The Agrodome Farm Show, Rotorua, New Zealand

If you’re in Rotorua, New Zealand, and looking for a low exertion activity (with air-conditioning) that’s entertaining for the whole family — and a bit educational, I STRONGLY suggest a visit to the Agrodome. This 40-year-old “award-winning” Farm Show takes place on a 350 acre farm, that you can also pay to take a guided tour of (mostly a riding tour rather than a walking one, so also good for people with mobility issues). The attraction is really geared towards families, and their family priced ticket is a bit of a deal, as it costs the same as two adults and a child, while allowing three children. And if you check their website, they sometimes offer on-line ticket discounts. The show lasts an hour, and only happens three times a day, so make sure to time your arrival accordingly.  It’s a highly entertaining show, that’s in my opinion, and worth the $36.50 (NZD) [$24.03 USD] — even though the price seemed a bit steep to me at first.

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We arrived at the Agrodome pretty much first thing on our arrival into Rotorua, which I now know is one of the major tourism meccas for both for folks who are road-tripping through New Zealand and locals. As in, pretty much anyone who does the trip is going to be spending a day or two here taking in the sites, which include geysers, and other geothermal activities — mud pools, i.e., mud so hot it bubbles and is utilized for things like high-end full day spa treatments, etc.,. In addition, other attractions of interest to tourists have developed in the area, including multiple Māori cultural daytime and dinner shows, etc., rides of various types, and attractions like the Agrodome.

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To put it in perspective for Americans, Rotorua is a bit like the Wisconsin Dells area north of Chicago, the Gatlinburg area in the great smoky mountains, or the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (which is all casino’s, etc.). All of these locations began as places that people came to in order to appreciate the natural wonders of mother nature… but tend to have devolved over time into decidedly working and middle-class tourist traps, as the majority of their day-to-day customers tend to be nearby locals who can’t afford travel further afield. In ANY town like this, all the attractions tend to be a bit overpriced, I suppose this is done partly in order to make the customers feel like they’re buying something of value. (‘It’s expensive so it must be good’, being a pervasive misconception by the average customer that marketers utilize when positioning a product.)

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Again my favorite quote from American Gods by Neil Gaiman comes to mind

“So what is this place?” asked Shadow, as they walked through the parking lot toward a low, unimpressive wooden building.
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“Come again?”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a giant bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

That said, IF you get there early (before the final show — which is the one we attended, off to the left side (as you’re facing the stage) of the theater there’s a petting zoo type area with baby animals and ducks

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…they will be taking part in the show later…  However, if you wait till after the final show… they might not be there, as its sort of a holding area (I’m guessing they go back to see their mom’s afterwards).

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The show begins with a sort of “fashion show of sheep” beginning with the local star, the Marino. In case you’re unfamiliar, this breed produces the finest and softest wool of all the varieties. While expensive it is AMAZING, and any item made of it is utterly worth the investment. MOST my socks, with the exception of my compression stockings  (edema runs in my family) are merino wool — and have been since I experienced my first pair. First time I saw them was in shop catering to outdoorsy types, and I was like “$20 for a pair of SOCKS?!! Are you MAD?” but the staff members assured me that they were entirely worth it. They challenged me to buy one pair, wear them for a full week without washing, and then sniff them. Seriously… not only do these wick moisture from you feet, but they also naturally kill foot oder issues… AND they are incredibly sturdy and last way way way longer than any other socks I’ve ever owned (and never stretch out over the course of a day).

Each is led in individually, introduced to the crowd, and its particular attributes described… so for instance the breeds like Merino, that produce wool that’s great for clothing, while others are desirable more for their meat than their wool.

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In the above image he’s introducing the Drysdale breed; this New Zealand created breed is raised primarily for its wool. It was developed in the 1930’s by crossbreeding a genetically freakish Romney ram with unusually coarse wool another Romney and a Cheviots resulting in a new breed of genetically modified sheep. One of the freak attributes is that both genders have horns, and its wool grows so quickly that it has to be shorn twice a year…. and the wool it produces is coarse and sturdy, so it is great for things like rugs…

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The full selection of “beauty sheep” on display

Once all the sheep have been led in and introduced, that is when you’ll get to see, the thing I was most hoping to see…. a sheep being sheered

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You, or more likely your older kids, might be chosen from the crowd to come up on stage and experience the joys of milking a cow

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or the excitement of feeding baby lambs and alpacas (who are ridiculously cute)

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and then you’ll be able to watch demonstrations of sheep dogs showing off just how smart and capable they are.

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Initially, a single dog is asked to herd around the stage a small bunch of ducks, the ones from the petting farm area, proably because there simply wasn’t room to do it with sheep. But then a different dog is asked to displayed something far more impressive, the ability to jump on top of the sheep’s backs, running across them like stones in a stream …

something the dogs need to be able to do in order to get a better vantage point from which to view of the entire flock, and be able to protect them from possible threats

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such as wolves, AND then they do it as a pack, multiple dogs run on stage and they do it together… even running past each other without falling off. I was impressed, having not known they could do it.

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After this highpoint of the show, the audience was invited to come up on stage, pet the dogs and take their pictures with the sheep…. and folks didn’t need to be invited twice…

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people raced up there really quickly and competed with each other for the best photos and to pet the animals

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we took our time and I waited for the crowds to clear off….

After that, I of course insisted that I have a chance to check out the gift shop. For the most part it was pretty much the same stuff you see in almost every other gift shop in Australia, so not really that big of a deal. That said…

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I had spotted this toy, which was a stuffed animal with actual sheep’s wool as the coat and thinking I might want to buy it looked at the tag to do my normal “look but don’t buy” then…. go home and find it on-line for probably less money than at an impulse driven shop (like this one). While doing so I definitely noticed that it doesn’t actually SAY made in NZ anywhere on the tag … but in way that sure as hell would lead the less trained observer to assume it had been… and I was like, “HEH, their gift shop is selling NZ stuff not made in NZ!” (and knowing what that told me about the politics of the owners) …. and then when I got home and googled it, sure enough! There was actually a legal suit brought against this souvenir company for misleading tourist into thinking they were buying NZ goods.

Phillip Island, Victoria Australia: Fairy Penguin Parade

Both my travel buddy and the friend (the one who hosted me and showed me around while I stayed at her home in Ballarat) BOTH wanted to bring me to Phillip Island, to a section called Point Grant, but better known as The Nobbies in order to see the Penguin Parade. It’s about a day trip from Melbourne and is most definitely a must see on while on a trip to this part of Australia

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in Phillip Island on Feb. 25, 2018 a whole month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I still wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting. At the time, if you’d seen me, you’d realize very quickly that something was off… my speech was MUCH MUCH slower, so that I was searching for almost every word (which was very weird and a bit frightening)… as such I was still in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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We kept seeing these birds in Point Grant as we were driving towards the boardwalk and the Nobbies Center. I think they’re some sort of goose, but honestly I have no idea. I just thought they were cool. First we went into the center for a snack (I was good, I had a bowl of fruit and and iced tea) … the view out of its windows is absolutely amazing… IMG_8524.jpg

“Hell of a view” — was my friend’s comment when we sat down to eat (he had fries) — and, “a House with this view would be a lot more than $600k” (All through our trip along the Great Ocean Road we had been checking out the prices of beachfront real estate and fantasizing about buying a home with ocean views) 

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These platforms exist for multiple reasons, they allow visitors to enjoy the natural wonders of the area, while preserving biosphere of the area….

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and it keeps the visitors from disturbing the nesting grounds of the penguins.

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If you look into the holes of the boxes below the boardwalk you’ll see penguin chicks
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Each of these boxes/burrows houses penguin chicks

This being the age of the internet and live feeds of animals nesting being all the rage, some of these boxes have cameras inside them that allow you to watch the chicks. That said, not all of the penguins opt to house their chicks in the provided boxes, but instead will set up nests under the boardwalk.

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Once it started to approach sunset, and the time for the Penguin Parade (~8:30 pm), we left the boardwalk and the Nobbies center and drove over to where the Penguine parade happens, a short distance away… with ample time to get a snack & decent parking, etc.

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After the parade, it is important to check under your car and drive VERY slowly, in order to avoid killing any penguins

once you enter the building they check your ticket, tell you where you need to go come show time, and then you’re free to just hang out in the facility, where you have two food options (a cafeteria type place, and then a fast food cart), a gift shop, which had all things penguin, as well some really nice made in Australia goods, like beautiful Marino Wool sweaters, and outback/bush hats made from kangaroo leather.

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Some of you may remember there was once a call to knitters world-wide to produce sweaters for birds, including penguins, who had been in oil spills, intended to 1) keep them warm (the oil in the feathers negates the insulating power of the feathers), and 2) to keep the birds from in trying to clean themselves of the poisonous oil, and hence end up swallowing it. The resulting onslaught of bird sweaters greatly out-stepped the need, so since they need funding at this point more than they needed the sweaters, someone had the bright idea to put them on cheap stuffed penguins and sell those at a fund-raising markup price…

There was also a whole educational section devoted to both what we would be seeing, in terms of the Penguin Parade and what it is that actually happening…  (this is a natural behavior, not one that humans have trained them to do for our entertainment)

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And then information about the birds themselves

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And information about the chicks in the burrows, including some windows into some burrows the staff have set up to lure penguins into (which may or may not have chicks in them when you visit — below are pictures I took looking down on live chicks in said burrows/boxes)

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The first thing you need to know about penguins is that they are very loyal animals, and always return to their family members.

As this video explains, while emperor penguins, the biggest of the species can only be found in Antarctica, Australia is home to the Fairy or little penguin, the smallest of the species

At the doorway the guests are broken into three group based on the tickets they bought. The cheap seats, the best seats above ground (and open to the elements… which is the tickets we opted for), and then just below those seats there’s a viewing area at ground level where you are nice and warm, can’t see as much, but you’re right level with the penguins as they pass and are viewing them through windows.

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No photos are allowed past this white line

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Being the smallest, Fairy penguins are very timid, they wait until it’s dark enough that their predators are going to sleep before leaving the protection of the water, and it’s very easy to scare them back into the water — which, if they do means their chicks go unfed. As such, because of all the stupid humans who came before us who insisted on using flash when taking photographs — which freaks out the poor penguins — even after being begged to not do so, photography is now banned at the event … and there’s more than a few staff member watching the guests like hawks to stop them should they bring out anything in the way of a camera. As such, I found videos (all produced professionally).

 

Since you can’t get an actual photo of yourself with the penguins, you can either download professionally taken pics of the penguins via their app, or for a fee you can buy a green-screened and Photoshoped image of yourself with the birds. (If you look closely at the sign above the heads of the photo booth’s staff members, you can even get one where you’re smaller than the penguins.)

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These are the women who made our photo for us

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Phillip Island, Victoria Australia: Koalas

Both my travel buddy AND the friend I stayed with in Ballarat… told me that they wanted to bring me to Phillip Island. It’s about a day trip from Melbourne and (as this desire on their part evidenced) is most definitely a must see on while in this part of Australia. While both of them wanted to bring me here to see the penguins (see my post), my travel buddy and I got there early enough, that we had time to kill, so that we decided to go to the Koala Conservation Centre

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in Phillip Island on Feb. 25, 2018 a whole month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I still wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting. At the time, if you’d seen me, you’d realize very quickly that something was off… my speech was MUCH MUCH slower, so that I was searching for almost every word (which was very weird and a bit frightening)… as such I was still in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]IMG_1754My travel partner (Mik) and I have ONE major disconnect in our our travel preferences, I try to avoid extreme heat at all costs while he LOVES it; and he considers temps that most people qualify as in the mild to comfortable ranges, freezing. Doing our long-planned day trip to this island, Australia’s weather took a dip from “Oh my G-d it’s hot” to 66 F (18.9 C) which he considered FREEZING and I consider about perfect for dressing spiffy (a t-shirt, a light leather blazer and jazzy hat). (If you note the pictures, he ends up NOT wearing his jacket even though he kvetched about the cold… Men!)

Anyway, we bought our tickets for the penguin march later that night (cause they sell out), and headed to the Koala Center

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When you first arrive at the center there’s a big educational section where you can read up on all sorts of things you didn’t know about Koalas, such as the fact that they are going extinct because of a fast-moving strain of Chlamydia which is causing infertility and blindness (since my visit, there’s actually been some progress with private funding in sequencing their DNA, which they hope will lead to a cure before one of the cutest animals on the planet goes extinct)IMG_1756

Once you’ve cleared the educational bit, you walk into a two bits of protected habitat, where the Koala’s are essentially caged-in (partially to keep them in but also to keep other Koala’s infected with Chlamydia out) into a sufficient amount of habitat to keep them happy — with supplemental foods dropped off in areas close to but just out of reach of the guests.

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Note that some branches are wrapped in plastic in order to discourage Koalas from going out onto the boardwalk

Then you walk up along elevated (but handicapped accessible) boardwalks that bring you up to the level of the branches where the Koala’s like to hang out. So you can get close, but not too close.

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It’s easy to spot where Koala’s are because of all the guests collecting there

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Me and Mik, and Koalas (there’s one in every picture)

Here’s a video I took of an active Koala (most of them tend to be sleeping, or just lazily hanging out.

 

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This old guy (the staff member told us it was an elderly male), in spite of the best attempts of the staff to keep it from happening, had somehow managed to get from the tree to the ledge of the visitors section of the boardwalk. The guy in the light shirt standing next to Mik was in fact a staff member, who was blocking visitors from getting too close. He told us they had placed a tree limb across from the boardwalk to a tree, and he was just standing there waiting for the Koala to get the hint and cross back to the tree, so that he could remove it.

Ballarat: Wildlife Park

Just like pretty much every town in Australia, Ballarat has a wildlife park where you can get up close and personal (in varying degrees) with Australia’s wildlife. I had avoided the one in Sydney, hoping to actually see them in the wild —  rather than under zoo like conditions — but while convalescing in Ballarat my friend (who used to work as a nurse) convinced me to give her city’s one a try.

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Ballarat Wildlife Park on Feb. 4th, 2018, only 10 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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One of the animals I was MOST looking forward to see “in the wild” was a Koala. This park had a few (and you could PAY to get your picture taken next to one … you would think that for $40 they let you hold it, but no — probably safety concerns; apparently while Koala’s are cute, they aren’t very friendly).IMG_1676The Koala’s that were in cages were very hard to photograph, in part because they were sort of hiding in the shade (while being grey), but mostly because of where the sun was relative to where I was made it so that in each case the lighting wasn’t conducive to it…

IMG_1674I however manage get one video but it wasn’t worth posting (mostly it’s of the back half of a Koala whose nose was stuffed into a bush… although it was close enough that you could hear it chewing).

This is a video that I took of a bird that is actually pretty common in Australia (as in I had in fact seen it in the wild), I kept seeing it in city parks, etc.,

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Some people in Australia have these as pets… let’s keep in mind my favorite animated character as a child was Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and that in my storage locker waiting to be unpacked is a HUGE collection of porcelain and other type dolls made in her image

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These are the lizards from the Priscilla Queen of the desert dance routine


 

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I took two videos of these cutie pies….  they were really a lot of fun to watch

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This sweetheart was my favorite animal in the whole park, she “held” my hand as I fed her and was really very sweet

Even with taking it easy as possible I ultimately only managed about two hours at the park… The more tired I got the dizzier/sicker (like my head was buzzing) I was getting … so once we’d sort of seen it, we headed home and I went back to bed.