Australia's winter wonderland

By Alex Potter

Did you know Australia has it's own winter wonderland?

A wombat walks through the snow in Australia
A snowy walk for a wombat. © Charles Davis
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Australia is synonymous with many things; surf, sand, sun… and snow? While the land down under may be better known as a place where you can risk getting a bad sunburn in an all-day beach adventure, across parts of the great southern country, layers of snow cover the ground.

The Great Dividing Range is Australia’s largest mountain range and the third longest land-based range in the world. Stretching 3500km, it spans the length of the whole east coast of Australia - that’s a 56 hour drive from end to end. Across the mountainous tops of the Great Dividing Range, winter brings heavy snowfalls. This snowfall is so heavy that Australian Alps, located near the capital city of Canberra, receives more snow than the Swiss Alps in the winter months!

For one of Australia’s cutest critters, this snowfall turns their mountain home into a winter wonderland! Often described as being like a big dog, with small dog legs, the wombat is a hardy marsupial. Built for digging and burrowing, these nocturnal creatures live in complex underground structures that can reach up to 650 feet in length. Their strong paws have long, sharp claws that allow them to remove up to 3 feet of dirt within a night.

Cousin to the koala, the wombat has an unusual pouch in which it raises its young. Due to their frequent digging and burrowing, their pouch is positioned backwards, instead of facing the mother, to prevent any dirt or snow from being dug up and flicked in.

Living on a plant-based diet, these adorable animals love to chow down on grasses and roots that are difficult to digest. They have special enzymes in their stomachs to help break down their food; however, it can still take up to two weeks for one of their meals to fully digest. Spending three to eight hours a night eating, the wombat’s powerful claws come in handy as they dig through the layers of snow to get to the grass underneath. Their prominent incisors never stop growing so the rough grass they gnaw on helps keep their teeth at a manageable size.

When you’ve spent that long foraging for food, you really want to make your energy last the distance and wombats have developed a few genius strategies to achieve this. Walking in dense snow can be a tiresome exercise, but wombats halve their effort by placing their back legs into the paw prints made by their front legs, making half their steps much easier to take. With the Australian weather moving from snowy winters to boiling summers, the wombats use their burrows as havens from the harsh weather, with the underground chambers staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Super cute and extremely intelligent? Wombats have it all!

So next time you’re considering a trip to the land of Vegemite, barbecues and Neighbours, make sure you pack your cozzie AND your winter coat!

Featured image © Luke Hasaart