Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Melbourne, Australia--Day 53

March 23, 2004
Today my alarm did NOT go off for some reason, but luckily I woke up early enough. I called over to the Werribee Zoo to check about the possibility of having a photo tour and they informed me that they only run on weekends. I went ahead and booked a photo tour for this weekend, even though my flights didn’t allow it, just in case things had to be changed. I figured that I could head to the zoo and then see what the hippo circumstances were like, then change my flights if necessary.

I got ready and headed downstairs and spoke with the concierge about getting a train over to Werribee, rather than taking a taxi. He showed me the way on the tram and then to the train, and I set off. I caught the tram down into the city center with no problems at all, and boarded the train to Werribee, again with not any problems.

It took about an hour to get to Werribee, where I would then catch a short taxi ride over to the zoo from the outside of the train station. I went outside and got something to eat, then headed back over to where the Taxi stand was supposed to be. I waited. And waited. And waited. No taxis. It didn’t seem like Werribee was the taxi capital of Australia, and I didn’t see ANY taxis drive by in the fifteen minutes or so that I was waiting. I saw a sign with a big “I” for Information and an arrow, so I thought I should go see where the Information Center was and then call a taxi from there.

About ten minutes of walking completely around the block and up, I finally found the Information Center and a nice volunteer who happily ordered a taxi for me, and was shocked to find that I could get one from the taxi stand. She told me that she’s never NOT seen a taxi there.

Finally I make it to the zoo. I buy my ticket and opt for a “joint” ticket, which meant that I could look at the Werribee Park Mansion and all its glory afterwards, which is located right near the zoo. I was told that the hippos were only shown on the side of the tram, which I was directed to by the woman working at the cashiers desk.


So I head over to the tram and am able to hop onto the tram that was just leaving at the gate, despite that my tram was supposed to leave 20 minutes later. I even got an entire bench seat to myself which was incredibly lucky considering that the tram appeared to be packed. I wasn’t complaining and felt much better. At least I wouldn’t be confined to one side of the tram and then have the hippos on the OTHER side!

So we set off and the man directing the bus was very pleasant and much to my surprise, the hippos were one of the first main attractions. We bounced over the gravel road and headed into hippo territory. There were two hippos and I snapped away, looking through the camera with one eye, and scanning the hippo enclosure for other hippos with my other. These two hippos had an incredibly huge space, and being an “open zoo” was designed much like what they have in the wild. The two hippos, one mother and her baby, were out of the water on the grass (what luck!) and Mom was eating while Baby was sleeping. Snap snap snap.

We then turned the corner and saw the Male hippo on our left, who was more than happy lying around with his back and head just peeking out of the brown murky water. Snap snap snap. We stopped for a while and I was able to get some good shots, although Baby was not showing its head and I wasn’t sure how they were going to come out since the tram was very shaky, even though we were stopped.

We set off again and I crossed my fingers in hope that the pictures would be ok.

Over the next hour we covered the rest of the park, driving our bus right up to rhinos and giraffes, and zebras. It was really neat, and to get that close was awesome. I definitely thought that I should take the safari photo tour over the weekend to get some closer shots of the hippos

When the tour was finished, I headed back to the information desk to get the names of the hippos. The women working at the front desk were very helpful and didn’t look at me like I was nuts, which is close to being a first. One girl radio-ed in to the keeper who gave me their names: Harold (the male), Brindabella Primrose (the mother) and Tulip (the baby). I thanked them and then asked if it would be ok for me to go on the tour again. She said of course (acting as if this was the most normal of things for me to ask---thank goodness) and soon thereafter I was back in line waiting to get on another tram.

This time I miraculously was first in line (there were about 15 people ahead of me but somehow I was let on first) and so I got a seat right where I knew the Baby hippo would be the best seen. This time there wasn’t nearly as many people on the tram so I again had my own seat. We set off, and this time there was a young, enthusiastic woman who was our guide. She cheerfully warned us to “hold on” on our “safari” and watch out for wild animals, hahaha.

We made it to the hippos and this time Mom and Baby were in the water. Snap snap snap. The Male looked as though he hadn’t even moved, but I still got some more pictures of him. We stopped for a while but not enough for the hippos to really move around at all since they were happily basking in the sun, and I asked the driver to pull up to get a better look of the baby. Everyone on the tram turned around and looked to see who shouted out to the driver. We stopped for a little bit and I snapped away, and then we set off on the rest of the tour.

The second time around wasn’t actually all that boring (unlike going around the Singapore Night Safari so many times) and I learned totally new and different things about all of the animals. We managed to get even closer to the rhinos and giraffes, which was pretty cool. All was going just great and I was happy with my new pictures until I overheard our guide talking to one of the other tourists. She was talking about how they were looking to expand the hippo enclosure (my ears perked up of course when I heard the word hippo) and that they want to make it accessible via walking path in the near future (good idea, I thought). She says that they want to do this all when the baby is a little bit bigger so that there can then be three females in the enclosure, since the other female is away from the others.

What OTHER female?!?!

I started to worry. What do you mean there is another one?? We pulled up back to the entrance and everyone got off of the tram, and I headed over to speak with the guide. I asked her about this other mystery hippo, and she says that it is separate from the others since the baby was small and they didn’t want the mother to get too freaked out and territorial having a new baby and another female around. Could I see the other hippo? Nope, she’s off limits. But, um, please could I see her and take a few pictures? No, she is TOTALLY OFF LIMITS. My guide told me that not even the people at the zoo were allowed to see her at the moment and that my best bet to see the other hippo would be to come back in a couple months.


After the tour was over I headed to the restaurant and grabbed some lunch, then heading into the gift shop and then over to the exit. I was told by the gift shop owner how to get to the mansion, and about ten minutes of walking later, I was there.

The mansion was quite interesting, and had a sculpture garden and large rose garden on the premises as well. The mansion itself is spartanly the largest residence in Victoria and you could get these headsets for each room and listen to an audio narrative about the family that lived there. It was interesting, but very long so I skipped a few rooms and just looked in them without listening to the full family saga, and a few times had technical difficulties with my headsets and could only work if you stood in certain places, like getting reception on a telephone.

After touring the mansion I went into the rose garden to have a look around, which was very beautiful then called for a taxi to take me back to the train station. Soon thereafter I was back on the train heading towards Melbourne happy with my hippo pictures and with my day out in Werribee.

When I got back to Melbourne I stopped at my hotel to drop things off, then went back into town to find St. Kilda, which has a nice beach as well as good places to eat. It took about forty five minutes to get there on the tram, and the sun was just setting as I made it to the beach to take a few photos. I got dinner at a Thai/Malaysia/Vietnamese place and was sat down right next to the man that was across from me on the tram the whole way. We exchanged laughs and I had a great dinner and chatted for a while with this man. After dinner I got some ice cream then boarded back onto the tram system only to find this man on my tram again. We laughed again and I got off in the City Center then headed back to my hotel where now I am writing this! Tomorrow its off to the Great Ocean Road which is supposed to be one of the best and most scenic drives in the world.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.