There's an old saying that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into two kinds and those who don't. For the sake of this page I'll propose another division: photographers and people with cameras. From time to time I think I belong in the first category. But the second is generally more appropriate. I took this picture at the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane. No idea what kind of plant this is; I just saw it and decided that it was an interesting opportunity to find out how the macro setting on my zoom lens worked. As you can see, it worked pretty well. Now I wish I knew what to call it. (Almost two years after this page first came up, a reader from Melbourne identified my specimen as a kangaroo paw. Thanks, Tim. Now I know!)
A friend and I encountered this piece of topiary while wandering around Taronga Zoo in Sydney. We both thought it had a strong resemblance to a certain annoying purple dinosaur on PBS. But we figured we were safe so far from America. Until a little later in the visit, when we wandered into a video production of... yes, you guessed it. I guess Australia isn't nearly far enough of a getaway. Maybe next time I'll try Antarctica. I hear it's lovely this time of year!
I don't think my desire to visit Australia was entirely based
on koalas. I'm sure there were other, more serious reasons. But once
I decided to go I made sure that there would be lots of chances to see them.
And I wasn't disappointed: they're even more improbable-looking in person.
They look like stuffed toys. And even when they move the
too-cute-to-be-real illusion remains.
Koalas are not the hardiest of creatures, with few natural defenses and
a remarkably picky diet. Kangaroos, on the other hand, seem to thrive in
most any environment. And they're a lot more fun to play with. I spent some
time feeding a bunch of them at Lone
Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane. The moment
they heard the rustle of a brown paper bag they were all over me, begging
(politely for the most part) for a taste. And when the bag was empty they
ate that too!
This is a wombat, which gets my vote as the most peculiar creature on the
continent. It looks like it was made from the spare parts of other animals,
with too short legs, a squishy body and a giant hamster face. Uncooperative,
too! I could never get one to pose the way I wanted. Everybody else was
a lot more supportive of us poor tourists.
These are fairy penguins, little guys who are native to Australia. I made
a stop in Melbourne just so I could see the nightly arrival of fairy penguins
onto the beach at Philip Island. Every night at dusk the penguins return
from the ocean to their burrows on the island. They gather in the surf and
then, when their numbers and their courage have reached the required levels,
they make their mad dash across the beach to reach the safety of the hills.
It's one of the funniest sights I can recall. (These penguins were captured
at a park in Sydney. I would have needed to use a flash to capture the action
at Philip Island. And the rangers don't take at all kindly to people who
flash lights in the eyes of the penguins.)
Emus are at the other end of the flightless bird scale from fairy penguins,
rising close to six feet when they extend their necks. I like to think of
them as ostriches without the attitude. I would never get
this close to an ostrich, even in a zoo. Get too close and they'll
do their best to take a bite out of you. But the emu, if not enthusiastic
about having its picture taken (it wouldn't stop just because
I wanted it to), didn't try to stop me. And believe me, I'd
have stopped if he'd have insisted.
The kookaburra is a little bird with a big attitude. I wondered if I
could get close enough to get this picture before it decided that I
was too close. But I guess this was one secure bird; its only
concern seemed to be whether I got its good side. Taken at the aviary
at Taronga Zoo.
No visit to Australia would be complete without a trip to the Great Barrier
Reef. From Cairns in Far North Queensland it's a couple of hours by coach
to Port Douglas and an hour or so by fast catamaran out to the reef. The
quantity, variety and colors of the coral that make up the reef are amazing
and, unfortunately, impossible to capture with the equipment I had. The
fish were a little easier. This one waited patiently outside our
semisubmersible while I set up my camera and hoped for the best.
Here we have examples of the tourist in his natural habitat. I was certainly
enjoying myself. I wonder how the koalas felt about it. And no, travel doesn't
age me quite that much. There's a gap of two years (and a few pounds
*sigh*) between the first two pictures and the third.
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Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California