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Australia Travel

Taronga Zoo: Crossing the Sydney Harbour for the Koalas

She has a father who adores her, a mother who hates her, two brothers who are in love with her (calm down, she’s adopted), and a koala for a pet. This is the story of Lady Georgie, a British girl adopted by an Australian family, who, upon learning her true lineage, went to England in search of her real family (but we all know it’s her first love she went searching for). Georgie is one of those Japanese animated series that has defined every 90s kid’s childhood, including yours truly. So why is she important in this story? Well if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known about the koala, a eucalyptus-loving stocky animal with a brain dis-proportionally small for its body. In the real world, they cannot be domesticated, but Australian law doesn’t stymie anyone’s wish to see them in the flesh. Thus, I crossed the Sydney Harbour to Taronga Zoo to see Georgie’s furry friend.

Actually, I need not cross the harbor because there are koalas at the WILD LIFE Sydney located near Darling Harbour. I went to Taronga Zoo because of a colleague’s recommendation. She mentioned it to me so many times it’s almost disrespectful to disregard her on purpose. The zoo entry is worth $33.30, but there is a cheaper option and that is by buying a voucher at Klook where I got it for only $23.34 or ₱1,213.26.

Taronga Zoo via Klook

On the day itself, I got lost (story of my life) when I took the wrong bus and ended up in god-knows-where. I gathered myself and looked at the bus schedule in my Opal app. I hopped on the next bus to Circular Quay and from there I took the ferry, both I paid with my Opal card.

The ferry is big with lots of cushioned seats inside. Most people, however, preferred to stay on the main deck to appreciate the view of the sea and two of the most iconic Sydney landmarks, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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When we reached the zoo’s wharf, I showed my printed voucher to the female attendant who was manning the entry point. She took my copy then let me in, as simple as that.

You can take a long walk to the entrance or ride the cable car; I chose the latter. I thought I would be scared given my fear of heights but the cable ride was smooth and so enjoyable, I couldn’t put down my camera.

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The word “taronga” comes from the Aboriginal language meaning beautiful view. The zoo is about 69 acres, so big that it takes a whole day to see all of its attractions. So much of my time has been wasted on getting lost that I was not able to check out the entire zoo. I just picked the areas that I wanted to visit and the animals that I wanted to see to make my life easy.

My topmost priority is to see the koalas but despite the map, I couldn’t find the koala sanctuary. I saw two old women wearing shirts with Taronga prints on. Whether they are zookeepers or volunteers, I couldn’t tell for sure by these two lovely grannies helped me find what I was looking for.

By the time I reached the area, it was already closed. I wasn’t previously aware that the Koala Encounter is only open from 11:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. It also has a separate entry fee of $24.95, which you can purchase from the Gift Shops and Animal Experience stations. The Koala Encounter doesn’t let visitors in all at the same time and they also limit each group to 4 people. Also, you may only take pictures of the koalas, you are not allowed to touch them.

So there I was, lost and frustrated that I missed the chance to see the very reason I went there, to begin with when I noticed a clump of humans staring up on the trees. I followed the direction of their gazes and spotted a huge, round, gray thing sitting on a branch and I gasped aloud, it’s a koala!

It looks bigger than I’d imagined and oh so cute! I ran towards the other tourists and fumbled to release my camera from its case. With suppressed squeals of delight, I took pictures and videos, and put up and IG story of my first ever koala sighting. I don’t know why it was up there when his whole crew seems to be MIA, but I am so happy that this guy decided to climb up there.

After my accidental koala encounter, I went about the rest of the day searching for the animals that you could never find in a Philippine zoo such as…

The national animal of Australia, the kangaroos.

The surprisingly cute spiky, egg-laying mammal, the short-beaked echidna.

The slumbering Tasmanian devil.

Then I saw the wombat, a marsupial that was also sleeping at the time of my visit. I know that it’s hard to see in the picture because it’s dark, but I swear that this cute, chubby guy right there is a wombat.

Then there are common zoo animals like chicken, elephants, giraffes, and penguins.

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Taronga Zoo far exceeded my expectations that I’m glad I listened to my colleague’s advice. I love that the animals are not caged and that the management made an effort to build a sanctuary that closely resembles the animals’ natural habitat.

Aside from the animals, there are other beautiful things to check out inside like the massive clock garden, the shops where you can buy souvenirs like stuffed animals, key chains, magnets, etc., and food concessionaires where I grabbed myself some fish and chips, and a cafe.

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And just beside that clock garden is this spot where I took a selfie, lol.

There are over 4,000 animals from 350 species in the Taronga’s wildlife conservation program. Among the attractions and events that the zoo offers are animal encounters, shows and talks, tours, tiger trek, keeper for a day, dollar birthday promotion, kids activities, squirrel monkey jungle walk, zoo adventures holiday program, and Taronga centenary theater. By the way, Taronga Zoo has its own mobile app that can help visitors plan their day with its pre-installed interactive map as well as a list of updates on shows and encounters.

Speaking of encounters, there is a lizard that escaped from its area. It crossed over the brick-covered ground, scaring the bejesus out of me. The photo below is zoomed-in because I made there is a great distance between us before I took a picture.

Taronga is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.


Australia Coffee

Ampersand and thoughts on why students prefer café over libraries

In the midst of my Jacarandas mission, a coffee shop caught my attention named after the logogram, used in replacement of the conjunction, and. Ampersand is located along Oxford, a popular shopping street along Darlinghurst and Paddington in Sydney. I thought, it was time for a coffee break and went in. In closer inspection, I realized it’s a café and a bookstore, the kind of place where you can stay for longer periods to study and not be social media shamed. Yes, we are living in the time of social media sensitives when people take offense at absolutely anything, and where you could be hated for something as simple as using cafés in place of libraries.

But when did we stop using libraries to begin with? Libraries have the books and the WiFi needed for reviewing or doing homework and these places are built and maintained to be orderly and quiet. Cafes, on the other hand, can be busy and rowdy and there is always that constant distraction from others going in and out or hanging out to chatter.

As I was having these thoughts, I bought a cup of coffee. I asked the barista if he minds if I take photos, said he didn’t and let me take as many pictures as I wish. There are several library cafés in the Philippines but none of them looked anything close to Ampersand. Every corner has bookshelves filled with books, an extensive collection of the classics and contemporary literature.

Visit Sydney in Springtime and chase the Jacarandas

I went all the way to the second and third floors where the settings looked more like a library than a café. There is that unmistakable scent of old books that I so loved. I’m not sure about the price range of these books, but I heard you only need to approach one of the staff if anything interests you enough to make a purchase.

I saw this area with some customers and I was careful not to disturb them.

I went back downstairs and a few moments later, my coffee was served. As I sipped my coffee, I continued my inner dialogues. I do not agree with shaming students in social media for haggling seats, however, I do understand the frustration of other customers, as I also experienced leaving a café when there were no more seats available. Yes, I can always find another place to get my fix, but whatever happened with libraries? When did they stop being an ideal place for learning that students would rather pay for expensive coffee? What do they lack aside from the obvious (coffee)?

If it’s a matter of operating hours, the cafés are at a clear advantage. Many of them are open late, sometimes even for 24 hours. Most libraries, on the other hand, are within the confines of the schools and universities and close down at a specific time of the day. There’s also a matter of availability, there are fewer libraries than cafés.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I googled the matter and read on a website that some students find the library environment to be too confining that they appreciate the more chill-out atmosphere in cafés. Hence, some schools are going with the trend by building a café-like library as in the case of the Library Café at the University of York. Not only does it serve coffee and light snacks, but it is also open 24 hours.

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When I was in school, I did my review and homework at home or in the library. It’s there that I discovered and read my very first book, The Little Match Girl. In grade school, I volunteered as a library assistant where I spent 2 to 3 hours after class, cleaning the room, reading the books, and assisting the librarian. I always went home with borrowed books, mostly fairy tales, and would ask people what some English words meant. I love coffee shops, the name of my blog makes it obvious, but I loved spending time in the libraries as well. A big part of who I am today was shaped within the four corners of the repository of books. I guess this explains why I feel sad that libraries are not used or appreciated now the same way we did before.

I do realize that time is changing and what may have worked for me and people of my generation, may not necessarily work for the young people of today. Maybe they perceive that the conditions in cafés are much conducive to learning. Maybe the caffeine and the light bites help them study better. Maybe the more relaxed atmosphere does a great deal in retaining information in their brains.

4 Cafés to try on Sydney’s Central Business District

I am not here to go against anyone’s choice for study, just genuinely curious as to why the libraries seem to have ceased to be the first choice for its purpose.

Forgive me if you’re not reading a review of Ampersand, if that’s what you were expecting. I tend to have many random thoughts like this, I thought I’d write the one that I was thinking about when I went to this coffee shop.

If you want to know, the coffee is great, can’t remember now if it was a latte or a flat white. Ampersand is open all week, from 8:00 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon. It does close early as everything else in Sydney.

How about you? Are you a library or a café person?

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Australia Travel

The Rocks Walking Tour: A Trip Down the Dark Past of Sydney

This is the Cadman’s Cottage, so where the hey is everyone?

It was a little before 6:00 p.m., and I was staring at this empty lot facing the Cadman’s Cottage. Days before this trip, I stumbled upon I’m Free Walking Tours as I searched for things to do in Sydney. It’s an independent, small company that offers free walking tours in both Sydney and Melbourne. It was started by Justine and Ross, 8 years ago, running on a concept that people can just turn up and join their tours. In Sydney, they have two tours. First is the Sydney Sights Free Tour, which takes anywhere between 2 to 3 hours, and would help you learn and explore Sydney. The Rocks at 6 PM Free Tour, on the other hand, takes an hour and a half to finish. It focuses on the first European settlement site in Australia, called The Rocks. As you can see in the title of this article, I chose the latter, why? I was lured by the description says, “We’ll explore its laneways, pubs, and historical buildings and tell you its stories of murders, muggings, and mysteries.” What could be more exciting than that?

If you’re coming with a group of 10 or more people then you need to register for their Private Tours. If you’re alone or going with less than 10 people then you can just show up in the meeting place at the scheduled time. Note that when you sign up for the private tours, you will be given a quotation. Another thing to consider is, this tour is not exactly free. They do accept tips, no set amount, just whatever you think is worth the trip for you. This is how they keep the group going like any other organization that runs a free walking tour.

I found a spot on the concrete stairs and waited for the others. Before long, a man in a green windbreaker sauntered over carrying a black backpack. I looked at the print on the back of his jacket, Free Tour, this is the guy. As I made the approach, I saw other people walking toward him. I waited on the sideline because the guy seems bent on talking with every single one of the joiners. While this was going on, more people started coming in until there were about 30 of us, surrounding this sandy haired guy who was busy introducing himself and asking people where did they come from.

This happened in November, I honestly can’t recall anymore what we talked about aside from me telling him my name and my country of origin. His name is Josh, a student majoring in History Honours (USYD) Focusing on Australian History. He’s a lanky guy with a clear, booming voice. Imagine we were outside, and he was leading over 30 or more people, yet we could all hear him sans a megaphone. Pretty amazing if you ask me.

As in the two other walking tours in which I had been a participant, I stayed close to the tour guide as much as  I could. The others trailed behind us, mostly white people but from different nations. I spotted 3 other Filipinos in the group, but I kept to myself and never really engaged anyone in a conversation.

Cadman’s Cottage

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Josh’s story began in our place of assembly, the Cadman’s Cottage. The Rocks pertain to a neighborhood in Sydney, well known for its historic lanes and buildings, that go as far back as the 18th to the 20th centuries. It is said that there are over 100 heritage sites in The Rocks, including the oldest house in the area, the Cadman’s Cottage.

Built in 1816, the Cadman’s Cottage was used by coxswains (people in charge of a boat). Over the years, its function has been changed from being the headquarters of the Sydney Water Police to a sailor’s abode. It was named after John Cadman, a British man sent to Australia in 1798 for the crime of stealing. Back in the day, Australia was used as a penal colony. In layman’s term, this is where the British government cast away their prisoners in the 17th century.

William Bligh

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We stopped by a brass statue of William Bligh, a British Royal Navy officer and former governor of New South Wales in 1806. He is best remembered by a military junta called, Rum Rebellion. The event went down to history as the only successful armed takeover in Australia.

It is said that during that time, rum is not just liquor, but a form of currency. Money runs low and so a barter system is practiced and used to pay wages and buy goods. Convicts, as well as military men of lower-ranking, were often paid in goods, the most popular of which is rum. The Rum Rebellion is said to be a struggle for control over the rum trade, which in this period, had an immense influence on the course of commerce and politics.

Bligh was notorious for his tyrannical approach to leadership. Before long, he has gained the ire of other leaders including John Macarthur and the officers of the New South Wales Corp. The rebellion has successfully overthrown Bligh from his position, all ending with him being found hiding under the bed.

George Street

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Along George Street lay the 3 locations significant to this tour. First, we saw the oldest pub in Sydney, Fortune of War, adjacent to it is the Police Station, both are an impressive display of Victorian architecture. We also learned about the Marino bank, a bank constructed by convicts and the subject of the first banking robbery in Australian history. In 1828, a five-man robbery team led by William Blackstone went through the sewage drain to access the vault of the Bank of Australia along George Street. Over AUD 20 million worth of promissory notes and coins had been stolen.

Suez Canal

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My favorite spot and story in this tour is the narrow alley that carried a dark past, the Suez Canal. It is named so by the residents by the torrent that poured over this area when it rained.

This alley was used to be feared by the residents because of the hooligans that lurked in the shadows, waiting for unsuspecting victims, usually drunken sailors, to rob them. Suez Canal was also the battleground between two groups of thugs, the Orange and Green Pushes who used to rule The Rocks between the 1870s to 1880s.

Australian Hotel

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As we stood outside the Australian Hotel, Josh told us the history of the discovery of Australia. We learned that it used to be called, Nova Hollandia (New Holland) named by a Dutch seafarer, Abel Tasman. But before that, European sailors called it Terra Australis Incognita, which translates to, unknown land of the south.

Built in 1824, Australian Hotel is one of the first pubs in the area. The hotel still stands to this day and is among the favorite watering holes of the locals and tourists alike. The old building is of Edwardian architecture, with many of its old features, such as the metal awnings, tap faucets, and saloon bar doors remain intact.

Observatory Hill

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If you want to enjoy the unobstructed, panoramic view of Sydney then head down to the Observatory Hil. There you can see the world-famous, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the beautiful harbor.

Hero of Waterloo

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The Hero of Waterloo is another old hotel and pub with a dark history of its own. Its cellar is said to have been used as a place for the illegal recruitment of sailors, by means of getting an unsuspecting young man drunk and then dragging him to the tunnel. The next day, the man would wake aboard a ship in which his life as a sailor, a path that he obviously did not choose for himself, would begin.

Another haunting story that seems to add appeal to this hotel is the ghost of Anne Kirkman. According to rumors, a man named Thomas Kirkman pushed his wife, Anne, down the stairs causing her demise. Since then, some paranormal activities have been reported by the guests and the staff, like the mysterious playing of the piano in the middle of the night.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

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The tour concluded under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a steel through arch bridge that is one of the most popular tourist landmarks in Sydney. By then, I was tired and hungry, ready to call it a day. The tour had been long and quite informative and I tried my best to keep notes to retain all the knowledge.

We all dropped our donation to the bag that Josh was carrying and we said our thanks for the wonderful tour. By and large, the tour helped me gain a deeper understanding of Australia’s history, along with it, a better appreciation of Sydney. I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to have a dig into the history of this city.

Note: This tour happened on the 12th of November 2017.

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