Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia

Apart from the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo was the one attraction in Sydney that I most looked forward to. Open since 1916, it sits on roughly 52 acres of land and boasts a diverse collection of mammals, birds, and reptiles housed in often spectacular, spacious exhibits. I’ve made it a point to visit local zoos on all our trips, and with Australia being home to so many unique animals, this was one zoo that I didn’t want to miss.

Located just 12 minutes from the city by ferry, we hopped on a Captain Cook Cruises ferry from Circular Quay for AUD 50.50 per person. This included entrance to the park as well as a return ticket. It was a wee bit pricey for us Filipinos, but considering that I got to observe a few animals that I had never seen before like the prehistoric tuatara, the frighteningly massive leopard seal, and the iconic, almost comical Tasmanian devil, I’d say that it was money well spent. And besides, any cent that goes towards the conservation of animals (and the planet in general) is always cool by me.

After hopping off the ferry, we jumped into one of these cable cars to enter the park. The Jurassic Park theme song started playing in the cab which got me really pumped up. Turns out it was just my brother Erwin humming the tune.


Southern Corroboree FrogsPseudophryne corroboree – Found only high up in the Snowy Mountains of Kosciusko National Park, this stunningly beautiful frog is one of Australia’s most endangered species. “Corroboree” is an Aboriginal term meaning a gathering of tribes, in which tribesmen would often paint their dark skin in bold yellow patterns.

I’m not sure, but I think this was a green tree frog.

This one may have been a “Dumpy”, also known as a White’s tree frog.

Red-Eyed Tree FrogLitoria chloris – Though this specimen wasn’t as brightly marked, red-eyed tree frogs are usually spectacularly colored, with a uniform bright green above, occasionally with yellow spots, and bright yellow on the underside. The thighs may be blue/purple to blue/black in adults. It has golden eyes at the centre, which change to red towards the edge of the eye.


Central Bearded DragonPogona vitticeps – One of the most commonly kept pet lizards, the central bearded dragon has a great personality and comes in many different designer morphs.

Desert Death AdderAcanthophis pyrrhus – As its common name suggests, the desert death adder is a highly venomous snake. With the rest of its body hidden beneath leaves or soil, it lures its prey by raising and twitching the tip of its tail as seen below. Wicked.

Green AnacondaEunectes murinus – Along with the reticulated python, the green anaconda is one of the world’s longest and heaviest snakes, growing to an adult size of 22 ft and 215 lbs. Together with the shark or crocodile, this is probably one of the last things in the world that you’d want to be caught dead in the water with. Scary!

ScheltopusikPseudopus apodus – Though it resembles a snake, the scheltopusik is actually Europe’s largest legless lizard. It has movable eyelids, prominent ear openings, a short body and a long tail, and it feeds on insects, slugs, and snails. It’s also commonly known as a “glass lizard” or “glass snake”, because like geckos and lizards, it can display caudal autotomy and drop its tail to escape predators.

TaipanOxyuranus scutellatus – One of the most venomous snakes in the world, it’s also credited as being the Philippines’ wealthiest tycoon. Oh sorry, that’s a different taipan.

Tawny Crevice DragonCtenophorus decresii – The males of this species are known for their spectacular defensive displays. They defend their territory by moving their hind legs up and down while waving their front legs in a circle and bobbing their heads vigorously. Sounds like me dancing.

TuataraSphenodon punctatus – Apologies for the crappy picture, but he refused to move so I had to settle for this. I had only previously read about this facinating creature so it was a real treat to actually see one up close.

Though resembling a lizard, tuataras are more closely related to reptiles from the dinosaur era than to present day lizards. Found only in New Zealand, the two species of tuatara are the only surviving members of the order Sphenodontia, which flourished around 200 million years ago.

Their most unusual feature is the pronounced photo-receptive eye (dubbed the “third eye”) whose current function, though not entirely certain, is thought to be involved in setting circadian and seasonal cycles. Their eggs, which they bury in underground nests, take over a year to hatch – far longer than any other reptile.

This, my friends, is probably as close to a living, breathing dinosaur as you’ll ever get. Frikking awesome.


Shots from the awesome bird show. Check out the spectacular view of the harbour and Opera House.

If I remember correctly, this bird cracking that egg with a rock was some type of hawk.

EmuDromaius novaehollandiae – The largest bird native to Australia and the second-largest bird in the world by height, behind only the ostrich.

“Emu”, according to Ren, is Bisaya for “EMO”. He kinda looks the part too, doesn’t he?

I don’t know what type of bird this was, but it was everywhere, even in downtown Sydney. Even their “maya” birds are fancy down under. 😆 Check our the droplets of rain streaking down on this photo. Great shot Erwin!


Macleay’s SpectreExtatosoma tiaratum – This thing was wicked cool. A large phasmid endemic to Australia, this stick insect is capable of parthenogenesis, which is a form of asexual reproduction where growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization, aka “virgin births”. Young specimens are particularly difficult to detect in the enclosure as they really do look like dried up twigs and leaves. So cool!

Goliath Stick InsectEurycnema goliath – As its common name suggests, the goliath stick insect is one of the largest stick insects in Australia, with the females growing to an adult length of over 20 cm. When threatened, it flicks its hind legs which are covered in sharp spurs that make rattling sounds.


A cute, cuddly koala in a familiar pose. They sleep around 20 hours a day so you’ll often find them wedged in trees like this. For an additional AUD 20 per person, you can have a private encounter and photo session with these highly charismatic animals.

G’day mate!

Short-Beaked EchidnaTachyglossus aculeatus – Also known as the spiny anteater, the four species of Echidna, along with the platypus, are the only five existing monotremes (mammals that lay eggs).

Pygmy HippopotamusChoeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis – Unlike the common hippopotamus, the pygmy hippo is nocturnal and reclusive. It weighs in at only 400-600 lbs, which is roughly a quarter of its much larger cousin.

This scene was so cute and endearing. The juvenile kept climbing up the platform and was repeatedly pulled down playfully by the adult in what looked to be a game between mother and child. They did this for several minutes with us captivated the entire time. I love animals.

Kangaroo just chillin’.

A scene from the elephant show. Isn’t that little baby cute?

The striking Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus) and…

…its homelier cousin the Brazilian Tapir (Tapirus terrestris). “Hey!…”

This exhibit of Himalayan Tahrs (Hemitragus jemlahicus) was spectacular.

Now THAT’s what I call a view. Spectacular indeed!

Sumatran Tigers

Chimp chompin’ on some carotene.

A cute, hyper little river otter

Seal Cove

Leopard SealHydrurga leptonyx – My first time seeing this animal outside the “Happy Feet” movie, I was astonished by its sheer size. Growing to an adult length of almost 12 ft and weighing in at 1,300 lbs, this is one seal that you don’t want to mess with.

Snow LeopardPanthera uncia or Uncia uncia – Truly one of the rarest creatures, the snow leopard is an infrequently seen animal that lives in the harsh, rugged mountains of Central Asia. Despite its low numbers in the wild, these beautiful animals are still hunted for the illegal fur trade and for their habit of preying on domestic livestock.

Red PandaAilurus fulgens – Slightly larger than a domestic cat, the red panda is a small arboreal mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. Cute little dude, huh?

Tasmanian DevilSarcophilus harrisii – A carnivorous marsupial now found only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Stocky, muscular, and the size of a small dog, it is the largest carnivorous marsupial and an iconic symbol of Tasmania.

Watching these guys growl and circle continuously atop these tree stumps made me understand where the inspiration for Taz’s whirlwind-like, gibberish-speaking personality came from. 😆

Sadly, wild populations of Tasmanian Devils have been devastated since the late 1990s by a disease known as devil facial tumor disease. It now threatens the survival of the species, leading the IUCN to declare the Tasmanian Devil as endangered in 2008. Programs are currently being undertaken by the Government of Tasmania to reduce the impact of the disease, including an initiative to build up a group of healthy devils in captivity, isolated from this devastating illness.

This was an impressive zoo, though admittedly not the best that I’ve visited. I’m a herp lover but there unfortunately weren’t as many amphibians nor reptiles as I would have liked. In fact, there were actually very few amphibians on display. Some newts, salamanders and more frogs, particularly dendrobatids, would have been nice.

If I’m not mistaken, they didn’t have many (if any) small primates such as marmosets and lemurs either. Seeing more of those, along with other smaller terrarium animals, would have been cool as well. I know that a lot of the animals I just mentioned aren’t found in Australia, but hey, we don’t have them in the Philippines either but you can still see many of them at Avilon Zoo.

With that said however, some of the unique animals they had on display here like the tuataras, corroboree frogs, koalas, and Tasmanian devils are creatures that you won’t find in many zoos, so getting the opportunity to observe them for the first time was a fascinating experience. I just wish that you didn’t have to pay so much to get up close and personal with the koalas. As mentioned up top, the AUD 50.50 entrance fee was steep enough, especially for us peso-earning Pinoys.

Despite my personal wish list however, this was a great zoo nonetheless and one you’d be pleased to reserve a day for should you ever find yourself in Sydney. Please visit their website for more information. If I’m not mistaken, you can get discounts on entrance fees as well if you book your tickets online.

More on Sydney

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Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour, Australia
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Birthday Bush Tucker Dinner at Wolfies, Sydney, Australia
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Oporto, Sydney, Australia

Underground River, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

To be honest with you, for many years, I had only been mildly enthused about the idea of visiting the Underground River in Palawan. Sure I had heard all the stories about how magnificent it was, that it was the longest subterranean river in the world, that Jacques Cousteau himself had visited it many years ago, even declaring Palawan to be the most beautiful place he’d ever explored.

But the fact of the matter is, I just wasn’t all that into cold, dark places that had the musky smell of damp guano. I had been a few times to Sumaging Cave in Sagada, and though I enjoyed it, it just didn’t have that life-changing, epiphany-inducing wow factor for me. I guess I’m more of a wide open spaces, rolling hills, bright blue skies kinda guy.

But then came the New 7 Wonders of Nature initiative in 2007. To even be considered as one of the seven most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the world was an honor in itself. Sure, the initiative quickly became a popularity contest, with many of the votes being driven by nationalistic support, but there undeniably must have been something truly magical about this place for it to be garnering this much worldwide attention.

And so came the much awaited announcement early this year. With the Underground River being officially declared as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature, I was stoked, and I was convinced. I knew then, without a doubt, that a trip to the Underground River was something that I just had to scratch off my bucket list soon.

The longest navigable subterranean river in the world, the Puerto Princesa Underground River stretches for approximately 8.2 kms, though the tour will only take you as far as the first 1.5.

As expected, tourism to the Underground River has spiked. To manage the number of tourists, you’re required to secure a permit before being allowed to enter. Of the approximately 1,200 daily entry permit requests, only a maximum of 900 are granted, so if you can secure one in advance, either through your hotel or travel agent, that would be ideal.

Many tourists come without knowing this, and leave without seeing the Underground River. (like us, almost. CLICK HERE to read about it.) They’re very strict about this so you need to come prepared.

CLICK HERE for more information on how to secure entry permits.

Entrance to the batcave. “Holy crap Batman! Those tourists don’t have permits!”

And into the belly of the beast we go…

Before anything, I have to say that it was tough as hell, especially for an amateur like me, to get good pictures. It was pitch black inside, save for the small beam of light from the boat’s spotlight. On top of that, the boat was moving, making it even more difficult to get clear, unblurred images.

The big bounce flash I brought along was only useful whenever we were close enough to the cave walls or ceiling, which wasn’t often since many of the chambers were cathedral-like in their enormity, the highest ceilings estimated to be around 300 meters from the surface of the water. Amazing!

Simply put, the pictures below don’t do this subterranean river any justice. I do hope however, that they at least give you a sense of just how stunningly beautiful this underground network is, and inspire you to come see it for yourself.

You can’t tell from the picture, but this obelisk-like stalagmite was massive, rising up, in my estimation, around 60-80 ft from the surface of the water.

You get a sense in this picture of just how colossal some of these stalactites were.

You can’t really tell from these pictures, but bats were hanging from…well, pretty much everywhere.

Do you see Jesus?

Jellyfish-looking stalactites

Droplets of water would fall from the ceiling from time to time, so be sure to bring something waterproof to protect your camera.

Water Monitors

As if the Underground River weren’t awesome enough, you can walk a few meters after your tour to an open area with several Asian water monitors (Varanus Salvator) basking in the sun. I love reptiles and amphibians, even keeping a few as pets, so I really enjoyed getting close to and photographing these beauties. Adult water monitors can grow up to a length of 5 feet from snout to tail tip.

Was the Underground River worth it? Was it deserving of all the hype and praise? In a word, YES!

Though the aforementioned Sumaging Cave was more fun, simply because you could actively crawl, climb, and swim through the cave system, the Underground River was immeasurably more impressive and grandiose. With chamber after chamber of cathedral-like ceilings and massive speleothems, going through this subterranean network made you feel like you were visiting some ancient basilica, a place of worship formed by nature over a span of 20 million years. To put that in perspective, Christ was born a mere 2,000+ years ago. If that isn’t worthy of your awe and respect, then nothing is.

More on Palawan

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Ay kay Layo ng Lamayo!

Plantation Bay, Cebu

Plantation Bay Resort and Spa
Marigondon, Mactan Island, Cebu, Philippines

Aaaaahhh…beautiful Plantation Bay, the last leg of our whirlwind 3-day Cebu getaway.

Opened in 1996 and located only 30 minutes from Cebu City, Plantation Bay is set in 11.4 hectares of secluded grounds and offers one of the largest privately-owned waterways in the world. It’s been voted one of the top 20 resorts in Asia by Condé Nast Traveler 3 years in a row.

Aside from the large and gorgeous lagoon-like saltwater pools, they also offer many other activities including scuba diving, aqua sports, fishing, rock climbing and Segway rentals. They even have archery and shooting ranges! How cool is that?!

Here’s the reception area.

Ren looking radiant while posing at one of the resort’s many gazebos.

Beautiful colonial plantation-inspired architecture. This was where we stayed – Edo Hall.

Ren and Brooke striking a pose.


Finding Nemo…or is it Ariel the Little Mermaid?

Dondi elated, having crossed the great divide.

Our spacious and very comfortable room, complete with complimentary cookies and other goodies.

When you hang out with my wife’s family, it won’t be too long before you find yourself holding a karaoke mic in one hand and an ice-cold beer in the other. I don’t sing so I often find myself holding two beers instead.


Brooke’s good friends Jun and Girlie were on their way bearing Cebu lechon for dinner, so we enjoyed a small appetizer first of pita bread and Japanese gyoza at Fiji restaurant. Along with Savannah Grill above, Fiji is one of I believe three restaurants serving delicious fare at Plantation Bay.

As you’d expect from a resort of this caliber, the food was a little pricey but most everything we ordered was good and they did give you large portions.

The next morning. What a beautiful sight to wake up to.

If I remember correctly, the resort had about 2 or 3 of these beautiful gigantic man-made saltwater pools with sand lining the shores. As you can see from the pictures, some of the rooms had a patio with steps leading directly into these pools. At the deepest parts, they were only around 5 feet deep, making it much safer for everyone.

I never thought anything man-made could be so beautiful. It had all the pleasures of the ocean without the little annoyances like rocks, jellyfish, boats, etc. Plus the saltwater didn’t tatse as salty as regular seawater either.

Our patio complete with water basin to wash the sand off your feet. I love it when resorts provide you with little conveniences like this.

The lovely Renée taking her first dip. Check out them coconuts…in the background. 😀


Being extremely careful not to get my camera wet, I go into the pool to take some photos. The plantation-style cottages look breathtakingly gorgeous bathed in the water’s turquoise reflection. The water was so warm and comfortable too.

Ren spelunking in this floating cave. I guess it’s for making out?

Doesn’t it feel great to be alive?

Lush greenery and flowers abounded.

Pier leading from the reception area to the heart of the resort.

Hammock in the middle of paradise.

For anyone who preferred fresh water, they had this smaller pool surrounded by dark man-made rocks. It had all these little “make-out” caves with mini waterfalls and sprinklers, as well as several private jacuzzis as pictured below.

Laying down, the picture at the top left corner is your view. Beautiful huh? And the view ain’t so bad either.

We enjoy a few chilled, fresh coconuts before lunch.

Kilimanjaro Cafe, the third restaurant here at Plantation Bay. I had the delicious Powerhouse Burger with mushrooms, bacon and fried egg pictured below.

With the day coming to an end and the sun setting on our vacation, I take a few parting shots, grateful for the experience but a little sad that we have to say goodbye so soon.

Even the flowers look sad.

The reception area mascot poses for me right before we leave. “I may be cute, but I’m cranky!” Renée, izzachoo?

With all the activities that Plantation Bay offers, it’s no surprise that Asia Spa Magazine calls them one of the top ten family-friendly resorts in Asia. From the shooting range to the game rooms to the kiddie pool slides, there really is something for everyone here. Plus it’s just so darned beautiful.

As you can tell from our pictures, we all had an absolute blast during our short stay, so much so that we all wished we could have stayed longer, even for just another day. I personally would have loved to try my hand at archery. I’ve never ridden a Segway before either so that would have been loads of fun too. I guess in the end this just gives us more reason to come back.

Thanks for the unforgettable 2 days Plantation Bay! ‘Till next time. 🙂

For more information, you can visit their website at plantationbay.com.

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On Taking the Road More Traveled to Kawasan Falls, Badian, Cebu, Philippines
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