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Trip to Taronga Western Plains Zoo

In late October, we headed away with some good friends of ours for a three-day trip to Mudgee and Dubbo.

Our plan, apart from sampling and buying some fantastic wine in Mudgee, was to stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, in its exclusive Zoofari lodge, at which ten luxurious tents, complete with mod-cons, overlook the savannah, where African, Asian and even Australiananimals roam.

You know you know you are in Australia when an eland — a large Africanantelope — chases kangaroos away!

On day one, we headed to Mudgee, where we stopped at my favourite winery and stocked up on premium shiraz.  A nice dinner in town, followed by an overnight stay nearby, concluded the day.

On the following morning we headed up to Dubbo and went straight to the zoo.  Our official check-in was at 2pm, but we had time to roam the zoo via our inclusive two-day zoo pass.

Having been to Africa twice and spent time with truly wild animals in their natural habitat, a zoo can never quite come close; but Zoofari is an experience designed to emulate, as closely as possible, the safari experience.

Upon arriving at the zoo, our first stop was naturally the lion enclosure.  Unfortunately the lions were not terribly active or welcoming, so photography was not a terribly successful pursuit.  Incidentally and somewhat ironically, it is easier to photograph lions in the wild than in captivity.

One pleasing image I did capture at the lion enclosure was not an image of a lion, but an Australian pied cormorant, which was perched on a log over the lion enclosure’s moat in the morning sun.

Australian Pied Cormorant

Australian Pied Cormorant

Being a fan of big cats, naturally, we needed to visit the cheetahs.  We fortunately timed our arrival to see the keepers feed the cheetahs, which consisted of a king cheetah mother and several sub-adult cubs.

Contrary to popular belief, the king cheetah is not a separate species of cheetah, but rather, is a cheetah which has a rare fur pattern mutation as a result of a recessive gene.

The light was quite harsh, and the cheetah were very active — particularly as food was being provided — so photography was quite challenging, but I did land this pleasing image of the king cheetah.

King Cheetah

King Cheetah

The king cheetah is quite rare, so it was a pleasure to see one, and capture pleasing images of her.

Following the big cats theme, high on the agenda was a visit to the Sumatran tiger.

Now, I do not have many images of tigers, so I was keen to capture some pleasing tiger portraits despite the difficulty of broad daylight.

Again, we timed our visit to co-incide with the keeper’s talk and a feeding session, so this Sumatran beauty was very alert and more often than not, looked in our general direction, which is always what a wildlife photographer wants.

Striped Beauty

Striped Beauty

As the biggest of the big cats, the tiger is a very impressive big cat.

After lunch, we roamed the zoo and found our way to the siamangs.  I had never seen one before, so we spent a bit of time watching them play, and I snapped away, trying to land a pleasing image of one of them.

Siamang Stare

Siamang Stare

Not long afterwards, we headed to Zoofari lodge and checked in.

With adjacent tents, we soon joined at our tent for some afternoon lounging.  It was a taxing experience to sit on the back deck, overlooking the savannah, whilst consuming premium shiraz and munching on potato chips.  It is a tough life, but someone has to do it.

These were the appalling, slum-like conditions we had to endure during our overnight stay:

Animal View Lodge

Animal View Lodge

It was tolerable.

What cannot be seen in this image is the open door overlooking the savannah.  We decided to keep the doors and windows open so that we could hear the incredible sounds of wildlife at night, just as we experienced in South Africa and Kenya.

In the late afternoon light, we had the pleasure of watcing the giraffes grazing on the savannah, while these two particular giraffes (of the four inhabiting the reserve) shared a sticky snack.

Sharing a Sticky Snack

Sharing a Sticky Snack

During our lazy afternoon on the deck, we were visited by a peacock, which was only too happy to munch on our snacks, and sit very close with us on the deck overlooking the savannah.

In the early evening we headed to the communal dining room, where some wine tasting, and later, dinner, were served.

After dinner, we got to experience a night tour of the zoo, whereby 4WD vehicles drove us around the zoo in complete darkness.  We visited the lions, hippos and rhinos in their night enclosures, which are not accessible to the general public.

As can be imagined, photography was just not going to happen, as it was pitch-black; but it was great to be close to these animals in the darkness.

After a good night‘s sleep, the following morning saw another early start, with a pre-breakfast tour of the zoo — again, behind the scenes — during which we got to visit the cheetahs and see them from a different location; feed a giraffe; spend some time with the meerkats; and partake in an exclusive visit to the elephant ‘maintenance’ shed, in which the keepers bathed and fed the elephants in preparation for their entrance into their exhibition enclosures for the day.

Here is an image of one of the meerkats on sentry duty.

Wide-Eyed Meerkat

Wide-Eyed Meerkat

After the tour, we returned for a communal breakfast, before making our way back to the lodge to pack and check out.

On our arrival at the zoo the previous day, we had booked ourselves onto a rhino encounter.  Once the tour guide arrived, we found out that we were the only people booked on the tour, so we got an even more exclusive tour of the rhinos and spent a great morning learning about the zoo and how it operates — a much more personal tour than would have been otherwise possible.

After the conclusion of our Zoofari experience, we made another round of the zoo, before embarking on the long trip home.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I did manage to land some pleasing images of the  wildlife which inhabits Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

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Australia Day 2017: Mudgee

For the Australia Day weekend, we decided to take a trip to Mudgee for a few days.

Mudgee is a large regional town in the central west of New South Wales, and it is a three-to-four-hour drive from Sydney.

The main purpose of the trip, other than getting away for a few days, was wine and wineries; but naturally, I packed my default photography rig, with the intention of capturing some of the sights of Mudgee at twilight.

We based ourselves at the Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel, where our deluxe queen room provided fantastic accommodation, as seen in this image of the separate lounge in our room:

Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel - Deluxe Queen Room Lounge

Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel – Deluxe Queen Room Lounge

After dinner and a nice bottle of Mudgee red, we took a two-minute walk down Market Street to St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, which I had spotted and trial-photographed earlier in the day, and identified as my primary photographic subject for later that evening.

During the ‘blergh hour’ (my name for the scungy, drab light in between golden hour and evening twilight), I set up my camera and tripod, and composed the view I wanted to capture.  It was just a matter of time before the light would be right.

As it was Australia Day, the streets were practically empty, except for us and three late-teenage or early twenty-something boys who graced us with their presence as they continued upon their mission to become inebriated.

After a few laughs and a photo I captured of the lads standing in front of the church, they departed in search of more alcohol and a good time, and I set about capturing my image.

Here is the result:

St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Mudgee

St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Mudgee

I found my new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens to be an excellent lens for capturing this scene, as the leading line of the path draws the eye towards the imposing spire of the church a short distance away.

Very soon after photographing the church, I turned around 180 degrees and crossed the road onto the roundabout at the intersection of Market Street and Church Street.  On this roundabout is Mudgee‘s clock tower, a central feature of the town.

I found it difficult to photograph the clock tower with my 14mm lens, as it was just too wide — something I am not generally known to say or experience!

There was too much visual pollution due to street lights, the street itself and other unsightly subject matter; I just wanted the clock tower in a nice, clean image, or at least with pleasing surroundings.  I switched lenses, opting for my Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM, which I have not used since mid-2014!

Here is the image I captured as the evening twilight became more rich and intense:

Mudgee Clock Tower

Mudgee Clock Tower

After capturing this image, we headed back across the road to St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, where I shot some quirky angles of the stonework, looking up towards the royal blue sky.  (I have not processed any of those images at the time of writing.)

After a few more shots around Mudgee, we headed back to our hotel as the evening twilight gave way to the darkness of night.

The next day was all about wine, but we did venture out after dinner for another twilight photoshoot, which I found frustratingly difficult, as I could not achieve a pleasing composition.

The subjects I wanted to photograph looked great with my own eyes, but through my lenses, a combination of proximity and surrounding subject matter resulted in no pleasing compositions.  I did capture a few images, but by and large, I was not content.

Never the less, it was a great few days away, and we came away with more than just a few pleasing images.