Spotting Wild Koalas (And An Emu!) @ Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, Australia

Sitting within the grounds of a 30,000-year-old extinct volcano the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is home to some of Australia’s most iconic creatures endemic to the region – namely koalas, emus, kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies and more. It was a shame we had to rush our visit to less than 30 minutes (coz we had to arrive back in Melbourne to send off some members of the media to the airport), but even then we were lucky enough to spot not one but TWO types of the unique fauna that roam the reserve.

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Unfortunately the short time we had meant I didn’t manage to get too many pictures. 😦

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As we drove slowly past a section of bush, an eagle-eyed member of the group called out to everyone in the van. “Look, in the bushes.” We craned our necks forward and there, sleeping peacefully on the branch, was our first koala. It looked sooooo fluffy! But while they seem all cute and cuddly, koalas are known to have sharp claws (for climbing trees) and teeth. Another fun fact: koalas are not the brightest; their brains making up just 0.2% of the weight of their body.

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Near the visitor’s centre, there were several more up in the trees – a smaller one, presumably female, and a larger one at the bottom. They weren’t doing much; just lazing up in the trees, but I guess there isn’t much to do except eat, sleep and watch tourists gawk at you all day.

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After a quick sojourn to the souvenir shop, we were all ready to leave – but not before one more surprise. As we drove to the exit, the van slowed down and we saw this guy (or gal?). Emus are the second largest living birds after the ostrich, and like their cousins, can run very fast and have large claws on their feet (I always think of them as modern dinosaurs). We quickly whipped out our phones for a picture, the emu leisurely strolling along the tarmac before ducking out of sight into one of the bushes.

Fun fact: Emus cannot walk backwards.

If you’re planning a visit to the Great Ocean Road, I highly suggest spending more time than we did so you can explore the place more fully. There are various picnic spots and facilities scattered around the park, as well as guided walking tours. Of course, as with any wildlife reserve, observe the rules when interacting with any animals you may encounter.

towerhill.org.au

 

Taiping Zoo & Night Safari, Perak – One Of the Best Zoos In Malaysia

I’ve been to a couple of zoos. I know some people say it’s cruel to keep them in cages, which I agree with, but there are also those who argue in favour that the animals are well cared for and safe. Admittedly, there are zoos that are in terrible conditions and are literal hell holes, which should be shut down ASAP, but a well kept zoo can act as a sanctuary and a place to educate future generations on the importance of conservation.

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One of these is the Taiping Zoo and Night Safari in Taiping, Perak, an hour’s drive from Ipoh. Located within the sprawling Taiping Lake Gardens over an area of 34 acres, it was established in 1961 and as such, is the oldest zoo in Malaysia.

Currently, the zoo houses over 1,300 animals from 180 species. During the day, it acts like a regular zoo, but at night, it turns into a night safari where visitors can stroll through the park and view exhibits lit up by soft, stimulated ‘moon’ light.

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Entrance is RM17 for adults (inclusive of GST) and RM8.50 for children. Considering that Zoo Negara charges a whopping RM40++, I think this is a reasonable price. It was a public holiday during our visit, and the place was crowded with tourists and families, mostly locals.

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Note: The zoo is massive.

If you have older people or children in your group, I strongly suggest taking one of the passenger trams. The driver-cum-guide will talk visitors through the different exhibits during the tram ride.

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The first thing visitors will notice upon entering the zoo grounds is how green it is. There are loads of trees which provide shade, and it seems like they’ve designed the zoo around the jungle-like landscape, to stimulate a natural habitat as much as possible. There are a few that feature concrete enclosures, but these are few and far between. The natural setting means that it is sometimes difficult to locate animals hiding behind the foliage.

My dad proved adept at this, often spotting the creatures before any of us could see them.

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It was very warm and sunny. While the trees are shady, they aren’t planted all along the route, so be prepared with some sunscreen.

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The chimpanzee enclosure had a group of five or six animals. They congregated in the shade in a circle, before moving to the trees and tall structures to swing about. Their limbs were immensely long in proportion to their slim bodies, and I was reminded of the film The Planet of the Apes (which by the way, I think they did a great job at capturing the mannerisms and movements of these magnificent great apes).

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A member of the troupe picking bananas out of the stream.

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The three orangutans were equally fascinating. The one on the bottom sat on the stream’s edge, using the leaf as a scoop to ladle water onto itself.

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It even used the leaf as a face wipe!

The other two moved further back for some sexy time. The larger, I assume male orangutan beckoned for the smaller one to follow it, stopping and looking back to wait for the latter to catch up. It was a gesture that was extremely human. They then frolicked and tumbled in the grass in a heap.

It makes me sad that these creatures are poached and mistreated. But then again, human beings are capable of doing worse things to our own kind, let alone other species.

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Another natural-looking enclosure, complete with small pond.

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A civet cat resting in the shade. Its colouration and pattern blended so well with the forest floor, I couldn’t spot it right off the bat, even though it was sitting right under my nose.

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Large crocodiles measuring at least 2 meters long

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Porcupines.

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A lot of walking. What I think the zoo could benefit from would be more seats for people to rest on along the way.

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Bambi

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Wild boars.

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The lion enclosure, which had a moat surrounding it. Too small for camera to make out but there were two lionesses and a lion within the cave-like structure.

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More deers resting in the shade.

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An aviary, filled with stork-like birds and huge fruit bats. No fences here aside from the net surrounding the dome, but I doubt the animals would come very close to visitors.

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The African savannah area which housed two giraffes and zebras.

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Black panther. Wakanda forever.

You can still see the spotted pattern in spite of its melanin-rich coating, which is what gives the animal its black sheen.

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A rare Asian gold cat. Very beautiful, elegant creature, from its sleek coat to the feline way it moves. Sadly, the species, native to Southeast Asia, is threatened by rapid development and deforestation in many parts of the region.

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Lonely black swan in the pond.

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Several rhinos chillin’

If there is one exhibit that I feel could see improvements, it’d be the Asian elephant exhibit. There were no trees in the enclosure, and the poor creatures were forced to stand under the baking hot sun. One of the elephants went into the pond and submerged itself in a bid to escape the heat. I saw that there were several dead tree stumps in the compound, and wondered if perhaps the elephants had stripped the plant down to its bark, leaving the place bare. Still, management should look at a way to provide them with at least some form of shade.

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All in all, we spent close to four hours exploring the place.

I was impressed by how well maintained the zoo is, as most animals looked well fed and healthy. The zoo’s overall design mimics a natural setting as much as possible, which I think is better than having the animals in concrete enclosures. If you’re looking for an educational place to take the family and little ones while in Taiping, I suggest paying this a visit.

TAIPING ZOO & NIGHT SAFARI 

 Jalan Taman Tasik Taiping, Taman Tasik Taiping, 34000 Taiping, Perak

Operating hours: 8AM – 11PM (daily)

Tickets: Adults (RM17), Children (RM8.50)

zootaiping.gov.my

School Holiday Fun @ Sunway Lagoon’s Wildlife Adventure

Back when I was a kid, school holidays = I get to mess around the house or go on a trip with the fam. Hooray!

Now that I’m a working adult, school holidays = less traffic on the roads in the morning. So Hooray to that too!

For those with kids, even better news: Sunway Lagoon, Malaysia’s premiere theme park, is having an exciting and educational programme for the school holidays! Suitable for both kids (and the young at heart!), the Wildlife Adventure gives visitors the chance to get outdoors and spend time together, while enjoying fun and interactive activities revolving around the theme park’s mini zoo. The lineup includes a Wildlife EduHunt, Wildlife Multi-Animal Show, mystery box, animal feeding and identifying the smallest monkey in the world. 🙂

I’ve been to the mini zoo in Sunway Lagoon several times, and was always impressed by how well maintained it is as well as the number of animals they have – over 150 species from around the world ! I especially like the aviary where you can get upclose and personal to the feathered friends who roam around freely.

One of the birds with beautiful plummage you’ll find at Sunway Lagoon’s aviary.

So what’s in store for guests? Take part in the Wildlife Eduhunt Challenge, where you’ll have to complete 10 challenges ranging from Peek-A-Print, Mix & Match, Mystery Box and more, as well as collect stamps at designated spots. The best thing is, while you’re having fun, you’ll also stand a chance to win fantastic prizes, including a 2D1N stay at Sunway Resort Hotel & Spa, and a Xperia C5 Ultra Dual smartphone. The EduHunt Card can be purchased at the Main Entrance or Wildlife Park (Rimba).

 

Malaysian supermodel Amber Chia posing with an albino python and guests during the event launch! 🙂

Besides the Wildlife EduHunt, parent and child in teams of two will be able to showcase their creative and artistic side in the ‘Get Wild, Paint, Snap & Post’ contest, with 30 minutes to face paint their team partner, snap a photo and upload it to their Facebook with the hashtag #SunwayLagoonMY and #SLWildlife Adventure. The prize? A cool Fujiflim Instax Mini 8 Camera, complete with a Twin Pack Film of 20 sheet prints! 🙂

Even if you’re not into joining any challenges or contests, it’s still going to be a fun day out at the theme park exploring the mini zoo, especially since they have star attractions like lions and a white tiger. There will also be feeding sessions for swans, macaws and squirrels – a good chance for the little ones to interact with wildlife! Be entertained while watching educational Wildlife Multi-Animal Shows.

Sunway Lagoon’s Wildlife Adventure is available from now until 11 June 2017.More info: sunwaylagoon.com/wildlife-adventure/

Photos courtesy of GoCommunications PR

Rizal Monument and Manila Ocean Park, Philippines

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Hi and welcome to my Manila travel series! So we’ve explored the gardens and the museums around Rizal Park: what next? Well, there is the Rizal Monument – a memorial dedicated to Jose Rizal, one of the country’s most well-known nationalists who paved the way for Philippine independence with his writings. The memorial stands about 100m from the actual execution site of this Filipino national hero.

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The well-kept monument is surrounded by grass and an avenue lined with flags. Visitors are not allowed upclose to the obelisk structure, as it is guarded continuously by the Philippine Marine Corps. If you come at the right time, you might see the changing of the guards !

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Constructed in the early 20th century during American occupation, the structure has Rizal in an overcoat holding a book, representing his famous novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The three stars atop the obelisk are said to stand for the three regions in the Phils, namely Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. There are two figures beside Rizal’s – a mother and her child, and two boys reading to symbolise family and education.

There were park commissioned (?) photographers (because they were all wearing the same vests) at the ready with heavy DSLRs slung across their necks to take photos for visitors. It was kinda redundant though because many tourists took selfies with their own cameras instead.

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The monument faces a wide road called Roxas Boulevard. Traffic was heavy but there were no pedestrian crossings so we kinda just ran across lol. There were also horse-drawn carriages trooping up and down the street.

Just across it is the Quirino Grand Stand. The Manila Hostage crisis, in which a disgruntled former national police held a bus full of tourists hostage resulting in eight deaths, happened here in 2010.

Our destination was Manila Ocean Park just nearby.

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Opening its doors in 2008, the Philippine’s largest Oceanarium spans across 8,000sq m of space and is divided into different attractions. Entry price is based on the ‘package’ you take – fiancee and I opted for the one with the Sharks & Ray Encounter, Jellyfish, Sea lion show and Night Symphony (water and light) show.

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The Sharks and Ray Encounter was an outdoor pool, next to the Amphitheater. Staff periodically held up the rays so that we could pet them. They were soft, slimy and had a texture like jelly.

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We didn’t touch the sharks though. Shark skin is hard and you my end up scraping the skin of your fingers off. They were big and some were clustered at the bottom of the pool like they were hanging out.

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Entering the oceanarium, we were greeted by a sunny ‘rainforest’ area with trees overhung by tendrils, lots of leafy green plants and giant tanks filled with tropical fish like Arowanas.

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In the aquarium, there were loads of fish of all shapes, colours and sizes swimming among the corals. It was a pretty sight 🙂 There were also helpful information placards on the different kinds of marine life.

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A highlight of the park is their Buhay na Karagatan (Living Ocean) – a 25-metre long walkway/tunnel with curved acrylic walls that allows visitors to have all-round views of marine life swimming in the tank. It’s like you’re walking underwater through a deep ocean wonderland with shoals of fish, smiling sting rays and sombre sharks gliding above you. 🙂 For special packages, you can even dive inside and swim with the fishes (literally).

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Our ticket included admission to the ‘Back of the House’, which is where you get to see what goes on behind the scenes, including equipment used for treating/pumping the water, how they keep specimens healthy, etc.

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My favourite part of the oceanarium was the Jellyfish room. Hundreds of these beautiful (but sometimes deadly) creatures floated airily in tanks. Since they’re transparent, they glowed according to the different coloured lights. Classical music played in the background so they seemed like they were pulsing to the beat. Very relaxing to look at 🙂

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Hard to believe something that is 99% water can look so… ethereal. Also hard to believe they can kill people. Ah, nature.

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It was time for our Sea Lion Show! The outdoor amphitheatre has a stage with a pool where the sea lions dive and do tricks. There are three shows throughout the day.

The sea lions were adorable. Their blubber made them look rubbery and so fat that I just wanted to squeeze them tight! They were very intelligent and could perform tricks like standing up, balancing balls, clapping their flippers together, and even dancing 🙂 The show lasted for about half an hour.

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After the sea lion show ended, we still had an evening symphony to catch, so we hung around watching the sun set on Manila bay. It was gorgeous. 

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There are two symphony shows daily. Because the first show as full, we had to catch the second one. The amphitheater was packed with school kids and screaming children who yelled at everything lol. Playing to a number of songs, the show featured spraying water coupled with light technology to create moving shapes in the air. There were ‘animations’ like beautiful swimming fish, dancing jellyfish, cartoonised mangrove swamps, and more.

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The highlight of the night was My Heart will Go On – the fountains spouted up at least five storeys high! They ended the show with a bang with fireworks as the crowd roared, cheered and clapped.

 

Manila Ocean Park is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the city, even though prices can be a bit steep. Allocate at least half a day so that you don’t miss anything – there are many attractions that we didn’t manage to go to like the ‘Penguin’ encounters and glass bottom boat ride.

Getting there 

Useful link here: DIRECTIONS

MANILA OCEAN PARK 

666, Behind Quirino Grandstand, Luneta,

Manila, Metro Manila 1000, Philippines

Tel: +63 2 567 7777

Opening hours: 10am – 8pm

Ticket prices are from PHP550 onwards. We took the: Deep Sea Rush 5 package – Oceanarium, Sea Lion Show, Marine Life Habitat, Evening Symphony, Jellies Exhibit (PHP 550)

 

Poison & Venom Exhibition @ The National Museum

I was bored over the weekend, so I thought of dropping by KL to explore Muzium Negara (the National Museum). Unlike the US or the UK, Malaysian museums aren’t big on interactivity – the exhibits are static and haven’t changed in years. I can see how people see them as dull, drab places compared to glitzy, air-conditioned shopping malls.

Still, it’s an interesting place to visit once in awhile and a welcome change from the mall-culture we’ve gotten so used to. Not to mention cheap – entry is only RM3 for Malaysians.

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You don’t even have to pay for the outdoor exhibits. Apart from a large steam locomotive replica at the front, visitors can find old train cars, like this one from Penang Hill..

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And the very first Proton Saga which came out in 1985. My dad had one of these, in red.

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A carved hornbill (?) ship masthead.

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The museum is currently having a temporary show, the Poison and Venom Exhibition, until October 31. Located next to the main building, entrance is free.

Upon entering, visitors were greeted by a wall of text. And I mean, literally, a wall of text of buntings and banners. It was like the curators wanted to cram as much info as possible into the small space, resulting in tiny text that you had to squint to read.

I learnt something new though – did you know that poisonous and venomous animals/plants/etc are different?

Venomous organisms inject toxins directly into their victims (snakes, wasps, bees), whereas poisonous organisms do not but are harmful when touched/eaten (some plants, frogs, etc).

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I didn’t know wtf this was until I had stared at it for a full minute. Turns out it was a giant octopus attempting to smother(?) a ship. The exhibit looked tacky, but I can imagine that the museum doesn’t get much of a budget. Malaysians aren’t exactly known for our appreciation for culture and history. I mean, just look at the museum’s HTML-ish website that still runs on Javascript and Flash. I bet it has never seen an upgrade since 2002 or something. Still, a good effort by the museum, working with what little resources they could glean.

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An entire wall was dedicated to explaining venomous and poisonous organisms according to the Al-Quran.

And then there was a sculpted model of Medusa, the mythical greek Monster who was said to be a beautiful woman once until she incurred the wrath of the Gods and was turned into a snake-like half creature with serpents for hair. Mannequin on the left (with very shapely, womanly legs, for some reason) represents a man who was turned to stone after looking at Medusa’s hideous form.

I was excited to see the glass cases behind.. but it turns out they were just static displays with fake snakes. lulz

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I was feeling slightly disappointed, but the exhibit got more interesting as we walked further in. (Above) A realistic (and cute looking) model of a monitor lizard (Biawak Air). I’ve seen these buggers running around on the road or swimming in small ponds in parks. Didn’t know they had venom. @_@ Did I mention I’m afraid of reptiles (except snakes)?

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What’s a venom/poison exhibition without some giant spiders ?

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I’m glad I’ve never encountered ones as large as these.

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Some body parts, to make it interesting.  We were trying to figure out if they were real preserved specimens, because some of them had this old, rubbery texture, like it had been soaked in formaldehyde for a long time.

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*stares intently*

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A classroom setting for the kids.

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Another section housing preserved snakes in bottles and jars.. which reminded me of snake/lizard wine souvenirs I saw while travelling in Vietnam. They’re supposed to be good for libido. Not that I’d care to try any..

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Small, live animals like frogs and fish were also on display. The bright colours on this frog warn predators that eating it is not gonna be pleasant.

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Stingrays might look harmless, but are lethal due to their venomous tail stingers.

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Mini aquarium area with actual fish and aquatic life

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Spot the stone fish.

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A type of fish that still retains its primitive evolutionary-looking legs. It’s like a fish with trousers.

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The Poison and Venom Exhibition started off boring, but kept its ‘gems’ to the end. Pretty good for a free exhibit, and a nice way to spend the afternoon especially with family.

Open daily from 9am – 6pm (until Oct 31).

Muzium Negara 

Jalan Damansara, 50566 Wilayah Persekutuan,

Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur,

Malaysia
+60 3-2267 1111

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

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To start off the day, here’s a fluffy fat cat. 🙂 His name is Apu Jukkai. Look at that majestic white beard and white socks awww.

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So here we are again in San Francisco!

I was glad that we got to visit and take a complete picture of the Golden Gate Bridge the day before, because on our second day, most of the structure disappeared under a cloud of dense fog. It felt like entering Silent Hill as we drove into the city.

Golden Gate Park is located just next to the bridge.With beautiful, shady trees and flower gardens, this sprawling 1,000 acre park is also home to several attractions such as the California Academy of Sciences – our stop for the day.

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Dubbed the world’s ‘greenest museum’, the Platinum-certified building is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, with its own planetarium and aquarium.

I’d recommend spending at least half a day here, because there are lots of fun things to see and do, especially for families with kids. Educational and fun!

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As befitting of Californian museums, a dinosaur fossil replica greets visitors at the entrance.

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The first section of the museum is dedicated to the ecosystem, with realistic displays of animals such as zebras and apes. There is also a tank with live penguins.

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An open pool with stingrays and fish.

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Moss and other water plants thriving in clean, filtered water.

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Stuffed possum and babies.

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San Francisco sits on a fault line, and a major quake in 1906 killed over 3,000 people and destroyed 80% of the city. A section of the museum is dedicated to explaining the geology of San Francisco and info on earthquakes.

We got into an earthquake simulator where you stand in a room and it shakes. I wasn’t scared because I knew it was just a simulation, but it would have been terrifying in real life!

There were interactive quizzes to test visitor’s knowledge, such as what to do during an earthquake, etc. I learnt a lot. For example, water in a toiletbowl’s tank is safe for drinking in case of emergency and if you’re trapped in the house while waiting for rescue.

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We caught the Planetarium show, which took us through a show on the Bay Area’s biodiversity. It was my first time in a planetarium dome, and it was a great experience. You really feel like the images are popping out at you and the surround sound makes it more realistic. It’s like you’re flying through space and time.

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Downstairs is the aquarium section.

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Fish of all colours and shapes in the Philippine Coral Reef Tank. The Phils has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, with many species of marine aquatic life in its waters.

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Glow in the dark polyps.

Museum staff are stationed all around the aquarium to help visitors with interesting and informational tidbits on the exhibits 🙂

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So pretty and colourful! 🙂

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These poisonous blowfishes were adorable.

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“Gimme a kiss there, handsome boy.”

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The Academy also boasts a gigantic, multi-tiered Rainforest ‘dome’, with real birds and butterflies flying around! The air was humid and warm on the inside, just like the tropical jungles of Malaysia.

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A mini ‘river/lake’ ecosystem.

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Glass cases with vividly coloured frogs. The bright colours tell predators that they are either poisonous or taste bad.

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A ‘Tomato’ frog. No points for guessing where it got that name.

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Birds flocking to a dish full of food. 🙂

I really enjoyed my visit to the museum because there are lots of things to see and do and I think kids (and adults!) can learn interesting things about our planet and ecosystem.

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, United States

Daily:  9:30 am – 5 pm
Sundays: 11 am – 5 pm

Ticket price: $34.95 (Adult) & $24.95 (child). 

If you’re travelling around SF for a couple of days and visiting various attractions, I recommend a GO San Francisco card. We booked that in Los Angeles and it helped us a lot in saving up on tickets.