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Critters from Down Under

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POSTED March 11, 2013 1:35 a.m.

A couple of weeks ago, I somehow managed to find myself in Australia. As an incurable outdoors enthusiast, I wanted to get a taste of outdoor experiences Down Under. Australia is such a huge and diverse country, it is impossible to see it all in a short time.

Very much like the U.S. they have an amazing array of outdoor experiences. The fishing for great white sharks and marlin off the Great Barrier Reef, looking for salt water crocs in the Northern Territories and hunting wild boar in Queensland would all have to wait. For our brief stay we concentrated on the critters in New South Wales within a few hundred miles of Sydney.

My first impression of New South Wales is that it is beautiful wooded country that surrounds Australia’s largest city. I was also impressed by the abundance of water. There seemed to be creeks, rivers, and bays everywhere and the Aussies were taking full advantage of them. While it’s probably not true that the Aussies invented swimming as a people, they seem to be addicted to water. There famous beaches like Bondi Beach crowded with swimmers, lakes like Lake Macquarie that are home to angler and boaters and streams like The Hunter River that meander through agricultural areas dotted with pastures and vineyards. In fact the Hunter Valley reminds me very much of the Napa Valley in California. You can spend an entire vacation just visiting the wineries of the Hunter Valley. Interspersed through it all are innumerable opportunities for fishing, hunting, and critter watching.

In Newcastle, about 100 miles north of Sydney, I was treated to an afternoon snack of kangaroo steaks. Because kangaroo meat has very little fat, they slice it very thin and then flash fry it so it doesn’t get too tough. I’ve got to say that I could get hooked on Roo meat.  Then it was off to the sea for some fishing at Newcastle’s harbor. As a stranger in a strange land, I placed myself completely in the hands of my guide Angie Parkes.

She rigged up a light spinning rod and used prawns as bait. Then Angie instructed me to cast out into an eddy where the incoming current was entering the harbor. Before you know it, I was feeling a light tapping on the line and I reared back to set the hook. I hooked a small fish that resembled across between a striped bass and a bluegill. Everybody laughed at my pitifully small fish and I posed for a picture before we released it.  The action was fast and I landed three fish on three casts, but they were all small. After a few hang ups and lost gear I had caught seven or eight fish on a dozen casts.  It was great fun.

Taking a break we toured the port facilities of the area, a place called Stockton, where they handled huge volumes of bulk coal and were loading a constant stream of ships for export to China and Japan. After being suitably impressed with Stockton and its port, we went fishing. This time Angie was showing me a local fish called “Toadies” which she informed me was the local name for Puffer Fish the amazing critter that looks like a normal fish until you took it from the water. Then they swelled up like a ball and were covered by sharp spines. I recall reading somewhere that puffer fish were deadly poisonous and Angie confirmed that it was indeed the deadly variety. We let the Puffer Fish go.

The next day we decided to combine Roo watching with wine tasting. We drove up into the Hunter Valley North West of Newcastle. We looked everywhere to find some wild kangaroos to admire and photograph, but had no luck. Frustrated we decided to stop at a small country pub znc lick out wounds. Making small talk in the Pub, we expressed our disappointment at not seeing any Roos. One of the other pub patrons chimed in, that he just came from playing golf at the Patterson Golf Course and there were Roos all over the course. Back in the car for a quick jaunt to Patterson, NSW, where we parked in the Patterson Golf Course parking lot and walked out onto the first fairway, Sure enough a herd of about a dozen Roos were grazing on the fairway. We began walking slowly toward the cute critters, taking photos along the way. We were able to get within about 30 feet of several Roos including two mamas with Joeys in their pouch. They were reasonably calm and really cool.  From that point forward, wherever we drove, in vineyard after vineyard and pasture after pasture, there were wild Roos lazing in the shade and grazing quietly. If we got too close, they’d hop off a few hundred yards & begin grazing again. It was totally cool.

Later in the day we visited a formal wildlife park & got to pet a tame Koala, see wombats and hear Kookaburras. There were flocks of wild cockatiels almost everywhere. While we only scratched the surface of Australian wildlife, it was enough to convince me that I’ve got to go back and explore more critters Down Under.

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