I’m tempted to follow the arrows to the cute things with the pouches as quickly as possible but I will myself to stay. My skin crawls. I’m centimetres away, as if buried in the ants’ nest, a mound sliced to reveal the 3 cm long drone ants’ tunnels. The hairs on my neck prick up as the hairy spiders crawl and the beetles, well the beetles aren’t so bad.

Onwards frill-neck lizards, monitors and skinks seem much friendlier than the fiery king brown snake, the eastern taipan and red-belly black snake. It’s best to seek these suckers out here at the Sydney Wildlife World rather than in the actual wild. But good to know what the most venomous snakes in the world look like when you’re chasing marsupials.

Lights set into the fake night’s sky of the nocturnal enclosures and possums scurry about, echidnas burrow, quolls seek mischief, and the busy bilbies run around the dusty ground and I ask what the hell is a Rufous Bettong. Outside in the daylight, the wallabies have city views and are free to hop right up to you while koalas hang in trees. The butterfly sanctuary is a flutter of activity and you’ll also spot rosellas, lorikeets, cockatoos and even a cassowary to be wary of.

While the Wildlife World is an excellent up close introduction to Australia’s animals on terra firma, my afternoon isn’t complete without going underwater. The Sydney Aquarium is an excellent attraction with every animal from fragile leafy sea-dragons to penguins, Nemo to Jaws… well no great whites but Grey nurse sharks, graceful rays. A unique addition, along with the glitz of the Great Barrier Reef is the Murray-Dowling System, recreating the mighty Murray River – home to a platypus, massive Murray cod, a couple of water lizards and a smattering of yabbies to boot. At the end of the arrows comes the grand finale, the climax of the symphony, with the massive glass wall where shovel-nosed sharks and reef sharks are inches from you. Press against it and have yourself a Jacques Cousteau-experience.

Damage & the Details: A Discovery 2 Pass for both Sydney Wildlife World and Sydney Aquarium is $48.50, or $26.55 for each attraction.

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

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