When we were trying to think of things we'd like to do in Australia, my wife was really keen to see wombats. So we put them on the list, but I didn't honestly expect to see them. They're not all that common, and they're primarily nocturnal. But as we researched other things we'd like to do, and places we'd like to visit, we came across Kangaroo Valley, which was conveniently placed along our route from the Blue Mountains to Jervis Bay & Booderee National Park. At the same time I was looking for somewhere where we might be able to find wombats, and Kangaroo Valley again came up in that search too. So we decided to try our luck, and booked a couple of nights there.
Research suggested that Bendeela Recreation Area was the place to go, as there were references to wombats on their website & TripAdvisor reviews. Prior to arriving, I had very low expectations of seeing a wombat - at least while it was still light enough for photos. But as you can see, the gamble paid off!
Bendeela is an open camping and picnic area which is owned by the local water company, and open to visitors for free. We arrived shortly before sunset, and saw our first wombat before we'd even parked the car! I couldn't believe my luck.
Wombats sleep during the day, in underground burrows, and emerge around sunset, to graze through the night. Around the edges of Bendeela, you can see the entrance holes to their burrows. And down by the river, under the trees, you'll find a whole lot more burrows. In fact, if you get there before the wombats come out (which I'd really recommend), it's well worth looking at the extent of the burrows around the camp ground. They're large holes, and there are dozens and dozens of them. You don't need to stake out the burrows though - and for the sake of the wombats I suggest you don't. They're cautious about leaving their burrows, so leave them lots of space and privacy to come as and when they like. If you stick to the main, open areas of the camp grounds, you'll see them when they're ready to be seen. There's clearly a healthy number of wombats in the area, so with this population, you're almost guaranteed multiple sightings.
However, because they don't come out until shortly before sunset, it doesn't leave you very long to get some photos (or simply enjoy watching them snuffle around and forage).
It does at least mean though, that you get to see them in the best light of the day, as the normally harsh sun is low in the sky. So I tried all my usual favourite techniques for using that low sun, like back-lighting, side-lighting, and rim-lighting.
One thing I noticed in Australia, compared to the UK, was how quickly the sun set. That might sound silly, but the sun took a much more vertical trajectory. So when you see a decent space between the sun and the horizon and think you've got half an hour of light, it would plummet below the horizon in more like 10 minutes.
Although the town is called Kangaroo Valley, it's actually named after the Kangaroo River, rather than directly after the bouncy marsupials. The river is a nice focal point for the town, and provides the opportunity for activities and nature watching. We had hoped to rent some canoes and see the valley from the river, but unfortunately it had been 3 months since the last rainfall, and the water levels were too low. But there are other things to do there. There are walks in the area, and the town itself is a characterful place, with a kind of wild-west look about it.
It was interesting to see that each wombat had their own personality. They all had a pretty relaxed temperament, and were obviously used to people, due to living on a camp ground. But some were more tolerant than others, while some were more shy. They also varied physically. While all keeping to that classic stocky shape, some were more boxy than others, some with rougher fur, and some smaller and lighter in appearance, like the one above.
I was expecting them to be much more shy than they were. Though some were sticking to the quieter areas of the park, there were bolder individuals walking right through the camp ground. One of the highlights was seeing a wombat itching itself up against the bumper of a camper van, causing it to shake considerably. They're a lot like miniature bears in many ways, but more dense and compact. And you just have to see the baby wombats! Unfortunately I only saw a couple, and it was too dark for photos by that point. But they were totally adorable.
And in case you weren't aware of everyone's favourite wombat fact... Wombats do cubed poos!
It's true - and we saw a few around :-)
As you can see here, I was keen to use the trees as background. Not only because of the opportunity for back-lighting, but also to use that context, since wombats are typically woodland dwellers.
Wombats are the real USP of Bendeela and Kangaroo Valley, but there's plenty of other wildlife around. We saw a few kangaroos, wallabies, lizards, kookaburras, etc. One family we met there showed us a photo of an enormous monitor lizard (AKA 'goanna') they'd seen walking past their tent that afternoon, and I couldn't believe the size of it. I'd love to see one of them, but not that close!
All-in-all, I'd really recommend a visit to Bendeela, whether you're into photography or not. We were travelling in a family group of three generations, and everyone enjoyed seeing them in such a relaxed and natural environment. Just a brilliant experience.
As the sun set behind the trees, this was my final opportunity to get a shot of a wombat in the light.
Overall I'm really pleased with the photos I got there. I could happily spend an entire week of evenings photographing the wombats at Bendeela, and there's a real wealth of potential for all kinds of different photos. If I ever get the chance to return, I'm confident I could do even better, but as a pot-luck first-time visit, this has to be considered a success.
If you're thinking of visiting Bendeela Recreation Area, check out their website, and also this PDF which provides some excellent information about the wombats of Bendeela.
For more from this series of Australian nature & landscape photos (including a kangaroo portrait from Bendeela), see these blogs. I'll be adding to this series over the next few months, as I get around to writing up my experiences at the various locations we visited.
If you have any questions or comments, please use the section below.
Post by George Wheelhouse, 2018.