Kangaroos highlight a topsy-turvy Australia
Part of the fun of visiting Australia is that things here are wacky.
August is the middle of winter, and to find warmer temperatures, I have to sail north.
Besides the time change, the date and day of the week are also different from Hawaii's, meaning that calling home and meeting friends at the airport requires some thought.
Plus, I'm driving on the wrong side of the road.
The real mind blowers here, though, are the kangaroos. After my recent beach park experience, I wouldn't be surprised if Skippy himself stepped out of the woods and said hello.
I barely had my mooring lines tied to the dock before I was asking where I could see kangaroos. "Everywhere," the marina manager said. "Just mind you don't see one on your bonnet."
On my head? Oh. He meant the hood of my rental car. Apparently, kangaroos are a driving hazard here, like deer in parts of the mainland.
After a week of driving with eyes peeled, my friends and I had still seen no roos. There were kangaroo crossing signs on the highways, and I spotted a dead one on the side of the road. But no live hoppers.
The most common species here on Australia's east coast are gray kangaroos, their name describing their color. Adult males weigh about 150 pounds and stand just over 5 feet tall. Females are 75 pounds and about 4 feet tall.
Males are more muscular than females because the males fight, sometimes both to the death. The winner, if there is one, gets to mate with the harem females, which are nearly always pregnant.
When a joey is still in the pouch, or feeding conditions are bad, the female's fertilized egg stops developing. A month before the joey leaves, and if food is ample, the embryo begins growing again.
At birth the new joey, only a half-inch long, crawls up its mother's fur to the pouch where it suckles for about 300 days. Before it's gone for good, Mom's got another on the way.
The big kangaroos are a case where altering the environment, such as clearing land and planting crops, has helped the animals. About 5 million gray kangaroos live in eastern Australia alone. Each year, people legally shoot millions of these grazers as pasture pests and for food.
We saw none.
Then we read in a brochure that roos frequented a nearby beach park, and off we went.
At the park we walked the beach, admired birds and examined shells.
But still no kangaroos. Disappointed, we took one last drive around the park.
And there they stood: Four grays of various sizes stared at us, ears perked up, ready to flee.
The group let us walk within 25 yards of them before they bounded away, leaping high on those springy tails and goofy feet while holding their little arms close to their chests. Not even Looney Tunes could create a more comical scene than this kangaroo family hopping through the beach park. It made us laugh.
"We saw four kangaroos at Moore Beach," I later gushed to a shop owner.
"Good on you," he said. "Better there than on your bonnet."