I am a firm believer in the superiority of winter. After all, you can always put more clothes on to get warm, but there is a limit to the amount you can take off.

Also consider the incredible variety of things you can do with snow: snow angels, snow men, snowball fights, add some syrup to snow in a bowl for dessert ... the options are endless. This said, I recently found myself shoveling dirt at 3 in the afternoon on a day that topped out at more than 100 degrees.

As I felt my deodorant going to work, I started thinking of places I would rather be. Top of the list: Australia.

Due to its position on the other side of the equator, it is currently winter in Australia. Unfortunately, I don't think Australians are having snowball fights right now, but I bet they are wearing sweaters to go outside.

Of course, the weather is only a convenient excuse. The truth is, I would go to Australia any time of the year if I had the opportunity. The unique wildlife, ecosystems and culture would make even the hottest days worthwhile.

First stop on my whirlwind tour of the world's largest island nation would have to be the Great Barrier Reef. This incredible living structure is home to thousands of plants and animals, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world.

While snorkeling or diving the reef, you may be lucky enough to see everything from clown fish to clams and sea turtles to whales. That is in addition to the coral that makes up the reef itself. The Great Barrier Reef is the result of millions of years of work by hundreds of species of hard and soft corals.

When these extraordinary animals die, they leave behind their limestone skeletons.

These skeletons are the foundation on which future corals will cement and grow. In the case of the Great Barrier Reef, this process has resulted in a structure that is visible from outer space.

Eventually, I will have to leave the wonderful world of water and walk on two feet again. While I would be thrilled to see a kangaroo or koala in the wild, the animal I really want to see is the duck-billed platypus.

It seems this animal's sole reason for being is to break all the rules. While having most of the characteristics of a mammal, the platypus insists on laying eggs. The mother will feed her young with milk, yet she has no nipples. Instead, the baby platypus laps the milk directly off the hair on its mother's belly.

Male platypuses have venomous spurs on the back of their hind legs, and they all look more than a little goofy. This is my kind of animal!

When I finally leave the land down under, I will take with me memories of sunbathing by the billabong, eating shrimp off the barbie and listening to the didgeridoo with my mates.

Sadly, that trip probably won't be falling into my lap any time soon. The good news is that all it takes is a short walk over to visit the kangaroo and emu here at the zoo, and I can transport myself to a whole world of wacky wallabies and daring dingoes.

Stop on by the zoo and try it yourself. Even if Australia isn't your scene, we've got four other continents filled with amazing animals just waiting for your visit.

Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.