Friday, September 12, 2008

Crickey! A visit to Australia Zoo

Our holiday in sunny Queensland continued today with a much anticipated visit to Steve Irwin's (the late great Crocodile Hunter) Australia Zoo. Before we even departed Melbourne, we told the kids that one of the benefits of traveling to Noosa for a holiday is that we'd be close to Australia Zoo--home to Bindi the Jungle Girl. The four year old loves Bindi and was thrilled at the prospect of visiting the zoo and perhaps catching a glimpse of Bindi and the rest of her now famous family.

So we set off this morning for Beerwah, a little town that is home to a great big zoo. You can't miss the town or the exit off the Bruce Highway as signs advertising the zoo are clearly marked and indicate exactly where to go.

As we arrived, the Zoo had been open for about half an hour and the parking lot was just starting to fill up. There were more people at the Zoo at that hour than at any other tourist attraction we've been to so far...hmm, maybe that says something about the Big Pineapple and Sunshine Castle. Even though the zoo was busy, it wasn't overcrowded and we only had to wait in a queue 2 deep to buy our admission tickets.

Admission prices to Australia Zoo are quite steep--we paid $135 AUD for two adults and one child (children under 3 were free). Given the admission prices, we thought we were going to be in for a Disney type gouging for the rest of the day. I wondered what we'd get for our $ was just a zoo after all. The Handsome Australian said, "For these prices, it better be a bloody good zoo." He's got high standards remember? The Big Pineapple, Sunshine Castle...all disappointments for the Handsome Australian.

Once we made it through the entry way, it was clear that Australia Zoo is not your ordinary zoo. Our first stop was at the Otter enclosure where one of the members of the Otter team was giving a talk about two female Otters who happened to be sisters. The talk was informative, funny and the animals were very engaging.

Before we could even make heads or tails of our zoo map, we stumbled upon Elephant feeding time. Anyone who was interested in doing so, could queue up and wait their turn to feed the elephants. When your turn came up, you were directed by a keeper to pick a piece of food out of a bucket (there were large chunks of fruits and veggies--apples, banana and carrot mostly) and hold it out for the elephant to grab with it's trunk. It was amazing being so close to the elephant and having the chance to actually feed it. We were very quickly impressed and the entire family was buzzing after the experience.

After the elephant feeding, it was nearly time for the Wildlife Warrior show in the Crocoseum (which is the purpose built stadium/enclosure masterminded by the great man himself--Steve Irwin--to safely display crocodiles and other inhabitants of the Zoo). Before his unfortunate death, Steve Irwin often hosted the shows in the Crocoseum.
The Crocoseum
The Keepers who hosted today didn't have Steve's charisma, but let's face it, no one really does. That's why he was so special. These two blokes were entertaining and their passion for the wildlife was quite obvious. They got the crowd involved with some fun games and the entire experience was quite interactive. We got to see snakes, birds, elephants and of course the famous crocs! Each group of animals were joined on center stage by their own team of Keepers. Each and every one of them and the entire staff around the Zoo wears the khaki shirt and shorts or pants that Irwin made so famous.
The conservation message is repeated over and over, but never in a preachy way. These are just people who are passionate and enthusiastic about what they do and want you to be as excited as they are.
Croc Feeding Time
The Crocoseum itself has a giant screen where you can see the action up close, although it only seats 5000 so you are never really too far away from the action. I'd venture to say their isn't a bad seat in the entire place. It was really well built and well planned.

Next stop was the Kids Zoo which was a petting zoo of sorts where you could purchase food for the animals and feed and pat them yourself. Expecting to pay $3 to $4 a bag for food, I was pleasantly surprised to find the bags only cost .50 cents each! A bargain. One bag was enough to keep both of our kids busy for quite awhile. They loved feeding the animals and Mum and Dad even got in on the fun.

After our adventures in the Crocoseum and the Kids Zoo, we took a break and got a bite to eat at the food court. There were literally dozens of choices and many of them were really quite healthy. We also noticed that the food court prices weren't too bad in comparison to other tourist venues we've visited in the past. A chicken and salad sandwich was about $6 AUD and the food was all very fresh. The seating in the food court was very clean and the tables were made from sliced tree trunks and each one was a very unique length, width and shape. There were plasma screen televisions all around the place beaming out endless footage of the Irwin family--sometimes Steve, sometimes Bindi, sometimes Terri and even young Robert was in on the action. In another setting, this might have been annoying, but when you are on the grounds of Australia Zoo you can easily get caught up in Irwin mania.

After our lunch break, we attended a special Kids Story Time about the Cheetahs. One of the Keepers from the Cheetah team gave a very well geared talk to a small group of children explaining the animal, its habitat and its life in the wild. This talk was highly interactive and he got the kids involved every step of the way. There were visual slides on a tv screen, props for the children to hold and several role plays. This particular keeper would make an excellent primary school teacher. Not only that, his funny asides kept the parents laughing as well. We again found ourselves with smiles on our faces.

After the Cheetah story time it was time for a very special birthday party for a couple of the female Cheetahs. They were turning 4 years old today. This meant their team of keepers brought them out (well one of them anyway) to a special location and spoke to the crowd about the animals while the Cheetah--Sheba was her name I think--opened her birthday present. What would a Cheetah want for her birthday? Raw meat of course. She nibbled away on her gifts before they brought out her birthday cake--it was made from gelatin with sardines and other fish through it. Didn't look too appetizing to us, but Sheeba ripped into it. She was in her element. She was one of the most beautiful cats I've ever seen.
Sheba opening her birthday gift
We then went to the Kangaroo and Wallaby enclosure where you can feed and pat both sets of animals. These animals were very tame and were easy to approach. Our excited two year old did manage to kick up a bit of dust and got swiped at by one of the kangaroos. He wasn't hurt, but he was a bit more reluctant with his patting after that--which is probably a good thing.

We made our way to the Elephant and Tiger enclosures next. The enclosures themselves were amazing. The animals have heaps of room to move around and everything is done up so nicely. The Handsome Australian couldn't find anything that was "in need of updating" unlike our visits to the Big Pineapple and Sunshine Castle. He was actually impressed with the Zoo.
Part of the Elephant Enclosure--who wouldn't want to live here? Stunning!
The day wore on and we saw as much of the Zoo as we could, but by the time the little ones ran out of energy, we had probably only managed to really see half of it. It was an AMAZING day though.

Now having visited the Zoo, I'd say the admission prices are well worth it. The grounds are impeccably well maintained and the entire place is really well set out. Both the Handsome Australian and I commented on how good all the animals looked. Never before have we seen such healthy and happy looking animals in captivity. The coats on all the animals were shiny and healthy looking. You can just tell that the welfare of the animals is put first above all else.

Also, the Handsome Australian commented on the amount of staff around the Zoo. He reckons the Zoo must employ the entire town of Beerwah. Each staff member wearing the compulsory Khaki uniform and a smile. Everyone we interacted with was friendly, helpful and very relaxed. They obviously love their jobs and who could blame them? The place is beautiful and the atmosphere is extremely positive.

If you ever get the chance to visit the Australia Zoo, take it. You won't be disappointed. Steve Irwin may have passed on prematurely, but his spirit lives on at the Zoo. There are photos and film of him everywhere. It's as if he hasn't gone at all. If his Zoo is any indication, he must have been one truly amazing guy.

The only complaint was from our four year old who was disappointed she didn't get to see Bindi the Jungle Girl in person. Perhaps we should have clarified the fact that Bindi would most likely not be roaming the grounds of the zoo waiting to hang out with us.

Otherwise it was a very special day out and one we hope our children will remember for many years to come--we certainly will.


tresa67 said...

Sounds like you had a great time at the Zoo. I haven't been to the Australia Zoo yet, I was wondering if the price was worth it though. Sounds to me like it is well worth the money. Looking like it will be on my list of things to do the next time I'm down under.

- Sara, World Zoo Today

suzinoz said...

It was an excellent zoo Sara. I'd definitely go there again. Thanks for your comment!

Annelise said...

Okay...I am not a fan of zoos. I would go on the obligatory field trip yearly with my students for their benefit only. But now, Handsome Australian's Wife, I totally want to go to this zoo! It does not sound like a place that would make me sad for the animals at all!
Should I ever make it your way I will have to add it to my million things to do list in OZ.
And as a side bar...Steve Irwin was such a great educator and his passion and presence is missed.

suzinoz said...

You'd love this zoo Annelise. Such a happy and positive place.