Catriona Rowntree, Kelly Landry and Giaan Rooney set off in different directions to experience three very unusual animal encounters. Llamas, wombats and Tasmanian devils were involved, and it doesn't get much more diverse than that!
High Country Llama Tours
First up, Catriona went to Dargo in Victoria's Gippsland
, 350km east of Melbourne. Dargo and the surrounding area has a population of around 150.
It didn't take long for her to find Rob Burton, known locally as the "Llama Whisperer". To lure tourists, Rob started out with a few llamas, trained them and began High Country Llama Tours. It wasn't an easy journey. After being spat on, kicked and slammed against a fence, Rob took a course in the whispering technique.
Catriona was paired off with Charcoal, the oldest of the pack and definitely the boss. She soon learnt that when Charcoal was making a gentle snoring sound, he was content and happy.
There's a good choice of tours. Short walks to longer hikes including lunch in the bush. There are also night walks. Rob is an expert when it comes to local flora, fauna and bushland and knows how to spin an interesting story.
The four-bedroom, two-bathroom homestead has living, indoor and outdoor dining areas and a kitchen. Guests enjoy a glass of wine on the surrounding verandah and take in the beautiful 48 hectares of mountains, woodland, a small vineyard and dams.
The century-old Dargo Hotel is a good place to chat to locals and enjoy a meal, or you can stay at the homestead and self-cater.
Giaan visited the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, an hour north of Sydney
. The award-winning zoo was founded in 1948 and has unique residents and activities. Lost World of Reptiles, Spider World and Frog Hollow are fascinating. Stop by and say hello to Elvis, the largest salt-water crocodile in the state 5m long and 500kg!
The new Devilish Encounter program is part of the park's efforts to eradicate a spreading facial tumour cancer which is threatening the creatures with extinction. Without drastic and caring steps, that could happen within the next decade. Numbers are down 10 percent of what they were and breeding programs are critical.
Despite their screeching and not exactly beautiful looks, Tasmanian devils have some endearing qualities. They enjoy a game of tug of war, and who wouldn't enjoy bottle feeding a joey? Twenty of them have arrived safely in the past two years, disease-free, and are being hand-reared. Giaan loved that and the babies crawled on her head and gently nibbled her ears.
When you're there, ask about adopting a Crazy Critter. Maybe a Galapagos tortoise, cuddly koala or one of the Tasmanian devils. Adoptees' contributions help cover daily costs including feeding, heating and care. You will be assisting in the conservation of some of the world's most-endangered species. What a great feeling!
Kelly just loved her hairy-nosed wombat experience. Run by Conservation Ark and guided by research scientists from Zoos South Australia, she took part in a science and conservation program. It took place in Swan Reach on the Murray River, two and a half hours from Adelaide
They have been working with southern hairy-nosed wombats for many years and you can take part in their field expeditions. The nocturnal, sedentary and burrowing marsupial creatures are South Australia's faunal emblem.
Two- to five-day hands-on experiences include spotlighting, chasing, capturing, measuring, weighing and releasing wombats. Data is carefully collected and everything is crucial to conservation research.
Kelly headed out in the middle of the night on the back of a rusty old ute with a torch to spot lumbering hairy nosed wombats which can actually reach speeds of up to 40km/h. If you happen to catch one, you become a member of the Ancient Order of the Wombat Catchers, a most select group.
Once tagged and bagged, the wombats stay at the base until morning, and are then released back into the bush.
While it is a scientific exercise, there is a physical side to it and being fit and healthy is a pre-requisite.
You will be swagging in a historic shearing shed on a farming property on the Murray River cliff tops near Swan Reach. There's a hot water bush shower, long-drop toilet, refrigerator and cooking facilities.
You will encounter a range of other animals as you explore the natural beauty of the Murraylands mallee environment.
Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
High Country Tours are $140 and $180 per person. Accommodation on Friday and Saturday nights, barbecue facilities and llama bushwalk on Saturday are included. Lunch is included in the $180 package. Meals are available at the Dargo Hotel and River Inn.
The Australian Reptile Park entry is $24.50 for adults, $12.50 for children and $64 for two adults and two children. Devilish Encounter costs $150 for adults and $100 for a child for a two-hour tour. They open between 9am and 5pm every day.
Wombat Muster costs $2800 for a five-day expedition. Four nights' accommodation, meals, transport and activities are included.
Prices correct at January 27, 2011.
For further information
High Country Llama Tours
183 Shortcut Road
Dargo, Victoria 3862
Ph: 0427 079 932
Australian Reptile Park
Somersby, NSW 2250
Ph: (02) 4340 1022
Save the Tasmanian Devil