Kangaroos welcome visitors with a hop, skip and jump
at the Gan Garoo Australian Park
Photo: Lydia Aisenberg
Where Israel’s Jezreel and Bet Shean valleys become kissing cousins the region is known as the Valley of the Springs.
Visitors to this brimming over with the wonders of Mother Nature area are often torn between opting for the sweeping views afforded from atop the Gilboa mountain range, or exploring the sites and sights on the valley floor hundreds of meters below.
In season there is also the option for the brave-hearted to take it all in from even higher than the mountain proffered vantage points – albeit in a hot air balloon.
In the shadow of the Gilboa mountains, in some places tucked into its lower slopes, are kilometers of springs, open water channels and waterfalls which overflowed after this year’s record breaking winter rains. Hugely popular trekking routes, shaded JNF-KKL created picnic areas and vantage points enable ramblers not only breathtaking views, but also appreciate the extremely diverse geographic elements. In a sweep of one’s head the terrain drastically changes from lush agricultural areas to a white-beige, dry and almost colorless , Gilead mountain range on the Jordanian east bank..
The not so wide Jordan Rift Valley, part of the great rift extending from Syria to the Red Sea and beyond to portions of Eastern Africa, is visible in the near distance. The famous, these days not so wide, River Jordan winds its way through the rift having exited from the Sea of Galilee, heading for the Dead Sea.
Large and small Jordanian villages, most of which make a living from agriculture or servicing the Jordanian Army bases in the region, pepper the slopes of the undulating but somewhat bleak mountain range.
With a slight turn of the head, some of the most veteran kibbutzim in the country come into view. Beit HaShita, Ein Harod and Geva amongst them. However, somewhat sticking out like a sore thum is a British Mandatory period Teggart fort, used by the British as a police station and in present times, a prison where some of Israel’s most notorious criminals are incarcerated.
The extensive and oh so neatly laid out green, yellow and brown fields of the kibbutzim and moshavim in the area create a natural patchwork quilt, tall majestic palm trees surround a dozen or so fish ponds, the sun`s rays glistening on the still waters making it even more exotic.
One of the most visited sites in the Valley of the Springs is the Gan HaShlosha National Park, also known by its Arabic name of Sachne. Here in the large bathing pools of the park, cascading waters from springs that feed the Amal stream pass through, the temperature in the pools staying the same all year round at 28 degrees celsius.
The nearby kibbutz of Nir David literally has a river running through with swans, ducks and other feathered friends floating along past members’ homes – bridges enabling members to cross from one bank to the other.
The Museum of Regional and Mediterranean Archaeology is situated in the kibbutz grounds having been created in the early 1960s following a donation to the kibbutz of a collection of artefacts and vessels from the Greek and Roman periods as well as collections from Persian and ancient Egyptian culture.
The donor was a Swiss Jewish collector and over the years many more antiquities from the Bet Shean valley have been added. The latter include artifacts from the period of the Mishna and Talmud with some items from the days of the revolts against the Romans as well as from many of the ancient synagogues then abundant in the region.
In the 1990s Nir David members were looking to develop a tourist attraction of their own and after a great deal of discussion adopted the suggestion of creating an Australian zoo, nowadays known as The Gan-Garoo Australian Park and the only one of its kind in Israel. Not only the kangaroos and other animals have made “aliyah” from Australia but also outback vegetation, flora and fauna. In various educational ‘centers’ throughout the park visitors can learn about the Australian indigenous peoples, their way of life, distinctive art and much more.
Unfortunately after the last koala passed away a year ago, efforts to bring more to Israel have so far been unsuccessful with Australian authorities reluctant to export koalas, the marsupial being on the decline in their natural habitat. However, over fifty kangaroos can be found freely roaming in the gloaming of the Australian Park.
The extremely friendly kangaroos enjoy being petted, can be fed with specially purchased food on site and if one is lucky enough, a tiny, inquisitive joey might pop up a head out of mum’s pouch to say shalom – eliciting squeals of delight from both toddlers, older children and their parents alike.
In a garden area, set in a large rock one finds a marble plaque informing visitors that the park is dedicated to four Australian athletes, Warren Zines, Greg Small, Yetty Bennett and Elizabeth Sawicki, who perished in the 1997 Maccabiah Games disaster when a bridge over the River Yarkon, upon which they and their team members were standing, collapsed into the then heavily polluted river.