A personal diary about life in a country town, Bungendore NSW Australia

  Wednesday 31 December 2003

Left: Zebras, an Indian Minah and er... zoo poo. Above: a heritage Taronga Zoo  sign and Sydney Harbour fireworks on New Year's Eve 2003
A Lastminute New Year's Eve 

Now that the last of the Bungendaughters has left home (and of course for a few years before that they'd prefer spending time with their friends then with parents), so we faced another New Year's Eve for two. In the past here have been New Year's street parties, and holidays away but last year it was just Jan and I with French champagne and the midnight fireworks on the TV. This year both the older girls were going to be partying on boats on the Harbour in Sydney and Aurore was with friends for her first legal drinking New Year's eve. Jan said 'let's do something different'.

When the Lastminute.com newlsetter lobbed in my inbox, I saw the pitch for the Roar & Snore evening at the Taronga Park Zoo, asked Jan if she'd like to go and immediately booked it. It cost a bit more than a top hotel and a good dinner but the idea of watching the fireworks from Bradley's Head, the best outcrop on the North Shore sounded too good to miss. Camping in two man tents didn't sound  too much like a romantic evening, but we borrowed all the gear from Jan's sister and figured that the standard of the food at the zoo cafe was pretty good and that the wine and champagne was supplied. There was also the promise of a private guided tour through the zoo at night and some backstage tours with the keepers. Unfortunately it didn't turn out to be such a success and although I filled in the feedback form for the zoo I've been thinking about why it wasn't what I expected and so this is offered as to what they might like to do next time. (Because it is a good idea.)

I suspect it was all just oversold and I didn't check enough. The overnight stays are a regular part of the school education programs that the Zoo runs. For a group of kids and teachers on a not so busy night it would be great fun, and all designed to reinforce their conservation message.

For a group of adults choosing New Years Eve adventures on a commercial website, it wasn't clear that this was to be  a 'home made' experience. It seems a bit petty to document it all but to give you an idea, the cheese, biscuits and pots of dips shared the table with chips and Cheezels, and was followed by a barbeque (not the promised 'gourmet' but kebabs and sausages with salads). Desert was two tubs of Streets vanilla ice-cream and some cake. There was a good choice of teas, but the coffee was instant. And they ran out of white wine keeping reserves for the midnight celebrations.

What we didn't know was that the Zoo was open to the public on New Years' Eve. The Zoo website says you could pay $130 for a Silver Pass ($70 for children), and "enjoy all the fun and action across the city skyline and harbour, with live entertainment on the Zoo’s Concert Lawns".

There was no mention of how much the Gold ticket holders paid to "enjoy the evening from the Bird Show Amphitheatre with its premium, uninterrupted views of the evening’s spectacular fireworks". They seemed to be having a good time. The best view would have been (judging by the loudest hurrah's at the fireworks) from the high curved balconies on the Taronga Centre where there was another private function underway.

Our view of the fireworks was from the great old Zoo cafe, but through it's half opening glass windows and with trees blocking the main view of the bridge. When I asked if I could go down to the Amphitheatre to take some uninterrupted pictures I was told that that was a private function and security wouldn't allow me to walk down there. I was pissed off, as much because the view from the Serpentaria pathway where we saw the earlier 9.00 displays was an excellent vantage point. But I would have had to find my way there in the dark past the security vans that were patrolling.

The private tours were unfortunately impeded by the number of other visitors and many of the animals were locked up because of the noise and activity. We did however get to see snatches of the lions and tigers with their small cubs active and romping in the cool of the night.

Because we were waiting for midnight and because there was not as much to see, we spent a lot of time sitting in the education area waiting. The staff brought out some animals to touch (a koala, python, lizards, a small crocodile, a cane toad and an amazing phasmid) from the school nursery area.

There was light rain as we went to bed, and we slept with the tent flap open and cool drops falling through the mosquito net. I didn't take long to get to sleep. The next day we had to be up early and pack the camping gear to get to a 6.30am tour of the giraffes and the seals. We could then have had access to the zoo all day, but most of us slipped off at 9.00am. We headed for some good coffee in Mosman.

There were about 24 of us at $330 a head (less lastminute's cut) so I felt we'd all made a good contribution to the zoo coffers. Walking around the zoo there are lots of construction sites with photographic hoardings saying how great it will all be. It looks like the development that's underway is planned as a compromise between caging animals and making them accessible for us to wonder at, without feeling as guilty. We had a brief look at Backyard to Bush, a new section that's as slick as any theme park but we were hurried off to see the elephants who were shut up for the night.

My favourite story of the night was how the chimpanzees (also locked up away for New Year's Eve) know when something is happening on the harbour. As the ships start moving in, they climb to the highest vantage point so they don't miss the fun. I bet they were a bit pissed off as well.

The group of fellow lastminuters (it seemed like we all saw it on the newsletter and signed up online), in the Education Centre of the zoo.

Hand held, (above my head so the camera could see out the windows) and at one second exposures the bridge fireworks still look like pyro magic. I wish I'd been able to see them properly.

The zoo staff and volunteers who helped on the night didn't know what to expect from having a bunch of adults not school kids, and still remained happy, friendly and helpful.

Jo shows off her handling skills with the beautiful leopard seal. Ok, those teeth are sharp, be careful.

The circus tricks are all aimed at making the animals easy to vet check and handle, open your mouth, lift your flipper, roll on your back. With the best fresh fish from the Sydney fish market each day, the seals have a much longer life span then in the wild.

The biggest problem then is boredom and the resulting obsessive behavior for animals that are used to hunting all day to survive.

  Fred Harden ©2003 <thinktag> After a few days, these entries are added to the Archive Menu

Bungendore Country Diary by Fred Harden