They say, if you really want to understand something – anything, a person, a place, or even an environment, you need to give it time. Time to observe, understand, introspect and then finally decide whether to love or hate the same. Without which, any judgment becomes a flurry of an observation.
I would say the same deeply of any traveler’s tales. He needs to spend some real time to feel the wind on the hill, hear the call of its denizens in the bush lands and smell the sea-breeze as the waves lash and crash on the isolation of the cliffs of chalk. If it is a good experience, he needs to live and relive it so much that his heart aches on his departure. Otherwise what’s the difference between the armchair traveler who flips through his glossy monthly magazine and the hasty traveler who just has megabytes of memories on his Nikon, but himself is bereft of any emotional attachment to the place he has been to?
Sadly, when we are travelling, time becomes a luxury. It is such an irony how we ‘travel-package’ a country and think to have covered it in a handful of days, when even years are not enough to resonate in its heart-beat. Which is why, the places we can explore best as travelers, not tourists, are the places most adjacent to the city we live in. It allows us the time to unhurriedly turn its myriad pages one leaf at a time, while smelling the page and admiring the font and design lovingly. I personally feel there’s no other place we can explore and fall in love as much as our own backyard. And some memories I have had – the monsoonal greens of the Sahyadris in the montage of Mumbai, or the staggering gardens and palaces in the palettes of Paris, and of course, the sun kissed sands and cerulean seas in the shores around Sydney.
Coming to Sydney, for the record, I have traveled mostly in its south, amidst the impeccable beauty that is Shoalhaven. And each time I have wandered off, I have come back home with a delightful memory, new, crisp and fresh. The more I explore, the more I find in this treasure trove whose bounty seems endless! And strange enough, this reinforces me to wander off again, to find a new tale in its books. I used to rush initially – to tick off the most famous bits and pieces – Bateman’s Bay, the whitest white Hyam’s beach and so on. Now I stay calm and try to sit back and relax – even if it means sitting still on a hidden scimitar of a beach all by myself. Being this unhurried saunterer by the sea helps so much to understand the place – and strangely, in the guise of understanding the place, I get to understand myself as well. Perhaps because with the slowdown of an otherwise hurried life, I give time not only to the place, but also to myself.
Anyway, enough of this philosophy – let me get straight to what led me to be so pensive. It was another short but beautiful weekend in Shoalhaven. This time, the destination was Culburra Beach – north of the Jervis Bay National Park and just lying at the entrance to the northern pincer of a land that forms the humongous Jervis Bay
The Shoalhaven Zoo
Not far from Culburra Beach, on the way from Sydney lies the Shoalhaven Zoo. It is not a large zoo and if you have been fascinated by Taronga or Dubbo, its best to lower that ‘done-that, been-wowed’ index as the Shoalhaven zoo is small, both in acreage and by numbers. But it is still a worthy collection and the largest animal park on the southern coast of NSW. The cheeriness of the children here just reminded me how beautiful it is to stay innocent. Where I was expecting the Noah’s ark, here was a kid jumping with joy at seeing just one cockatoo! I re-calibrated my demands, damaged by a fast paced life and walked slowly enjoying the river breeze on a hot summer day.
The zoo is pleasantly located on the Shoalhaven river and a walk by its grassy banks immediately reminds you why you need to surrender here if you want to succeed. Slow, steady and yet winning the race – that is the bucolic Shoalhaven. I opened my sandals, walked on the cool grass and then found a small shaded boulder to just sit and watch the river passing by, just like time, ignorant of its liabilities and burdens. After some time, I remembered it was a zoo, so went back on the trail and checked all the birds and animals. What I liked in particular were the names given by the zoo – every enclosure had a bubbly name for its inhabitant – the birds, the monkeys and the reptiles!
What impressed me the most were the blue macaws from far away South America – it seemed that their feathers were colored to full saturation, strikingly contrasting in blue and gold – and yes, do they squawk! It was a bit intimidating, I must say for the other little birds to share the same cage as these vivacious parrots. The macaws went berserk in their squawks briefly – I realised amusingly why a group of parrots is called a ‘pandemonium’, then went back to gazing the other birds, specially the incredibly cuddly sun conures. Then there was the Cape Barren Geese – a beautiful grey goose with a noticeable yellow beak. The name is reminiscent of the Cape Barren islands in the Tasman Sea where Europeans first spotted this bird. It scientific name – Cereopsis novaehollandiae reminded me of the older name for Australia given by the Dutch explorers – New Holland, a fact from far away times, unknown to even most Australians here. Then came the peafowls which were roaming about so freely and I must admit, giving me some of the best shots I had ever taken of the peacock!
It was getting a bit late – and I had to head off to Culburra Beach, so I took my leave but not before I heard one kid, excited by the llamas, narrating an outrageous Ogden Nash limerick :
The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Shoalhaven: zoology, tick, ornithology, tick, deep soul splitting philosophical poetry – tick !