In any case, we got our marching orders from the desk, and headed off for a full day of adventures. Kangaroo Island is actually quite large, so we had to be efficient to make it from one end of the island to the other and back again in the paltry one day we’d alloted ourselves. But, we were up for it.

First stop was by my special request, as I’d spied a lavender farm on the map, and thought that there could be nothing but goodness there. Partner-in-Crime was a good sport, even though I don’t believe I know any self-respecting straight man who is happy, per se, to find himself at a lavender farm. The owner greeted us and offered us a selection of tea and/or scones. We settled on a lavender scone, and then got the tour of the grounds, as it was prepared.  There were more varieties of lavender than one might imagine even exist. Poor P-i-C. … I shot a multitude of photos on the grounds while P-i-C stood by, looking bewildered and perhaps a bit emasculated. The lavender scone was fresh out of the oven when we came back from the gardens, however, and any discomfort was quickly forgotten in the warm bready goodness and heavenly clotted cream topping.

Our next stop was the Kelly Caves, where we stopped in for a guided tour. They weren’t entirely impressive, unless you’re really into stalactites and stalagmites. I learned that stalactites are the ones that hang down (I’m sure I learned this in elementary school, but it’s not one of those things that exactly comes up often, so I’d forgotten), and you can remember this, as we were informed, because “stalactites ‘hang on tight.'”

So, yeah, there was that.

Back on the road, we headed off to Flinders National Park, which isthe crown jewel of Kangaroo Island (and also on the complete opposite end from the ferry wharf).
First stop was the Admirals Arch. Now, this spot would be worth seeing no matter what – stunning, stunning ocean views …
… but the real attraction here is the seals. Admirals Arch is home to 7,000 New Zealand fur seals. We got to see – and smell – plenty. At first, they were quite far away, but if you’re up for climbing down (and then up again) a good number of stairs, you can actually get very close to them. There were 20 or more at the spot where we settled. We stood on the lookout for ages, watching them play, fight, and waddle around in the most awkward fashion. (They blend in with the rocks, so you might have to play “spot the seals” in the photos).

After prying ourselves away from the seals, we took the short drive to Remarkable Rocks. Regardless of how silly the name is (it sounds like it was designed to lure tourists), this actually was a fantastic spot. The rocks are made out of volcanic material and are shaped in the most Dali-esque manner. It was a haven for everyone’s inner artist to come out, as just about all of the tourists present were finding unusual new photo ops with the strange rock formations.
(from afar)

While in the park, we also spotted an echidna (he was too fast for a photo … very selfish of him to run off like that, I thought).
Now having driven the length of the island, we had to turn back to where we started. On the way, we attempted to stop at Vivonne Bay, which has supposedly been named by someone with indeterminate authority “The Most Beautiful Beach in the World.” Unfortunately, it is located far down a road which has never been named “The Best Paved Road in the World,” so in the interest of not blowing out the tires on our poor little rental car, we stopped at a nearby lookout for a quick barefooted wander in the sand, and returned to the main road.
We had thought we’d stop at Seal Bay, where you can pay to get up close to the seals, but taking the advice of the Lavender Farm Guy, we decided that we’d had quite a nice enough seal sighting experience, and continued back to Kingscote.
Based also on the glowing restaurant recommendation of Lavender Farm Guy (and re-affirmed by a tour guide P-i-C ran into while I snapped photos who said it was the “best on the island”), we thought we’d eat dinner at a fish place that we were told was “next to the Caltex (gas) station.” P-i-C was on a mission to eat marron, a local variety of freshwater crayfish, so we confirmed that this restaurant carried it, and we were settled. We’d been very conservative on our dining out on this trip, so we decided that we’d really treat ourselves to a great fish meal.
We pointed the GPS to Caltex, and upon arriving, could not see a restaurant anywhere. Except, there was this little fish place that was literally attached to the gas station (like Taco Bells and KFCs usually are). We looked around some more, checked our guide books, and after a great deal of hesitation, decided that we were, in fact, having our special dinner inside Caltex.
OK, fancy it was not, but our hosts did not steer us wrong about the quality. The fish was practically squirming, it was so fresh, and P-i-C was able to pick his marron right out of the case, for steaming as we waited.
The marron was delicious – I thought it tasted a bit like shrimp. Everything we ate at the Caltex, in fact, was delicious. We could not have been happier with our gas station fish. 
(I joke, but this place is actually called Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafood, and if I were back on Kangaroo Island, I’d eat there again in a minute.)
Our final adventure of the day was the Little Penguin Tour. Seeing the Little Penguins is an item on my Day Zero list, so I’d actually booked this a couple months in advance, and was wildly excited. Unlike on Phillips Island outside of Melbourne, you don’t actually see the penguins coming up to shore. Rather, they are already on the coastline, hanging out in little hidey-holes and makeshift houses that the penguin center set up for them. A guide took us around and showed us the penguins with a special red light, which was great for illuminating penguins, but terrible for taking photos of penguins. 
You’ll just have to take me at my word about seeing the penguins … The best sighting of the night was a couple of penguins having a bit of a domestic drama. The male penguin stood outside the little house, showing off his feathers to the female penguin inside. When he tried to get a bit closer, the female started screeching at him, making it clear he was not coming into her humble abode. We got a big kick out of trying to put a script to this little Jerry Springer style penguin interaction.
The next morning was the final day of the trip, and we had to get up even earlier than the morning I’d sneakily forced P-i-C out of bed. As he grabbed a last few precious moments of sleep, I slipped outside the hotel in the still-dark and quietly ate my breakfast as I listened to the sound of the surf and the nearby howling penguins. I loved having that time to myself, as I thought that I was not likely to wake up to penguins crying across the street too often in my life.
We drove back to the ferry wharf as the sun was rising, which was a perfect way to depart beautiful Kangaroo Island. If I get the chance to go back, I will definitely schedule at least three or four days. We hardly scratched the surface. (We didn’t even see a kangaroo!).
On our way to Adelaide, where we’d catch the flight home, we stopped for another afternoon of wine tasting in McLaren Vale. 
At some point that morning, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be looking for giant roadside attractions, now that the Garcias got me started with the Big Merino, so I made P-i-C drive us to Wirra Wirra Vineyards, where they were supposed to have a giant wine bottle made out of wine corks. We I was sad to learn that the giant bottle was “out for repairs.” Thankfully, their wine was excellent, so all was not lost.
The most picturesque spot was across the street at Hugh Hamilton Wines (which we later realized is featured in a cloying commercial for South Australia before almost every movie we see). The wines were decent, the olive oil was excellent, but the views from the round glass cellar door building were the most memorable part of the vineyard.
I had to make a stop at my beloved Rosemount, where I had my fill of fruity, girly wines, and later I lost P-i-C in a cellar door full to the brim with a bridal shower. When I finally found him, he suggested I taste what he was drinking. I told him it tasted like battery acid, and he told me that it was an $80 bottle. I believe I’ve mentioned that I’m no kind of wine snob. 
The best winery of the day was Samuel’s Gorge. Even I could recognize how excellent their wines were. Had we not been flying, I would have brought home a bottle of everything they made.
Full up on spirits, we had just enough time for a quick lunch and brief look at Adelaide. Doing some quick googling on my phone, I set the GPS to a location just moments outside of the city. P-i-C rightly asked where, exactly, I was making him drive to.
“The Giant Scotsman,” I told him, as if that was most natural destination in the world.
Turns out, all was not lost on the Giant Roadside Attractions front. Not only is there a giant Scotsman just outside of Adelaide, but he is the original giant roadside attraction in Australia. 
He sits a bit forlornly outside the Comfort Inn, and I couldn’t really get a great photo because P-i-C would have had to cross a busy road, and I think I’d stretched his patience as far as could reasonably be expected, at this point. So, we got a side angle …
… and P-i-C was wise enough to document what I’m sure you’re all wondering …
(not only is he wearing something under there, but it matches his kilt)
And thus ended our Great Road Trip, which began with the excitement of the cancelled flight drama, ended looking up the skirt of a giant Scot, and features some unforgettable sights and experiences in between.

The Great Ocean Road

animals, Melbourne, national parks

Thanks for indulging yesterday’s little rant about our airline service. Once we finally got on an airplane, our trip sailed forth like a dream, nary another glitch to be had.

I’d been inspired to take this trip by my friend and fellow blogger, Madame Garcia, who traveled the Great Ocean Road a couple of years ago. I based most of my planning on her careful notes and saved maps and brochures. And, once we hit the road, the printed out copy of her blog was my best guide for the first two days. (We were following in your footsteps, Mrs. Garcia and company, so thanks for that!)

It is only a short drive from Melbourne’s Avalon Airport before you hit the Great Ocean Road, and once on it, it’s mile after mile of breathtaking (and, I use that word literally, as around nearly every turn, I’d say, “whoa!” or, usually, something a bit less family friendly) ocean scenery.

Our first morning stop was Erskine Falls in the Great Otway National Park. The brochure said we’d have a 30 minute hike to the base of the falls, but it ended up only being about a 10 minute walk. Because it had rained that morning, it was rather the swampy walk along the stairway, but the rainforest setting and the graceful falls were worth a little mud on our shoes. Hey, we were driving a rental car, anyway …

Just a few minutes away, was in the adorable little town of Lorne. I was not expecting much from Lorne, as I’m usually wary of “adorable little towns,” which often have something of an inauthentic-trying-too-hard-Stepford quality about them. But, Lorne was genuinely lovely.  We started by taking a walk over a striking pedestrian bridge for a view of the ocean on one side and the river on the other. Then, we wandered into town for a great lunch of fish burgers.

After lunch, we only had one thing on our minds. 
We powered on to Kennett River, where both our predecessor and our brochure promised koalas in abundance. When we pulled up at a convenience store with this in front, we knew we were in the right place:
We were directed up a dirt road for koala sightings. Just a few steps in, we saw a tree with a herd of people around it ooh-ing and also aah-ing. We thought we’d found our koala with incredible ease, but what they were really looking at were a herd of rosellas, some eating birdseed from tourist hands. There were adorable…

… but they were no koalas.

Hiking up the road, we craned our necks, looking towards the tops of every eucalyptus tree in sight. 
We saw a rainbow …
… but no koalas.
We walked further up the hill. No koalas. We saw an ant nest in the tree, but no …

… no …wait … that … is … a … koala!

Once the koala spotting started, we couldn’t miss. The further up the road we went, the more koalas we spotted. Turns out, I’m an ace koala spotter.

Eventually, satisfied with our visual koala haul and facing sunset, we headed out of Kennett River and on to Apollo Bay, pleased with ourselves, as if we’d willed the koalas to appear overhead with our sheer desire to see them.
Just outside of Apollo Bay, we stopped to commune with the sunset, which was casting postcard quality pink-orange rays over the water.
Our hotel room at Apollo Bay turned out to be shockingly run-down. The best I can say about it is that we did not see any actual roaches. But, after our Tiger saga and operating on just a couple hours of sleep, we could hardly bring ourselves to care. We made a feeble attempt at watching TV, as is our routine in hotels (we don’t have a TV at home, so in hotel rooms, we feed ourselves a steady diet of local news and crime dramas to remind ourselves of why we don’t need one), but were asleep by 7p.m. 
Greatly refreshed the next day, we headed out of Apollo Bay and were soon greeted with a strange scene. In the middle of the road, there was a confused koala trying to get to the other side (why did the koala cross the road?). Its efforts were greatly hindered by a pack of Japanese tourists who were petting it and taking photos, while making peace signs. Each had to have his/her turn, and were non-plussed by the onlookers who warned them that it was, in fact, a wild animal and perhaps they should be at least a bit careful. Every time it tried to take a few steps in any direction, it got more confused by people blocking its path for better photos. Admittedly, we took a few shots, but sense got the better of us as we realized that we were doing nothing to help the situation, and got back in our cars to carry on. On our way past, we saw that a woman who seemed to know what she was doing had picked the poor creature up,  and was replacing it safely back amongst the trees.
Further satisfied with our abilities to conjure koalas, we were back on the road, and decided to turn our attentions to viewing massive rock formations jutting out of the sea.
Passing up a few other potential stopping points along the way, we went straight for the First Family of the Great Ocean Road – The Twelve Apostles. I’d seen pictures of these limestone formations, which are slowly eroding, due to their precarious position in the midst of a literal ocean of salt water and pelting waves, and everyone I know who’d seen them said that photos can’t do them justice.
Everyone was right. Still, throngs of tourists, including ourselves, gave it our best attempt. There’s little more to say about their massive grandeur or the enthralling coloration that pops out like a neon sign against the muted sky and water. 
Like so many before me, here’s my failed attempt:

Following the Twelve Apostles, we drove on, stopping for a picnic lunch in Port Campbell. We sat by a jetty with dramatic views, made more so by a storm that was blowing in and whipping up quite a fury of waves.
Then, we were on to the sculptural London Bridge, hollowed out by centuries of erosion. The sky had cleared a good deal by this time, so we got to enjoy the contrast of the limestone against the blue sky.
Two minutes up the road was The Grotto, a great spot because taking the chance on climbing down a great number of stairs paid off with a hidden surprise view that I loved…

By the time that we were approaching what we saw on the map as The Bay of Islands, I was overwhelmed and suggested we skip the stop. But, when we saw rock formations possibly even larger than the Twelve Apostles jutting out from the sea, we had to stop. 
I decided that the Bay of Islands is even better than the Twelve Apostles, and that they need to employ a better PR agent to ramp up their profile.

Now converted to the idea that magical views were awaiting at every potential turnoff, we stopped again one minute up the road at a boat launching site. We were not wrong in our guess, as we were rewarded with our favorite photographic site of the trip. Bushland, still burned out from last year’s fires, was contrasted by the new growth in vivid Fall colors. All this, a picture frame for the Bay of Islands:
Now making terrible time to get to our next stop in Portland, still a fair drive away, we were basically done with suggested stops on the map, so we counseled ourselves and declared us done with stops for photo ops for the day.
Except for that quick stop at one last beach …

 … and seeing a black swan on the side of the road …

… oh, and this seriously cool wind farm …

…. that was it. Really. We were out of daylight.

That night, tucked away in our hotel watching – for some inexplicable reason – Queensland news, and preparing to drift off to sleep, I told Partner-in-Crime that I felt overwhelmed by the visual stimulus of the day. My mind was racing like a film reel with all we’d seen – more amazing and varied sites concentrated into a short geographic area than one sees in most places.

At this point, we’d reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, and were on our way into South Australia the next day. More road trip adventures to come.