"We're All Going To The Zoo Tomorrow!"

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October 22nd 2011
Published: October 24th 2011
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"Shall we bother to go over to see the visitors today?""Shall we bother to go over to see the visitors today?""Shall we bother to go over to see the visitors today?"

"yes, I think so - they've got some carrots!"
Thursday 20th October dawned with clear skies and the promise of a beautiful warm day. We were up early and toyed with the idea of having a thermal soak before we left, but we mistook the opening times and decided 8:00am was cutting it a bit fine. As it happened, the pools opened at 7:00am so we would have had plenty of time to lounge again in the warm waters. We did our best to get away reasonably early but it was well after 9:15 when we finally hit the road. Traffic was heavy with plenty of road trains travelling in both directions and with the occasional wide load to negotiate. We made good time but it wasn’t a pleasant journey. It was one of those days where we hadn’t really decided for sure where we would be heading for. We knew the general direction but not the overnight resting place. We covered the 220 kilometers to Coonabarabran in excellent time and remembered fondly the few days we had spent there last year and our trip into the Warrumbungles. But it was still early, before midday, so there was still plenty of travelling time left in the day, especially with the extra hour of day-light. Gilgandra was the next town of any consequence but we hadn’t seriously considered it as an overnight stopping place. Another one hundred kilometres further on was Dubbo where we had thought to stay a couple of nights. If we made Dubbo today we could afford to stay there for three nights, so we bashed on and arrived, pretty tired, at about 3:30pm after a total of 392 kilometers. We chose a Big 4 caravan park to stay at but of course we should have known better. They are usually equipped to a very high standard, and Parklands at Dubbo is no exception but they go out of their way to cater for young families. Never mind we thought – it’s Thursday, there are no school holidays at present, it will be pleasantly quiet. How wrong we were!!! How can so many kids be allowed to miss school at the same time? And they all seem to have at least two bikes each and insist on going round and round the park shouting as loud as they can. That’s when they’re not causing havoc in the swimming pool. Are we getting old or what?

Setting up the caravan was easy. Graham parked Sweetie effortlessly against the concrete block and we seemed to have plenty of space around us. But the sun was strong and we had no natural shade. The awning would provide a bit of shade but later in the day the sun would be shining directly on the van door. So Graham erected another awning (a tarpaulin) at the front to act as a sun-shade. The other major problem was ANTS! Having been invaded by the blighters once before, I was in no mood to let that happen again. Armed with my trusty pot of talcum powder I spread a liberal coating around all of the points where the caravan touched the ground – wheels, stabilizers, jockey wheel, water hose etc. It seems that they hate talcum powder and will avoid it. Alas, it leaves a mess behind when we move on but the main thing is that, hopefully, we won’t be taking any of the blighters with us. The afternoon drifted by with a stroll around the park, a couple of ice-creams from the park shop and a chat about what we might do with our two full days in Dubbo. One of the most fascinating zoos I’ve ever seen is the Western Plains Zoo which happens to be in Dubbo. I visited it with my Mum and brother David over 20 years ago and have fond memories of our ‘flying’ visit and I’ve no doubt it will be well worth a second visit. We had a good, undisturbed night although the kids next door were up and about very early on Friday morning.

Friday dawned very bright with a lovely clear sky but it was a while before it warmed up. Temperatures had dropped considerably through the night and nearby trees meant that the caravan got none of the early morning sun. Ironically, later in the day the sun became overwhelming and it was all we could do to find some shade! As I was up and about early I got some washing done and then because we were heading for the zoo I hastily prepared some sandwiches and a flask. The Western Plains Zoo was just a short drive from the caravan park - we arrived at about 10 o’clock and, considering it was Friday, it seemed pretty busy already. It covers a big area so the options for viewing it are walking, cycling or driving. It’s quite expensive per person to go in but no extra cost for a vehicle. You can use your own bikes or hire theirs at a cost. We figured we would do a fair bit of walking when we got to the exhibits. It’s possible to hire “open” motorised buggies but they were very pricey – OK if you were sharing the cost between six passengers. So, like most people, we chose to take our own car to drive around the 6 kilometer circuit. Car parks were well placed, frequent and roomy and there was a 10kph speed limit so there was no rush or crush – everything was done in a very sedate manner. Perhaps at the height of the season (school holidays?) things might be different but today was extremely leisurely. The animals on show were first class and included all of the “big” safari specials. The enclosures were generally big so a walk at each stop was essential if you wanted to get a good view each time. But the enclosures were also “open” - the animals were restricted by ditches or water rather than barricades - so it was possible to see them from the car if that’s what you preferred. We walked a lot and, apart from an illusive African Wild Dog, we saw everything on offer.

Strangely, even though we saw hippos, rhinos, elephants, lions, tigers etc etc, we were both most impressed by the numerous giraffes they had there. They were magnificent, beautifully marked animals – clearly well looked after and in a setting that suited them perfectly. Our visit to them coincided with a feeding session and some people had paid a considerable extra fee to be able to walk along a raised platform and feed them carrots. It was most entertaining. Quite a few “demonstrations” went on during the day at various enclosures but our casual cruise around only coincided with a couple. After about three hours, but still less than half way round, we decided to go directly back to the restaurant for some lunch. Our tickets allowed for as many circuits as we wanted and also covered two days so after our lunch we started another circuit, bypassing most of the animals we had already seen. The park was even quieter now and we often had exquisite animals to ourselves to look at. In one location we were royally entertained by a couple of Siamangs (black gibbons that are native to the forests of Malaysia, Thailand and Sumatra) and a few minutes later two rangers arrived to encourage them off the small island they were on and back into their main enclosure. It was clearly a well practised ritual as the rangers raised two ropes across the wide stretch of water and, without any need for coercion, the Siamangs tightrope walked the 20 meters or so in a most accomplished manner. A few minutes later one of them came back into view clutching an apple so there was a good reason for them to cross the water! After that we just caught the end of a talk about Giant Tortoises. There were about six tortoises there, all from the Galapagos Islands, and they were the size of the huge turtles we had seen last year – they were enormous and can live to be 150 years old. The final area we visited today was the Australian area where, again on our own, apart from the obvious – wallabies, kangaroos, emus etc - we saw a couple of koalas happily chewing away on some eucalyptus leaves.

We left the zoo at about 3:30 but with every intention of going back tomorrow. It was brilliant. Back at the caravan park the “family” invasion had fully taken over with noisy kids hurtling around everywhere and parents loudly shouting after them. We decided to escape the bedlam for a while and to visit an address we had been given in Dubbo by June and Barrie, a couple we had bumped into regularly on our travels. They live “on the road” but visit their daughter in Dubbo from time to time. They will be there at Christmas and there was an outside chance they may be there now. They have no internet so the only method of communication to them is a letter which we had prepared in case we didn’t see them. Sure enough, there was no sign of their caravan, or of their daughter, so we just left our letter and will hope to hear from them when they get it. Their daughter does have the internet so they may be able to get in touch at a later date. Our journey through the town was chaotic - a major incident must have occurred and we could see numerous fire-engines, ambulances and police cars, all with their lights flashing, and many of the main routes were closed off. We eventually found our way back to the caravan where, with darkness falling, the bedlam seemed to have diminished slightly. We sat inside watching the end of the Wales/ Australia rugby match – yet another case of “if only” from Wales who don’t seem to be able to make the most of their opportunities. We settled in for a reasonably quiet night but from our 10:30pm stroll to the loos just before bed it was amazing how many people were still sitting out and even using the camp kitchen.

Some early morning whining from nearby kids and some inconsiderate car-door slamming got us up a bit earlier than we would have liked but the day looked to be dawning beautifully weather-wise. We knew what we wanted to do today – another visit to the zoo – and being Saturday we guessed it would be a bit busier than yesterday. But we were in no hurry so we just had a very leisurely start to the day. Even so, we got to the zoo not long after it opened and, although there were plenty of punters there, they were either busy buying their tickets or in the queue to hire bikes or buggies. So, like yesterday afternoon, we had an uninterrupted tour of the park with immediate success as, on our first stop, we saw five active Wild African Dogs – we had seen none yesterday. We stopped again to see all the big “safari” animals and particularly the hippos – how can these massive beasts be so graceful in the water? We meandered round very leisurely, taking two hours to complete the circuit. The only animals we failed to see were meercats and otters although there were no explanations as to why they weren’t on show. It was another excellent tour around and we felt that being able to use the tickets over two days made them excellent value for money.

The main tasks for today were to do a big grocery shop and to top up with diesel ready for our onward journey tomorrow. We found a Woolies supermarket and also a Woolies garage nearby so we achieved both tasks relatively easily. After lunch and a bit of “quiet time” we drove off in search of the Japanese and Sensory Gardens. On the way we spotted a car-wash and diverted briefly to give PIE a much-needed clean. We eventually tracked down the two gardens and they happened to be in the same park. They were beautiful and well worth tracking down. Ironically, they were just a couple of hundred meters from the Woolies supermarket we had visited this morning. Back at the caravan park, bedlam broke out once again with kids, bikes, balls and other things flying everywhere. We’ve become a bit immune to it all now although the noise can be a bit overwhelming at times. We were able to “skype” with Sarah and Darryl but, at the same time, managed to miss a skype call from dear friend Mele in Warwick. We eventually caught up with her via text messages to learn that she was off to the theatre with David. Graham began putting a few caravan things away – sun shield, washing line, awning etc while I tried to cook a frittata which turned out to be more like a lumpy omelette (only joking)!! I was missing a couple of ingredients: spinach and nutmeg but added some mushrooms, peas and sweetcorn instead! Fortunately it was still delicious though. Darkness fell during an episode of the new series of Doc Martin, although the outside noise hardly abated at all. The kids kept going until about 9:30 and then it was time for the adults to get going and, judging by the amount of alcohol consumed during the evening, they’ll take some stopping. We think we’re in for a late night!

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 31


'Cuddles' the African Elephant has been trained to a high standard'Cuddles' the African Elephant has been trained to a high standard
'Cuddles' the African Elephant has been trained to a high standard

and so is happy for the warden to look at her feet

24th October 2011

Graceful hippos - my favourites!
What a fabulous place to visit, Australia does do good zoos!! Another one for our 'next time list'. I know why you didn't see any meerkats, they're too busy filming the latest "Compare the Market.com" advert!! x x x x
25th October 2011

Meerkat absence
Of course - we didn't think of that (but then we haven't seen those adverts out here and come to think of it we do miss them!! xxx M&D

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