Subject: We have seen Australia's Bottom - and it's lovely
To celebrate Tony’s increasing mobility we have bought some camping gear. On the assumption that we can get the more expensive items home we invested in a nice tent with a bit of extra room, sleeping bags, mattresses and a stove. For cooking pots, utensils, crockery etc we scoured the charity shops. We have developed a kind of radar with which we easily find Vinnie’s, the Salvos or the Op Shops in any strange town or city we pass through.

For our trial run we choose to spend one night at Phillip Island and three at Wilson’s Promontory National Park. Passing though San Remo on the way to the bridge to Philip Island we noticed pelicans and opportunistic seagulls assembling by the jetty for the daily feeding session. On the dot of 11.30 a man arrived with a box of fish and a feeding frenzy ensued. When the fish were gone so were the pelicans. There were huge stingrays here too.

We camped at a private site with all conveniences and the added bonus of being right on the edge of the beach at Cowes. In the afternoon we went to the Koala Reserve to wander around the raised walkway, which put us up into the trees with a better chance to see the animals in action. Action being relative. Koalas have a very restricted diet of not very nutritious leaves so need to spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping to conserve energy. They sleep, scratch and forage before going back to sleep and we saw them doing it! Koalas along with a camera hog of a Kookaburra and his cackling family chorus ensured we had a lovely afternoon here. There are wild areas to walk and observe Koalas but without benefit of the raised walkway.

I feel I must apologize to Australian Zinners but this really is excitingly different for us, and it is going to get worse!

In the evening we joined hundreds maybe thousands of visitors along the beach for the parade of the fairy penguins. At peak times there are 3000 people here each night. Soon after dark the tiny creatures start washing up onto the illuminated beach. When they arrive they wait for a minimum quorum, of about 8 before making their dash across the open beach to the safety of the dunes and undergrowth. Once the first birds are ashore it is best to move off the beach and watch from the boardwalks as hundreds of penguins weighed down by the weight of the fish in their stomachs waddle to reach their young, who are calling to them to hurry. Its touristy but still a fun way to spend a warm summer evening.

Agenda achieved we moved on to ‘The Prom’. Again not a wilderness experience, the campsite at Tidal River has all mod cons except for power to the sites. We went for 3 nights and stayed for 5, it was wonderful. The campground was very busy with groups of children at organized school campsites. When we first arrived I thought the 'Diggers' had set up camp in the rows of identical tall brown and green tents! When not cleaning up the beach and listening to presentations from rangers the youngsters had the run of a spectacular safe beach with the bonus of a very shallow tidal river to sit in and cool off. The boys played cricket anywhere and everywhere, morning noon and night, the girls’ skipped rope and chanted rhymes just as we did in the 1950’s. One teacher was gamely trying to teach the finer points of ‘T’ ball to a group of young teenage boys and girls. The girls never played cricket with the boys. We didn’t tell them that in Canada it is a game for younger children. Falling asleep to the strains of "the farmers in the dell", certainly took us back to simpler times.

Another group were taking part in the ‘promonwealth games’. You have to hand it to the Aussies, if ever 'melon seed spitting' becomes an official Olympics sport, their kids will be ready for the challenge.

There are many walks, both long and short to enjoy from tidal river and we did quite a few. Walking from beach to beach over cliffs and rocks, though wetlands and stringybark woodlands which were destroyed by fire last year and are now an amazing site of charred black tortured skeletons emerging from the regenerating emerald green foliage. My favourite was the descent over the headland to Squeaky Beach. As soon as you step on the dry sand you know how it got its name, it sounds like a whoopie cushion.

We drove to Cotters Lake to walk through wetland where we discovered the purple swamp hen, looks like a chicken on stilts, can’t fly or swim very well but is great at striding across the marshland on its enormous feet. Fortunately it has lovely black and dull purple colouring.

Five mile road leads to a track thorough heathland where we discovered our first roos since they teased us along the road through the Otways in December. Continuing through the southernmost mangrove stand in the world we came to a sheltered bay where 200 or more black swans were gliding around. This is probably the only beach we have seen without pounding surf. Pretty innocent looking blue jelly fish edged the beach. Walking back though the heathland in the late afternoon we were ecstatic to find ourselves up close and personal with scores of grazing roos. My cup runneth over.

I even had a shower with a possum, I might have mistaken her for the family tabby cat curled up on a ledge but for the long thick black tail she left dangling down the wall. If we discover one in our tent we are to notify the rangers of the colour of its eartag hmmmm?

We borrowed a field guide to birds from the library and spent many happy hours identifying what we saw around us. Fancy having brilliantly coloured parrots dropping by the camp kitchen to say hello. Alas it was only cupboard love, they quickly gave up on us when we failed to provide them with an easy meal. And yes - there were Joe Blakes. As we have no field guide to snakes we had no way of knowing whether they were deadly or not.

Since we got back we have bought our own field guide and are in serious danger of becoming ‘birders’.

Regards, Sue Waterloo ON (currently in Castlemaine Victoria)