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Happy Zoo Lover’s Day!! Yep, I guess there is a day for everything.
If you, like me, love zoos, I definitely recommend you visit the Melbourne Zoo in Australia at some point. The Melbourne Zoo is not only beautiful, but it is recognized for having great animal conservation programs (for local and international species).
One of its highest achievements is it’s Platypusary (yes, it’s a real word!), in which they conserve, protect, and help reproduce one of Australia’s most peculiar animals: the Platypus!
During my last visit to the Mayan Riviera in March 2012, I also took a day to go back to Xcaret Eco Park. I have been to the park three times as well, and really enjoy it.
Before we begin, yes, the park is pricey. The entry fee of US$79 is a little steep, especially considering you will spend even more money once you are inside (mainly on food and drinks, as it is not an ‘all-inclusive’ deal). Once you are inside however, you’ll be entertained for an entire day, with a full size zoo/aquarium housing local fauna, two underground river systems in which you can snorkel, and a variety of cultural shows throughout the day.
Most impressive is the ‘Xcaret Mexico Espectacular’ show, which showcases a musical-like story of Mexico, from pre-hispanic time traditions, to post-hispanic music and traditions, complete with traditional clothing, costumes, music and dances from different states around Mexico. The show itself is almost worth the entire entry fee (by North American standard prices, at any rate).
There are lovers and there are haters, but I do recommend you visit the park at least on your first visit to Mexico. For most travellers visiting in ‘all-inclusive’ packages, this is as close as you’ll get to see the culture of Mexico, so it’s well worth the trip!
As for me, been there, done that (multiple times now), and I won’t be going to Xcaret again this year when I visit Playa del Carmen in April; that’s simply because I just went last year, and I know US$79 can get me very far in Mexico!
Kitsilano, a neighbourhood located across False Creek south of Vancouver’s downtown core, is home to Vanier Park.
I only discovered Vanier Park in 2012, after returning from Australia (despite having lived in Vancouver for 14 years now!). I always saw the park across the harbour from Sunset Beach in downtown, but never actually made the track over.
As I took biking as a hobby last summer, I visited Vanier a few times over the summer, and got to really fall in love with it. While there isn’t a beach in Vainer Park, the park has a huge grass area perfect for playing sports, having picnics, or simply hanging out. The park also has amazing views of downtown Vancouver, and is home to some pretty cool museums, such as the Vancouver Space Centre, the Maritime Museum, and the Museum of Vancouver.
The park can easily be reached from downtown via a ferry from Yaletown right into the park, or by walking / biking along the False Creek seawall!
Below are some pictures I took during some of my adventures over to Vanier, so you can see why this park kind of stole my heart.
One of Vancouver’s top outdoor attractions is its famous Seawall. The best part of this attraction is that it is free and highly entertaining!
What started as a 7km walking / biking path around the perimeter of Stanley Park, has now extended to surround most of Downtown Vancouver, and extends from Canada Place, around the world-famous Stanley park, and all the way to the Southern neighbourhood of Kitsilano.
The 22km Seawall offers beautiful views of the waterfront and many different parts of the city, from the Central Business Area to fancy neighbourhoods, Vancouver’s chilled-out West End, parks and beaches. The scenery is so varied and beautiful, and can be enjoyed on walks, jogs, roller blades or bikes.
After visiting Mt. Field National Park during my last day in Tasmania, we made a stop at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located less than a half-hour drive from the Hobart Central Business District.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary takes in injured and orphaned wildlife and nurtures them to health to either be released back into the wild, or kept in the sanctuary for educational purposes. There is a nominal fee to enter the park, and it’s well worth it for visitors.]
At the Sanctuary, I was able to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies (something I’ve done before in Kuranda Village), pet koalas, and see other endemic Aussie wildlife such as echidnas and wombats. More importantly, you can see and learn about Tassie’s very own Tasmanian Devils!
The Tasmanian Devils are adorable (although seeing them chomp of chopped-up wallaby parts wasn’t too cute, as you’d expect). During my visit there was a mom with three babies that had been bred on-site – this is a great advance, as the number of these cool little guys in the wild has been deteriorating steadily over the past few decades.
If you like nature or are an animal fanatic, I recommend a visit to the Wildlife Sanctuary, as it is a very fun and educational experience!
On my third day in Tasmania, I went on a final day-long tour that explored Mt. Field National Park, a great nature reserve about an hour’s drive from the city of Hobart.
Mt. Field National Park is beautiful in its range of environments. Opposed to Freycinet National Park, on the Northeast coast of Tasmania, Mt. Field doesn’t have a coast line nor beaches. Yet, the landscapes of Mt. Field are still very varied, ranging from lush temperate rain forests at the base of the mountain to alpine regions in higher elevations.
Due to changing climates within the park, visitors can experience lush fern and eucalyptus forests (including some of the tallest trees in the world!), as well as crisp alpine areas where vegetation is very scarce, due to the cold.
Make sure you have a jacket handy when you visit: while the rain forests down below were warm and muggy, the higher areas reached 5 degrees Celsius even in the height of summer, when I visited!
Beautiful waterfalls, secluded hikes, lakes, and dense forests are plenty in Mt. Field National Park. We didn’t get to see any wildlife, but apparently wombats and platypuses are often seen in the wild in this park!
My first excursion out of Hobart to explore Tasmania was a day trip to the island’s famous Freycinet National Park.
Located on the Northeastern coast of Tasmania, Freycinet National Park contains scenery not seen anywhere else in Australia, including pink and red granite mountains, white sand beaches, and dense eucalyptus forests.
The natural setting of Freycinet is gorgeous. The Hazards, a chain of pink granite mountains, offer a great backdrop past the sea, and can also be hiked to see some beautiful views of wineglass bay from a lookout on top. Down below, Wineglass Bay (named after its shape), has often been called one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Orange granite beaches and hills in places like Honeymoon Bay or Sleepy Bay are also beautiful, and much different from the idyllic white-sand Friendly Beaches, which stretch for kilometres along the clear turquoise sea.
The weather during my visit was unusually cloudy, but despite the lack of sunshine the scenery in the park was no less stunning. The cloudy weather made our hikes a little less sweaty, and the sea was still warm enough for swimming.
If there is one spot in Tasmania I wish I had spent more time in, it’s definitely Freycinet. But words are not enough to describe its beauty, so how about some pictures of the varied environments of this National Park?
Sydney is home to some incredible parks, with the most beautiful being those found around Sydney’s Harbours. These are some of my favourite parks and green spaces within the city and its inner suburbs:
Sydney’s Hyde Park, which happens to be Australia’s first public park, is located in the middle of the Central Business District (CBD), as opposed to being on the shore. This is perhaps what makes it so interesting: it is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle. My office was a five-minute walk from Hyde Park, so I often joined hundreds of other city workers for picnic lunches in Hyde Park.
Park Street crosses through the middle of Hyde Park, dividing the park into two roughly equal parts. A beautiful fountain which is the main landmark of the park, Archibald Fountain, is located in the northern part of Hyde Park. On the southern end, the Sydney ANZAC memorial stands behind a man-made pond known as ‘The Lake of Remembrance.’
Hyde Park has beautiful landscaped flower gardens and about 600 trees. The park has wide open tree-lined avenues which are often used for art exhibits and events. Hyde Park also hosts various special festivals in its grounds, such as the Sydney Night Noodle Market, concerts, and events for the annual Sydney Festival.
THE DOMAIN + ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
The large open area on the eastern edge of the Sydney CBD is knows as The Domain. This space hosts a variety of large music festivals, concerts and seasonal events throughout the year, and is also frequented as a popular hang out. The Domain has beautiful views of the Sydney skyline and the Sydney Harbour, and is a popular hang out for locals.
The Domain connects the city’s CBD with the beautiful Woolloomooloo Bay, and the suburb by the same name. A popular pool in which I spent some of my free mornings, the Andrew “Boy” Charlton Pool is located on the eastern side of the Domain, and offers great views of this scenic bay. The southeastern side of The Domain is home to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Adjoining to The Domain are the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. These gardens are located sea-side on farm cove, close to the Sydney Opera House. The Botanic Gardens house a variety of endemic Australian plants, which are landscaped around the grounds in beautiful surroundings, complete with ponds and art statues.
A large colony of over 22,000 flying foxes (giant fruit bats) makes its home in the Royal Botanic Gardens. While endemic to the area, the bats are blamed for killing dozens of trees in the park, and are so considered a bit of a pest. You will get an impressive sight if you find yourself near the gardens at dusk, when thousands of these flying foxes take flight!
BRADFIELD PARK + LUNA PARK
During the time I spent in Sydney, I only visited Bradfield Park once, and it is a shame. Located on the north side of Sydney Harbour, Bradfield Park offers incredible views of the Sydney skyline and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from across the Harbour.
Next door is the famous Luna Park amusement park. Again, I only ever visited Luna Park once, before leaving Sydney, and happened to do so on a day when the park closed early, so I was unable to go on any of the rides!
RUSHCUTTERS BAY PARK
Located in the eastern inner-city suburb of Rushcutters Bay, this large park offers wide open spaces and paths for jogging and playing sports. There is also a sea-side walkway perfect for a morning stroll. Private yachts in the bay make for beautiful views from the park. This place is perfect for a picnic or for a lazy day spent tanning and reading, when going all the way to one of Sydney’s beaches seems too long!
BEARE PARK and ARTHUR McELHONE RESERVE
Beare Park is a small pubic green space in the suburb of Elizabeth Bay, 3km from the CBD. This park was only a 5-minute walk from my place, so it wear one of my favourite hangouts on my days off, and great for picnics or casual drinks with friends. The seaside park is most popular with locals, but is easily accessible from many of the hotels in the area.
The smaller Arthur McElhone Reserve is a mere 3 minute walk from Beare Park. This green space is even smaller and off the coast but offers some beautiful views of Elizabeth Bay from higher up. The main highlight of this small park is a koi pond complete with small waterfalls. This tiny hidden park is the true definition of zen.
Other great parks are found around Sydney’s popular beaches. To read more about these areas, please read the Sydney, Australia: Beautiful Beaches post!
Safety first! Although the water bodies in Kakadu National Park are thoroughly searched for crocodiles for weeks before they are open to the public after the wet season, the park authorities continue to advise that swimming is at your own risk!
After going on the Jumping Croc Cruise near Darwin, on our way to Kakadu, and seeing the salvage nature of these creatures, I was a little scared every time I jumped into a lake or river in the park.
My trick: wait until everyone else with me was in the water, before jumping in. Unless a croc really had it in for me, it’d probably snatch one of the others before I even entered the water, and being its meal was a lower risk!
That comment just made me sound either very morbid, or very smart…
Now, THAT’S a termite mound, if I ever saw one!
The cathedral termite mounds in Kakadu National Park can grow to immense heights (For reference, I am 183cm / 6’0″).
It is estimated that a mound this big, has been ‘under construction’ by cathedral termites for over a period of at least a century. The mounds are made from a mixture of clay, glued together with termite saliva and excrement.
The mounds, each which acts as a termite city in its own, will house generations and generations of termites for over a hundred years. They are so strong that they can survive bush fires and floods with the changing seasons of the Northern Territory of Australia.
As mentioned in my Kakadu National Park, Australia post, one of the highlights of my June 2011 visit to the park was licking an ant’s butt. Bet you thought I was kidding… well guess, what? I wasn’t!
These friendly green ants (well, friendly until they bite you in defence, as you hold them tight and try to put their little round butts on your tongue!) secrete a liquid out of their nether regions, which they use to mark their path so their ant friends can follow them.
Well, it turns out this liquid has a surprisingly peculiar citrus-y flavour, reminiscent of lemon, but sweeter, and way more intense.
At first I was a little grossed out by the prospect of tasting an ants butt… then I figured, if I didn’t do it, I’d likely regret it (and let’s face it, I’ve done worse things than that, like eating whole crickets and silk worms, and all sorts of weird animals, so… would a little butt-tasting really hurt?).
The liquid is not part of the ant’s digestive system, it is a sterile acid, which is perfectly safe to.. um… lick…. you know, off of the ant’s butt. The strong citrus flavour is actually enjoyable, surprisingly.
And if you ever find yourself with the chance to try this, just think: how many of your friends can say they’ve licked an ant’s butt? Yep, you’re likely the first.
Have you licked an ant’s butt yet?
There are only footprints left behind, as we make our way through the drying grass of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.
I visited Kakadu in June 2011 and it was one of my favourite experiences travelling in Australia (yes, you might hear me say that a lot… what can I say, Australia is an awesome country!).
During my visit we took long hikes, sometimes close to an hour, often uphill, and usually on uneven terrain. The reward: a swimmable water body at the end of our path, where our group of eight was absolutely secluded, in complete unison with nature. This is the stuff that memories are made of.
During my June 2011 stay in Darwin, the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, I took a side trip to go on a multi-day trip to Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu has been recognized as a World Heritage Area, due to its extensive aboriginal history (past and present), beautiful geographical features, and an array of natural environments, complete with an extensive flora and fauna.
+The floods have subsided, and most swimming holes have been checked for (and cleared of) crocodiles, so it is safe to swim… although the park will always warn that you do so at your own risk!
+In the earlier part of the dry season, the streams still have enough water for continuous flow; as the season progresses the water flow stops, and the water holes become stagnant.
+No rain. Which is awesome if you, like me, come from a rainy place! Being able to walk around without a rain jacket or umbrella is great. Also, this allowed us to sleep out in an uncovered mesh tent, with an incredible view of the stars right from our sleeping bags.
It is not all fun and games though; later on in the dry season, some popular billabongs and waterfalls open up; during the time I visited, they were still closed due to high-water levels (again, others that later on would be stagnant and ugly were in their prime during my visit, so I guess it is all about a trade-off).
Also, our visit to Kakadu coincided with the season where Aboriginal residents of the park purposefully perform controlled bush fires to prevent accidental ones that get out of control. Because of the multiple fires going around, the sky was hazy during my visit, with the district smell of burnt grass everywhere we went.
Kakadu Dreams Tour
I went to Kakadu with a tour company called Kakadu Dreams, which specializes on small-group, adventure tours that are meant to be informative, yet casual. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable about the area, including the history of the aboriginal people, as well as plants and animals found at the park.
At first, I will admit I was skeptical about joining with this specific tour company, simply because all of the Kakadu Dreams brochures are full of pictures of people who seem to belong more on a party-bus tour, which is exactly the opposite of the way I like to travel. Weird, I know, and a little diva-like… but I didn’t want to fork out AUD$350 for a tour full of people I wouldn’t enjoy spending two full days with.
Every other tour company was sold out or did not offer tours for the dates I had available. Deciding that I could not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to see Kakadu (which happened to be my main motivation to visit the Northern Territory in the first place!), I reluctantly booked my tour.
As soon as I was picked up at my hostel, and met the tour guide and the group of people who would join me in the tour, I realized that my anxieties had been unfounded. The group was freaking awesome.
As mentioned earlier, our tour guide made the best of the tour by sharing his very extensive knowledge about everything that we encountered in the park.
The rest of the group (we were eight altogether, including the guide) were people who, like me, wanted to really experience the beauty and the nature of the Northern Territory, and learn about Kakadu; therefore, our experience ended up being an amazing time.
Our first day consisted of various hikes around the area, seeing the famous Aboriginal rock art, and visiting the incredibly BIG termite mounds.
That evening we sat around a fire, eating a kangaroo stir fry and having drinks, sharing stories, and even learning how to play some notes on the Australian didgeridoo, an indigenous wind instrument, before going to bed. Our accommodation for the night: mesh tents which kept the insects (and snakes… maybe even dingoes?) out, but allowed us to see the stars illuminating the night sky. What a view! … With not much civilization around for thousands of kilometres, there are no lights to pollute the incredibly dark sky, making even the furthest stars shine brightly.
The second day started early (like, 5am early), with our guide waking us up with the sound of the didgeridoo blowing in our ears. This second day we also went on various hikes, but also included visits to multiple swimming holes to enjoy the fresh water. The rush of jumping into the potentially crocodile infested waterways is terrifying (especially after being traumatized by their existence in the Jumping Croc Cruise the day before!), but these have got to be some of the most beautiful natural pools in the world.
During the tour, we spent a lot of time conversing during the long drives from point to point in the park, connecting over stories in front of the fire at night, and getting to know each other while hiking and swimming. By the end of the tour, we had become quite friendly, and it was sad to say goodbye.
Kakadu National Park is quite impressive. Highlights included: seeing Aboriginal rock art that is thousands of years old, hiking through beautiful natural environments, termite mounds that are over twice my size, licking a citrus-flavoured ant’s butt (no joke!), and swimming in the various water holes we visited!
Located in the Northern Territory of Australia, about a three-hour drive from the city of Darwin, is Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu National Park, recognized as a World Heritage Area, covers an area of almost 20,000 sq km. Kakadu is one of Australia’s most valued parks, due to its significant aboriginal history, a natural environment supporting a variety of different ecosystems, and an abundance of endemic flora and fauna.
Welcome to Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia!