Tag Archives: photography

Australian Wildlife Up Close

21 Sep

The week before I flew back to the states in June, my boyfriend and I had one last road trip from Mackay to Cape Tribulation where the Daintree, the world’s oldest rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef meet. We stopped at quirky tourist attractions along the way: ordering mango shakes at the Big Mango, stopping for free cheese and yogurt tastings at the Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy, strolling along the Mamu Rainforest canopy walkway and running as fast as we could to see the train as it passed through the Barron Gorge in the Kuranda rainforest village.

My favorite detour, however, was the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville. I was leaving Australia and hadn’t seen a koala yet so I begged my boyfriend to pull over when we saw the giant billboard indicating that the sanctuary was only a few kilometers away. He wasn’t interested in going because growing up in Australia provided him with countless run-ins with kangaroos, crocodiles, koalas, dingoes, cassowaries and other exotic birds, so while he had a ‘lay down’ in the van, I ventured into the park, giddy as a schoolgirl, with my camera in tow and some change to buy animal feed.

Once inside I rushed to catch the last few minutes of the croc show and was shocked to find kangaroos wandering everywhere! Not only were there mamas, papas and joeys all around me, but they were incredibly social and persistent. I would stop to feed one kangaroo and then four would surround me, stand on their back legs and shove their way through.

At one point I had three roos eating out of my hand and my heart completely dropped. Time stood still. I’d been in Australia for three months and admired these animals from afar and just as I was about to leave the country I was face to face with them, locked in a cathartic farewell.

I meditated on the experience. I read all the educational signs, I watched the croc, bird and snake shows. I stood in the background as families got their pictures taken with koalas, living vicariously through them. I took videos of my conversations with birds and practically laid on the ground to film a joey making his way out of his mama’s pouch.

On principle I don’t really like going to zoos. It depresses me to see caged wild animals and the thousands of tourists that keep their captivity in demand. But the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary is not a zoo. It comprises 25 acres of bushland, is a certified advanced ecotourism destination and is not overrun by tourists. In the center of the park is a lake, which the birds love to fly over, and the animals, with the exception of the wallabies, kangaroos and ducks who roam free, are kept in spacious, fairly open habitats.

The wildlife sanctuary feels like just that – a sanctuary, and you can easily get lost in the experience of connecting with these animals while spending the day learning about them. If you want to experience Australian wildlife up close, I suggest skipping the overpriced and limiting zoos and spending the day at a sanctuary instead.

For more information on the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary in Townsville, visit their website here.

What To Do Before Heading Overseas

18 Jul
Otres Beach, Cambodia

Otres Beach, Cambodia

Whether you’re traveling abroad for a week or a year, trip preparation is essential and can save you from many inconveniences once on the road. Here are some of the things I gratefully did, or wanted to kick myself for not doing, on my last trip:

1) Research Recommended Travel Vaccinations

Finding yourself in the depths of an Indonesian jungle wondering whether you have the right vaccines to protect yourself from the strange bug bite swelling up on your arm is not an ideal travel situation. Visit a travel clinic, with your childhood vaccination records in hand, a few months before your departure date for expert advice and up-to-date health information about the countries you’ll be visiting.

Some vaccines, such as hepatitis A and B, are administered in a series over several months and preventive drugs, such as antimalarials, are typically started a month before you even reach your destination so this is the one area where you really shouldn’t procrastinate.

Find out which countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival and where malaria is most prevalent on the Center for Disease Control’s Travelers’ Health website.

2) Sign Up for Frequent Flyer Programs Before You Book Your Flight

Some programs require membership enrollment before your flight ever leaves the ground to redeem frequent flyer miles and others make requesting miles such a rabbit chase you’ll wonder why you even bothered.

Your best bet is to sign up for free airline partner programs such as Star Alliance, Skyteam and the oneworld Alliance, which allow you to earn miles through their affiliated airlines. Also, remember to save your boarding passes to redeem your miles after the flight is over!

3) Create a Rough Itinerary

Don’t plan your trip down the day because it doesn’t leave any room for spontaneity. There’s no way of knowing who you’ll meet or where you’re supposed to end up. Have a general idea of the places you definitely want to see and the things you’ll be sorry if you don’t do, but leave the rest of your schedule open.

It’s wise to book your first night’s accommodation beforehand, especially if you’re arriving late, but don’t forget to consult your fellow travelers for advice on where to stay and which city to go to next. I didn’t plan much for my 6-month-long Southeast Asian adventure and relied on my instincts, whim and the suggestions of others to get around. My “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring” guidebook rarely left my bag and as I looked around at all the people on the same buses as me, reading their Lonely Planets like they were bibles and meticulously highlighting each place they would go to next, I smiled to myself as I read my novel and listened to my favorite music. The unplanned route isn’t for everyone, but it felt more authentic to me.

3) Organize Your Electronics

Create your playlists, load up your kindle and organize your external hard-drive a few weeks before you leave. If you think you’re going to want to delete files on your laptop to accommodate all your new photos during your trip, when you could be staring out a train window contemplating your existence or socializing with that cute Swedish guy, you’re kidding yourself.

Make your bedtime playlists (for those nights when you’ve got a snorer in your hostel dorm), party playlists (for those half-drunken music discussions with your new international friends) and downtime playlists (for the aforementioned bus rides) beforehand, and with care. I brought two iPods and an iPhone on my trip. I ended up losing one iPod on a night train in Thailand and didn’t realize the majority of my music files were missing from my external hard-drive until I was abroad, so I was stuck with the music I had. And I’m sure we’ve all overplayed a favorite song or two… it takes a while for those to feel fresh again.

Have everything running smoothly so your devices enhance your travel experience rather than take you out of the moment you should be in.

My office for the day in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

4) Bring an External Hard-drive

I know I just mentioned this in the last one but, do it – really. You can use your external hard-drive to back up your photos from your trip and you can store all the music your heart desires, including pre-made playlists so you never have to suffer through if-i-hear-this-song-one-more-time-itis.

And never underestimate how many instances you’ll want to swap music and movies with your new international friends. Bring an external hard-drive, keep it separate from your laptop and camera, and if, by some stroke of awful luck, either of the two are lost or stolen you’ll have a backup.

5) Carry a Small Notebook

I highly recommend bringing a pocket-sized notebook and carrying it on you at all times. Store all your friends’ and family’s addresses inside for quick reference when writing postcards on the go and have it ready when your bartender suggests you visit that secret beach on the other side of the island. At the end of your trip, the notebook will also act as the perfect travel memento, chronicling your trip’s progression with funny hand-drawn maps and the email addresses of all the wonderful people you’ve met.

A Vietnamese neighbor started reading my journal upside down.

6) Pack One Week Before You Leave

Get all your necessary shopping done at least a week before you leave. Then get packing. Spend those days before your departure deliberating over what you really need. Take out what is just going to weigh you down (do you really need three pairs of shoes?) and put back the things know you use often and wouldn’t want to have to hunt down and buy on the road.

I never do this. No matter how many times I’ve done it in the past and immediately regretted it, I leave my packing to the night before my flight. Every time I get to my new destination I curse myself for forgetting those few items that should have been so obvious to pack at the time. Give yourself the time to take your packing seriously or you’ll end up lugging around things you hardly use or having to buy expensive foreign versions of what you do need. (No one told me sunscreen would be so expensive in Asia!)

Download the packing checklist by “go-light guru” Doug Dymet at OneBag.com to use as a reference point.

7) Go For a Test-Run

Once your bag is packed test it a few days before you leave. Make sure the zippers are where you need them to be and the weight isn’t going to break your back an hour after carrying it. See if everything is easy to get to but secure and remember this is the bag you’ll be carrying for the duration of your trip. If it isn’t comfortable and functional consider exchanging it for another bag before you go.

Also, check that your day bag or purse doesn’t scream “take me, take me!” Sometimes an older, less flashy school backpack is better than a fancy new one. I’ve also known people to purposely distress new backpacks, including sticking some duck-tape on it, to ward off pickpockets.  And don’t forget to break in your shoes to avoid nasty blisters once on the road. There’s nothing worse than having a raw blister while wearing new shoes that seem to stab it with every step.

Happy travels!

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