Even though working in Cairns means that I have been in this area for quite a while now, I still like to get out there and explore North Queensland during my days off. These explorations have allowed me to get to know and love this part of Australia... but also taught me a healthy respect for the wildlife of the region.
On some of my trips to the rainforest, I have encountered some huge pythons, seen crocodiles in the wild, and even helped remove a confused tree snake (completely harmless and actually quite cute) from the stairway here at Nomads Cairns (where I work).
However it was not until last week that I had my scariest encounter. This was with the deceptively cute little Rock Wallaby at Granite Gorge in the Atherton Tablelands.
Yep, on a trip to the Atherton Tablelands with my intrepid travel guru, Moa, we decided on a stop to Granite Gorge. Granite Gorge is a park located outside of Mareeba that serves as a sanctuary for the Mareeba Rock Wallaby. Since we were talking about different wildlife in the region, we thought a little detour to see these wallabies would be a perfect chance to see some cute wallabies without taking a trip to some of the great wildlife sanctuaries and zoos in the region.
Granite Gorge allows you to feed Rock Wallabies in the wild, versus the many opportunities there are to feed some of the other species of wallabies and kangaroos that can be found through Australia. Rock Wallabies are not endangered, but like to call these rock outcroppings home. They can be found in several other sites through the Tableland and Savanah regions of North Queensland. Granite Gorge offers camping options for people touring the Atherton Tablelands and one of the main features is the chance to walk through the gorge and hand feed the wallabies.
So after collecting our baggy of wallaby food (yes we foolishly decided that one bag between us was enough) we headed down to the gorge armed with our trusty cameras. It didn't take us long to spot the wallabies. They were so cute hopping around. There were even some mothers with the baby joeys hanging out of their pouches. Picking our own couple of cute wallabies, we decided to get to the business of feeding them to get some cute up close pictures. Kneeling down we started with just a couple wallabies coming up to us.
...but the danger occurred when we started to get the food out. Suddenly our cute little wallaby couple turned into a bunch of wallabies surrounding us... Perhaps the important fact about rock wallabies that I have forgotten to mention up to this point is that they live in colonies of up to around a hundred wallabies. Those little guys can move fast. Being on the same level as a cute little wallaby when they start to fight each other for the best spot to eat out of your hand may sound funny and a bit harmless but it is definitely a bit unnerving.
So we quickly dropped some food and retreated to look for another small group of wallabies. It wasn't until we turned around that we realized the group was following us. After several failed attempts, which had us jumping and generally looking quite foolish, we ran out of food. Oddly enough the rock wallabies didn't seem to quite realize this. One of them even jumped up and stole the little paper baggy for the food out of Moa's hand... I don't think he believed us when we told him it was empty ;) Yes, those little crafty buggers managed to get all the food and chase us around the gorge, while we didn't quite get those pictures that we came for.
Oddly enough, the other people there didn't seem to be having the same issues. Hmm... Maybe those sneaky wallabies, just pegged us for some inexperienced tourists that would be an easy mark. Whatever was going on in their sneaky little heads, Moa and I have decided that Rock Wallabies aren't quite as cute as they look. They might not rank up there with fierce predators like Drop Bears, but definitely not to be trusted ;)
Now yes we were never in real danger from the wallabies... they are only about 4 kgs (most were smaller than my cat) it was definitely an experience. The biggest lesson of the day was that I have discovered that both myself and Moa suffer from being a bit overimaginative. That being said, I still think that the whole cute thing is just a trick... get one of us alone with them, I think those sneaky rock wallabies just might beat us.
So while this may have served to turn you off a visit to feed the rock wallabies at Mareeba (although granite gorge is quite stunning - and those sneaky buggers are quite cute), there are plenty of opportunities to experience your own unique wildlife experiences here in Cairns.