Q & A with Janine Duffy, Co-Founder, Echidna Walkabout, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
"High quality small group wildlife and conservation experiences."
WHY DID YOU NAME YOUR COMPANY AFTER A SPINY ANTEATER?
Echidnas are a true survivor, a worthy symbol. They are an ancient species adapted to cope with Australia's challenging conditions: fire, flood, drought and an unreliable climate. We love them - they give us hope! We do spot them sometimes on certain tours.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE STARTING THIS ENDEAVOR?
In my former career I was an environmental architect. I was interested in passive solar technology and also sustainable timber. That's when I met my partner Roger Smith - he was working as an environmental lobbyist at the time. We spent every weekend walking in the Bush, we shared our thoughts, and that was where Echidna Walkabout was born!
HOW DO GUESTS HELP WITH WILDLIFE CONSERVATION?
Our company is a social enterprise so at least 50% of our profit is invested in our mission to ensure that Australian animals live in the wild well into the future. We are heavily invested in wild koala research – we employ four researchers to monitor the koala population in the You Yangs Park. Sadly, we have shown that koalas have declined there by 34% since 2007. We also discovered that koalas are negatively affected by Boneseed weed. With facts in hand we started the not-for-profit Koala Clancy Foundation. We started removing Boneseed weed, fought and beat a sand mine proposal that would have killed koalas in unsustainable numbers, and we work with the National Parks Service to create a special conservation zone to protect koalas. Without the fees earned from tour guests we could not do any of this vital work.
HOW LONG DO KOALAS LIVE IN THE WILD?
Koalas used to live up to 22 years (females) and 14 years (males), but their lifespan is reducing due to climate change. Many people are surprised to learn that koalas are as endangered now as polar bears and giant pandas. Since we have yet to achieve a short-term solution to climate change, we have to do everything else we can to stabilize the other threats to koalas or we will lose the species.
"The Koalas & Kangaroos In the Wild" single day tour. This is our most popular tour due to its proximity to Melbourne and also because of its short duration. It runs daily all year except Dec 25 & 26. Book early if you know you will be in Melbourne because tour group size is limited to 10 people. We have had guests book this tour even 9 months in advance!
WHAT ABOUT MULTI-DAY TOURS, LIKE THIS 6-DAY WINTER TOUR TO AUSTRALIA'S TOP END.
That is a completely different experience. I should explain there is no cold winter in the Top End. It's basically two seasons there - Wet and Dry. So August is the best time to go because it is warm but not so hot as to be scorching. The migrant birds have arrived, and there’s water in the billabongs without the flooding. This tour is limited in size - 4 to 10 people per group.
Yes, typically our groups are about half international visitors and half Aussies. Since so many of our citizens live in the southern and eastern territories and have never been to Top End, they are very keen to see it.
BUT TRAVELERS HAVE TO GET THEMSELVES TO THE CITY OF DARWIN?
That is correct. We recommend that you arrive in Darwin the day before the tour starts and stay one overnight. Then the next day we will pick you up from your hotel and begin the tour. At the end, we will bring you back to Darwin and drop you off either at a hotel if you’re staying on, or at the airport if you are leaving.
IN ADDITION TO THE WILDERNESS, YOU SPEAK ABOUT THE NATIVE COMMUNITIES?
The Aboriginal History and Culture is very much an integral part of this tour. You cannot visit this territory and not feel it all around you. We take an Aboriginal-owned and guided Guluyumbi Cruise in Kakadu National Park, and we also visit powerful Aboriginal Rock Art sites there. My partner Roger is a fully qualified Kakadu Guide which is the most difficult credential and highest honor to receive.
Hahaha, I know! While some in the travel industry tease us, we think this is the right length for this tour. Though it is "chockers." [Aussie slang for: "jam-packed"]
WHAT CLOTHES AND SHOES ARE BEST?
Hiking boots are good, but running shoes are also fine. A light shirt that covers your neck and arms is essential for sun protection. A hat for sure.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE WILDERNESS LODGES?
Generally these offer simple, comfortable and clean bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. There is an upgrade option in Kakadu NP.
Look around with open eyes because in every country there are natural places and special creatures that deserve your attention and support. Also show respect for wildlife by keeping your distance. Never chase an animal for the sake of a photograph, and do not touch them.
[ BRING A PAIR OF BINOCULARS WITH YOU! ]
by Kerri McConnel, Guest Post Writer
I'm an Australian, so you might think I have seen plenty of these native wild animals. I mean, don't they sleep in my backyard trees? Hop all over the local roads? Actually those are urban myths. To come across koalas and kangaroos in metro areas would be unusual. So in wild regions, yes, I have seen them before, but I still did not know all that I could about them. This wonderful tour filled in a lot.
My day out was blessed with great weather and interesting travel buddies: visitors from Canada, the UK, and Panama. Our group and guide traveled from Melbourne to the You Yangs Park, home to koalas and Eastern Grey kangaroos. It was fun to observe this diverse mix of people taking in the surrounding beauty and so excited to catch a first glimpse of grey fur. Of course, there is no guarantee in the wild - you could walk all day and the animals can hide. But eventually we were rewarded, not once but twice, with views of a baby and an older koala. I loved watching the faces of my comrades light up with amazement and delight!
I highly recommend this tour. It is run professionally, offers an easy pace suitable for all ages, educational, a great excuse to spend the day outside and is just heaps of fun.
Many thanks to Kerri McConnel of Beer and Croissants for her contribution to this post!
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