I'm going to back up a bit from the scuba diving. I posted it during the vacation because it was the most exciting thing that I did and the pictures were the most accessible, but it wasn't the first thing that we did. So in the interest of trying to preserve some chronological order, I'll now talk about the Cairns night zoo, which we visited on our first night away from Sydney.
But first, let me tell you how much of a joy it is to take a domestic flight in a country other than the US. We rocked up at the airport about an hour early to check in for a flight on Virgin Blue. It took less than 10 minutes for our whole group of 26 to check in. Security was a dream. You don't have to take your shoes off. You don't have to take your liquids out. You don't need to hand them your boarding pass and ID as you go through. You simply place your bags on the conveyor belt, and retrieve them on the other side. The whole experience was so much easier than it is at home. Virgin Blue is a regional, low-cost carrier. They offer no frills on flights - no free snacks or drinks, and no free entertainment, which keeps costs down for passengers.
We got to Cairns in the early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to relax by the beautiful pool at Gilligan's before we headed out to experience the night zoo. Since it was nighttime, we couldn't just roam around in the zoo; it was more of a guided tour. But before we saw the animals, we had a delicious buffet with an open bar. We were all given torches (flashlights) for our excursion into the zoo. We were able to walk around in a big group and look for wildlife in the various enclosures, but the guides also brought us to lighted spots and did demonstrations with different animals such as an owl, a cockatoo, a cane toad, and some crocodiles! We were also allowed to pet koalas, of which I couldn't get enough. I didn't realize they were nocturnal; they were very active pulling the eucalyptus leaves off the trees and eating them.
At the end, we were able to pet kangaroos and enjoy honeyed biscuits and punch. I saw a kangaroo with a joey, probably the most adorable thing I've ever witnessed. Some people were lucky enough to get close enough to pet the joey! We were also able to pose with a wombat at the end of the night. He was a little grumpy at being taken out of his cage, but I guess he liked me. Wombats are related to koalas; it is easy to see the resemblance.
Before we left, a man with an accordion played us some traditional Australian songs, including Waltzing Matilda, which is Australia's unofficial national anthem. We had a bush dance, which is similar to a square dance in the US. Although I question the authenticity of an accordion as a traditional Australian instrument, it was a good time.