Warrawong Earth Sanctuary: In the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia
On a high and open slope, a clutch of Western Grey Kangaroos laze, the laid back front-of-house crew for a cast of thousands in a true life epic that’s set in a pretty and well-wooded Adelaide Hills valley. It is an impossible dream come true, and we’re promised that we’ll soon be immersed in it.
“And a special treat down the bottom, at the end of our walk down the hill. We’re going underwater in Lake Cumbungi! Did you bring your swimming trunks?”
There’s nervous laughter from the younger members of our afternoon tour group. In the daylight, we get a great chance to see the transformation from hills dairy farm to Warrawong Earth Sanctuary…100,000 trees later. And of course there’s much more.
“Oh, wonder. Do you see that up there?” we’re asked, as our guide points out a small kangaroo close by. “That’s a red necked pademelon.”
It enjoys 85 acres of freedom from predators inside the cat and dog proof fence. Our mentor is Canadian-born Australian wildlife freak, Mark Edwards. As our group spreads out along a boardwalk overlooking a shallow lake with a random scattering of dead branches and clumps of native reeds, he tells us that the wetlands are important here.
“Ooh, there! It’s coming up again”, he enthuses. “It’s a turtle”, chimes in a young voice. “Fantastic!” He chirps back, as if it’s the first he’s even seen.
We lap up his encyclopaedic observation about this recreated bushland as we head further down into the cooler depths of the sanctuary to find a darkly beautiful, tranquil pool that reflects the far hillside’s tall stringybark trees. Mark has told us that there have been regular sightings of late of the elusive little platypus that live in Blackwater Lake. Will our quiet walk on the boardwalk scanning the surface for telltale ripples and bubbles pay off?
“Just in front of the duck!” Mark is excited. “Perfect. It’s coming towards us.”
A short paddle on top and the busy duck-billed creature duck-dives back into the blackness. Its burrow is very likely under the overhanging wattle in golden blossom on the other bank. Very shy, they prefer that kind of protected seclusion. But we are in for a bonus, as another surface swimmer brings squeals of delight from the touring party.
“Here in Blackwater Lake, there are probably three or four of them…one male and the rest female. All up, in the creek and the lakes down through Warrawong, we’d have about fifteen platypus. And there’s one now.”
It was a very pleasantly surprised little group who trod the timber walkway into the cool greens of the damp rainforest part. A calming natural tunnel of giant tree ferns, moss and lichens opens into a secluded landing.
“Potoroos!” exclaims Mark, as more and more small kangaroos emerge to forage in the leaf litter right next to us. With only guided tours allowed into their domain they show no fear as our accompanying tall streak of enthusiasm adds more fascinating information. Fossil finds show that poteroos are an ancient species.
“35 million years old. Amazing. Is that before you were born?”
As a Tammar Wallaby hops into the picture, it’s difficult to absorb that they are extinct on the mainland. We marvel at what this haven offers us, too. This is time travel back two centuries to an era when only the Peramangk people, the aborigines of the hills, walked this valley. They would have seen the Eastern Quoll here. About the size of a cat, the spotted marsupial is now only found in the wild in Tasmania, but if you take a personalized tour at Warrawong, you’ll see the breeding pens and their residents. And their very sharp teeth.
Our afternoon tour group has crossed a pontoon bridge across another scrub-surrounded wetland to look upon a sizeable reservoir that serves as the main water storage of Warrawong. Named after the native reeds hugging the edge, this is Lake Cumbungi. We have come down the track about 1500 metres to find The Living Water Observatory on one side, where the first platypus (from Flinders Chase on Kangaroo Island) were bred in 1988. There is another novel experience in store as we head downstairs within a concrete turret to see what platypus like to feed on. Visible through the viewing panels in the yellowy green pond water, transparent and tasty glass shrimp are the dish of the day.
Speaking of food, there is a first class menu of the human kind at the top of the hill in the restaurant, complete with feathered floorshow through the glass. The colourful rainbow lorikeets are regulars in the chorus with fleeting guest performances from several honeyeater species. Some of our group stayed on for dinner so they could join a dusk tour to see a range of marsupials that come out just before or after dark. Rufous Bettongs suddenly appear in numbers, along with Brush tailed Bettongs or Woylies as they are called by Western Australian aboriginal people.
Ask any of the young people spotting these small kangaroos with their torches about a cat or rabbit or fox and they’d be very familiar to them, but sadly- until this visit- they would likely know very little at all about a potoroo, bandicoot or bettong. Yet they were once thick in the Adelaide Hills. Just two decades ago, the visionary conservationist John Wamsley resolved that he wanted to give a little bit of Australia back to its native animals. Thanks to him, and the many staff and volunteers who followed, we can enjoy that dream come true in Warrawong Earth Sanctuary.
Warrawong Earth Sanctuary
Mylor, South Australia, 5153
(25 minutes from Adelaide)
Ph: 08 8370 9197
Open 7 days. Bookings required. Group tours, personalized tours, weddings, functions, conferences, school camps. Restaurant, nursery and gift shop.