Koala cuddle // (c) 2011 Janeen Christoff
Oprah the Koala // (c) 2011 Janeen Christoff
Crocodile warning // (c) 2011 Janeen Christoff
Sunset at Wildman Wilderness Lodge // (c) 2011 Janeen Christoff
Before I left for Australia, I met a Los Angeles couple who had just been to Brisbane. They had some advice for me.
“You can’t leave Australia without cuddling a koala,” gushed the couple. “It’s the best thing ever.”
The look on both of their faces was enough to convince me that this was a must-do activity, and I hoped it would be on my itinerary for my upcoming visit. Were it not, however, I was given specific instructions from my new friends on where to go in Brisbane to get up close and personal with the cuddly marsupials.
As it turned out, cuddling a koala was first on my Hamilton Island itinerary so, needless to say, I was thrilled. To top it off, Hamilton Island was recently visited by television talk show queen, Oprah Winfrey, and I had the distinct pleasure of holding the same koala that she did, Elvis, at the Hamilton Island Wildlife Center.
Apart from the koala experience, I was hoping that my wildlife adventures would be limited after that. I have heard that Australia is home to some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, and a near-death experience with one is not on my bucket list. However, the next stop on my journey was the Wildman Wilderness Lodge, and something in the name of the resort made me think my stay would most certainly involve more encounters with the country’s wild creatures.
The Wildman Wilderness Lodge, tucked away on the border of Kakadu National Park on Aboriginal land at the top end of the Northern Territory, is a secluded retreat for nature lovers and adventurers — particularly birdwatchers. The elusive black-necked stork, also known as a jabiru in Australia, is commonly spotted here, and I got to see my first on a sunset boat cruise on the resort’s billabong. I also saw a white-bellied eagle. At Kakadu National Park, I not only got to view ancient aboriginal art, but I had the rare treat of spotting a black wallaroo sleeping under a precipice.
The lodge itself is surrounded by wildlife. It is almost unavoidable to run into a family of wallabies as you walk to and from your cabin or tent. In the evenings, one of the best places to spot birds and animals is from the firepit at the main lodge. Here, guests sip cocktails and reminisce about the adventures of the day while watching the sunset and the wild nocturnal creatures emerge.
During an airboat ride in the wetlands, which is an amazing experience, nature abounds. The primordial scenery gives way to egret nests, jumping fish, jabiru and, if you’re lucky, a sunbathing crocodile.
Thankfully, my visit ended uneventfully, and I didn’t come close to a deadly encounter — at least not that I’m aware of.