New Zealand is such a safe place to camp. Aside from swollen rivers and regular hypothermia-inducing temperatures, nothing’s really trying to kill you. Head 2000km West, however, and every creature seems hell-bent on human destruction. That’s what Aussies would have any visiting kiwis believe, anyway. Although we took such advice with a grain of salt, after a week in the wilderness, we’re almost convinced that everything (bar the drop-bears) is true.
Our first encounter with Australian wildlife came in the form of a wombat. Or rather, an ex-wombat, recently transformed into roadkill. We backed up the hatchback to hop out and take a look lest we never see another, but that evening, once we had pitched out tents, we found ourselves in the midst of a swarm of wombats. Perhaps ‘flock’ is a better way to describe the bumbling marsupials, as they rather resembled oblivious nocturnal sheep. They were oblivious to the impediments our tents ought to have caused to their course, anyway.
Meeting the wombats was a good warm-up for encountering other mammals, as they certainly posed the lowest bite risk. After dinner, the scrabbling black and white creature with the wide open jaws that appeared in search of food was another story. Tasmanian Devils are renowned for their biting prowess – in fact, it is via biting of each other that their deadly facial cancer is spread. Luckily for us, we got out of the way in time to avoid a souvenir scar in the buttocks. Ouch.
It seems that the bush animals are in cahoots with one another, however. As this episode was unfolding, one very cheeky possum was busy unzipping the top of our pack to take a nibble on the personal locator beacon. We caught the rascal red handed some 10m from the tent, thanks to some beady eyes noticing the flashing light sneaking off into the distance. That could have been one embarrassing situation to explain to search and rescue, particularly seeing as possums are held in high regard around these parts. Having survived the mammals of the area, and generally had a lovely time, we still had one last hurdle to leap on our way out again… Snakes.
What do you do when a tiger snake takes the liberty of sunning itself right in the middle of the only path out of the wilderness? Well, first you stop and eat some morning tea. Scroggin is good at any time of day, but has excellent inspirational properties when it comes to untangling oneself from a snakey situation. The recommended stomping action was having no effect on our slithery friend. Neither was our three day old sweat – the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. Then, whilst repacking, our Eureka moment came – in the form of a banana. Not wanting to hurt the snake – but not wanting to become a statistic, either – we decided to throw the ripened fruit into the vicinity of the reptile, in order to scare it away. Happily for us, it worked. Future Mario-Cart developers, take note: banana blocks snake. We were soon on our merry way.
So, what’s the verdict of these camping kiwis who took their chances for a week across the ditch? It’s not as scary as Australians make it out to be – only almost. And no matter what happens on our next camping trip, we’re bound to appreciate the safe peace and quiet far more for our overseas experience.
Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian