Koalas In A Crisis: A Visit To The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

“Hooo-ooo-aahhh-ahhh” drifted through the window, preventing me from falling back to sleep. It was just after 5am and I’d been woken up by the girl in the bed next to us getting up early to catch her bus to Sydney. To be fair she had warned us in advance so it wasn’t really a problem but the kookaburra sitting right outside, cackling away was a bit. I knew that unless I went back to sleep straight away, I’d find myself distracted and would end up just awake so it was vital that I blocked him out and closed my eyes. Luckily for me it worked but when the alarm went off at 6am to wake us up to go dolphin watching, my head was thumping and I ended up going back to sleep until 7:30. I was a bit worried that we’d missed the dolphins as we’d been told that they were there at 6 yesterday but, with fingers tightly crossed, I got up and dressed anyway ready to go and see.

IMG_1692It was quite a nice walk to the harbour, especially at that time of the morning as it was so calm and quiet. The sunlight reflecting off the water gave it all quite a peaceful feel and the only loud noises we heard were pelicans and cormorants fishing in the river mouth. I could have watched them for hours, darting back and forth, ducking under and out of the water. One poor cormorant caught itself a fish only to be chased by a hungry pelican who made it drop it then gobbled it up itself. We managed to get a couple of photos of to happening, Codie got a really good one of it dropping the fish, but the birds were the only things we really saw. The dolphins remained elusive this morning. I think if we’re going to see them, it’s going to be very early and arriving at 8am was perhaps just a little bit too late. Now we definitely have to go there at 6 just in case; I’d feel terrible if we missed them just for the sake of a little bit longer in bed. Instead of going back the same way, we decided to wander a little walk along the harbour instead in case we saw anything interesting along the way. Whilst I carried on looking out to sea, hopeful that I catch a glimpse of a fin or another bird bobbing along, Codie found parts of a phone strewn across the path. He always manages to find things like that, I think he must have some sort of technology sensor!

After getting back to the hostel, tired and sleepy from our fairly early wake up and walk, we had a lovely beans on toast breakfast (no sarcasm at all, it really was nice!) and sat in the kitchen for a while waiting for the washing machine to be free. There was a sign on it saying that backpackers were only able to use it between the hours of 12 and 6 or something which was ridiculous as most people are out making the most of the day at that time. I think they knew it too as there were signs everywhere saying that nobody should stay inside the hostel during the day, we all needed to explore their “beautiful town” or they won’t store luggage. Now I’m all for exploring but I think telling people what they should do is a bit too far.* It made me feel a little bit awkward and as though we were being watched all the time. Very weird. Anyway, Codie asked if we could do the washing earlier and we could so once the housekeeping girls were done with it, we threw all our clothes in before settling back down in our seats. While I’d been reading and things, he’d also been putting the bits of phone back together and made it work again. We thought that even though it had obviously been thrown to the ground with quite some force, somebody was probably looking for it and so Codie text a number saying that we had it. After a little while they replied and confirmed that there was a guy looking for it and asked could they come and pick it up. It was good to know that we were able to help him out as if I lost my phone with all my photos on it, I don’t know what I’d do. I’ve almost had it happen to me before back in Cardiff and I don’t want to deal with that stress again!  An hour later, the guy rang back saying that his friend hadn’t got back from looking for his phone and just wanted to let us know. With us desperate to go out for a wander, Codie told him that he’d leave it at reception and went to hand it in. It would have been nice to have seen the person who’s phone he’d found but we’d waited in for a while by now and didn’t want to lose any more of the day. By this time, the washing had almost dried so I got changed into some more weather appropriate clothes and off we went.

IMG_1908Having a few hours to kill before the Koala Hospital visit, we decided to go back down to the harbour to see if we could see any dolphins. We spent a while there but sitting on the benches in the “usual” spot by the river mouth, but there was no sign of them so we went for a little walk over the bridge to the town centre instead. It was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, though I’m not sure why as the rest of the area really is quite small! It was a really nice place and I enjoyed walking through the streets, munching on a tasty subway sandwich, soaking up the seaside atmosphere and looking at all the painted koala sculptures dotted around. They’re part of a project called ‘Hello Koalas’ which celebrates the iconic Australian animal and the couple we saw today were only a few of the 50 in the area. I loved seeing them as they definitely brightened up the area and it was interesting to read about what their names where and who painted them. It’s also such a great opportunity for local artists to show off their skills in a very Australian way! My favourite one was called ‘Scoop’ and was covered in pop art and had a little Superman logo on his chest which I analysed as defining modern day culture and the need to break away from the norm. Probably wasn’t but I just can’t help a bit of A Level media theory coming through sometimes! Codie preferred the robotic one and I have to admit it did look pretty cool, then again they all did!

At just before 2, we set off in the direction of the Koala Hospital as it was a little way and we wanted to walk alongside the river instead of the road. We walked back around the boats in the harbour and I found a sign with a list of the fishing species on but we couldn’t make out which one the cormorant had stolen. It looked like a perch but to be honest it could have been anything as none looked quite right. We continued on and came to the little bridge we’d walked over before, this time passing underneath it and carefully walking along quite a narrow path. I was a bit worried that I might overbalance and fall in but Codie just laughed at me. I didn’t see how it was funny though, my bag felt like it was tipping me over and nobody wants to end up in murky water with the possibility of sharks about! Luckily I managed to make it however we did spend a while watching the pigeons nesting in the shadows and got a few glimpses of baby pigeons popping their heads up. I have to say, it was quite weird seeing them as they aren’t the type of babies you see very often and were a lot uglier than I imagined they’d be. That’s ugly in the conventional sense, to me they were really very cute and innocent looking and I really didn’t want to leave them. Looking back, it was a good job we did as by the time we made it to the road and close to where Codie had though the hospital was, we discovered it was actually about 2.4km away and we were now running very close to missing the 3pm tour. Grrrrrrrr. I hate being in a rush for things as it is but when you’re having to walk up hills and things as well, the discomfort triples. We walked as fast as we possibly could, hoping that we’d make it there on time and praying that the traffic lights would work in our favour. They didn’t, of course, but about 20 minutes later we made it there, out of breath and more than a little bit sweaty but there. Hooray!

IMG_2113Amputation, eye removal, chlamydia and scoliosis; just some of the inflictions the koalas at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital were dealing with when we visited. Being the only hospital for these little marsupials in the world, it was really interesting to learn about what happens when an injured koala is admitted and the process they go through in the hope of rehabilitation. After having walked quite quickly, when we first arrived at the centre I was a bit out of breath but quickly got over it when I first saw the first patient Barry. He was perched on a branch munching on eucalyptus and looking around at the line of people watching him though the metal fence, curiously staring back. Due to his genetic scoliois, he has a large lump on his back which is apparently getting worse and worse the old he gets though it doesn’t seem to bother him much. He had the happiest little face in the world. Once we’d had a little look at some of the koalas, we wandered back to the entrance to join the tour and listen to the volunteers talk about what exactly they do at the centre.

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is run entirely by volunteers who work in the centre during the day or care for joeys at home. Joeys rely entirely on their mother for the first few months of their lives and so for them to develop and grow into happy and functioning adults, they needed to receive the same type of care they would have received in the wild. For the volunteers this means keeping them close to them, feeding them at strange times during the night and comforting them until they’re old enough to live at the centre and then be rehabilitated. I bet it’s an amazing thing to do and I’d love to help them out but since koalas don’t live in the UK, it’s a bit difficult! We also learnt about some of the conditions the current patients are suffering from and it surprised me just how many are attacked by dogs or hit by cars. It’s such a shame when they were living in Australia a lot longer than most people were and yet they have to deal the consequences of the European settlement. I suppose that’s what most animal species are having to deal with and I really think a lot more people should think about lessening their impact on nature. Poor little fuzzy things. Once we’d had a little talk, we were then split into two groups and ours was led to the very back of the centre where we met Xavier.IMG_1981

Xavier was enjoying a milky lunch, sitting on his tree and enjoying being fed by one of the volunteers. According to our guide, he was one of the large koalas at the centre due to where he was from, 2 hours south, and you’d never tell the trouble he’d faced from his happy little, chubby face. Back in 2013 he was found suffering from an eye disease caused by chlamydia, a very common problem amongst the species, and had just been sitting on the floor. Obviously not a good place for a koala to be so he’d been taken in and had ended up at the hospital which is probably the best place for a sick koala to be. Whilst he’d been very ill then, he’d bounced back and was apparently rather shocked at being able to see again. The guide said that he hadn’t been able to see what he was eating in the wild and so was surprised when he suddenly could! He really was a lovely little thing, especially when he looked cross at having his face wiped, but we couldn’t stay watching him forever and carried on to the next enclosure.

The next little koala was a little old lady called Wanda who, just like Xavier, was heartily tucking into her milk. She was quite old and so would never get to go back to the wild but she just didn’t seem to care and hungrily slurped at the syringe, her little arms grabbing at her feeder’s t-shirt as if to say she wasn’t going fast enough. There’s something about elderly animals that I really like; they  just seem so laid back, calm and still have a bit of cheeky streak in them. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people get rid of pets when they age, I’ve always found that the older they get, the more personality they get and I would love to adopt an older dog in the future. Well, I can’t have a pet koala can I?! We went passed a few more snuggled up in the branches in their enclosures including two joeys who had recently returned from volunteer’s houses. They hadn’t been coping too well with being separated from their adoptive parents but they seemed to have cheered up today and were fast asleep above us looking very cute. They’re going to be released into the wild in the future so it’s lovely to know that they’ll be able to live normal, koala lives and it was a pleasure getting to see them before they go.

IMG_1971I have to say, Oxley Kaylee was the case that stood out to me the most as she’d been through so much and yet there she was, perched in a tree looking like she didn’t have a care in the world. She’d actually been admitted to the hospital three times the first 2 times due to being hit by a car, sitting in the road and dragging her back leg behind her though unfortunately the last admission also signalled her last time in the wild. In 2009 she was taken in after being spotted dragging her back leg and carrying a tiny joey on her back. After her joey had been weaned, the decision was made that she would have her leg amputated to give her the best chance and only a few weeks later she’d adapted to it and acted as though nothing had happened. It was looking good for her and she was doing very well until a storm in 2012 brought down the branch she was on causing her to lose an eye. Not having an eye would mean that she had a very slim chance of survival and so she will be spending the rest of her days in Port Macquarie. She really did seem happy enough though, snoozing in a tree with her little leg dangling down and I couldn’t help but admire her. I could barely cope when I suddenly developed loads of floaters so how she coped with losing an eye, I have no idea!

At the end of the tour, the guide took us back to the entrance and pointed out the surgery behind us. When operations or examinations are taking place, we’d get to see it happening through the window but we weren’t so lucky today and it was empty. I say we weren’t lucky, I bet there were some very lucky koalas, happy that they were avoiding all that fun! We were also shown baby koalas in various stages of development and it was very strange to think how small they start off. It’s the same with all marsupials though and it’s something I find incredible. They’re born as tiny little, jelly bean things and yet they are still able to pull themselves up and move better than human babies. I could have spent hours just looking at them but we wanted to show the volunteer the noises I had recorded in Bimbi park on the Great Ocean Road and so had to move on. After listening to it, she told us that the deep rumble belonged to a male koala, as we’d thought, but the high pitched wailing didn’t actually come from the joey but the mother telling him to go away. It was good to know what we’d actually been listening to and it was strange to think what had been going on just above us when we’d been in the tent. A little bit creepy sounding but fascinating.IMG_2112

Eventually, after one more lap, we decided we should probably leave as at this stage we were quite sleepy and desperately needed to find a shop to get some water on the way back. With it being a Sunday it was touch and go whether there’d be anything open but all we could do was walk as fast as we could just in case. Of course it goes without saying that I paid a little visit to the gift shop before we left and I bought two stickers for my mac and the newsletter so I could find out more about the hospital. I also liked the idea that the money I paid for everything went directly to caring for the koalas as it was nice to know that we were helping in some way. We also found two more of the Hello Koala sculptures so took some photos of them before saying goodbye to Barry and heading off back to the hostel.

Shattered from the day out and the walk, when we got back we had a little sit down and a rest in the living room area for a while. We’d been lucky enough to find an IGA still open just down the road and had bought a big bottle of cold water which was lovely. It didn’t feel that hot today but if you’re walking fairly quickly, you definitely feel the heat and it’s not long until you’re pretty dehydrated so the water was amazing. I would have suggested just drinking water out of the tap but so many places have signs up saying ‘Don’t drink this water!’ that it’s just not worth risking anymore. After suffering the effects of Spanish water, I don’t to deal with it ever again! We spent an hour or so in the living room area before deciding that we should probably make tea; a tasty instant pasta mix. Yum. It wasn’t exactly the nicest thing in the world but it did take minimal effort and meant that we didn’t have to spend hours in a hot and crowded kitchen. We did, however, have to listen to a group of girls going on about how disappointed with Australia they were and how they were ready to leave even though they’d only been there two weeks. I mean, I know we weren’t huge fans of Brisbane when we arrived but we didn’t want to go back to the UK, we just wanted to move elsewhere. They just seemed to think that nothing could compare to Peru and I think if you have that mindset, nothing ever will. Of course Australia is not going to be like South America, they’re completely different continents but that’s not to say that it’s boring, it’s just different and that’s not always a bad thing. You just have to accept the differences and get on with enjoying yourself.

2.1422974778.me-sunshine 2.1422974778.ari-bushby

Before we had showers and got in bed, I made Codie come with me to go back to the harbour tp see if the dolphins were there. I’d read a board on the way back which said that high tide was just after 8pm so I thought it was worth seeing if any tidal changes brought them in to hunt. It wasn’t too far to go, though Codie was a bit cross about having to do more walking and even more so when we sat down for a bit and didn’t see anything at all. Hmmm. Perhaps we will tomorrow though. Once we got back to the hostel for a second time,  it was time for showers and to get into bed. Some new people had arrived which meant that the room had filled up and there was now a constant stream of people wandering in and out. It got a bit annoying after a while, more so when some started a loud card game, so out of bed we jumped and toddled off to the kitchen to make a slice of bedtime toast each. You can’t beat a slice of bedtime toast wherever you are. It’s one of those snacks that fills you up without taking too long though I do have to admit, bedtime soup is worth the hassle!

I’m sitting writing this in bed, again, and really hoping that I’ll be able to have a decent night’s sleep tonight. I’m definitely going to be up early tomorrow in the hope that the dolphins will be fishing around the river mouth; it’d be terrible to miss them knowing that they hang around fairly regularly and we didn’t even catch a glimpse. Of course that might mean that I’ll be shattered all tomorrow but who cares? If it means that I have the chance to see the dolphins then I don’t mind one bit.

*We read some reviews on Trip Advisor once we’d left the hostel and found out that the owner actually turns the internet off to make people go out!

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