Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meet the Quokkas!

If you know me, you know that I don’t like animals.  In fact, I don’t like most living things.  Trees are ok.  I can handle some domesticated cats, and I generally find penguins to be cute.  Occasionally I’m able to handle those pesky human beings as well.  But on Day 6 of our Western Australia adventure, this Grinch’s heart grew three times the size.

It was off to Rottnest Island for us.  Rottnest Island lies 18 kilometers off the coast of Western Australia, near Fremantle.  It was a quick 30 minute ferry ride.  You can still see Perth and Cottesloe Beach from the Island:

The island is protected with no permanent residents and no private land ownership.  Cars are not allowed with the exception of a few service vehicles and a bus or two that circle the island.  Bicycles are the main mode of transport to get you from beach to lookout point, to another beach and yet another lookout point, and then back into “town” – a small collection of buildings with a smattering of dining options, a shop or two, and a small museum devoted to the island.  There are several lodging options but most of them are very expensive so we opted for the hostel – which had been converted from old army barracks.  Amazingly, the barracks were infinitely nicer than the hostel from Hell in Fremantle the night before.

We started at a beach near a pretty lighthouse…

Then hopped on our bicycles to head around the island…

To another beach…

And a random pier…

Through the bushland interior of the island…

To Ricey Beach – which was completely empty and 100% ours when we arrived!

How can it get better than that?  I’ll tell you how.  Along the way, we meet these little creatures at various stops we made:

Humans – meet the quokkas!  Quokkas are small marsupials (basically mini-kangaroos) that live mainly on Rottnest Island, a few other offshore islands, and a very small mainland area in the southwest corner of the country.  Many Australians – especially the majority on the East Coast – have never even heard of these creatures.  Quokkas are free from predation on Rottnest – no introduced foxes or feral cats exist.  The island is actually called “Rottnest Island” because the Dutch explorers who first discovered the island thought the quokkas were large rats.  “Rottnest” is derived from the Dutch words for “rat’s nest”.  I’ll admit, these little creatures do appear a bit rat-like (look at those ratty tails), but they are utterly adorable.  They are extremely docile and human-friendly.  Our first quokka encounter came around midday.  We got off our bikes and I took a little video.  This guy is probably used to humans giving him food, but we weren’t falling for it.  He sorta walks around like a rat, but watch until the very end… he hops off just like a little wallaby!

Later on that night we enjoyed a lovely dinner on of the little harbours that Rottnest has to offer.

And under our table… was a quokka… eating a French fry!!!

How totally cute!  Move over penguins:  there’s a new favourite animal in town!  We saw more and more quokkas as the evening progressed.  They are mainly nocturnal and come out starting at dusk.  When we returned to our barracks, we found this:

A quokka invasion!

Thank god they aren't actually rats.  I would have immediately swum back to Perth.

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