Gold Coast Explorer since Jan 2010. Always on the lookout for fun, family things to enjoy with my four kids.
Published January 6th 2013
Crickey, what a great family day out
You can't really visit Queensland and not go to Australia Zoo. Equally, if you live in Australia, you need to experience Steve Irwin's dream and make the trip to the Zoo. So what does a day at Australia Zoo hold? It's big, it's very professionally run, it's home to a great number of animals (around 1200 actually) housed in realistic habitats and it's a memorable family day out.
So what are the highlights? I would have to select the hand feeding of elephants in the Asian section as number one on our list. The three elephants, named Siam, Sabu & Bimbo, who really are gentle giants, come over to the fence for feeding, twice a day. The line up was quick, despite the amount of people at the zoo, when we visited in the Christmas holidays. One of the three majestic yet relaxed elephants stretches out her trunk to find your hand. Your offering of a fruit or vegetable is taken, after a quick feel around your hand to locate the food. The trunk is soft, warm and wet – the after feeling is a bit like a dog has licked you. The brief encounter does feel very special. My kids lined up 3 times to make the most of the experience and came away with joy in their eyes. It's one of those special wildlife moments, for us akin to hand feeding wild dolphin at Tin Can Bay. It could feel commercial but it doesn't.
In fact there are a number of wildlife encounters throughout the day that make you feel you have connected with the animals, instead of just looking at live exhibits. You can pat a koala in the Koala Walk and hand feed kangaroos at Roo Heaven. The "roving wildlife" is great too. Turn round and you may just meet a baby alligator, wombat or talking cockatoo. We touched a Burmese python as his handler passed by, carrying him.
The Tiger Temple, home to magnificent Sumatran tigers was pretty spectacular and the African savannah with rhino, giraffe and zebra was set out effectively. Having been on safari in Africa, the African section does manage to recreate the feel of the open plains and we also saw cheetah up close, as they were being walked on a lead. We stopped by camels, offering a camel kiss ($10 for the experience) achieved by putting a carrot stick between your lips and letting the camel take it into his mouth, so when you snap the photo it looks like he is kissing you.
The Crocoseum at Australia Zoo
The Crocoseum is a 5000 seater stadium and the venue for the main show which you definitely don't want to miss. Steve Irwin wanted to provide visitors to Australia Zoo with the opportunity to see crocodiles in clear water ponds, to demonstrate to the public, how crocodiles live and behave in the wild. Crocodiles use the murkiness of the water in their territory to camouflage themselves from their prey. By using clear water, you can see the dangers that can be lurking just below the surface of a seemingly serene billabong.
The Irwin family, Terri, Bindi & Robert hosted the show on our visit (check website calendar for info). They fed the crocs, who entered through a series of channels designed by Steve. Video footage was shown on the big screen, which included family shots of Steve with his wife and children. Bindi & the Jungle Girls performed on stage (special holiday appearance 1 – 14 Jan 2013), singing the zoo's conservation message.
The show also included a free flight bird show which was great. The parrots and lorikeets flying around inside the stadium, over the heads of the audience makes for a memorable event. The wingspan of the condor is incredible to see.
Steve's personality is still very much present at Australia Zoo. You definitely feel a sense of loss for the man who had such a passion for what he did in life. His work at the zoo, which began with his parents when the "Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park" opened back in 1970, and in conservation, is a great achievement and something his family and Australia can rightly be proud of. You can read more of the Irwin family history here.
Take a little time before you go, to read up on what's on offer, the show times of the day and look at the map so you can roughly plan out what your itinerary will be. That way you are not racing between highlights and doubling back on yourself with the route you take. Signage is well done. Each animal info board doesn't overwhelm you with information but gives just enough of the basics, which is graphically very modern and easily accessed. The paintings by Slavko (Australia's Zoo's resident artist) in the snake room, are excellent, with each backdrop painting showing the environment in which that particular snake lives.
A tip here to get the most out of your day, is to be aware of the distances that can be covered in the day and how to manage your family group around the 100 acre site. If you have kids who are still quite young be aware that they will tire easily, when walking. Catch the complimentary shuttle bus between major points – you can take your pram on board. Be prepared with picnic food (as you can take in your own food) such as sandwiches or rolls, which will give them carbs to keep going. Also have dried and/or fresh fruit to munch on. Carry a water bottle and refill at bubblers (water fountains) along the way. There are plenty shady spots to stop and enjoy your picnic or you can dine in the Feeding Frenzy Food court. A hat, sunscreen and comfortable walking shoes are a must. You'll need some cash if you stop to buy anything from a kiosk or food for the animals at the kids' zoo. Don't forget to take your camera, as there are some really great photo opportunities.
These links on the Australia Zoo website are useful: Plan your day, Zoo map and Directions. Our drive from Southern Gold Coast took just under 2 hours. Check out the options for an Annual pass - it's very cost effective, if you are able to visit more than once.
There are a number of wildlife options you may want to consider, although if you have a large family, it's not going to be a cheap day out. To purchase tickets click here. (Note that if you are a RACQ member, you can book discounted entry tickets direct with RACQ).
Australia Zoo Hospital
The Australia Zoo wildlife Hospital is located at the back of the car park and can be visited for a $2 donation. It has interesting displays and large viewing windows so you can see the sick and injured animals housed there. We visited the hospital on our way out at the end. We all had a great day. Being a full one, we also had sleeping passengers on the drive home.