Green Day Out and whales at the Gold Coast


Araucaria tour bus and WTA displayWildlife Tourism Australia stall at Green Day Out

We used the Araucaria tour vehicle to cart gazebo, tables and displays to Gecko’s “Green Day Out” on the Gold Coast for the Wildlife Tourism Australia display.

The day attracted a fair crowd despite being wet and windy and various organic foods, environmental technologies and environmental issues were on display.

The following day we took adavantage of a special offer and headed out on the Spirit of the Gold Coast for whale-watching.  The whales were not especially playful that day, but we did see a few blows and tails – always great to see!

back and bow of humpbacks tail of humpback whale




How to see a platypus



Darren went down to our creek to see how a family from America were doing in their attempts to see the platypus. They had been advised to sit quietly with no sudden movements or noises, so he was a bit alarmed to see both kids walking along right at the edge of the water. When they saw him they shouted ‘There’s no platypus here!’

Well, no, there wasn’t that day. There were a pair living there but probably if they had started to emerge for their night of foraging they were by now tucked up back in their burrows waiting for a little peace and quiet before re-emerging.

In Tasmania platypus are often seen throughout the day, and occasionally the same is true further north, but  they are primarily nocturnal.  Typically they will leave their burrows an hour or so before dusk, continue feeding throughout the night and return to the burrow  an hour or so after dawn.

Thus the best time to see them is usually during the first hour after sunrise or the last hour before sunset.

They are found in unpolluted streams along the east coast from Tasmania to far north Queensland, and have been introduced to Kangaroo Island, South Australia. The best foraging spots seem to be slow-moving areas where the water is between one and three metres deep. Don’t bother looking for them high in the mountains above tall waterfalls though – they would find it hard to travel up to these.

Their eyes and ears may not be brilliant (and they don’t use either for foraging), but unless they have become well habituated to human presence, they will notice anyone sitting or standing near the bank, and most likely return to the safety of the burrow.  Sudden sharp movements or loud noises will almost guarantee they will disappear until it is too dark to see them. Quiet human presence in the water – in a canoe or floating for instance – doesn’t seem to worry them quite so much, perhaps because most of their predators come from the land.

They tend to be more predictable during breeding season in the last half of the year, so if you are advised late in the year that they have been seen recently in a particular part of the creek, there is a good chance they will continue to use this spot for a while,.

So, to see a platypus, find out which local streams are likely, wear something warm, perhaps take a book or something to nibble if you have trouble sitting still, then do just that – sit still and quietly from sunrise onwards or from late afternoon, glancing at the water evry minute or so if you don’t feel like watching it constantly.

No grunts or bellows announce its arrival.  It is not there and then suddenly, very quietly, it is there. Sometimes you will see a small row of bubbles just before it surfaces, then can watch as it floats on the surface chewing whatever it has just caught, or perhaps scratching its ear or swimming along a little way. Then it hunches its back and dives down again for maybe a minute or two before re-emerging.

Maybe you won’t see one on your first few attempts, but there are worse ways fo passing the time than sitting by a quiet stream listening to bird calls.

Or maybe, suddenly, very quietly, there he is in front of you.

Kruger National Park 2010

Baboons surveying their territory in Kruger National ParkDenis and I (Ronda) have just returned from a wonderful twelve days in Kruger National Park…. a wilderness area the size of Israel, with an amazing animal life. It was my second visit, Denis’s first.

‘But would it be your ideal holiday?’ I was asked when I mentioned we were taking time off from wildlife-watching to go wildlife-watching. I replied it would be pretty close, and the trip itself only confirmed this.

young giraffe in Kruger National Park with mother and zebraThe new flight from Australia to Johannesburg with Virgin Australia offered a great deal, and we hired a 2WD car for 12 days (4WD is expensive and generally not necessary).

Safety is one issue that stops people from traveling here, but we never felt in danger (no more so than anywhere else anyway). Driving from Joburg to Kruger is easy, and the airport is the same side of the city as the highway towards Kruger. In Kruger itself, you feel  protected against crime (not too many muggers want to be out there amongst the lions), and if you keep windows up when predators or baboons are around and don’t anger any elephants, you should stay pretty safe against most possibilities.

Chameleon in KrugerWe weren’t especially focused on the Big Five (a term that comes from the most dangerous animals to hunt) – we wanted to see everything, big and small. One of our first sightings was this brilliantly-green chameleon crossing the road with its strange, back-and-forth movements that made each step forward seem painfully slow.

It wasn’t long before we saw one of the big guys though – an elephant appeared close to the roadside, then ambled quietly away.

We were to see a lot of them – single males, small groups, and large herds with everything from babies to utterly massive individuals – quietly feeding, crossing the road, or at water tanks – or just the other side of the car!

Those in the river were really entertaining to watch – elephants know how to have fun, and love water!

Cheetahs in Kruger National ParkNear Orpen Dam, we saw a herd of impalas making a great fuss about something across the road. We followed their transfixed gaze and saw our first wild cheetah – no two cheetahs, wait on … three, four! A family feasting on an impala, so the group over the road had good reason for concern.

We didn’t see many other predators this time, apart from one lioness half-hidden by the lush vegetation (end of dry season would have been better for visibility), two African wild cats and a hyena. But we also saw porcupines, loads of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and wart-hogs (and impalas of course), ostriches, secretary birds, and much, much more.

Most of the time you have to stay in the car for your own safety, but can wander around the rest camps (these are like small villages with a range of accommodation from basic camping to luxury, surrounded by high electric fences), and can get out at hides, picnic areas and long bridges.

Two things I didn’t do on my last visit were sleeping in an overnight  hide and  walking in the wilderness.  This time we did both.

The hide was at Shipandane, near the Mopane rest camp.

I left my mobile (cell) phone in the car and when I went before dusk to retrieve it, there was a huge male elephant with massive tusks on the far side of the car-park, devouring a tree. I watched him very carefully and would have retreated instantly  had he showed the slightest interest in me, but he didn’t look at me until after I had the phone and was back behind the gate.

The hippos put on a good performance until too dark to watch, and dance of the fireflies that followed was marvelous.

Our walk with two well-armed rangers from Lower Sabie took us through the wilderness for three hours, stopping to investigate rhino dung and termite mounds and view giraffes, kudu and hippo.  The hippo caused us to divert from the track near the water and scramble up a hillside instead – hippos are one of the most aggressive of all African wildlife, and can be very territorial.

The rest camps of Kruger are pretty safe, surrounded by tall chain wire fencing with electrified wire at the top and electrified grids across the road at the entries, and cater to all levels of comfort.

Indigenous foods were hard to find. We bought a small jar of spirit containing a mopane worm (caterpillar of an emperor moth) but would like to try the more traditional style some time (I’ve eaten witchetty grub in Australia, and bamboo caterpillars in China, so why not? And it’s not much different zoologically from eating lobster). There is a useful article on the lifecycle, ecology and harvesting of mopane worms in Science in Africa.

All in all a wonderful trip – I’ll be posting more details on the SANParks forums soon

Bird-watching tourists in Australia: research report

birdwatching with Araucaria Ecotours

A new report on PRACTICES, NEEDS AND ATTITUDES OF BIRD-WATCHING TOURISTS IN AUSTRALIA has just been published by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre.  The report is co-authored by Dr Ronda J Green (proprietor of Araucaria Ecotours) and Dr Darryl Jones of Griffith University.

By clicking on the link above you can download a summary sheet or the entire document (warning: its rather large) for free or order a hard copy through STCRC.

From the STCRC:  “The Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre has just released research exploring bird-watching tourism in Australia. The research – Practices, needs and attitudes of bird-watching tourists in Australia included an extensive survey of national and international bird-watchers. Tour operators and accommodation providers who support this niche tourism sector also contributed to the research.

The report has delivered a more comprehensive overview of bird-watching tourism in Australia by:

Investigating the diversity and common features amongst bird-watching tourists
Determining what bird-watchers most want to see and do in Australia
Investigating the role of the tourism industry in bird-watching
Investigating bird-watchers’ opinions and practices in relation to conservation

Researchers have presented 18 key findings which will be of interest to bird-watching tourism destinations, tourism operators and niche tourism government departments.”