Spain in early May was scheduled for a three-week driving holiday. But fate in the shape of COVID-19 has intervened. Spain is definitely off so Mogo was in. The decision was taken to make a quick three-day road trip down to the south coast of New South Wales and to visit Mogo Wildlife Park before the local COVID-19 situation worsened. As it transpired, we were very fortunate in our timing as the day after we returned the NSW government announced a total statewide lockdown.
Our reason for driving the 400 km south was that NSW Tourism was urging locals to take a holiday, or short break, in the fire-ravaged areas of the state — and the south coast was the worst affected area. As well as losing hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of national parks, many buildings had been destroyed and the locals lost their critical summer tourist trade. The area around the towns of Batemans Bay and Moruya is a favourite destination for holidaymakers from the Australian national capital, Canberra.
The drive down from home at Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast was easy: Down on the motorway to Goulburn and then head off south on totally empty roads, meeting up with the Kings Highway and then down Clyde Mountain to Batemans Bay. The last hour was through an area of utter devastation, with burnt trees as far as the eye can see, although as the photo below shows green shoots are sprouting since recent rain started regeneration.
The very winding descent down Clyde Mountain is a superb driving road and with no traffic. It really could be a driver’s delight. And it would have been a driver’s delight if my passenger seat’s occupant had not been very vocal about the possibility of imminent vomiting unless I stopped trying to emulate Mark Webber in a Porsche at Le Mans.
The area we drove to is beautiful and slightly old-style. Our motel had been modernised but still retains, although no longer uses, the hatches beside the room doors where the breakfast on a tray was inserted without the guests having to answer the door. Nothing beats a small box of cornflakes and a sachet of milk, cold scrambled egg on cold toast on a plate covered by an upturned bowl, small sachets of Vegemite and margarine, a lukewarm cup of instant coffee and some cutlery in a paper bag. Fortunately, those days are long gone in Batemans Bay although they may still linger on in outback motels.
The motel is right beside the river — see the sunrise photo below — and has a large bar which is the home of the local fishing club where it hosts a very popular Friday evening seafood raffle. Locals packed in for the draw but we were lucky enough not to win as we really did not want to share the car with a very large box of mixed seafood on the six-hour drive back home the next day.
I’m a big cat fan and a fan of big cats. I’m very fortunate to have seen lions, cheetahs and leopards in the wild in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana. I have tried to see tigers in India on two visits but without luck. I have always felt very sad for big cats in zoos and wildlife parks and have been long of the opinion that breeding big cats for captivity is wrong.
But recently I have changed my views 180º. I now realise that without captive breeding programs there is a real danger that we will lose some of the big cats forever. Hunting for body parts and pelts for Asian markets and the loss of habitat is rapidly reducing tiger numbers. White lions are extinct in the wild.
Mogo Wildlife Park
The catalyst for the visit, Mogo Wildlife Park, had a very near miss in the summer’s bushfires which ravaged the region. A massive fire came right up to the park but a heroic effort by the staff saved the animals. Although buildings and fences were damaged, the park was able to reopen after a few weeks. Now a good number of visitors, including me, are coming to the park in support and to help make up for the lost summer visitors. Sadly COVID-19 is about to prove another challenge for the park.
Mogo has excellent facilities and quite a few big cats, including white lions, which all have big grassy enclosures. There are none of the sad concrete-floored cages which so distressed me in the past.
The highlights of the visit for me were seeing the 12-week-old white lion cub and its mother playing and having an up-close and personal encounter with the absolutely beautiful Sumatran tiger seen in the photo below
Leica X Vario Solo
I took my Leica X Vario on the jaunt but, with its a short zoom lens of 28mm-70mm equivalence, I had little expectation of catching particularly good photos. In any case, the wire mesh on the enclosures is always a problem. Perhaps soon a camera manufacturer will introduce a shooting-through-wire-mesh-mode for zoo/wildlife park and motor racing photographers — although probably a smartphone manufacturer will get there first.
I could have taken my Fuji X-E2 with its long lens because shooting with a longer lens through wire mesh does reduce but not eliminate the mesh interference. I decided that one camera was enough for the trip and I am very happy with the tiger photo. It’s not as satisfying as a photo taken in the wild but, for me, it’s a passable substitute. I was really tempted to stroke his nose after I took the photo as he was so close and that’s not something I could experience in the wild.
On the day, encouraged by the success of my through-the-mesh tiger shot, I tried some through-the-glass shots of two rather charming monkeys, a Cellicibus and a Pygmy Marmoset. Now the purist in me would have said that shooting through plate glass almost guarantees a loss of definition but I was pleasantly surprised by the photos.
The day after our visit to the wildlife park we drove down the coast road to Moruya. It is kilometre after kilometre of glorious surf beaches and there was no need to worry about social distancing and staying away from people there because there were none.
So there we are. No Spain, no driver’s delight (although there could have been on a solo trip) and, fortunately, no Vegemite on cold toast. But the wildlife park and the sheer peace of Moruya did their level best to make up for the disappointment. Today, under lockdown, even a trip to the supermarket is an adventure.