Fond of fauna down under

I’m dizzy with jet lag, but just wanted to talk about my fabulous trip to NZ and Australia. Yes, it may have been for business, but I got in some sightseeing as well. And the most amazing stuff we saw while there was the flora and fauna.

Prior to my trip, I’d already been fascinated by New Zealand’s legendary longfin eels. Rumored to live as long as a century, and to be man-eaters as well, these freshwater eels were featured in one of my favorite shows, “River Monsters,” and I was longing to see one. I think I drove my NZ publicist Yvonne nutty talking about them. Every day it was eels this, eels that, until finally in Christchurch she found out about a wildlife park where I could actually feed the eels!

So off we went.

And here I am, feeding them raw meat with a little spoon. As you can see, they slither right out of the water and wait with mouths open like baby birds. Their teeth slant backwards, so if they accidentally bite your fingers, they’ll scrape the flesh right off. But I couldn’t resist the temptation of stroking their skin — so soft and silky!

What amazed me is that anyone can go right up to the eels, without any supervision. I later asked one of the employees in the gift shop if anyone ever got bitten. “Oh, it happens,” he said, shrugging. “About once or twice a day.” In the U.S., fearing lawsuits, they’d cage those eels behind mesh. But in NZ, they expect people to display a little common sense.

At that same park, I was introduced to the startling Kunekune pig, which looks like he was once a normal pig who ran face-first into a concrete wall.

He was really friendly and loved getting petted, but oh that weird face! I wonder if this was director Peter Jackson’s model for orcs?

After NZ, it was on to Australia and more fauna, some of expected:

And some of it startling. Look closely at this photo of a tree with weird dark fruit. Wait — is that fruit?

Nope. Those are huge bats, otherwise known as flying foxes, which have infested the trees of Sydney’s botanic garden. There’s about a thousand of them and they’re destroying the trees. But boy are they mesmerizing.

While in Melbourne, we made it out to Phillips Island where there’s a penguin colony that swims to shore after sunset. Thousands of them come trooping up from the beach and up into the scrub in what’s known as the “penguin parade,” and tourists travel from all over the world to watch it. There are so many penguins that some of them end up in the parking lot, where you’ll find this sign:

Finally, it’s not just the fauna that fascinated me. The flora’s pretty darn interesting itself, especially this creepy thing called the “Birdcatcher tree”

The sticky fruit you see in the photo traps birds, which then starve to death. Their corpses fall to the ground and the decaying bodies fertilize the tree. Makes me shudder to think about it. Which is exactly why I will always remember it.

1 reply
  1. John Ling
    John Ling says:

    Glad you enjoyed your trip down under. We truly have a large assortment of oddball fauna, and the kunekune is a national favourite. They are widely kept as pets and can be taught to sit, fetch, roll over and do pretty much anything a dog can do.

    They are quite cute, if you can look past that mashed-up face. 😉

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