Archive | December, 2012

Travel Log: Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – Brisbane, Australia

30 Dec

I’ve been living in Brisbane for the past six months, right across from a bus stop for a bus that goes directly to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I can’t believe that I didn’t go before this–it was completely worth it.

I’d already been to Australia Zoo on a previous trip, so I guess the lure of feeding kangaroos and cuddling a koala didn’t hit me quite as hard as it might tourists fresh off the plane. That said, Lone Pine was a much better experience than Australia Zoo.

We set off around mid-day, but took a car because another couple was going and offered to drive (though both the 445 and 430 buses go to Lone Pine, I’m not sure about others). It was literally about five minutes down the road. When we got there it seemed fairly busy–being a Sunday during summer holidays, I expected it would be–but we only stood in line for tickets for a few minutes. They were very quick.

Cal and I both purchased year-long passes. An adult year-long pass was $62, and a student was $50–but the day passes are $33 and $24, respectively. You can see other prices here. We purchased the year-long because I have friends coming over from the US, and I figured we’d take them there soon after they arrived. If you’re staying in Brisbane for a lengthy amount of time, I’d recommend getting the year-long pass, because if you think you might go again, it’s totally worth it. It comes with lots of benefits other than free entry for a year: 20% off admission price for accompanying guests, food and beverages, and souvenirs; 50c kangaroo food (vs. $2!), and $1.50 bottle of water (vs. $3.50); plus a free reprint with every koala photo purchase, among other things.

Soon as we got our tickets, we went to the Birds of Prey show, which was really fun to see. It lasted probably 20 minutes and featured a kestrel, two types of owls, and two types of eagles. The birds flew over the audience’s heads, swooped around, ate lots of dead mice, and one member of the audience was able to participate in a trick with one of them. It was all narrated with lots of neat facts about the birds, and lasted just long enough to maintain the attention of the children in the crowd. After, the big birds were taken to the side for photos (you can get a professional photo done with one of them, too).

There are other shows we didn’t see, though I would have liked to–maybe next time!

After, we headed over to the general store to purchase kangaroo food and then entered the kangaroo enclosure. There were also emus there. I didn’t get quite close enough to touch one, because he was staring at me a bit creepily, but the option is there. As for the kangaroos, most of them were huddled in the kangaroo rest zone. I think it might have been the hot part of the day and they were more keen on shade than food, but we ended up being able to feed a couple, including a little kangaroo who looked to be fresh out of his mother’s pocket. There were also some wallabies mixed in, and they were cute too. We saw a tiny, hairless joey peeking out of his mother wallaby’s pocket, but he went back in before I could get a picture.

We went back to the general store to get a snack–ended up getting a large basket of chips, which we shared between the two of us ($6 with the discount), and a couple bottles of water ($3 total with the discount). Again, it seemed a bit busy, but the line went pretty quickly, and we still manged to get seats inside with the air conditioning. They have a large, shaded area filled with tables as well, which would have been perfectly lovely if we hadn’t.

Finished, we went back up to the counter to purchase a koala photo, which I think you can also do at the front when you get your tickets. It was $16 (the cost supports new areas for the koalas), and we also received a free reprint because of the year-long pass. The cashier gave us two laminated cards–one for the picture, one for the reprint. We took them over to the photo area, just a few steps away, and waited for just a few minutes before getting to cuddle a koala.

The handler had me stand with my feet on a couple of giant koala foot prints painted on the ground. Then she told me to hold my hands in a sort of cradle position, where the koala’s bottom rested, and she positioned the koala’s paws on my shoulder and arm. The koala was SO cute and fluffy, and it was lovely being able to hold him for a few minutes. Cal was able to stand behind me (there was a family next to us getting their picture done–I think you can have as many people in the photo as can fit, though only one can hold the koala). After, we were able to take some pictures with our own camera (the photographer offered to take it for us). Then the koala went back to its handler, and we went back to the general store and bought a couple of ice creams to eat while we waited for the photos, which took less than ten minutes to be printed.

The rest of our time there, we wandered around looking at the other animals. There were lots of koala habitats, including “Koala Kindy” and “Koala Retirement Home” and “Mum and Baby Koalas.” We also saw dingoes, Tasmanian devils, a platypus (though it was being shy), kookaburras and other birds, and crocodiles. The koalas were actually quite active–much more active than I remember seeing at AZ (we must have been there at the right time). They were climbing and jumping and running–have you ever seen a koala run? Funniest thing ever.

Overall, far preferable to Australia Zoo. First, it’s much, much closer and more convenient for people staying in Brisbane. Second, it’s cheaper. I think our year-long passes were cheaper than a day-pass at AZ. Third, less crowded–and we went on a Sunday during the summer holidays, whereas we were at Australia Zoo on a random weekday not during holidays. Fourth, the focus on Australian animals. AZ acts as a normal zoo, with loads of animals from everywhere. So yes, they have a greater selection, and maybe if you have kids there might be more to hold their attention at AZ. But I liked seeing nothing but Australian critters. That’s what I went to AZ for, but that’s what I found at Lone Pine. Recommended to anyone visiting Brisbane.

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Book Review: The Enchanted Flute by James Norcliffe

29 Dec

I will preface this post by saying that urban fantasy has never held much of a draw for me. I am more interested in history and an “older” voice, and I tend to be caught off guard by modern language in books, I read so much of the older stuff.

It all started with a flute in the window of a seedy old pawn shop. Taking it home, Becky discovers that she can’t play it–rather, it makes her play only one song: Syrinx by Debussy. Drawn to its old owner, Dr. Faunus, the song that Becky is forced to play seems to enchant the old man into youth. Running from his house with that nerd Johnny Cadman, the two youths are thrown into a mythical land and chased to the ends of it, all for the sake of one enchanted flute.

Becky and I didn’t hit it off right away. She kept calling Johnny Cadman a nerd like it was a negative thing, and being a nerd myself, I took offense. I also didn’t believe some aspects of her character. There was one scene where she described herself as a good listener, but given that she wouldn’t give Johnny the time of day previous to that scene, I had trouble believing her claims. That said, she did become more bearable as the story went on. Even then, I didn’t feel particularly connected to her or the other characters in the story. They lacked the kind of depth I usually like to see.

That said, the plot of this book was–well–enchanting. An enchanted flute, an old man with goat hooves, characters thrown into a mystical land with magical creatures, gods and goddesses all made for an entertaining read. The setting was well described, though I wish the music the flute played had been described a bit better. I ended up listening to it on YouTube, and while listening to the tune will always be better than reading about it, I would have liked to have more of an idea of what it sounded like.

The book was adventure packed and interesting and, more to the point, different than a lot of things I usually read. If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced read, look no further than The Enchanted Flute.

Book Review: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

28 Dec

A Brief History of Montmaray is the diary of Sophie FitzOsborne, princess of Montmaray—a fictional island kingdom off the coast of England. Sophie details her life living in her crumbling castle with her siblings, cousin, crazy old uncle, and faithful dog. While Sophie dreams of the more exciting life of a London Season, she isn’t ready for the excitement that awaits her when the Nazis invade her home ahead of World War II. What follows is a mad dash for their country—and their lives.

From what I’ve seen, this book has received a lot of mixed reviews, and I have to say that I for one am 100% in love with the whole series.
I think part of the criticism of the Montmaray books is that they don’t have a huge amount of plot to them. Personally, I fall in love with books because of the characters. Books that have stunning, relatable characters don’t need much of a plot—I think it’s fun enough roaming around in the character’s head and living their lives, for which Montmaray’s diary style works perfectly. Sophie is an endearing but imperfect narrator who cares deeply for her family, and will make sure that you will, too.
As a fantasy connoisseur, it surprised me that I liked this decidedly historical fiction series. I think my attraction was due to a) my current obsession with Downton Abbey (if you like the show, you’ll love these books!) and b) the well-drawn setting, which turned the kingdom of Montmaray into a magical island plonked straight into the middle of one of my favorite periods of history.
That said, this book isn’t for everyone, which is why there are so many mixed reviews. It isn’t packed full of action—most of the real action is at the very end. Someone looking for an adventure won’t find it here. There also isn’t a lot of romance, save for a teenage crush—exactly what you might find in a sixteen year old’s diary.
I found that the series—The FitzOsbornes in Exile, followed by The FitzOsbornes at War—got even better as it went on, delving into London Society and the horrors of the Blitz. There were sad moments—heart-wrenching moments. But there were happy moments, too. If you enjoy history, Downton Abbey, or lovable characters, this is a series that you won’t want to miss.
**This book is often compared to I Capture the Castle, which I haven’t read, which is why there are no comparisons in this particular review.
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