Tagging off to the zoo…


“DID you tag off?” This is what they ask you on the bus here and it always sounds like some Australian euphemism. Did I what? None of your business, sir.

But it’s only to do with the travel card. You buy a card costing ten Aussie dollars (about six quid) and load it with money. This card can then be used on the bus, trains and ferries, much like an Oyster card in London, and buying it reduces the fare a little.

Apart from hiring a car for a weekend trip south, we have used public transport all the time and it’s good in the way public transport often seems to be when you are abroad. Using the card, you tag on the train or bus – and tag off when leaving. And if you forget the last part, the system assumes you stayed on for the full journey, and charges you accordingly. Hence that tagging off question.

We used two buses to get to Perth Zoo yesterday. The zoo is housed in a 40-acre park across the water from the city centre. The grounds are lovely and it’s a well-kept place. Those who dislike zoos will not like this one either, I guess, but surrender to the experience and it’s a great day out.

Much of the zoo is Aussie-themed, with a reptile house full of native snakes and lizards, and an enclosure that mimics the Outback, where kangaroos wander past you or lounge in the sun, scratching themselves. You can spot the male kangaroos because their balls are large and hang low like a punch-ball. It looks like a dangerous way to arrange your tackle, but presumably the roos know what they are doing. And we saw Aussie penguins too, small and unbalanced on land, little submarine missiles under the water.

We glimpsed a dozing dingo, cooed at koalas and had our stomachs turned by watching the Tasmanian devils at feeding time: what funny, ferocious creatures – squat, solid and with incredible, bone-crunching jaws.

Elsewhere, we saw a Sumatran tiger on the prowl, long and lean and slim-hipped from behind, saw elephants, a lion taking a nap and a rhino too. Zebras shared an enclosure with two giraffes, one male one female, and the tall boy was very interested in his mate, following her around with one-track-mind male persistence, sniffing her bum. He sniffed, she swerved, he sniffed again.

The meerkats did their usual charm offensive, winning everyone over, and hopefully banishing thoughts of that annoying TV advertising campaign. While most played or dozed, one stayed high, perched on top of an anthill, watching out for what was coming, even if it was just more visitors.

Two hyaenas had a cackle of a fight while I watched, and they are quite scary-looking creatures, larger than you might imagine, but just as ugly as reputation dictates. They are noisy and look like the scruffiest dog you ever saw, except that they aren’t dogs at all, but closer to cats. And dingoes, by the way, don’t bark but just sneak up on you with a soundless snarl.

The end of our holiday is creeping up on us with a soundless snarl, too. We are leaving our Airbnb in Fremantle today and returning to stay again with our friends M&A for four nights, then starting the long haul back on Friday afternoon. After which real life awaits, but Australia still has us for a few days yet.

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