The weekend (really) started on Friday morning [not] bright and early, but early indeed, when I woke up at 5:45 to be picked up by Linda to get to the Bairnsdale Train Station to meet the students coming on the trip to the zoo. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one at the station that looked like they only got 6 hours of sleep! Most of the students were extremely eager get going so they could get to the zoo early to make the most of the experience; they’ve been looking forward to it for as long as I have! It seems like just yesterday that I handed out the paperwork to the students of “Animal Inside.” “Time flies” seems to be an appropriate theme for my trip thus far!
The students in the two classes going took up around three-quarters of carriage C. Many of the other occupants looked to be about my age and were heading into the city for a concert later that day. I recognized a few of the the younger ones from school. They must have been turning the 4-day weekend into an even longer one! I sat with Linda and David, another teacher going with us who, as well as myself, was going to stay in the city once the trip to the zoo was over. We left Pam, my other cooperating teacher, at the other end of the carriage; she didn’t seem to mind as she completed her Sudoku on the way down.
The trip was quick and the students were very well behaved. We arrived at Flinders Street Station and took the first head count since leaving Bairnsdale after a trip to the bathroom in the station. We then walked a few blocks into the city to catch a tram to take us to the zoo. The V-Line (country train) tickets that we used to travel from Bairnsdale to Melbourne included an all day pass to use the metro and tram systems in the city; not a bad deal at all! The tram took a few minutes to arrive, so we took another head count of the students. They were all accounted for!
The fit on the tram was quite tight since there were a total of 40 of us getting on at the same time. We made it work! The tram took around 20 minutes to get to the zoo, only a few kilometers north of the city center. As we got off the tram, we counted the students once again.
There weren’t too many people at the zoo when we arrived, but by the end of the day there were a few more school groups and a number of elder visitors. Once we gained admission, the students got on their own to explore in small groups for about an hour until they were expected to meet the teachers at the food court to have lunch. While the students explored, the four of us teachers did some exploring as well. We started out at the big cats. I was really excited to see the snow leopard and the Sumatran tiger. The leopard was perched up on a ledge observing the visitors passing by and the tiger was doing what you would expect a tiger at the zoo to be doing, pacing back and forth as if it was counting the number of steps from one side of the cage to the other, over and over again to make sure it had the right count.
After observing the brown bears in the enclosure next to the big cats, we moved to the zoo bakery to get some coffee and a cross bun. By this time, students were starting to come to meet us. Since we didn’t need to meet with them again (after lunch) for another hour or so, we told them to roam around after they ate.
Once our coffee was finished and we had met with many of the students, we decided to head over to the penguin and seal exhibit. We passed by the pelicans on the way to see the seals and were not very impressed with their enclosure. There is something about having an open enclosure for birds but not allowing them to fly. It was obvious that the zoo clipped their wings to prevent them from leaving. Their enclosure was not very big either, only around 150 square meters.
Just before going inside the seal exhibit, we passed by a fish tank, full of rays and sharks, about waist height. Since I had the waterproof camera that Mary Kate had given me for Christmas, I decided to test it out! Where better than in the tank full of sharks! I stuck my hand and camera into the tank to snap a few photos! Luckily the students weren’t around when I did this, as I wouldn’t want them to get any ideas! The pictures turned out well and I was impressed! Linda followed suite and took a couple underwater too…shh!
After our finger threatening experience with a few sharks, we entered into the seal exhibit where large windows allowed the patrons to watch the seals swimming in their deep and seemingly large tank. It was quite a sight! The seals looked so agile in the water and had such grace as they used their flippers to guide them around. After a few minutes of envious observing, we moved outside to see the little penguins. I would see wild ones the following day, but it was still nice to see the smallest penguin species up close and personal. It was now time to head back to meet the students at the food court.
Thankfully, we asked the students to give us their phone numbers prior to coming on the trip incase we needed to get a hold of them. We had to call a few students who seemed to have lost track of time. Luckily, we were able to get in touch with them to do another head count prior to the learning experience.
The part of the zoo where the learning experience took place is only for use by school groups and is closed to the public. Linda, who planned the trip was able to get us in to meet one of the keepers and a few of the animals up close. The keeper took the students from my class along with Linda to meet one of the zoo’s wombats in the back of the building. Unfortunately since wombats are crepuscular creatures, and it was in the middle of the day, it wasn’t too interested in us or eating so we let him be and entered into one of the buildings devoted to school groups and the learning experience.
I entered and observed a large enclosure that took up half of the room, encased in a glass fence about waist height with a few logs and some leaf litter covering the floor. I also noticed an enclosure with a tortoise roaming around, as well as a few terrariums; I found out later what those were for. The keeper found out that I was a "Yank" and decided to let me feed one of the animals. Since she knew that I had never been to Australia, she also knew that I more than likely had never come across bandicoots. I had never seen a bandicoot in my life but I have played video games with them as main characters. Crash Bandicoot was one of the best games ever invented. The keeper gave me a few pieces of carrot and told me to hold my hand about a foot from the ground inside the large glass enclosure. I didn’t see anything. Where were these small marsupials? The keeper then tossed in a few pieces of carrots to entice them from the shadows under the logs. They finally started to come out and one of them approached my hand, sat up on its hind legs and started eating the carrot out of my hand. It was quite an experience!
The trainer sat all the students on the floor and started getting out different animals, one by one, each having unique characteristics that students were to take note of on their zoo worksheet. I wasn’t particularly excited about the worksheet, but it was a fantastic experience for the students to engage with some different wildlife. The keepers started the activity by getting out the Kenyan sand boa, a short snake that lives in the semi-dessert area in Kenya. The students were given the chance to touch the snake. I was happy to find that all of the students touched all of the animals. Next, the students were given the chance to touch a green tree frog. I had not touched a frog since I double-pithed one over the summer in my physiology class! I was happy that I didn’t have to scramble this one’s spinal chord! The final animal to go around was a tortoise, and each student was able to touch its leg making sure to be careful of its sharp claws.
On the way out of the building, we passed another enclosure in the other room. This one was home to a couple bilbies. Like the bandicoots, they are nocturnal omnivorous marsupials. They are an endangered endemic Australian species, so it was quite a nice treat to be able to see a few of them! This ended the learning experience, so we headed back into the zoo. After another head count, the students were reminded of their meeting time to leave, and were sent on their way back into the wilds of the zoo. We had a little over three hours to kill so we headed out again to explore the rest of the menagerie.
I was really keen to see the platypus, since there was little chance of seeing one in the wild, so we headed there first. Unfortunately, it didn’t let me get its picture but I was just as stumped as Darwin was when he first came across the duck-billed, beaver-tailed, web footed, egg laying mammal. The males have a highly venomous spike on their hind ankles that could incapacitate a human. Luckily, it isn’t lethal to humans but the proteins in the venom could easily kill smaller animals. They are extremely graceful in the water!
We then made it to an open range of the zoo that housed many of Australia’s endemic land animals. Red kangaroos, wallabies, and emus roamed this part of the zoo freely. Luckily they were all used to the human visitors and didn’t cause too much care that we were passing through. It was amazing to get so close to some of Australia’s unique creatures.
We then moved on to look at a few of Australia’s endangered species. The first one was the helmeted honeyeater. There are less than 150 of these birds in the wild in a small part of central southern Victoria. It was a beautiful bird who’s head looked like it had the Michigan Wolverine football helmet on. The next endangered species we were able to see was the hairy-nosed wombat, a rare sight even for Australians. It, like the common wombat from earlier, was sleeping in its borough.
We moved on in search of the Asian Elephants. We stopped at the Butterfly house along the way. I had a few land on top of my head, but slight movement caused them to fly off. I was surprised to find how large some of the butterflies were! Some of them had a 20+ centimeter wingspan!
The elephants were out in full force and there was a male inside the female enclosure, which could only mean one thing: mating season! The male was more than upfront about his intentions with a few of the females, but they weren’t having any of it! Next, we stopped at the Orangutan exhibit and visited other apes and monkeys until we had to head back up to the gates to meet the students.
The students were lying across the grass, in the shade of trees, and sitting up against the gift shop whenever we arrived. It was obvious that they all were exhausted and eager to get home. I’m glad that they made the most of the zoo experience. They are lucky to have such an experience; I know they don’t come easy back in the US, since field trips are so expensive without some help from other organizations and the government (money has never grown on trees).
The metro station was right across from the zoo so we headed over to take the next one into the city to Southern Cross Station, right next to Etihad Stadium, where I was a couple weekends ago. When we arrived, we headed out to the food court where students walked around to get their dinners.
My intention from that point on was to take the V-Line train to Flinders Street where I would get off to take the Metro to Box Hill for the night. David, the teacher that went with us, who was also staying Melbourne, asked me to join him after we left the students for Linda and Pam to take them home.
David and I got off of the train and left the students in confusion. They had no idea that we weren’t going with them back to Bairnsdale. It was funny getting off the train and waving good-bye to them on the platform as they stared at us with blank faces.
We headed across the street to Young and Jacksons, one of Australias most famous pubs, across from Flinders Street Station, on the corner of Flinders and Swanstons Streets. We ordered a pint of Guinness and headed upstairs to visit Chloe. Chloe, during her long life, has been in the company of Prime Ministers, soldier, sailors, drunks, and many art connoisseurs, but I had never met her! She is the nude woman in an iconic painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, painted in 1875. The painting stands almost three meters tall in the “Chloe Bar” section of the pub. I was very fortunate that David brought me here, and would have never taken the time to visit Chloe on my own. I was introduced to a true Melbourne icon!
After finishing our pints and a nice conversation about travel, we went on our separate ways. I was now off to Box Hill to visit the other David of the weekend, my host’s son. He was throwing a get together at his house to celebrate his birthday. It took me about an hour to get to his house; 35 minutes on the metro, and 25 minutes walking. I arrived and was pooped! I met a couple of his friends and not long into the night, I made my way to bed.
The next morning, I woke up and headed into the city with David and his Canadian housemate, Nate. We took the metro to Flinders Street and walked through Federation Square until we arrived at Moomba, the largest and longest running free festival in Australia. It reminded me a lot of a county or state fair you might find in the Midwest. The only difference, there were people waterskiing in the Yarra River. There were a few "characters," which added to the similarities of a Midwest state fair.
We walked east through the festival along the river until we arrived at Swan Street, which took us across the river. From Swan Street, looking back over the river, we had a clear view of the soccer stadium and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). We were also able to see the tennis courts where the Australian Open took place. There is no doubt that sport is a major part of the Australian culture!
We now headed back west along the river and walked through some more of the festival. This side of the river had the majority of the music stages, where performances were supposedly going on throughout the weekend. We decided to skip through it and walked to Southbank, where the casino was. We walked passed that to South Wharf, and passed the convention center. Getting tired, we decided to head back to Flinders to take the metro home for some rest. I spent the rest of the night in Box Hill to catch up on some sleep and to get ready for the day ahead.
On Sunday, I woke up and took the train into the city to meet David’s family in Southbank at one of the Crown Casino’s restaurants for lunch. We enjoyed a fantastic buffet of seafood, curry, kangaroo skewers, octopus, and desert. There was so much food! There I met David’s grandparents, as well as his brother and sister, and his brother’s girlfriend. I was so grateful to have been included in the family event! I really felt like part of the family!
Once the bloating feeling got a hold of us all, we all left. I left with Domenic and Sheryl back to their hotel with David’s grandparents, who had to take the train home later in the day. In the hotel room, we prepared for our trip to Phillip Island to see the Penguin Parade. I was told to dress warm! I unfortunately didn’t pack any pants and was stuck with what I had.
The drive to Phillip Island was about an hour. Once we arrived at the venue, we were given a private tour of the Penguin burrows along the coast. Many of the burrows had white feathers along the entrances. Some of the birds were still at home and were in their stage of molting, when the feathers are replaced with new ones. We were taken down to the beach were the penguins would be coming up in a few hours to go back home to their nests. We managed to spot a wallaby on the tour and even a pacific gull, one of the penguins predators (not the wallaby since it is an herbivore).
Luckily, since we decided to take the tour as well as seeing the parade, we were able to get priority seating at the front of the seating area facing out to the sea. As we waited for the sun to go down, we watched surfers tear up the waves for a couple hours. We sat waiting for around 2 hours before the penguins arrived. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow any photography because the flashes would impact the penguins’ ability to get back to their nests. I tried to sneak in a few but none of them showed up since it was so dark.
The little penguins (yes, this is the species name), is the smallest species of penguin in the world, and every night when the sun goes down, a number of penguins from the colony in this particular part of Australia can be seen waddling across the beach to make it back to their nests. They choose to go at night because their avian predators are roosting at this particular time and there is less of a chance that birds will be able to see the penguins blue feathers against the light sand color. Under the cover of dark, the penguins emerge from the waters in groups and rush up the beach to get to their nests.
Once the sun had completely gone down, and the temperature had dropped to around 10 degrees centigrade, we could hear the penguins as they arrived on the beach from their fishing trip. We watched as group after group, penguins raced across the beach to get to the dunes. We watched one penguin get separated from its group only to fend for itself across the beach. It took around 20 minutes for the penguin to build up the courage to get to the dunes. It must have either been exhausted from the day or injured, but in the end, it was able to get up to the dunes.
Once we were done watching them along the beach, we headed up to the boardwalks to watch them get to their nests, which were scattered throughout the protected area. It is amazing that they even knew where to go. To me, all the routes looked the same! Truly an amazing sight!
We spend a good hour to hour and a half watching them find their way back to their nests! We then made our way back to the city for the night. We all fell asleep quickly; it was a long day and weekend to that point!
We woke up this morning (Monday, and no, we weren't skipping class, it is Labour Day in Victoria today) around 9:30 and decided to head to St. Kilda, a beach community just south of the city center, for some breakfast. We found a place to park and walked into the shopping strip full of bakeries and cafes. We chose a place to sit and had a great breakfast while watching the people walk by. There were a few characters; that’s for sure!
After breakfast, we decided to have something sweet to wash it down with. The lemon slice in one of the windows looked especially good, so I settled on one of those! We then ventured to the beach and boardwalk. The boardwalk looked over a small marina with the skyline of Melbourne in the background. It was one of the best views I had seen of the city thus far! At the end of the boardwalk, we came across an area where little penguins nested in some of the rocks. Since I wasn’t able to get a great picture the night before, I was anxious to find one amongst the rocks. I found one! It was an adult lying still under a few rocks, just asking to have its picture taken!
We decided to stop one last time before heading back to Bairnsdale. We traveled a little farther south to Brighton, a small, exclusive community famous for the beach huts along one of the beaches. We had to stop so I could see them. The huts sell for as much at $50,000. I decided it was $49,000 too much when I saw them. They were smaller than the size of a bathroom and were right on top of one another. They were built in the 19th century to allow people to change on the beach with some privacy. Since then, they have been bought and sold as property and some have fetched quite a bit of money! They all looked the same except for the exterior painting. They were all painted different colors, and many of them had themes painted on them. One of the huts was an Australian flag, another had flowers, and another had beach balls across the front.
I was surprised that they were worth as much as they were, especially after seeing the beach that they were situated on! The beach was littered with seashells and there were quite a few rocks only meters from the shoreline. If you asked me, the beach wasn’t as nice as the one in St. Kilda. If I owned one of the huts, I would move it up the coast to finer sand and better waters!
After some shell collecting and a few more pictures, it was time to head back to Bairnsdale. I spent some of the drive sleeping and some of it worrying about the laundry that I had to do when I got back. I was also thinking about this post and wondering what I wanted to add. Unfortunately, I am only able to give a brief account of my adventures for the weekend but I will come back to this post at a later time to add some more insight and thought of my experiences! I will post my pictures at some point tomorrow when I have some more time too.
I wish I had more time to write, but I have to get up early for school tomorrow for curriculum deliberations. I will also need to take my clothes down in the morning, since I am out of shorts! It is supposed to be in the low 30s tomorrow...a little warm if you ask me, considering the weather this weekend was in the low 20s!