WHO: Carol Bowen, 53, of Concord, her mother, Leila Whiting, 81, Silver Spring, Md., and her brother, Richard Whiting, 50, Columbia, Md.
WHERE: Kangaroo Island, Australia
WHEN: Four days in March
WHY: Bowen, her mother, and brother were in Australia for a month visiting family, as her mother had spent most of her childhood there. Bowen had visited her aunts and cousins several times over the years and they all wanted to see something new. Their mother suggested Kangaroo Island.
ALL ABOUT ANIMALS: "What's Kangaroo Island?" Bowen said. " We found out it's [the country's] third-largest island, off the coast of South Australia, and though it's not exactly one big petting zoo, the focus is on animals."
GETTING AROUND: "We flew to Kingscote from Adelaide in a small plane, though you can take a 45-minute ferry ride , too," Bowen said. "The thing that's real important is to rent a car. We rented a 4-wheel drive. There are only two major roads that go across the island and the rest of the roads are unpaved."
KOALA IS KING: The island was named in 1802 by British navigator Matthew Flinders, but visitors are more likely to see koalas, Bowen said. About 20 koalas were introduced there in the 1920s because they were threatened with extinction on the mainland. Now there are an estimated 30,000, with few predators. The area also is known for its New Zealand fur seals and tammar wallabies.
SEA AND LAND: "On the way to our lodge, about an hour and a half to the far end of the island, we stopped at Seal Bay," Bowen said. " They're not seals but sea lions. There are hundreds of them frolicking in the water." Another day they saw equally playful fur seals. The family stayed at Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat ( kiwr .com ), a nice, rustic lodge next to the large Flinders Chase National Park. "It was a very environmentally sensitive place, and the food was outstanding," said Bowen. It featured locally grown produce and artisanal cheeses and wines.
WANTING A WALLABY: "About 25 wallabies frequent the property and they have 'roo food' you can give them," said Bowen. "I wanted to take one home. They have very thick eyelashes and they look at you and you just melt. The males are much more friendly and less skittish. They definitely have food on their mind."
COMMON SIGHTINGS: The family had seen many koalas on preserves but never roaming freely. "It was a totally different experience," Bowen said. "They mostly stay in gum trees and sit in the forks and you see this little ball of fur rolled up. The male koalas growl, which is kind of scary. We also saw an echidna , a marsupial that looks like a big hedgehog, with spikes and a long pointy nose."
AND THERE'S MORE: The island scenery is spectacular, Bowen said, especially the Remarkable Rocks, giant granite rock formations on the coastline sculpted by erosion into bizarre shapes. "We came back gushing" to the Australian relatives, none of whom had visited the island, she said. "Maybe now they'll all go."