The Australia Zoo (http://www.australiazoo.com.au) is the life work of Steve Irwin, famous to the world as the Crocodile Hunter, and his family. Located nearby in Landsborough, the zoo was originally started in the 70s by Steve's parents as a reptile farm. The spotlight brightened on the zoo as word spread of Steve's antics with crocodiles. The zoo with its unique style and zeal is now carried on by Steve's wife Terri, daughter Bindi and young son Robert, as well as a whole crew of enthusiastic animal handlers. A visit to the zoo has been high on our Australia To Do list.
The plan was to rendezvous with cruising friends from the Scarborough area on Wednesday. The two of us took the bus from Mooloolaba (there is a special free zoo bus that you can make reservations for at the zoo store on the Esplanade!) and beat the other couples coming by rental car.
At the entry is a huge poster of Steve Irwin in mid-leap. It was the first indication that the Crocodile Hunter continues to defy death at the Australia Zoo! Everywhere you go, there are monitors displaying old segments of his animal encounters. If you didn't know, you wouldn't.
The grounds are very nice, with animals getting plenty of relatively natural space, but what really makes this zoo special is the cadre of uniformed ranger/animal handlers. Pretty much every critter has someone paying particular attention to it. Many of the animals, from cockatoos to alligators, are taken out of their enclosures and walked around the grounds on leashes, giving visitors the chance to get up close and even touch!
Mid morning we went to the show in the "Crocoseum", a sort of stadium with a shallow and very clear pool in the center of the fenced in lawn. The pool is connected to "off stage" with a long narrow "stream". There must be a "Steve Irwin" pill that the staff takes before each show because they come in fully charged with his very recognizable brand of enthusiasm. In our opinion the beginning of the show was a little over done, especially when a couple of costumed characters paraded through. I'm pretty sure we all thought about bolting out of there about that point. Thank goodness we didn't.
For us the showed turned super special with the "Free Flight Bird Show." A guy came in with a pet carrier with what appeared to be doves. He was alleged to be "training" them, but when he opened the door, the birds simply flew away. At that point the audience was enlisted to call the birds back. On cue, the sky began to fill with birds, but instead of the three doves, the incoming flyers were scarlet macaws, blue parrots, hawks and, well all manner of birds we couldn't identity. The birds flew multiple laps around the stadium before targeting their handlers who were stationed throughout. It was quite a thrill to see these fliers with enough space to actually fly. Indeed the final arrival was the pterodactyl-like Black-Necked Stork (known in Australia as a Jabiru) Djagarna. Djagarna (most of the animals at the Australia Zoo have names) who worked hard to climb high enough to get over a row of trees outside the Crocoseum. Then, her laps around and landing on the lawn seemed…precarious. Her performance was a surefire crowd pleaser, but we note, she walked off at the end! That flying stuff is a lot of work!
After the birds came the snake show. The snakes couldn't quite command the oohs and aaahs that the bird acrobatics did since most of them never left their handlers' arms, but it was quite impressive that the thrust of the narrative about them was that Australians can easily live in harmony with all the snakes that share their continent. The big boa constrictor, however, was allowed to swim offstage down the stream.
Which made a nice segue for the crocodile that shortly after swam in. While describing the habitat and range of Australia's crocs (they are known as "salties" but they can just as easily be found in fresh water!), the thrust again was of how to live in harmony. The "show" was a demonstration of just what crocs can and can't do. They CAN lunge fairly high out of the water to snap up food, but, because of their weight, they CAN'T move very fast on land leading to the recommendation of staying about 4 meters from water's edge when the presence of crocodiles is possible. This show, of course, is what made Steve Irwin famous. One wonders just how many crocodile hunter clones trying to live up to his reputation the zoo is able to keep on staff!
After the Croseum show, we separated to wander around the rest of the zoo. We had an ulterior agenda.
We had brought along in Don's knapsack our grandson Kai's Teddy Bear Joshua who has been traveling with us aboard Tackless II these past four years. In April when Joshua left with us from the Tampa Airport, for the first time Kai noticed. Early in the season, messages from Kai mostly went: "I love you, I miss you, and I want my bear back." In return, Joshua took to sending Kai emails about some of our adventures. We all thought the Australia Zoo would make a good story, and we had ideas of sneaking a few photos of Joshua with animals in the background.
Well, enter Sandi, one of the zoo's animal handlers. We bumped into her as she was strolling the paths with a cockatoo. Both Sandi and the cockatoo were interested in Joshua's story, so moments later they were urging us to go down and meet an alligator that was being walking in a fenced field. To our amazement, they meant go INTO the field! We got several shots of the three of us with the gator, all keeping prudently to the non-biting end.
Joshua says the gator felt like plastic! Believe me, the gator wasn't, but thank goodness our close encounter with a crocodile was!
You might think that our friends were liable to consider us daft. And if not our friends, then the zoo staff. And if not the staff, then the other zoo-goers. To the contrary, everybody seemed to treat Joshua like a star, and our friends concluded it was a fine thing to be part of his entourage. Over the course of the rest of the day, Joshua met dingoes, kangaroos, a wombat, and an emu.
We also saw the elephants and tigers in the Southeast Asian section of the zoo, and read about the new African section set to open in 2009.
But, perhaps predictably, Joshua's favorites were definitely the koala bears. He got quite the kick of hanging out with the koalas in their zoo trees, and thanks again to Sandi, Joshua had a special introduction to Ellen, (a koala named for Ellen De Generis…whom I must admit she rather resembles!) I wasn't privy to their conversation, but apparently Joshua mentioned something about being homesick for his buddy Kai, because Ellen suggested that her nephew Andy, a koala with unusually active interest in his surroundings, take over looking after us in Australia.
Which is how we came home with two bears instead of one!
And how Joshua came to be the one member of Tackless II to fly home in time for Christmas.
Labels: Australia Zoo
Jim and Paula, of course, have been out cruising most of the past year aboard their boat Avior. They took off at the beginning of the last cruising season with a rally from Australia to Vanuatu, spent four months there followed by the same 6-7 weeks in New Caledonia that we did, which, of course is where we got to know them. It might seem a relatively short acquaintance to landlubbers, but Jim and Paula have gone out of their way to extend these two Yanks an exceptional hospitality in their home country.
They have been trying to get us up to see their house since we got to Mooloolaba, however without wheels, it pretty much meant that we had to rely on them to come get us and bring us back. And much of that time, they were tied up with a haul out in their home anchorage of Tin Can Bay as well as working on the house to get it ready for new tenants. It finally worked out for all of us for them to pick us up in Mooloolaba Saturday evening before the Sunday Party on their way home from a Christmas party with Paula's former co-workers.
It was an hour's drive up the Bruce Highway to Eumundi where we turned inland into the hills of the hinterland. It makes for a big change from the long strip of suburbia that hugs the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane. It is not unlike a subtropical Vermont! Here are rolling hills and eucalyptus forests with winding roads, grazing cattle, and country homes with plenty of land and flowers around them. The evening light was waning fast thanks to dense thunderclouds rolling in, and we turned into their driveway in the nick of time to get our bags up the steps before the thunderstorm let loose. How glorious it is to sip cold beers and dine on a great supper of kangaroo sausage, sweet potato and salad under the eaves of a snug porch while the rain and lightning do their thing.
Because the house was between rentals, there was not much furniture in place. Jim and Paula's big accomplishment of the previous weeks was the bringing in of a container (which required a crane to hoist it over the house!) in which to store all their furniture while the house was rented. They had, however, excavated a guest bed for us, which was a pleasant surprise because we had anticipated a mattress on the floor. We fell asleep to the flashing and booming of the thunderstorm and woke the next morning to tiny wallabies nibbling on grass shoots in the front garden.
Since Paula and Jim are later sleepers, we got up, made ourselves coffee to sip on the front porch. By morning light we were able to get a better look at the house and grounds. The house is a single level home, projecting on stilts from the steep hillside that slopes down to a pond in a eucalyptus glade, where lotuses float and frogs croak. The hill puts the fairly open canopy of the glade on a level with the porch enabling very easy bird watching. We'd woken to the inane cackle of an Australia kookaburra (although we never saw him) and during coffee a flock of crested white cockatoos set up a ruckus as they passed through.
After coffee we set out for an hour's walk around the country neighborhood. That first morning we saw three more kangaroos, including a big fellow in the middle of the dirt road. We also saw a lot of cows and calves plus a few bulls, most of them with the hump-shoulders of Brahma blood. Neighbors were spread out in a mix of everything from older cottages up to some bigger modern haciendas, and we met several residents out walking as we were, one of them accompanied by a huge dog (Mastiff and Rhodesian Ridgeback mix) named Tyson like Tiffany's Yorkie. Aussie are very quick to be friendly, and these rural dwellers were no different.
The party itself started about 10 am and went on until late with people coming and going. Since Paula and Jim had been away for many months, it was a great reunion with friends who had missed them. There were lots of kids about, and the food, which Jim and Paula had been working on for days, seemed unlimited.
The birthday cake was a huge rectangle of chocolate decadence called a mud cake, and the mounds of empty beer and wine bottles spoke clearly of the Aussie capacity to party.
Monday morning, Jim gave us a tour of the 4.5 acre "estate." One thing that fascinated me was that he had cut down the eucalyptus forest uphill from the house (eucalyptus are a big fire hazard) and replaced them with a grove of eliocarpus saplings. In Australia, the eliocarpus is knows as the Tasman Blueberry tree, and Jim's had doubled in height in just a couple of years. What made this interesting to me was that it is the same species that I planted in the corner of our garden in Crystal River, FL. No one gave me a hint it would grow so tall so fast! Cool!
There is a famous organic farmer's market in nearby Eumundi, and like many of the people living in this part of Australia, Paula and Jim lean heavily toward green living techniques. Jim explained his system of organic vegetable gardening (when they are in full time residence) via which he uses six chickens in a movable, geodesic dome-like coop that he rotates through twelve sections of his garden in two-week intervals. All food scraps and grass clippings are thrown into the coop, and the chickens' natural scratching till the soil while their poop fertilizes things. Evidently in Australia, where conditions tend to be dry, it is highly desirably not to open up the soil to till it like we do in America.
All in all, it seemed like a very agreeable lifestyle (even without furniture), and we could kind of see why Paula's could be having a little trouble mustering enthusiasm for moving back aboard their 40 foot sailboat for another year!
Labels: Inland Travel
There wasn't even a flicker of recognition here in Australia that November 27 was a major US Holiday, although I did see a snap of President Bush holding up a naked turkey body, which was an odd photo to show with the story of him giving the annual gobbler pardons. However, I am fairly sure that photo was on US Yahoo.
I was determined not to let the day slide by and had been searching for a turkey to roast. I finally found a 3.5 kilo bird on the bottom shelf in the frozen food section, but I wasn't quite sure which day I would roast it – Thursday, by the calendar, or Friday, when everybody back home would be celebrating.
In the end I didn't roast it either day. Thursday morning, just as we got back to the boat from our now regular morning walk, we got a call from Randy and Sheri of Procyon. "We are anchored in the river right where it goes through downtown Brisbane and it is so cool. You should get on the train and come down!"
And so we did. Just like that! We threw tooth brushes and a change of clothes into the backpack and then stepped out of the marina to the corner where we caught the 615 bus that carried us to Landsborough Station, from where we easily hopped on the connecting trains to downtown Brisbane's Central Station. It took just two and half hours to make the trip, and as, we popped out into the sunlight, Randy and Sheri were waiting for us!
Talk about culture shock! From laid back Bundaberg, to sophisticated Mooloolaba, to supercharged downtown Brissie!
We emerged from Central Station at the corner of Edward and Ann streets (Brisbane's streets are named after British kings and queens – queens go one way, and kings go the other!) and gazed downhill at an urban landscape of ultra-modern buildings mixed most satisfyingly with beautifully preserved old stone ones from the 1800s.
Eight miles up the Brisbane River from Moreton Bay (another wedge of water trapped between the mainland and an offshore island), the city of Brisbane started life, like so much of Australia, as a penal colony, specifically one for difficult convicts from the Botany Bay colony farther south in New South Wales. But eighteen years later it was opened to free settlers, and in recent decades it has become one of the most popular places in Oz to live.
The city center is caught in a couple of deep loops of the river, and Procyon was anchored in the main stretch between the Story and Captain Cook bridges, right off the beautiful City Botanical Gardens. On the opposite side of the river the steep red Kangaroo Point cliffs rise above a long strip of parkland. The cliffs are spotlighted at night, so with the cityscape on the one hand and the cliffs on the other and bracketed by the two bridges, the anchorage was a very dramatic spot to sit.
At the foot of Edward Street is the city "marina" a string of parallel piles to which was moored a very motley assortment of long term liveaboards. Procyon, virtually the only cruiser anchored there, was definitely the classiest vessel in sight.
Upon our arrival, we had a delicious lunch in the Pig & Whistle café in the middle of pedestrian-only Queen Street, and then spent an hour or two wandering the streets, poking our noses in a few stores, generally agog at all the glitz of full-bore civilization. Preparations were underway for various Christmas events, including the lighting of the city Christmas tree and a carol concert in a few days. As the feet and energy wore down, we found our way to the dinghy dock along George Street which borders the Botanic Gardens on one side and opulent buildings of old stone or new glass on the other.
The views from Procyon were stunning, especially as dusk approached and the city lit herself up. We enjoyed a few relaxing beers in the cockpit, watching kayakers from the Riverlife Adventure Center drop two dozen kayaks into the river for a slack-tide paddle before the current of the changing tide pulled them back and turned Procyon right around. There is regular ferry service up and down the river by fast power cats creating occasional wakes, and the river water, I'm regretful to say, was not pretty. We all agreed it was about the color of Fijian kava, which is to say milky brown. This was especially aggravated by the unusual spate of rain the region has had the past few weeks.
We dined that evening at the Café Mondial, not so much out of choice, but because many of the restaurants we checked out were closed for private parties! Early Christmas parties? I guess when you don't have the Thanksgiving barrier, you can start celebrating as early in November as you want!
The next morning we took our walk through the Botanical Gardens and across the river via the Goodwill pedestrian bridge to the bottom of the South Bank Parklands, where, we understand is Streets Beach, a manmade swimming beach giving city residents a better option than that lovely river water! After breakfast on the boat, we went ashore intending to catch the mid-morning train back because we had invited Tricky and Jane for turkey Friday night, but a phone call from the Lionhearts advised us they were going to be tied up picking up their new van and their new puppy, so could we make it another night? So instead, we all went to the mid-morning show of the new Baz Luhrmann film "Australia" in a fancy downtown cinema. (Don was most impressed that they had reserved seats!)
According to the newspapers "Australia" has not done too well in its first week, and reviews are mixed. This is always painful after a huge publicity campaign. And the fact is the flick is more than a little hokey, particularly in the beginning. One wonders what Luhrmann was aiming for with the almost caricature performances from his leads in the opening scenes. This is not good in a three-hour movie! Fortunately, things seems to settle down after about the first third, and the whole thing is saved by the believable performances by the Aborigine actors, particularly the enchanting central character of Nullah, a mixed race child of great resources and connection to his Aboriginal heritage through his grandfather, the mystical and mysterious "King George." Watching hunky Hugh Jackman (especially after the ridiculous early scenes) is no chore, either. What's really surprising about the movie is that despite a fairly predictable script and some rather one-dimensional characters, the subject matter of Australia's historical racism is bluntly addressed. The absurdity of that racism and the grandeur of the landscape are the movie's two most successful messages. So all in all, we would say it is worth going to see on the big screen, with the proviso that you don't want to give up on it before the cattle drive starts!
From the movie we hopped back on the train, which was much more crowded on the ride north, being as it was Friday afternoon, than it had been on the way south. I must say that our train rides both ways were pleasant experiences thanks to friendly Aussies who were keen to chat us up. On the way down it was Dennis, a 30-year employee of the train company, who not only assured us we were going the right way and making the right connections, but shared with us a lot of information about the landscape we were passing through, (much of it dedicated to fruit production – ranging from pineapples to strawberries to lychees! – that all used to ship by train and now ship by truck,… tsk, tsk) not to mention all the side trips into the Sunshine Coast hinterland that we shouldn't miss.
One of the highlights from the train window are the unusual Glasshouse Mountains. In total there are sixteen of these shark's tooth-like crags that stick up abruptly from the flat green surrounds like rocks from the sea. Of ancient volcanic origin, they are what remains after millions of years of erosion. The train passes right by three or four of these, and Dennis assured us we could climb one we were sufficiently motivated. It looks to us to be more like rock climbing than a morning stroll.
On the bus link from Landsborough Station back to Mooloolaba I finally got my wish to see kangaroos in the wild…in the suburbs no less! The first sight was a head peaking up over the raised bank as the bus whizzed by. I exclaimed and Don glanced out over his should in time to see a whole pack of about eight in an open area under some power lines. Only moments later the bus turned into a university campus and we saw a large kangaroo sitting on his own in the middle of a playing field! Clearly late afternoon is the time to see them!
Christmas Boat Parade
Although the turkey was now thoroughly thawed in the fridge, I still couldn't cook it on Saturday because Saturday was the annual Mooloolaba Christmas Boat parade. Even though it is summer here, it does not stay light late on this coast because Queensland does not adopt daylight savings. We have observed that one big plus of this is that Queenslanders get up early to swim, surf, walk, jog, and kayak before work rather than after. However, another perk of the plan is that it is dark enough by 6:30pm for Christmas lights!
We watched the parade from Lionheart in its end berth at the Yacht Club Marina, giving us a great vantage point as the line of boats passed us several times. Our last boat parade was with Diane and Alex in Hernando Beach, FL where the temperature was in the forties! This was much warmer! The best boat by our vote was a neighbor from the Yacht Club who had turned his mast into a giant sparking candle with, somehow, a flame at the top. This would go "out" at intervals and a "match" would ascend and relight it. I have to assume this was some kind of commercially produced decoration, but it sure was perfect for a boat application.
Of course the other highlight of the evening was playing with Tricky and Jane's new two-month old puppy, Dudley. Dudley is a chunky white guinea pig of a pup whose Daddy was a Maltese and whose Mum was a Staffordshire Terrier (pit bull to us gringos). Clearly Daddy was a bold and brave fellow! Duddles, as I prefer to think of him, has Dad's wispy white hair, but he has Mum's more solid build with a bunch of black spots showing through his coat.. He is pretty cute…now.
The Turkey finally went in the oven midday Sunday, which turned out to be the right day because both Tricky and Jane and Peter and Sandy were able to join us. Don went to help Tricky build a bed in their new van, which left me alone on the boat all day to cook at a nice leisurely pace so both of us were pretty happy. Everyone (including Duddles) assembled on T2 at about five pm, Sandy bringing a salad and Jane bringing a cheesecake and berries for "pudding." There was wine, beer and bubbly to wash it all down, and I must tell you that there was not a crumb of anything left!
Despite the economic blues, despite that fact that we are putting the boat on the market, and despite the fact that we are still far from family at this holiday time, we still have a great deal to be thankful for. And we are.
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