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I'D WALK A MILE FOR A CAMEL...

25 September 2003

...more like drive about 200 miles and no camels at all.

When you think of Australia, you don't immediately think of camels, but our big plan that was rained out yesterday was to drive up to a place called Clackline, the location of the Blue Gum Camel farm where you can learn to ride a camel under supervision or go on a 5km or 10km trek. Peggy thought it would be something different and something fun. This is a trip about firsts for me, so what the hell.

We set out for Clackline around 10 a.m. and made good time. Along the way we stoped to ooh and aaah over more beautiful wildflowers.

The road in spots reminded me of the highway up to Lake Tahoe, only instead of evergreens on the landscape, there were eucalyptus trees, showing black-like tree trunks instead of bushy pine needles.

We made it to Clackline shortly before noon and dutifully turned at the sign pointing to the Blue Gum Camel Farm and then we drove. And drove. And drove. And drove. Not a single hump did we see.

We finally stopped at a tavern and asked a woman where the farm was and she pointed us 15 km back in the direction from whence we'd come, but added that she didn't think there were camels there any more, and that they had all moved to Whiteman Park...back in Perth.

We decided we weren't going to be too disappointed. We had already taken a beautiful ride in the car and now we drove another 10 km or so into the town of Northam, where we picked up sandwiches and coffee at a coffee shop and then out to the Avon (the "a" is as in the word "has," not the word "save") river, where we sat and ate lunch and watched two swans building a nest.

We also stopped back in Clackline at "The Famous Bakers Hill Pie Shop" to pick up meat pies to have during the Footy championship game on Saturday.

Then we drove to Whiteman Park. It was a little confusing getting there at first because the navigator (me) had left all the maps at home, so Peggy was going on memory, but she managed to get there unerringly. There was a sign entering the park, saying that for now, admission was free. Peggy figured that probably meant no real attractions (like camel rides) available (she was right). But the park also contained the Caversham Wildlife Park and we decided as long as we were there, we might as well go through the park, though the sight of a field of school kids did not bode well for quiet enjoyment of the animals.

Later, I told Peggy that everything happens for a purpose. We had driven about 200 miles out of our way to a place she never ever would have thought about taking me, and we had an absolutely fantastic afternoon. In spite of the fact that, figuring we would be spending time on a camel, I had left my "good" camera at home. In spite of the fact that Peggy ran out of room on HER good camera. In spite of the fact that we only saw about a quarter of the park. It was a great day!

We paid our entry fee and went into the animal part of the park and the first thing we saw were jumping mice, who were sleeping, not jumping. Then we tried to find a skink, but it was hidden. Things were not looking promising.

Next was a big cage of galahs. Unlike the cage in Kalbarri, this was a large cage and the birds seemed happy and definitely friendly. We spent a long time with these birds, photographing them and scratching their heads, which they seemed to relish.

Next we moved into an open-air cage filled with lorikeets. We had fed lorikeets at the San Diego zoo on Peggy's trip over to the States, and this wasn't quite the same, but still we got up close and personal with several of the colorful birds. And by now the park was getting very quiet, as all the school children seemed to have left.

We moved on to the wallabies, and then the barking owls (they really do sound like barking dogs!) and then the kangaroo enclosure.

The kangaroo enclosure!

I don't know how long we were there--perhaps an hour. We shot dozens of photos and brief digital movies. We outwaited several groups that came and went. We just stayed and stayed and stayed.

This is a place where the roos are tame and have this great huge enclosure and the park provides a big bin full of food that you can scoop up by the handful to feed the animals. Many of the females have joeys in their pouches who peek out at you. It's hard to describe, but it was just....magic. That's the only word I have for it.

Peggy took lots of photos with her better camera, but she seems to have dozed off, so I think this journal is going to be stuck with mine...but mine aren't all that bad either.

It all started with this little guy. Peggy managed to get a digital movie of this baby climbing back in his mom's pouch. I went and got some food and started feeding her and trying to take a photo with the other hand while mom's neck was stretched upwards. The joey's legs hung out of her pouch like this for the longest time. She eventually hopped away from where we were feeding her and we later found her over in what I decided to call "the nursery" section of the park, where there seemed to be a lot of moms with swollen pouches and/or tiny joeys hopping around next to them. This mother was relaxing by the fence, baby's feet still dangling from her pouch.

Once we had discovered this section of the enclosure, we just went crazy, quietly walking around, taking movies and pictures of the moms and babies.

Eventually, the battery in Peggy's good camera died, the memory stick in her other camera was filling up, and I was nearly out of room in my camera too, so we decided that we would skip the rest of the park and come back another day.

On our way out, I discovered they also had mother/baby koalas and when I checked the website for the park, I see that you can actually hold a koala.

Caversham Park is just 15 minutes from Peggy's house, but this visit would never have happened if we hadn't decided to go for a camel ride this morning. We still want to try to do that (but next time we'll call ahead to check on location and availability first!). But we came home feeling just great because we'd had an unexpected treat and a delightful afternoon.

What's more we were able to heat up meat pies for dinner, so nobody had to cook.


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