You can’t beat (around) the bush

Real Israel takes a bus and heads Down Under.

Gan Garoo 311 (photo credit: Liat Collins)
Gan Garoo 311
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
Real Israel has been on walkabout. Okay, it was closer to Beit She’an than the Australian bush, but it was the nearest thing you’ll get to Oz this side of the ocean.
For my son and me, this was our second overnight visit to Gan Garoo, the Australian park operated by Kibbutz Nir David, and it wasn’t just the kookaburra who was still laughing. We also spent most of the time smiling – from our walk through the crazy mirror maze soon after we arrived until petting the kangaroos before leaving the next morning.
I’m not sure whether the kangaroos were jumping from joy or just doing what comes naturally – even to a roo born and raised in the Holy Land – but they certainly seemed happy as they wandered around freely and we wandered among them.
Our first trip two years ago was a press tour ahead of the launch of the overnight camping in the field project. This time, again the guests of Nir David’s tourism company, we were with non-journalist families from all over the country (and one visiting from El Salvador).
We pitched our tent next to that of another English-speaking mother and son whom we had met earlier somewhere between the petting corner and the aviary containing Brian, the cutest, chattiest cockatoo you’re likely to come across anywhere in the Middle East.
The conditions are basic – bring your own tent, sleeping bags and mosquito repellent – but the toilets are clean and skipping a shower one night out in the bush is not the end of the world.
As darkness fell, our extended group grabbed their flashlights and set off on a tour to study the wild nightlife, led by Gan Garoo’s manager Nadav Kfir.
To the fascination of some of the kids, the walkabout started by studying the pellets regurgitated by one of the many barn owls in the area (nearby Kibbutz Sde Eliahu pioneered Israel’s use of the birds as natural pesticide) and we saw that the barn owl had indeed been eating rodents whose undigested, sharp teeth remained as evidence (and a souvenir for the unsqueamish).
With a tour that kicked off like this, I should perhaps have been less surprised when twoand- a-half hours later my son spent much of his time at the Aborigine-style campfire (baked potatoes and tea prepared in an Australian billycan) with a python wrapped around his neck. Gan Garoo’s nocturnal activities go way beyond the usual been-there-done-that of the summer vacation.
When was the last time you studied the habits and habitats of flying foxes (large Australian bats), the family life of the cassowary (the father does all the work), the mammary glands of a kangaroo (each of her four nipples is suited to a different stage of a joey’s development) and the feeding preferences of koalas (the young literally eat sh.., you know what: The excrement provides the bacteria necessary to digest the eucalyptus leaves)? And it’s not often you get to stroke a kangaroo before going to bed. (The shooting star we saw was an extra.)
By the time we hit the sak shena (as a sleeping bag is known in Hebrew) we were tired enough to doze off without difficulty.
Waking up was no problem: At Gan Garoo the dawn chorus is an extraordinary mix of the shrill cry of the peacock wandering near the tents, the various cockatoos and the parrot who calls out “Imma.”
Breakfast of cookies, rolls, tea and coffee was provided and before taking down our tents we were off on another enlightening adventure: This was my first encounter with a brushtailed bettong (a marsupial resembling a longlegged chinchilla) which was just settling down after a hard day’s night and also a baby goanna (like an iguana with a poisonous bite).
The highlight of the morning tour was a visit to the aviary so new it still smells of fresh wood. Here the beautiful lorikeets, cockatiels and parrots flocked together to be fed fruit kebabs. My son hand-fed mango to two lorikeets, while Goni, a peanut-eating Eclectus parrot, perched on his hat.
Gan Garoo is a good option even for those more interested in a day trip or who prefer the luxury zimmers on the kibbutz rather than a tent on the grass.
It is situated adjacent to the Sakhne (Gan Hashlosha), the natural pools of water surrounded by palm trees and the majestic Gilboa mountain range, voted by Time magazine one of the 20 off-the-beaten track attractions in the world.
A PR whizz a few years ago came up with the name Emek Hama’ayanot (The Valley of the Springs) instead of Emek Beit She’an, which for decades suffered from a poor image. But going Down Under does not mean being down and out. There are many attractions in the area for those who want to combine various outings and activities (try to include some water spot, it’s very hot down there).
I expect that like a boomerang with a delayed reaction, we will probably find our way back to Israel’s Outback in the future.
For information see: (Hebrew only) or e-mail: (English possible). Prior registration is necessary for the overnight trips being held throughout August.