Monday, June 25, 2012


While some places are littered with garbage, Australia is littered with wildlife parks.  Seriously.  Everywhere you go, you’ll turn a corner and “BAM!” – another wildlife park just hit you in the face.  Or you’ll walk down a street and take a wrong step and “AHH SHIT!” – you just got wildlife park all over your shoe.  Wildlife parks are to Australia was Starbucks is to Seattle – at least 2 per corner.

I visited Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary while in Tasmania (it was one of the many that we passed by on our road trip), and my experience there learning about the Australian animals and getting to actually interact with them was something that a big zoo or tacky tourist trap of a wildlife park in the city just couldn’t offer.  When Della & Eric came to visit, I thought it would be nice to find something similar.  Jessica & Guy came in with a great solution:  Featherdale!

Featherdale Wildlife Park sits in the outer suburbs of Sydney – about an hour drive from the city centre.  While it wasn’t nearly as intimate or as educational as Bonorong was, it was a lot larger and had nearly every Aussie animal you can think of.  It was the perfect place to take out of town visitors and might have to have a permanent place on my tour guide itinerary.

There was just so much, I don’t even know where to begin.  But I guess I’ll begin with one of our iconic animals:  the koala.

They had dozens of koalas!  And I even saw a koala breastfeeding!  And I got a video of the koala breastfeeding!  And I was going to post it but then I thought that you might think that was creepy.  So I won’t post it.  Geez.

Looking for something that does less sleeping and more hopping?  Let’s start small.  You wouldn’t believe what they had – my favourite Aussie animal – OMG – tiny little quokkas!!!

I blogged about these little charmers after I saw them on Rottnest Island near Perth.  There were also slightly larger pademelons:

And of course wallabies of all different shapes, sizes, and even some with crazy patterns and colorings.

We even got to feed the lil buggers… though they weren’t all that eager.  It must have been a busy day…

The hoppers got bigger and bigger as we rounded the park.  And then I saw it.  The kangaroos of all kangaroos:  the ALBINO kangaroo!

And I got to feed him and I got to pet him and god came down from the heavens and shone his rays of light on this holy experience!

Then, there were the birds.  Lots of birds.  Starting small with a whole heap of kookaburras:

But then jumping dramatically in size to this meter high pelican.  Fuck that’s sorta scary.  It could probably pick up a small whale with that beak.

For something even scarier, try the cassowary:

The park has more cassowaries than I could count.  There had to have been three dozen or so.  I’m not even sure there are that many in the wild – insane!  Now the only thing bigger than a cassowary is this very long-necked emu.

I think he wants to tell me something.

There a petting zoo area where I ran into these creatures:


And there were also fluffy chickens.  Super fluffy chickens.  I don’t know why.  But they must have just come out of the washer and dryer.

And it was Jessica’s lifelong dream to hold one of the fluffy chickens and pose for a photo.  And so it was done.  And she was just glowing for the rest of the day!

The park also had a bunch of other staple Australian animals:  Tasmanian devils, snakes, bats, little penguins, and the world’s saddest looking wombat.  I felt bad for it.  They also had displays for echidnas and bilbies, but we couldn’t spot them in their enclosures.  Really the only thing they were missing was a platypus.  This park (nearly) had it all!

And you know what else it had?  It had a peacock.

Because every zoo or wildlife park has to have a peacock.  It must be some sort of international requirement.

Friday, June 22, 2012

All About Della & Eric

The past few weeks were very special weeks here in Australia because they were the weeks that Della & Eric came to visit me!  Della and Eric and I all met at university in Houston in 2001.  At some point during their visit we realized that we’ve all been friends for nearly 11 years.  And then we felt old.

Now, I love playing tour guide even more than I despise children – and that’s a lot – so I was super stoked to get to show Della and Eric around my new city.  I don’t want to brag, but I think I’m a pretty awesome tour guide, and I probably did better than most Aussies could have at giving Della and Eric the true blue Aussie experience.  Plus, I love showing off, and it’s easy to impress travellers in Sydney.  Della and Eric flew all the way from landlocked Colorado so I knew I had to get them out to the water as much as possible.  Little did I know that Mother Nature was going to be a complete bitch for most of their stay in Sydney and rain as much as possible.  Ugh.

But just like the postal service, a little bit of rain wasn’t going to get in my way.  I was determined to be the host with the most, so off we went to see the sights.  On day 1 we did a walking tour of the city including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and we also popped by Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in The Domain (in the rain):

The next day we braved the Bondi – Coogee coastal walk… in the rain:

For a bit of culture, I took these American football enthusiasts to a rugby league game to show them how real men play (without any pads).  Luckily, our seats were covered because, again, it was raining.

And for a bit of history, we went to the convict-built Hyde Park Barracks (also in the rain).  Right around the corner from my house (literally a 5 minute walk), I had walked by the Hyde Park Barracks dozens, probably hundreds of times at this point, but had never gone in.  Having guests in town was the perfect excuse to check out something new for myself!

Speaking of things new to me, right across the street from my apartment sits the Australian Museum.  Despite it being about a 30 second walk from my front door, I had never actually gone inside there either.  So, when we awoke one morning to find it raining yet again, we spent a lovely four hours inside!  We actually could have used another hour or two…

Now, the sun did come out on two of Della & Eric’s seven full days in Sydney, and I was determined to use those days to get even more new stuff in for me too.  With a lift from the lovely Guy & Jessica, I took my visitors to Featherdale Wildlife Park to see some Australian wildlife!

I also took them to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and we ended up doing a hike that I had never done before.  It was a shortish hike to a place called America Bay.  Appropriate for us, I suppose.  There was a waterfall at the end and a stunning view of the sun going down over Broken Bay.  It was an amazing find and is now on the list permanently for all visitors to Sydney.

Another first was a short hike near Dee Why beach.  I hadn’t actually seen Dee Why in daylight, so I called up locals Sanja and Neil to guide us to brunch and a little exploration.

Of course there was the famous ferry to Manly.  It’s always a treat to be on the harbour on a beautiful day!

And a trip up to my favourite beach:  Palm Beach!

Finally, for a taste of Sydney’s cultural side, I took my mates to Vivid to see the lights… twice!

Now, the time that we spent not seeing the sights was pretty much filled up with food.  Lots of food.  As usual for me.  As is customary, I introduced Della and Eric to Vegemite:

And of course TimTams!

We went to the Australian Hotel on day 1 for some Aussie beer…

And some kangaroo and crocodile pizzas!

I took them to my favourite little breakfast café with the cute baristas:

And my favourite restaurant for dinner on their last night – Fratelli Fresh!

Just when it couldn’t get any better, I offered up a happy ending of intense pleasure that lasted even longer… with a Magnum bar of course!

And to top it all off, I even sent them off to Alice Springs and Uluru one week when I was at work and up to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef the other week that I was at work.  Now tell me that isn’t the true blue Aussie experience?  If there was an Academy Award for what I do, I’d totally be the Meryl Streep of tour guides.

So, who’s visiting next?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reality Check

The amount of reality shows on Australian television is staggering.  The amount of those reality shows that are really bad is… almost equally as staggering.

Australia broadcasts a lot of the American reality TV shows, and they also broadcast a lot of the British reality TV shows, and then they also make versions of their own.   There’s pretty much a version of everything:  The Apprentice Australia, So You Think You Can Dance Australia, Big Brother Australia, Amazing Race Australia, The Biggest Loser Australia, Australia’s Next Top Model, Beauty and the Geek Australia, and even a Project Runway Australia.  The problem is:  Australia has a relatively small population and a relatively high number of reality TV shows.  By my very scientific estimates, every single Australian citizen will have starred in at least one reality TV show by April 2015.  This lack of population also means a smaller talent pool.  While that might not be so easy to see on the above shows, it definitely reveals that reality in others.

Let’s take singing for example.  Now, if you can sing, you can go on Australia’s Got Talent, or even better, Australian Idol.  Now, if Idol is too out-dated for you, you can try for X Factor Australia.  And if that’s too clichĂ© or some shit like that, how about The Voice Australia?  There’s a plethora of options.  Only problem:  there’s not a plethora of talent.  Now, I can’t sing to save my life, but I can usually tell when someone else can or can’t.  Being religious about American Idol has spoiled me for years – big voices like Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood all came off of American Idol – and their performances on the show were sometimes incredible.  I still remember when Carrie Underwood sang Heart’s “Alone” – shivers.  Or when Fantasia Barrino sang “Summertime” – they should have changed her name to Fantastic Barrino.  But that doesn’t happen here.  The judges on these shows continually praise the contestants for performances that would have been better placed in a karaoke bar on a cruise ship.  A low budget cruise ship.  I have now watched my fair share of X Factor Australia and The Voice Australia and I’ve yet to hear one singer blow me away like at least one person did on nearly every episode of American Idol.  Actually, I’ve barely heard any singers that I thought were good.  In fact, I’d say 95% of the songs I’ve heard have actually been so bad that they’re offensive.  What would Simon Cowell do if he was one of the judges?

There would be blood.

Don’t fret now, singers.  You still have a career!  If you manage to use your mediocre voice to land a spot on X Factor Australia and then use your good looks and sex appeal to make it all the way to third place, then you’ll pretty much be guaranteed another TV spot like on Dancing With The Stars Australia.  That is exactly what happened to Johnny Ruffo.

Yes, he actually sang with his shirt off one time just to get votes from the mass of teenage girls and gay boys watching.  The amazing thing is:  he was the ONLY star that I had actually heard of!   I didn’t know any of the other celebrities.  My further research revealed that Johnny wasn’t the only previous singing contest turned “celebrity” dancer.  The runner-up from the first season of Australian Idol was also a contestant this year.  That season of American Idol aired… way back in 2003.  If you can’t dance but are still quasi famous, you may end up on The Celebrity Apprentice Australia or Excess Baggage – which is a celebrity version of The Biggest Loser.  David Hasselhoff was one of the contestants on The Celebrity Apprentice and he’s not even Australian!  And you can’t even guess who the biggest celebrity was on Excess Baggage.  Another non-Australian.

Kevin Federline.  WTF?

Now, for those of you who are keen on the traditional dating reality TV shows, you haven’t been forgotten.  The Farmer Wants a Wife is Australia’s answer to The Bachelor.  The Farmer Wants a Wife actually started as a British show and they even did a trial of it in America but it didn’t last.  A farmer competes for the hand of one of a group of city women.  And for some reason, one farmer isn’t enough.  So, the show follows SEVEN farmers – each with their own group of women.  That requires the entire population of Adelaide to cast.  And if you want something trashier, then go for Please Marry My Boy.  It’s sort of like MTV’s Date My Mom, but ever so slightly less trashier (though every bit as entertaining).  A mom chooses several women to date her grown son who still lives at home.  So, basically, an overbearing old bag lures in vulnerable, lonely women to date their loser offspring.  Did I also mention one of the mom’s was a crazy Serbian lady who liked to yell at all the girls who weren’t the one Serbian girl who signed up for the show?  God I wanted to smack her.  And thank her.  For making me feel better about myself.

Home renovation shows are all the rage – as exhibited by the success of The Renovators and The Block – where amateur people like you or me (ok, maybe not me) – have to renovate homes for prizes and such.  But my favourites are the cooking shows!  MasterChef Australia is big here, and there are quite a few good cooks, and I love looking at food, so I tend to get sucked in.  As with most Aussie shows, the budget is a bit less than in America, so some of the challenges aren’t that exciting.  I remember when Top Chef did an episode where the contestants had to cook airplane food for Continental Airlines.  That was out there!  They don’t do anything that out there here.

But they did sort of come close…

Even better than MasterChef Australia is My Kitchen Rules!  Twelve pairs of amateur chefs from all over Australia and New Zealand compete in cooking contest after cooking contest for the $250,000 grand prize.  MKR, as it is lovingly referred to, actually had some pretty neat challenges – like having to cook street food for the lunch rush in the Melbourne CBD (downtown) and having to cook in the little kitchen in the back of an RV for a big fair in some podunk town in the middle of nowhere Queensland.  Not bad.  Not the big airplane food challenge, but not bad.  The only problem:  MKR was sometimes on up to 5 NIGHTS PER WEEK.  Are they insane?  How much time can people devote to watching this?  And it’s not just MKR – many of the Aussie reality shows are on multiple nights per week.  Where do people find the time to watch all of this?  This must be why work-life balance is so much better here.  People need to leave work at 5pm to ensure they get home in time to watch their favourite reality TV shows… every night of the week.

But there was an upside to having 5 nights in a row of My Kitchen Rules.  It also meant 5 nights in a row of Nic and Rocco.

Ok, so they may not be the hottest of the hottest, but put them in the kitchen and they can turn up the heat, especially Rocco.  I mean, Nic is ok.  I probably wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, but he’s not Rocco.  Yummy Rocco.

He made macarons on the show and they looked so good and I almost melted.  In fact, nearly everything he made looked so good.

Why didn’t they do a topless challenge?

So, I suppose Australia found its saving grace in my eye with MKR.  It also helps that flipping through the channels last weekend I encountered something far worse:

New Zealand’s Next Top Model.

Australia has fewer people than Texas alone – over 10% fewer actually.  That means Australia has a smaller talent pool.  New Zealand takes that to a whole other level.  NZ has fewer people than Houston alone – over 25% fewer to put it into perspective.

God it was tragic.

I’ll be grateful for my Aussie reality TV from here on out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vivid 2012

Two years ago I blogged about Vivid – the annual light festival here in Sydney (  I thought Vivid was just a few buildings with pretty lights on them, but I have to admit now that I was wrong.  Of course, seeing the Sydney Opera House lit up with different colours was pretty neat, but I did not realize at the time that Vivid is so much more than that.  So, I am writing this entry now to make up for the lack of due respect that I may have given to Vivid in 2010.

The festival is about light, music, and ideas.  Aside from the super cool light projections on the walls of famous Sydney landmarks, the festival features dozens of other light installations, this year displayed all around Circular Quay, The Rocks, and Walsh Bay.  For music, there is a big selection of both local and international artists, including big name Florence + The Machine.  Last but certainly not least:  ideas.  This year’s festival features “public talks and debates from leading global creative thinkers.”  Where the hell was my invite???

The ideas part features a long list of talks and debates on a whole range of creative issues.  Of course, I am not all that creative aside maybe from this blog, so I won’t be attending any of these events.  But in reading some of the descriptions, I was a bit amazed that these things exist and that people are actually talking about them.  Some of the topics:  Would a national design policy help Australian designers?  How can Etsy help local creative business owners?  Can you make a meaningful living on music?  Other events focused on the future of publishing (is there one?), how to find funding (put on by the Australian Council for the Arts), and how to access creative spaces.  If that wasn’t all, there was also a showcase for Australian game designers, speed networking (just like speed dating!), and a seminar on what it takes to become a YouTube superstar.  And this is just a small sample from the schedule.  Fantastic!

Now, I can’t take photos of music or ideas, but I did make sure that I explored a bit more thoroughly this year and got some good snaps of the amazing installations and projections.   There were simple installations, such as this giant game of Tic Tac Toe:

And this display which looks like wildly coloured plants:

Bicycle taxis were gussied up like fluorescent fish:

And there was the world’s largest torch (flashlight), certified by the Guinness Book of World Records:

Projections ranged from high up on skyscrapers:

To down low in the water:

But the best ones were in between.  The Museum of Contemporary Art had some thumping music with lighting to match:

And I got the chance to nerd out as the Australian Bureau of Statistics published census data on the side of a building:

They even had interactive stations where you could input your data to see how you compare to other Australians in your post code, state, and nationwide.  I love the opportunity to have a good nerd session!

The iconic Sydney Opera House was most certainly not left out of the mix this year.  Rather than opt for colours like last year, this year’s projection was a bit colourless, but way more unique and out there.  It looks like she’s doing yoga.  Holy crap.

Finally, while the Sydney Opera House definitely won for the unique factor, it was the projection onto Customs House which was the most impressive.  The several minutes long projection depicted a day in the life of a city, including morning traffic and lunch time hustle and bustle.

What’s even more impressive is that the artists integrated the projection with the facade of the historic building, so projections of building faces were actually projected onto sides of the building.  Take a closer look:

Simply amazing.

The artists and creative thinkers who make this stuff happen are truly genius, and I am very jealous.

But can they eat a kilogram burrito?