Sunday, June 30, 2013

Are There DINGOES at Seal Rocks?

30 June 2013

We left Koala Shores (on the Tilligerry Peninsula) in the morning, in more rain.  I didn't get to look for more koalas.  In fact, it was so cold and wet, I skipped my morning shower (one gets to do that when camping).  But seriously, it was cold, it was wet, and we're anxious to move on to somewhere warmer.

Justin, our host in Redfern/Alexandria (outside Sydney) said that Seal Rocks is a beautiful area, so we headed back to the Pacific Highway and northward.  We're probably now about 50-75 km further north along the coast - we aren't progressing very quickly, but we're enjoying the ride!

After a few stops along the way, and a long and winding and in one part very full of pot holes road, we arrived at the ocean - and suddenly the drive in the rain and the cold all became worthwhile, to catch the sight of turquoise waves rushing up to sandy beige shores, crashing on the rocky headlands to one side of the beach.  Just one of those sudden views of beauty that make your breath catch, your heart skips a beat, and you think that nothing could be as beautiful as this place.  (And I'll get a few photos tomorrow, when it isn't dark and rainy.)

We checked into the Seal Rocks Holiday Park,, which has very few campers (because most sane travellers are staying in the cabins) and found a campsite, settled in, plugged in, did our usual re-arranging (outdoor table and chairs, and one large piece of luggage get transferred to the cab of the van each night, so we have room to move and later set up the bed).  Popped the pop top up, so we can stand up inside the van.  (Yes, you can see the rain in the photos.  That's how hard it was raining.)

And then I headed over to the "amenities" as they are so politely called in this part of the world.  The washrooms.  Bathrooms.  Toilets and showers.  All that.

What caught my eye was the sign about being dingo aware.  Uh, dingoes?  Running through the camp sites?  Keep an eye on your children at all times?  A fine if you leave food out?  Wow!  Somehow I thought dingoes were all in the Outback, not hanging around the beaches!

I think we'll keep those middle-of-the-night runs to the amenities to a minimum!  Bad enough to throw a rain jacket over sleeping clothes to run out in the rain at 3 AM - I'm not ready to encounter a dingo while heading out there!

Koalas!  Why couldn't there be signs about being koala aware?  I'd much rather run into a marauding koala at 3 AM, on my way to the restroom.

(And no, I'm not seriously worried or freaked out about dingoes, I actually found it kind of funny.  Except for the part about "make eye contact and back away."  Uh, and what should I expect the dingo to do while I back away?  Inquiring minds want to know.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Koala Shores – Koala Central – But Not Quite!

29 June 2013

We had a slow morning in Stockton, and decided to explore the peninsula we were on – it’s kind of a long upside-down T shape, with the town of Stockton on the SW end and Nelson Bay on the NE end, about 50 km apart.  Or something along that line.

We made it to Nelson Bay by noon, passing farms with fields of cows, sheep, horses, a llama or two, and occasionally several wallabies munching grass or watching the cars go by.  The wallabies usually weren’t in with the farm animals, they seemed to prefer empty fields and pastures with forest nearby.  But they definitely were out.

We also drove by sign after sign about slow down for koalas, and where to take injured wildlife – all with drawings of koalas.  This truly is koala country, this little peninsula with national parks and eucalyptus forest.  Woohooo and yay, and of course I spent half my time looking up into the trees as we drove along!

Nelson Bay is a nice little town, with marinas full of fishing boats, nice seafood cafés, and some of the largest white pelicans I’ve ever seen!  Truly huge birds!  They were very good about posing for pictures.

We talked to a nice woman at the info center, who suggested staying at Koala Shores Holiday Park (camping and cabins) – there are koalas in the forest here, as well as a trail to the Tilligerry Reserve, a tract of land fenced off to keep the koalas safe.  So we made our way out here, and set up the van.  Which means moving excess luggage and the picnic table and chairs OUT of the “house” part of the van and into the cab for overnight storage, as well as plugging in for electricity.

And I was off, down to the boardwalk that meanders through the forest, looking for my koala buddies.

Unfortunately, we’re still feeling the tail end of the storm system that hit Sydney last weekend.  There isn’t much wind, but there’s still continuous rain, mostly light to moderate but sometimes heavy.  And chilly.  And grey.  And damp.

So the koalas are all huddling into their nooks and crannies in the trees, trying to stay warm and dry, keeping their babies close and snuggled in.  They aren’t coming down out of the trees the way they normally do in the evening, foraging for better leaves or trees.  They’re just staying put and trying to not get too wet or chilled.

Which meant I didn’t see any koalas.  Twilight came and went, the forest grew dark, the purple-headed parrots and crested cockatoos set up a ferocious racket, and the koalas stayed hidden.  The boardwalk grew slick with rain, I got colder and wetter, my shoes got soggy, and the koalas stayed hidden.  It was just like the time I walked through the paths and bridges of Monteverde Cloud Forest, dripping wet and cold and positive that the monkeys were watching me and laughing.  I knew they were out there, I could even occasionally hear them – I just couldn’t see them. 

I’m POSITIVE there were koalas out there. 

They were just hidden.

(I’ll try again tomorrow.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

It's a Koala Kind of Day!!!

28 June 2013

We drove from Belmont to Newcastle - not a far distance.  We wanted to see what there is in Newcastle, besides the coal shipping industry.  Seriously, Newcastle Australia is a big coal port, similar to Newcastle England.  Coals to Newcastle and all that.

Newcastle has a great info center, and we gathered all sorts of information, figured out a nice place to stay (with a freedom camping option if the weather improved, or a paid-camping-with-power option if it remains rainy and chilly).  Also obtained directions to the animal reserve I wanted to visit.

Newcastle is, as I said, a coal shipping port.  It's a very industrial town.  But they also have an art gallery, musical performances by international stars (although Englebert Humperdink was the headliner at the theatre, so I'm not sure what that says about the taste of Novocastrians - which is what citizens of Newcastle are called).  All that.

So, we found this silly photo opp board - I don't know why I'm so fascinated by these crazy things, we rarely use them they're so funny and ridiculous and tacky.  But they just make me laugh in their tackiness, so I always take a photo without anyone in the photo.

At the same time, we also found a delightful patisserie for lunch, complete with tea lattes and quiche for me, strong coffee and sausage rolls for Richard.  With classic French design.

Okay, the koalas - we drove west to Blackbutt Reserve - and yes, that's the name of the area, it does not refer to sloppy koalas.  This is a wonderful little animal reserve on a hill out in the middle of, well, I guess Blackbutt, but it seems like the middle of nowhere.  The reserve has 10 km of trail, although the animals are mostly in one area.  

I walked through the animal section, while Richard stayed in the parking lot, reading and having the occasional cigarette.  (He said he met an echidna in the parking lot, which is pretty much an Australian porcupine.  It kind of followed him around the parking lot a bit, then went under a car and up the hill into the forest.  And I found out that, while baby marsupials are all called joeys, a baby echidna is called a puggle.  Doesn't that sound very Harry Potter-ish?  Muggles and puggles!  Anyway, it made me laugh when the reserve keeper told us that.) 

I know - I digress.  So - I walked through the animal section - the path is an elevated boardwalk, and most of the animal enclosures are somewhat underneath but going uphill, so that you can look down or straight across at the animals. There were enclosures for wombats (who were indoors, hiding from the rain), wallabies (sheltering under rocky overhangs), various birds including gorgeous red parrots or lorikeets or something, and my friendly little koalas, snuggled in their trees. 

The koalas, a few wallabies, and the birds were in the same enclosure.  And the koalas are fed every day at about 2 PM.  So I arrived just before 2, and walked back and forth along the boardwalk, between the two trees, each with a koala.  The koalas were sound asleep, trying to stay warm and dry.  The trees were under a canvas canopy, and most of the birds were staying under the canopy as well.  The koalas just ignored everything - the birds, the wallabies, me trying to get them to look up. 

And then the animal keepers came in, with fresh branches of yummy leafy eucalyptus and gum trees.  Suddenly, as if they smelled fresh coffee wafting up to their bedrooms, both koalas woke up and looked around.  The male stretched, yawned, and moved around, looking for the best way to get to the fresh leaves.  The female climbed up a branch and looked around, as if trying to judge whether it was safe to climb down to the new food.  Turns out she has a joey, who was born some time last January or February - it takes a few months before a baby koala first emerges from the pouch, so it can be difficult for zoos and reserves to judge when the joey is born.  Anyway, the keepers try to put her into the mama koala house each afternoon, to keep her and the baby nice and warm on these chilly nights.  But she prefers to stay outside in her tree, so she isn't very cooperative about it.  And she knows that food time also means get-put-into-the-house-time.  So Mama Koala goes up the tree to try to avoid the keepers. 

It made for a few great photos for me, but she kept looking around so I also ended up with a bunch of photos of her back. 

The animal keepers came back into the enclosure and told me they had a few people coming for a koala encounter, and said I could come down too.  So I joined them - I didn't know where to buy the ticket for the koala encounter, and they were running behind the koala's schedule, so we compromised by having me just put my donation into the box.  Anyway - Daddy Koala is named Jack, and he was very friendly - it took a while for the keeper to get him out of his tree (the keeper climbed up a ladder and coaxed him over with his favorite gum leaves) - but once he was settled down in the encounter area, he was comfortable enough to look at the four people visiting him, and waited patiently until he was given a special treat of some kind of eucalyptus (not his usual favorite - he apparently was in the mood for something else today, and kept refusing all the branches offered to him until they hit on the right one - he was very funny, like a baby who refuses to open their mouth until they get exactly what they want in the first place). 

So Jack sat in his low viewing tree, munching on gum leaves, letting us pet his back and haunches, and take photos of him and with him.  The animal keeper offered to take my photo with Jack, but I declined - he said that Jack was a very photogenic koala - I said that I wasn't very photogenic myself - we compromised with me taking a lot of photos of Jack.  Which isn't easy - koalas move slowly, except when food is around!  Jack would be all positioned and focused, and then suddenly he'd turn and reach in the other direction, or pull leaves to his mouth and rip a few tasty morsels off in one bite.

I have to say, Jack was very soft and woolly, with a short but dense coat - and now it makes sense that they don't mind too much sitting high in a tree in the chilly and wet weather of the east coast.  Koalas are found primarily in the east and SE part of Australia, not way up north or way out west.  They like this weather, and they've adapted to eating the trees that grow in this region.  Well, they only eat maybe 10 or 15 kinds of gum and eucalyptus leaves, while there are literally hundreds of different kinds of gum/eucalyptus trees.  But with their heavy coats and round little bodies, they're perfect for this kind of weather.  (Think Seattle-to-San Francisco weather.  Not snowy, but chilly wet fall and winter.  Warm but not super hot summer.  Rarely freezing cold, rarely boiling hot.  And wet.)

The koalas in NSW are kind of middle in size, usually weighing about 8 to 12 kg for a full grown male.  In Queensland, they'll be a bit smaller.  And down south in Victoria, they'll be a bit larger.  Females are smaller than the males, which makes them quicker to run away.  Mama Koala here is about 5 kg, Jack was about 9 or 10 kg.  Quite an armful for the animal keeper!  And koalas are so used to holding onto trees, when they are held by people they look like they're hugging but actually the koala is just holding on.

All too soon, it was time for Jack to go back to his tree, to finish eating his leaves and go back to sleep.  And the keepers would try one last time to get Mama Koala and Joey to go into the house for the night.

And I left with the biggest smile on my face.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

And We're Off - Part 2

27 June 2013

This is just a random dog painted on the wall of a building in Surry Hills.  Very nice tromp l'oeil painting, although there are a few drips.  I just liked the dog.  

We went out to Mascot (and no, we don't know who the mascot is, or who they're the mascot for) to pick up our camper van - there was some confusion about which van we were supposed to get, the one assigned to us wasn't ready, the one that was ready wasn't the one assigned to us - you know, that kind of thing.  Eventually it was all sorted out and we were given a van - and even though we booked through Mighty, we didn't have a Mighty van, we had a Britz.  Which is actually (usually) a snazzier model - but while this is fairly snazzy, it's also a bit worn - so I suspect we have a snazzy model that has been demoted to bottom-of-the-line status.

Our friendly car rental service lady printed directions from their place to our hotel - and of course, something went wrong.  We somehow ended up at the airport - twice!  So we found a road we knew that went up to where we previously stayed, and somehow managed to get to our hotel from there (with some circling and backtracking and a bit of yelling on both our parts).

All that added to leaving Sydney about 2 hours later than planned.  Ah well, such is the life of Tiki touring rolling luggagers - when the plan is to have no plan, any plans tend to not pan out.

We made our way to the Harbour Bridge to get to the northern suburbs and onward.  

And I realized that travelling across the harbour on the bridge provided amazing photos!  I know that most people take photos looking up at the bridge, from one end or the other.  Or from ferries under the bridge.  But driving across the bridge has its own special views!  Absolutely gorgeous! Sort of like walking under the Eiffel Tower and really looking at all the intricate metal work - that's how the Harbour Bridge looks when you are driving across and under all that lacy steel!!!

We drove.  And we drove.  North, following signs for the Pacific Coast Highway and heading toward Newcastle.  Because it's winter here, it started heading toward sunset at maybe 4 PM.  And a windy, rainy, grey winter at that.  

Our map indicated an information center in the town of Brooklyn.  We took the appropriate exit, followed the signs, went across a bridge to Brooklyn, a tiny town on the end of a spit.  (I should add that eastern coast of Australia is full of spits and bays and harbours, except what we might call a bay or harbour is called a lake here.  Very confusing, since these are not the landlocked bodies of water that we in the US think of as a lake.  No, these are inlets from the ocean, or actually the Tasman Sea.  If the opening to the sea is of a certain width, then the inlet is called a bay or harbour.  If the opening is smaller or narrower then the inlet is called a lake, no matter what the size of the body of water (and I have no clue what the size of the opening would be, I'm just going by what we've seen - bays, harbours, lakes, all connected to the sea).

Anyway - the info center in Brooklyn turned out to be a billboard.  With a map of the town of Brooklyn.  Including the Kangaroo Point boat ramp.  Uh huh, that was it.  We stopped at a service station and I asked about camping - the man said there was nothing available in Brooklyn, but he knew of a place outside Gosford.  So we went back to the highway and headed to Gosford.  And found the info center in Gosford.  Of course, they were closing - but the very nice info man ran inside, found us a map with caravan or holiday parks marked on it - and told us NOT to go to the one outside Gosford, they were told not to send people there.  He recommended Towoon Bay, which is off the Central Coast Highway - which, in the way of most places, is closer to the coast than the Pacific Coast Highway.  After some more driving in circles, we finally received great directions and headed off, in the rain.

We were back on the little spits and narrow bits of land that make up the east coast and create the lakes, bays, harbours.  It was night by now (well, 5 PM but dark) - so we missed the fabulous views and vistas.  We arrived in Towoon Bay, found the caravan park, and booked a site.  Drove a few blocks away for a nice dinner, and drove back to our little site, with an ocean view.  

The rain stopped long enough for the moon to come out, and this is the so-called super moon, when it's closer to the Earth than usual.  It was a giant yellow moon rising over the sea, with the sound of waves crashing and rolling white in the moonlight, and a river of pale yellow light reflecting off the roiling ocean - absolutely gorgeous in a wild and eerie kind of way. 

It was still a windy night, so we chose to not raise the pop top - and it took a while to get our luggage stowed and move things around so we could access the bed.  (The table and chairs for sitting outside have to go up into the cab each night, along with some luggage; and the slats that complete the bed are stowed in the area under the bench that turns into the bed.  It means some item and people juggling.)

Anyway, even though it's taking us a while to figure things out and adjust to life in the camper van (which is much smaller than our big caravan in NZ), we agreed that the bed is quite comfy and roomy.  We had a good night's sleep, and woke up to this beautiful view - quite a surprise since this was our first viewing in the light.

We headed north again, and spent the morning in The Entrance - which is the name of the road, the bridge, the town, and the actual opening to the sea.  Yes, Entrance Road leads to the Entrance Bridge with crosses The Entrance and attaches the town of The Entrance to the no-name on the other side of The Entrance.  Got all that?  The Entrance connects the Tasman Sea to Turragah Lake - one of the saltwater lakes I was describing.

We eventually headed across The Entrance Bridge and northward, stopped in Budgewoi (seriously, that's the name) for grocery shopping.  The lady behind the deli counter asked us WHY were we stopping in Budgewoi - apparently it's kind of the middle of nowhere.  It was a nice supermarket, though, and friendly people - the kind of people we've found all over Australia outside of Sydney - friendly, open, curious about us.  (Sydneysiders are friendly one-on-one - but it's the only place where people honk their horns at pedestrians crossing the street.  Sydney is citified!)

Onward, heading to Newcastle.  By mid-afternoon the rain started again, so we stopped in the town of Belmont.  At least, we think that's where we are.  A bit north of Lake Macquarie, and closer to the coast.  A bit south of Newcastle.  Friendly town, lovely holiday park - there are cabins as well as the powered sites such as we have, but with our own private bathroom and shower!  This is a first!!!!  (New Zealand has very fancy and creative bathrooms all over the country - Australia, by comparison, has sad and boring bathrooms - so having our own private bathroom just next to the van is absolutely thrilling!)

So we're settled in for the night - pop top up so we can walk around, food in the fridge, and a bathroom just outside our door.  Can't ask for much more than that!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

And We're Off!

26 June 2013

Just a quick note to let people know we're in our camper van, squeezed in with all of our stuff, and headed north along the coast.  

We're camped at a caravan park in Towoon Bay, which may or may not be on a map - very tiny place, but this is a huge park overlooking the Tasman Sea - or maybe the Pacific Ocean.  We can hear the waves, and see the huge moon shining on the water.  It's gorgeous!  I can't wait to see it in the morning, this must be a beautiful sight!

I'll get some photos and blog about our trip north - but we managed to unpack and plug in to the power in the dark, and will figure out where next tomorrow.  Right now, it's almost 10:30 PM and closing in on bed time. 

Monday, June 24, 2013


24 June 2013

On a rainy evening, after dinner at the pub, there's only so much reading and playing on the web that one can do.

So we go down to the pokie room.

Slide a small bill into a machine.  (Queen of the Nile.)  Talk to it.  Hug it.  Get the three pyramids, which give free games.  Get three pyramids during the free games.  Twice.  In this particular game, Cleopatra is the substitute image, the one who fills in and gets three, four, five of a symbol, for a win.  Only during the free games, the point is to actually touch the Cleopatra image - she spins - you get either an amount of money added to your total, or a symbol for the "minor" or "major" jackpot.

Well, with 30 free games, guess who FINALLY won the minor jackpot?  In addition to the normal free game wins!!!!!

Wooooohooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!  (This is why we like Aussie pokies!)

And my FAVORITE part is when the machine starts throwing money on the screen, fountains of virtual coins bouncing around!!!!!!  Because those coins represent real money that goes into our pockets, and pays for fun splurges!  YAY!!!!!


Art Gallery of New South Wales

24 June 2013

The weather is still grey and alternately foggy, drizzly, and rainy.  There's a big storm system hovering offshore and threatening to drench the area.  But it hasn't arrived in full yet, just a day or two of rain - we're still expecting more rain and gale force winds.

So I went to the Art Gallery.  If it started to rain, I'd be inside.  Makes sense, right?

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is in the middle of the Botanic Gardens, which is a lovely setting for an art museum.  (For some reason, they aren't called museums here in Australia - a museum seems to be maritime, science, natural history, something.  Art is in an art gallery, not a museum.  Just an interesting thing we've noticed.)  

Their website:

And Botanic Gardens are actually quite nice in the midst of wintery rain - still incredibly green and lush, and full of birds: ibis (who like wetlands anyway); cockatoos; green and red parrots; even a kookaburra flew by!

And a gorgeous fountain in nearby Hyde Park!

All of this is near some government buildings, smack in the middle of Sydney - almost like the Central Park of the city. 

Anyway, there were some wonderful pieces in the Art Gallery.  European art, Australian art, Aboriginal art, Asian art.  Sculpture, painting, ceramics, ritual objects.  Traditional art forms.  Modern versions of traditional art forms.  And untraditional and modern takes on art.

It was wonderful.

Part of what was wonderful was that there were paintings by Australian artists, or artists from other parts of the world who either visited or emigrated to Australia.  These paintings showed the development of Australia - landscapes with the occasional wallaby hopping through, or an Aboriginal family living in the bush of the Outback.  Landscapes with the beginnings of the mining industry, or a town becoming a city, or the railroad being built.  Or the landscape after rainy season, when the seasonal deluge creates the wetlands and all the shore birds migrate through the billabongs. 

It was just artists doing what they do, painting what they see, recording what was going on during that place and time.  

But now, the artwork provides a first-hand account of the development of this country, which is fascinating.  (It's so easy to forget how young the countries New Zealand and Australia are, because they seem so British, and that's such an old country.)

And of course, there were some well-knowns among the artists - Reynolds; Gainsborough; Leighton; Constable; Burke-Jones; Tissot; Rubens; Tiepolo - you get the idea.

One of the most interesting aspects of the artists from the 1800s onward is that some of their works were purchased directly from the artist, or at the Paris Salon exhibitions - and then sent directly to Australia.  Before Australia was even a nation.  When it was still a colony.  Somehow I found that amazing, and unexpected.  I mean, how many art galleries did we have in frontier USA or Canada?  Art, famous art, art by master artists, is a luxury - and a developing country, even when a colony of another country, doesn't always have room or money or inclination for luxuries.  At least, that would be my viewpoint.  So I found it very surprising to read that this work or that was purchased at the the Paris Salon exhibition of 1884 or whatever.  

A number of Australian artists went abroad and studied in Europe, and this influenced their artwork.  One such artist was Rupert Bunny, who painted in the late 1800-early 1900s.  (Remember Bunny Road in Wellington?  Or was it Auckland?  I'm not sure if this is the same Bunny - but the name makes me laugh.  Some of his work was displayed next to an artist named Fox.  How funny is that?  The Fox next to the Bunny!)

Anyway, Rupert Bunny was definitely influenced by the French Impressionists, but also James Whistler - several of his pieces were studies of white on white - a woman in a white dress, with white gloves, sitting on a white sofa - each white slightly different, with tints and shades and tones to set each section of white apart.  Reminiscent of Whistler's "Symphony in White #1 - The White Girl" as well as his other "Symphony(ies) in White."  

Among the Aboriginal artworks, there was a fabulous didgeridoo forest - didgeridoos are the traditional musical instrument, sort of a huge reverberating kazoo, made from a tree trunk hollowed out by termites - so the forest-type display made perfect sense.  The hollowed out trunk is intricately painted in traditional designs of tiny, finely wrought dots or lines creating patterns - the meanings are unclear to those of us who are the uninitiated, but some look like maps, or almost like landscapes.  

There were also huge canvases with the same tiny lines or dots, filling the 2 meter square canvases, creating their own rhythm or design, repeating in patterns that intertwine and turn into other patterns.  There's a sense of meaning in there, but I don't speak this language.  And so I'm clueless, trying to understand a foreign tongue with my westernized eyes and brain.  All I can do is appreciate the design, the pattern, as well as the artist's work and patience.

I obviously didn't take any photos of the artworks in the gallery - if you are interested, you can look around their website and view some of the works.  I'd recommend looking at the painting of Milford Sound, NZ - it looks like a photograph from our cruise through Doubtful Sound.  Gorgeous!

There were several modern pieces on the top floor as part of an exhibit called "The Space Between Us."  They all used video as part of the artwork - one was a huge hexagonal box with different colored screens lit from within, with a repeating image of the artist breaking and leaping through a sheet of colored glass.

But my favorite was by Laresa Kosloff - it was a video of people viewing the artwork in the gallery, almost from the point of view of the paintings and sculptures - with Whitney Houston singing "I'm Nothing Without You" as the accompaniment.  Have you ever watched people in an art gallery or art museum?  So many people don't look, or look at labels, or pose next to a piece, or just take a photo to be looked at later.  If you stop and watch, you'll see how many people don't LOOK at the art, don't stop and try to see what's going on, what the artist might be saying.  That's what this video is about - the artworks almost seem to be pleading with the viewers to stop and look.  "Look at me," they implore.  "I don't exist if you don't see me."  "I'm nothing without a viewer."  "I'm nothing without you understanding who I am, what I did, what I represent."

This angst, this non-existence, is best represented by the painting "Helen" by Sir Edward John Poynter - the role of Helen is played by Lillie Langtry, famous actress.  Her Helen, Poynter's Helen, is appalled by all the death and destruction - and is a fictional character, portrayed by a real woman - painted by a real person - all dead, all but forgotten.  Her face tells us her story.  But if we don't stop and look at that face, full of emotion and longing to change her story, we have no idea who she is.  And she disappears.

Interesting concept, this video "Eternal Situation" - humourous, and not.  Insightful.  Something that most of us don't stop and think about.

Of course, if we think about the movie "Night at the Museum," maybe the paintings come to life every night.  

And laugh at us.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Breakfast With The Koalas!

22 June 2013

Several blogs ago, I mentioned that we were signed up for the Koala Breakfast for today (;postID=6553569633176248937;onPublishedMenu=overview;onClosedMenu=overview;postNum=3;src=postname - 18 June, 2013) -- this is a feature of the Wild Life Sydney Zoo.  (Their website is:

Today was the day.  And it was WONDERFUL!

We woke up early and dashed out by 6 AM - walked down to the Central Station and caught the tram (sort of a trolley train, not a rail train) to Darling Harbour - walked across the bridge - and arrived at about 7:10 AM, just at the time recommended.  There were another 10 or so people, and others gathered - by the time the doors were opened for us at around 7:25 AM, there were 25 or so of us ready for the Koala Brekkie.

As we lined up for check in (and drink orders), the cutie koala at the entrance kept us all amused as he watched us, yawned (bored?), scratched, and settled in for a long day of sleeping. 

We had a private tour of the zoo facility, with a lovely young zookeeper.  She showed us around, told us about each animal we looked at, and suggested times to return and see certain animals being fed, or catch another talk about that particular animal. 

And then we arrived at the first koala enclosure.  These were the males, who are separated from the females because otherwise the males would spend much of their time fighting over the females.  Koalas are nocturnal, so we arrived just as they were retreating to their trees after a long night of hard work.  At least, considering how much they sleep (about 20 hours a day), it seems as if they work hard when they're awake.  Actually, they sleep that much because the eucalyptus leaves they survive on are so toxic and hard to digest, it actually takes a lot of energy to simply digest the leaves - plus there is little nutrition in the eucalyptus, so the koalas just don't have a lot of energy.  That's also why they're so mellow.

The zoo staff bring in fresh eucalyptus branches every day, and place them around the "trees" in the enclosure - in the wild, koalas would move from tree to tree, as they tend to eat most of the tasty leaves after a few days.  In an enclosure, the "trees" are mostly bare, trimmed tree trunks that provide climbing and sleeping space - but the branches with leaves for eating are brought in and placed in holders in each "tree."  The koala staff seemed to have the sensibilities of florists, as they arranged the eucalyptus branches just so, in large vases, one for each tree.  

After a few more animals (more kinds of wallabies than I knew existed!), we went upstairs to the female koala enclosure, which is located right next to the café, tables set for our breakfast.  We of course ooohed and aaaahed over the girl koalas, who are even cuter than the boys - they're a little smaller, with smaller noses and more delicate faces.  One even had a little baby riding around on her tummy, clinging to mama as she climbed up and down the tree!!! 

By the way, breakfast was perfectly normal, nothing cutesy with koala faces - eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and the British/Aussie egg accoutrements of grilled tomato (pronounced toe-MAH-toe, NOT toe-MAY-toe) and baked beans to eat on your toast.  With a vegemite option.  Lovely fruit.  Cold cereal for the children who wanted that.  And the hot drinks we had requested upon check in. 

So we sat under the umbrellas and enjoyed our brekkie buffet, watching the koalas settle in for the day of sleep - and it started to drizzle.  The koalas curled up tighter, hugging themselves to hold in their body heat.  It started to rain in earnest.  The koalas cuddled into their chosen trees, two smart ones under the overhang.  

And we took turns having our photos taken near the koalas, while the parrots moved in and turned it into Breakfast With Parrots.  (I've never seen parrots eat bacon and eggs - and somehow it seems just a wee bit cannibalistic.) 

The zoo is pretty amazing - it's a HUGE building, like a giant stadium, that is open at the top - instead of the seats, there are various floors housing the exhibits and animals enclosures.  Some animals such as the crocodile, kangaroos and wallabies, and koalas are exposed to the elements - if it's a rainy day, they get rain.  This is their natural environment, so they're used to the weather.  (Well, the croc is from up north so he has heated water and heated rock to climb on.)  But the little koalas and wallabies and roos all looked so cold, huddling under the small overhangs and cliffs, trying to stay out of the drenching rain and not get soaked, trying to get warm.

And of course, I wanted to cuddle or pet the koala who "posed" (slept!) in my photo - but there's the law to prevent the koalas from being exposed to people germs, or having their essential sleep interrupted - so we looked and didn't touch. 

After receiving our photos, we had time to re-visit the animals - I liked the mural comparing the size of the different wallabies and kangaroos.  (And the giant 7 ft roo is extinct, I think they were a prehistoric roo.  The Big Red is big enough at nearly 6 ft.)

Of course, there was also the funny photo opp board where someone could be the face of the Tasmanian devil.  And yes, they have a pair of devils, who were "retired" (read, aged out) of the breeding program at another zoo, and they're living here in their retirement.  They were hiding in their winter den, though, since it was a cold and wet day.

After almost 4 hours at the zoo, we decided it was time to head home.  We caught the ferry, and I was intrigued with capturing the Opera House through the rain-spotted window - playing with focus and depth of field, sometimes focusing on the rain spots, sometimes on the Opera House.

Sydney is expecting heavy rain and winds, a bit of a storm, over the next day or two.  This rain is the prelude to the deluge, as it were.  So we're probably having a night in the hotel, which has a famous restaurant of traditional Aussie foods (gorgeous braised lamb shanks, for starters).  It's seriously wet and cold out there, and we got a bit chilled at our Koala Brekkie.

But it was one of those wonderful, once in a lifetime things to do!  If you get to Sydney, definitely sign up for this one!

And I hope someone puts up a few umbrellas for our little koala breakfast buddies!