Trying to be prepared and aware, before my ten-day trip to Australia, I poured over —albeit hesitantly at times, and not always looking at the photos — the various poisonous snakes and huge and frightening spiders native to the country. I reached out to a friend and was somewhat comforted when he told me he’d lived in Darwin for four years and only saw one snake the whole time he lived there.
Comfort was replaced with fear and anguish, when upon arriving in Narooma, New South Wales, “It’s Australia Mate,” became the sing-song response from our resident expert and host to any question about the prospect of seeing a snake, spider, or other nefarious critter whilst out on the trails.
Did I mention I’m petrified of garter snakes? I put my fears aside — well, sort of — and headed out with my adventure sister Anita, for our first trail run. I watched every step closely, scoring the leaves underfoot for an errant twitch of a slithering reptile. Nothing. Well, nothing but a family of kangaroos hopping happily in the woods, which was pretty cool indeed.
Trail run number two was a venture out in the pouring rain on the beach, how scary could that be? Not so much, except for the jellyfish littered along the shoreline, still with stingers attached, and the ever-increasing winds and thunder overhead. After the first few lightning strikes, the idea for the run seemed a bit questionable. The storm passed without incident and so we ventured out for more running that afternoon.
Those runs featured two different trails, one out-and-back to a lake in the rain — uneventful and void of animals except for vociferous birds — another in an appropriately named rain forest. Did I mention that I had read up on leeches before the trip, but didn’t remember they like the rain forest? Maybe not as scary as snakes, but creepy — literally — nonetheless.
Until a family of leeches is crawling up your sock, in your shoes, and adhering to your shin do you realize their impact on your mindset. I was totally freaked as I frantically and unsuccessfully tried to pick them off my skin. First I thought I was the only one of us to attract the leeches and then Anita looked down and jumped out of the car, almost forgetting to put the vehicle in park. She had her own leech family resting in her shoes and socks. We hysterically jumped around in the road getting rid of them…which actually seems a bit humorous now.
It wasn’t until trail number three that snake number one was spotted and it was a doozy. Ranked second among the world’s most poisonous snakes, the Brown’s venom could kill within four hours. On the side of the trail near a pile of leaves and a few rocks, it was tightly coiled. I nearly stepped on its back when I was scouting out a photo op at an overlook on the sixth mile of an eight-mile out and back to Mount Dromedary. I believe my scream awoke the entire population of Tilba Tilba in the distance. My breathing was still racing as Anita and I continued down the trail, and I nearly ran into a wallaby. I scared that cuddly marsupial into a speedy retreat into the forest with a second ear-piercing scream.
Snake number two came on day six. A red-bellied black. Also poisonous, but less so. This one slithered across a trail in front of me on a run in Kosciuszko National Park, our second run of the day after Anita and I had summited Australia’s highest peak that morning. Undaunted, we did a third and fourth run in the Park after that encounter and saw only parrots and cockatoos.
There were additional trail runs and adventures with more animals spotted throughout the trip including, but not limited to, a monitor lizard — the goanna — a lyrebird, kookaburras, egrets, dolphins, spiders, crabs, a skink, emus, seals, pelicans, bunnies, foxes, and fruit bats.
On day 8, we ran in the Snowies Trail Fest at Lake Crackenback, which included 5K, 8K, 21K, and 50K trail runs. Anita raced the 21K and I raced the 5K. Since we started at different times, I was able to video the start of the 21K, which included a cameo from the Man from Snowy River and his horse Jem. Complete with a cracking whip indicating the start of the race, the pair posed for photos with the adoring spectators after the runners headed for the trails.
From sea to rainforest, the experiences surpassed initial expectations in spite of, and perhaps because of, the many critters spied on the trails.
Through it all, we learned there is a rather large list of important “Don’ts,” which may be helpful should you be planning a trip Down Under.
- Don’t poke a snake
- Don’t put your hand in a tide pool to collect shells
- Don’t stand still near a goanna
- Don’t provoke a spider
- Don’t bother an emu
- Don’t get between a roo and its offspring
- Don’t get between a seal and the water
- Don’t walk in tall grasses
- Don’t run in a rain forest while its raining
- Don’t go off trail and bushwhack
- Don’t forget your camera.