"Look, there's one up there!'' the ranger exclaims, pointing to a fork in a gum tree. Despite a frenzy of camera clicking and ''oohs'' and ''ahhs'' from the excited group of 20 or so onlookers, the koala nonchalantly continues to munch gum leaves.
Everyone that is, except Sarah, my four-year-old daughter, who has her head down, and is studying closely the cover of her book. It's titled Tidbinbilla A-Z and the front cover features some kids playing on stepping stones that cross a small creek in the nature park's wetlands.
''Daddy, I've already seen a koala - it's in the book, under K,'' she deadpans.
A koala at Tidbinbilla. Photo: Chris Blunt
Ever since the colourful book arrived in her Christmas stocking two weeks ago, Sarah has been hell-bent on going to the stepping stones to ''play and have fun like those children do''. And not even her first opportunity to see a koala is going to stop her.
I should have known the 45-minute koala walk wasn't a good idea. Our trip to Tidbinbilla started with the obligatory visit to the Nature Discovery Playground from where, usually, it's near impossible to lure Sarah away. But not today. After just two whizzes down the giant slide, one attempt to extract water from the model pump, and only one dare-devilish ride on the flying fox, it's all over.
''Daddy, it's time for the stepping stones,'' she demanded. I agreed, but on the proviso we do a bit of koala spotting on the way.
The koala walk is most informative and between trying to spot little balls of fur in the eucalypts, the ranger tells us some interesting facts about koalas such as, besides humans, they are one of the few mammals to have unique fingerprints. However, for Sarah, the end of the walk can't come soon enough and we leave early to make a beeline for the Sanctuary - Tidbinbilla's wetlands. Established during the drought, for several years this network of boardwalks, bridges and ponds looked like it might never realise its potential, but rains over the past 15 months or so have left it looking spectacular - lush, green and, more importantly, full of water.
Sarah explores the wonder of Tidbinbilla. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
I know it's going to be game over as soon as Sarah gets to the stepping stones, so I lead her the long way to the creek. It's not her first visit to the Sanctuary; in fact we've probably walked past the stepping stones on a number of occasions and never noticed. But of course that was before Santa slipped Tidbinbilla A-Z in her stocking with the stones colourfully emblazoned on its cover. Usually I get ''Daddy, my legs are sore,'' by the second pond, and by the third pond I'm piggy-backing Sarah for the remaining 2km. But not today, oh no, Sarah is racing around the tracks that circle the wetlands like a Cathy Freeman wannabe. She even gives the pelicans (a perennial favourite) a wide berth. Heck, even a red-bellied black snake slithering into the reeds adjacent to the elevated boardwalk doesn't slow her down (although it does give her Dad a bit of a panic).
Near the waterbird viewing platform we stop at the listening post - a specially designed seat that is supposed to amplify the sounds of nature for the person sitting in it. The main reason for the stop is for me to catch my breath (blame too much Christmas pudding - well, at least that's my excuse this time) but I'm also intrigued as to the seat's purpose.
I'm not sure what Sarah can hear from inside the cocoon-shaped seat, but all I hear as she briefly sits down (munching on a lolly as bribe for the impromptu stop) is ''are we near the stepping stones yet, Daddy!'' And to think I thought we'd hear the melodic sounds of distant bush birds calling.
Sarah tests out Tidbinbilla's Listening Post. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Sarah is one four-year-old on a mission and in less than 20 seconds she leaps up and scurries onwards, past bemused water hens and even past a dancing brolga.
Finally, we reach the creek and a sign pointing downhill through thick underbrush. I can almost hear her little heart beating with anticipation over the top of the rushing water as she expectantly asks me what it reads. ''Children's river crossing,'' I respond at which point she grabs my hand and leads me, skipping, down the path. Ten metres or so down the track are five chunks of rock spread equidistant across a small creek to enable one to cross the creek. But for Sarah, this is a place of magic - a place she has been dreaming about for the past two weeks. And just to make sure she's at the right spot (heaven forbid there be two sets of stepping stones!), she pulls out the book and compares the cover photo with our surroundings. ''We're here, we're here,'' she yells in glee. It's a warm day and there's a half a dozen or so kids playing on and around the stepping stones.
''Let's play!'' Sarah exclaims.
Sarah's yelps of joy are just a tad loud for the group of people gathered at the nearby weir trying to spy on a platypus.
The volunteer guide points to a trail of bubbles (a telltale sign of the platypus) in the specially designed eye-height weir. In hurried, but hushed tones, parents call their children over from the creek. ''Look kids, there's a platypus.'' All the kids, except one, scurry out of the creek to catch a glimpse of the mysterious monotreme.
I don't bother telling Sarah about the platypus for she is in utopia. She now has the creek to herself and is hopping happily from one partially submerged rock to another, without a care in the world.
Oh, to be a four-year-old.
The wetlands at Tidbinbilla replenished after recent rains. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Tidbinbilla: Located on the Tidbinbilla/Paddy's River Road, approximately 40-minutes drive from the city. Entry fees apply. Open 7.30am-8pm. For more information, including ranger-guided activities, call: 62051233.
Don't miss: The pelican feed at 1.30pm every day at pond number four in the nature reserve's wetlands area called The Sanctuary.
Koala walk: Every Saturday during January at 2pm there will be a 45-minute guided walk through Tidbinbilla's koala enclosure. Meet at the Eucalyptus Forest car park. No bookings required.
A DOG'S BEST FRIEND?
While fossicking through photographic records at the National Archives of Australia this week, I stumbled upon this extraordinary image taken by John Tanner in 1953 at Lone Pine Sanctuary in Queensland and couldn't resist sharing it. Apparently both the koala and the Alsatian were among the star attractions at the sanctuary. I can't imagine why. If you've got a koala story or photo, please let me know.
Following last week's call for examples of simulacra or ''faces and other forms that appear in nature'', my inbox has been besieged by some fantastic images. Keep them coming. Today's is a corker.
''It's of a whopping great foot in a thong and what could be a more appropriate location for a thonged foot than the magnificent beach at Cape Leveque, north of Broome,'' Meg McKone, of Holt, writes.
''Funny thing is, I took the shot and didn't realise what it resembled until I was showing my pics to a friend who pointed it out to me. By the way, the white lumps around the ankle are snail fossils, I have been reliably informed,'' Meg adds.
Meg McKone's striking image from near Cape Leveque in Western Australia
PS: Not one single reader of last week's column who contacted me (Do You See It?) could ''see'' the old man's face in the photo of a tree branch that Tessa Bird and her partner, Matt, recently snapped at Stockyard Spur in the Brindabellas. Sorry Tessa, I guess the next coffee is on you.
What? Moonlight Cinema.
Where? Tathra Surf Life Saving Club, Tathra Beach.
When? Friday, January 13, from 8.30pm.
Expect: Bar open, chips, popcorn, ice cream and drinks available. What a great way to end a day at the coast.
Don't forget: BYO low chairs, pillows and a blanket.
More info: 02 6494 1588 or www.tathrasurfclub.com.au