The first time I went to Canada, I thought the yellow street signs with a deer picture on it, warning you that a deer might cross the road, were very cute. Coming from Indonesia, I’d never seen street sign bearing an animal picture before.
To most people, kangaroos and penguins are not everyday sights. Unless you live in Australia and New Zealand the chance to meet them in the wild is slim to none (maybe if one escapes from the zoo?) In the past few months as we’ve traveled around Australia and New Zealand, I’ve been very excited every time I see one of the exotic animal street signs. It feels like I might get a chance to spot something amazing! It’s more than just kangaroo and penguin signs, there are lots of other fascinating animal signs too. And every time I spot one I peel my eyes wide, trying to to spot one from the road as we drive. Or I might take a walk in the woods for the chance to see them in the wild. So, let me show you some of our little journeys in spotting them!
A kangaroo taking a midnight hop.
We’ve seen many kangaroos in zoos and animal parks, but it’s not the same as seeing them in the wild. Unfortunately we didn’t have much luck until recently. Last month we drove all the way up the east coast of Australia from Sydney to Cape Tribulation, passing through Brisbane and Cairns, and didn’t spot any except roadkill. Things got a lot livelier as we went inland and into the outback: our favourite encounter happened a few hours from Cairns, in a little town known for its caves, called Chillagoe. Here kangaroos and wallabies alike were jumping or standing all over the place, especially at the dusk and during night time. I need to emphasize here that Ryan drove very carefully and slowly, so we wouldn’t hit any (and we didn’t!) At one point, we stopped the car just to watch them hopping around in the dark. It was very difficult to get a good photo, but there must have been at least 50 of them!
Playing with rock wallabies at Granite Gorge. Do you see the baby Joey?
On another occasion, we visited the Granite Gorge near Mareeba, a privately owned nature park with gorgeous river and gigantic boulders, also a wild sanctuary of rock wallabies. The rock wallabies here are not very wild anymore since they have frequent encounters with tourists. We had so much fun playing with them.
Note: Despite the cuteness of the kangaroo street signs, the danger is real. Kangaroos are plentiful in the Australian outback, and driving at night can be really dangerous. Read the driving stories from Mike and Amanda about their dangerous encounters with kangaroos.
I have no doubt that all of you know kangaroos. But before we visited the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, Australia, we had no idea that there’s such a creature as a tree kangaroo. Kangaroos that live in trees? Apparently they’re real! They don’t really look like a regular kangaroo, but they share similar ancestors. They are not too graceful on the ground, but they are great tree climbers and can even hop from tree to tree.
Two tree kangaroos cozy in a tree.
As we entered the forested area and saw the tree kangaroo street sign, we got excited. We thought spotting them would be very difficult since they are quite small and the trees are quite dense, but it must have been our lucky day! Near a pretty little waterfall, a group of kids asked us whether we wanted to see some tree kangaroos. Hell yeah! They led us to a nearby spot where there were a couple of them eating leaves peacefully in a tree. We watched them for about 10 minutes. They didn’t care we were there, they just enjoyed stuffing themselves with leaves. So happy to see such a rare animal in their natural habitat!
Clearly illustrating how a cassowary looks before and after a car accident. (Can you guess it’s modified from a bump sign?)
Cassowary street signs are a normal sight in north Queensland, but unfortunately this big bird with its beautiful blue head and big brown crest is very shy. Even though we saw countless signs, including the one says “Cassowary recent crossing”, in the end we never even saw one! It was pretty disappointing. A few months ago, when we visited the Australian Reptile Park near Sydney, we saw some of them in captivity. I guess for now we have to be happy with that.
When we were in New Zealand, as we drove along the Lake Taupo, we were enchanted by the beauty of the sunset, so we made an impromptu decision to dive into the inviting water. We then sat on the beach watching the last minutes of the sunset, resulting in being eaten alive by hundreds or thousands of sandflies.
A big croc named Fat Albert.
When you are in the north part of Australia, you should think twice (or more times) about jumping impromptu to inviting water bodies, because you might meet…. saltwater crocodiles! Going by the nickname “salties” these crocs are the largest living reptiles on earth, with males growing to 5-6 m long. In Australia, approximately 1-2 deadly salties attack on humans are reported every year. So it’s definitely best not to mess around with them. The sign we posted here was from Yorkeys Knob beach.
Since croc sightings in nature could be dangerous, we decided to seek expert help to find some. We joined Bruce Belchers’ expedition on the Daintree River. Bruce was an excellent guide, having done this for many years, and the trip was not disappointing: we spotted 7 saltwater crocodiles! They were seen sunbathing on the beach along the river, some with jaws wide open. With the intimidating length of 5 meters, a croc named”Fat Albert” was the most impressive one. Unfortunately it’s not very easy to see this magnificent size from the photo, as I failed to persuade anybody to sit beside him to get the size perspective!
I like the warning sign in the right picture: the stinger looks monstrous.
Again, this sign is not actually found on the road, but typically on the beach sides. In Queensland, especially during the summer months, stingers are frequent visitor to its beaches and the Great Barrier Reef. The sting they cause could result in only localized stinging pain, or severe aches in body parts, or even death. As we were there during the winter time, the chance to encounter a jellyfish should be smaller. We indeed didn’t see them by our eyes, however Ryan got stung in his arm by a small one when we were snorkeling by Michaelmas Cay, in the Great Barrier Reef. The sting made a 10 cm long red mark in his inner elbow, and fortunately even though it caused some stinging pain for a few days, it didn’t get more dangerous than that.
Cows on the road in Australia? We were quite surprised the first time we saw that! Seeing cows in fenced fields or valleys was a pretty commonplace scene in the New Zealand. But in some parts of Queensland, apparently fences are optional! How to keep them of the road so they don’t get hit by cars? Well, we hope the cows have the right sense about it, but in fact we indeed saw some of them wandering on the road! They might rely on the fact drivers will try really hard to avoid collisions with them: they are quite massive, you will hurt not only the cow, but your car and yourself.
I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw a street sign of penguins! I thought they only lived in the South Pole, but apparently New Zealand is also home to many kind of penguins, and sometimes they do cross the road along the coast! Of course we wanted to spot these penguins in their natural habitat. We went to a small city called Oamaru on the east coast of South Island of NZ, home to two different kind of penguins: the little blue penguins, and the yellow eyed penguins. Our yellow eyed penguins spotting was a bit painful. It was in the middle of winter time, during a long rainstorm that hit the area for days, and the observation platform was high on the top of a high cliff. Wet, very windy, and freezing cold. The first observation day was a failure, but glad we were back the next day. We spotted 2 of them down the beach. A kind penguin watcher lent us his binoculars so we had a good look of them. What a pretty creature! I love how around the eyes, the color of the skin is yellow, giving impression that they are wearing a little yellow bandit eye-mask!
Safe distance to see a penguin in the wild.
The little blue penguins were easier to spot, but with some cost. In the past, there were heavy machinery left from an old mine not far from a cliff, and a blue penguin colony used it as their home. Now the machinery is all gone, and they’ve built small houses for the penguins, who seem to love it too just like their old machinery homes. After waiting for the sun to set, the penguins come ashore in large groups. Very adorable creatures! In groups of 10 or 20 they’d wash ashore onto the rocks. With their two short legs and no flippers they’d hop and climb up the steep cliff. You’ve got to see this yourself to see how adorable they are scaling the rocks! Their color is dark blue, and they are only a foot tall. Cute and tiny. We saw them from very close, one of them even ran right between us! Unfortunately no photographs, but it was an amazing experience.
Duck crossing! Are you serious?!
We found this 2-3 hours away to the south from Sydney. People in the neighbourhood must love ducks so much, or probably they have a rare type of duck there.
So, I hope you enjoyed the collection of animal street signs! Which one do you like best? Tell us what unique street signs you have in your area or you’ve encounter in your travels!