Flying Foxes in the Royal Botanic Gardens

The first time I traveled to Sydney, Australia, I strolled through the Royal Botanic Gardens expecting nothing but flora. Instead, I got some pretty shocking fauna. Looking up into a towering tree, I saw dozens of large, round black things the size of bowling balls hanging down. A native fruit, perhaps? No. A nearby sign explained – not unripened fruit but sleeping mammals were dangling from the branches.

These flying foxes, the largest bats in Australia, were slumbering sweetly as the gentle wind swayed them slightly to and fro. I continued walking and found that tree after tree after tree was chock full of these bats. Every several seconds one would awaken and stretch, extending its red wings to their full one-meter span. Otherwise known as mega-bats (no imagination necessary to figure out why) these flying foxes weigh about a kilo and use their eyes and noses to find their way around when they wake up at night, rather than relying on radar like their little bat friends.

Later, Dina from the travel blog VagabondQuest informed me that when they awaken, these mega-bats fill the skies of the park as they fly off into the sunset. Both she and I love these bats, and I just had to see them flying off into the night sky. I am without any idea why her husband Ryan didn’t want to come along to the park to look at pretty flowers and bats, but he did not. So Dina and I alone headed to the Botanic Gardens to watch the sleeping giants awaken.

We were operating on an extremely tight timetable, as we had to get out of the park and back to the train station not long after darkness fell so that I could catch a train which would arrive in Gosford in time to make the last bus of the night. If I was late, I’d be paying for a half hour cab ride back to the house. Another factor came into play which we had not anticipated. As the sky began to darken slightly, rangers drove by, on their loudspeaker announcing that the park was closing. “It shouldn’t be closing,” Dina said. “The internet said it was open till 6:30.” Now, who are we to believe – human beings feeding us information personally, or the internet? The internet, of course.

So we stood and stood and waited and waited, as the bats slumbered on and the park rangers passed by again. By now, time was ticking and the train was on its way. Not many more minutes remained to stand and stare. We reluctantly started heading out of the park toward the exit near the Sydney Opera House, not taking our eyes off the sky in case the bats should finally wake up and start swirling through the air.

Suddenly a pair of huge black bat wings swooped overhead. Finally! “Let’s lie in the grass,” Dina said. “We can get better shots from here.” So we lied down in the grass and watched the flying foxes swooping through the sky across the moon. Here’s what the largest bats in Australia look like as they fly off into the moon at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Note: The park rangers, not the internet, were, in fact, correct, and the park was indeed closed as we lie there in the grass watching the flying foxes. When we arrived at a locked gate, Dina, savvy about the Botanic Gardens, immediately spotted a portal in the form of a tiny one-way revolving gate off to the side. Through here we were able to quickly pass before we got caught and before I missed my train. Once again, another great night with VagabondQuest and an unforgettable evening of lying in the grass watching the largest bats in Australia fly overhead.

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