Sunday, 23 March 2014

Native Australia

Dingoes at the park... and someone's backyard well within howling range.
Featherdale Wildlife Park is 40kms outside of the Sydney CBD in a suburb called Blacktown. Now while this part of Sydney isn't anything special, the park is. One of the few places in the world where you can get so close to animals and feed and touch them in a safe and friendly environment, it is truly something to appreciate! My advice though - don't hang around Blacktown... there's no reason to, and besides, the wildlife at the park is much friendlier and far cuter!

Everyone loves a cracker!
A pretty peacock.
At Featherdale, it is all about native Australia animals. Everyone has heard of a Kangaroo or a Koala, but have you ever heard of a Quokka? What about a Wombat or an Echidna? I will get to them later, but first I want to tell you about the more common, but no less loveable or interesting animals. As soon as we walked into the park, we were met by some very inquisitive, and slightly hungry, wallabies. Now, everyone knows that the Australia Rugby Team goes by this name as well, but these cute, furry little animals are nothing like their 6ft human counterparts. Hopping around casually, these miniature kangaroos eat out of your hand, and also love a belly rub. There are a few different species of wallaby, but all are herbivores, and come out to feed in the early morning or late evening when its not too hot. Most wallabies live in rocky areas of Australia, and are known to climb high rocky outcrops, or hop into caves to escape predators - mothers often leave their joeys (a baby wallaby or kangaroo) in the safety of caves while they go foraging for food.
Koalas are often mistakenly called 'bears.'
Then of course, there are the Koalas. Everyone's favourites - and well, why not? They are cute, furry, and half asleep all the time so easy to pat! The park has quite a few of these little leaf-munching marsupials. There are the enclosures for the koalas, which provide shelter for them, and then there is 'centre stage.' This is where they pose (while eating usually) with tourists (yes, I did it too...), receive hugs, pats on the bum (it's far enough away from their mouth that you don't get bitten... yes they bite!), and high-powered camera flashes in the eye every 10 seconds. The life of a star. Koalas weren't always so adored - in fact, they were hunted heavily for their furs in the 20th Century before being classified as protected. Now there are numerous Koala sanctuaries (such as the one in Port Macquarie that I have visited), and koala numbers have somewhat stabilised. Their habitats are still threatened, mainly by agriculture and urbanisation - the usual suspects.

Tawny Frogmouths pretending to be statues... and doing a swell job at it!
If I don't move, you won't be able to see me...
Don't look at my backwards feet!
Now, what are Echidnas? Are they a porcupine? Are they mammals or marsupials? And what is a marsupial anyway?! Well, let's tackle the marsupial business first. Echidnas are actually a totally different classification called a Monotreme. A mammal is warm-blooded and gives birth to live young, and the echidna is warm blooded BUT lays eggs. Marsupials are mammals they keep their young in pouches, which the echidna also does - so you see why they need a whole new group to belong to? The Platypus is also a Monotreme - and together they make up the only 2 in the world! The spikey little creatures are again, very cute (as most Australian animals are), but also very practical. They have a tongue that is 20cms long (all the better to eat termites with!) and spines all over their back for protection, and if that isn't enough, they are also excellent diggers, and can dig a hole very quickly, get in it, and 'spike up' to keep hungry dingoes off them. I must add that their back feet and actually pointed backwards - front ones for digging, back ones for shovelling dirt out... genius! To add to this strangeness, but also practicality, their pouch is also facing backwards - why? So the little one resting in the pouch doesn't get a full face of dirt when mum is making a new home. Who thinks up all of these things!!!

What do you mean there's no more?
Now the Quokka is an animal that I had no idea even existed! The Quokka is a small, rat-like marsupial, only found on Rottnest Island, just off the coast from Perth in Western Australia. The island was originally named 'Rotte Nest' by the Dutch explorers who found the island, and this comes from the Dutch word 'Rattennest' which means 'rat nest.' About the size of a domestic tabby, these little creatures were extremely friendly, and came straight up to say hi. We fed them of course, and they never seemed to get enough. At the same time, belly strokes and hand holding (the cutest little paws you've ever seen!!), as well as a bit of nose rubbing were perfectly allowed - as long as there was food. Are all Australians the same?

I ssssssee you... a snake in the reptile house.
GIven a bad rep by the Madagasgar films...
It's just how things are done for a bat!
Although there was a storm that day, we weren't deterred and forged on ahead to see the penguins and some bats. We all know about penguins - small, black and white birds that look like they're wearing a tux, so I won't go on about them. I love them all the same though! I will mention a few things about Flying Foxes - the type of bat we get in Australia. Now, any travellers to Australia will know what I'm talking about - you get scared every time you see a few flying over you somewhere in cities (big populations in Sydney and Brisbane), and you think that all bats suck blood. Shame on you! These 'foxes' are lovely creatures, if not just a little noisy at around dusk time. They spend their time hanging upside down in fig trees, eating, screeching and pooping, all the wrong way up. Although they can be little biters, I did pat the soft belly of a few, and a couple of leathery wings as well. They do cause a lot of noise, and a few problems (especially in the Botanic Gardens), but they are native and protected... and besides, who doesn't like bats? They are actually classes as 'superbats,' as they can weigh up to 1kg, and have a wingspan of 1m - pretty super for a little furry bat. The mothers are good mums - they do everything, including fly, with their baby attached to them under the wing! A problem for these little dears though are power lines - they often get zapped and die, leaving orphans - if you see one, call WIRES and they will come and rescue it.

Is is Monday already? Where did the weekend go?
A good day out - it may not be as big as Taronga Zoo, but it does have a certain 'hands on' experience that you just can't get anywhere else really. Kids or adults, you will have a good time at Featherdale!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Sun 'n Sea in Sydney

There is nothing like Sydney on a warm summer's day - being on the Harbour, breathing in the fresh salty air, soaking up the rays of the sun (with sunscreen of course!), and just enjoying the all-round beauty that Sydney has to offer. This was the first weekend in about a month hadn't rained, so I had to get out there - my trigger (camera) finger had been itching for far too long, and there is only one way of fixing that - get snapping!

Sailing ships off North Head.
There is always a long list of place to go in Sydney, and places on the Harbour is no exception. Manly is always a popular destination, with the added treat of catching a ferry. This time I decided on Watson's Bay, in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, as the place to ease my eager (camera) finger. Some people say taking pictures on a cloudy day is best, as you get even light, but I think cloudy weather gives a white, cold light, and not very good light at all. I much prefer sunny days, but with clouds mixed in to make the sky more interesting. There is nothing like warm light (especially sunrise or sunset) to make a nice better great. The day didn't disappoint!

The little beach at the bay - not bad for a city beach, and a Harbour beach at that!
View of the city from Watson's Bay.
Watson's Bay will always remain in my memory, as it is very close to my heart. I have many happy memories here - swimming in the caged-off baths, playing on green grass on the park which backs straight onto the beach, and running around the cliffs and headland that Watson's Bay is situated on. And of course, there is Doyles, probably the most famous (and most expensive) seafood restaurants in the city. 

Just around the corner - Camp Cove.
The oldest Lighthouse in OZ.
It is also home to The Gap, the South Head of the Harbour, famous for people jumping off the cliffs to their death. Walking along the cliffs, I can't imagine why you would want to jump, as I just don't think it is a sure way of doing yourself in... and of course the view in too good to take in on what would be a very short trip to the bottom. We started from the oldest lighthouse in Sydney (and Australia), Macquarie Lighthouse, which has been running since 1883 (yes, so OLD!!). To be fair, the has been something there since 1791 (A big pole with a fire stuck on top), and the first lighthouse was built in 1818, but started crumbling by 1823 and was replaced by the current one. We then walked down to the bay along the cliff's, keeping an eye out for potential jumpers. My heroic skills were not put to the test thankfully, and made it down to the beach without any incidents.

One of the many gun emplacements on South Head.
All along the headland, there are remnants of WWII fortifications. At that time, Japan was posing quite a threat to Australia. Numerous gun emplacement were built on both Heads, as well as an anti-submarine boom net. This net failed to stop 1 Japanese midget submarine getting into Sydney Harbour in May 1942 - shortly before the net was fully operational. 2 submarines were detected by the Navy, and the pilots of these subs scuttled their vessels and committed suicide rather than being caught. The one that made it through sought to sink and destroy the USS Chicago, but occidentally sunk the HMAS Kuttabul killing 21 sailors. This midget submarine wasn't found until 2006 when amateur divers discovered it on the bottom of the Harbour.

Old canons guarding the harbour.
Although it was getting on to 12 o'clock, and my belly was starting to rumble, I thought that if I stopped for lunch now, that will be the end of me! So, out group headed off to walk around the headland, doing a big loop to come back to Watson's Bay for a fish and chip lunch. On the way to the point, we had to go past Sydney's famous 'Nudists Beach,' Lady Bay Beach. While not a beach where you have to go naked, you should be ashamed if you don't really. It was all 'au naturale,' hair down and letting it all hang out. Out and proud in the sun - and why not! Shame to those 2 boys that kept their boardies on!!

Rain off the coast of Sydney... How's the weather New Zealand?
Hornby Lighthouse.
Rounding the headland, and passing pretty little Camp Cove, we came across the Royal Australia Naval Base, HMAS Watson, named after the ship of the same name. At this naval base, closed off to the public of course, they train up sailors in sonar, naval warfare and eventually to become officers. We also meet our second lighthouse here -  also an oldie - built in 1858. Hornby Lighthouse came about after the wrecking of the Dunbar on the rocks of South Head. Quite a sad story really - the ship was coming back into Sydney, and was a regular here due to the boost in trade since the Gold Rushes. There was a storm, and visibility was low, and the captain thought he had passed The Heads of the Harbour already, and so turned straight into the rocks... maybe he was drinking, who knows? But the sad thing was that only he survived (found 2 days later), the remaining 21 crew members all drowned. 

Horn(b)y Lighthouse.
Finally we made it back to Watson's Bay proper - not a long trip, but a beautiful and scenic one. Also quite a hot one, and there was sunburn to be had all round - have to share the love! Fish and chips was had in the park overlooking the beach. And so another lovely day out ends, and while everyone and their dog headed off to get the ferry back, we took a lovely little drive through the Eastern Suburbs and back home. I must note that Sunday seems to be the day that everyone puts out their used (but still in great condition) furniture in Vaucluse - worth driving by and grabbing something - we did!!

Sydney CBD to Middle Harbour to Manly.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...