I was skeptical when my car on route to the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens decided to make a stop at the Australian Reptile Park, where a bus load of excited kids were waiting for their teacher's green light to enter the Park. My driver, John sold me the notion that it was the best zoo in Sydney. After the walk-about in the Park, I've come to understand why this 2010 Tourism NSW Awards Finalist is considered one of Australia's premier attraction. Here are 6 reasons to bring your kids and even your date to the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.
1) Up Close with the Animals
Established in 1948 by Australia's first naturalist, Eric Worrell, the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary provides plenty of animal interaction. If you like the close and personal encounters of the furry kind, this is a zoo where you can literally get your paws on a cuddly and friendly animal be it koalas, kangaroos, emus, wombats, platypus or ducks.
The Park also offers behind-the-scenes tours from October to April that are great for adults and kids above 8 years.
2) Save the Devil
Drawing inspiration from Noah's Ark, the Devil Ark is a conservation project aimed at saving the Tasmanian devil from extinction. The Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is working with seven other zoos and government agencies to create a second population of 500 Tasmanian devils in the mainland while action is taken with help the primary population in Tassie which has already decreased by 90%. The Park is home to the largest population of Tasmanian devils on the mainland. Funded primarily by visitor entrance fees, the high annual costs of approximately $150 000 has forced the Park to seek sponsorship and donations with the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered Species (FAME). Hopefully the devil won't follow the footsteps of the Tasmanian Tiger.
The Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary exhibits native and exotic reptiles and spiders in their Lost World of Reptiles and Spider World. For fans of Harry Porter's House of Slitherin or reptile enthusiasts, the Park is home to one of the largest collections of native and foreign reptiles in Australia such as alligators and crocodiles, venomous snakes, pythons and boas, iguanas, geckos, turtles and tortoises.
The Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is truly a kid-friendly zoo. There is a children's adventure playground and picnic area with free BBQs where kids can hand feed friendly kangaroos and emus. Most interesting for the little ones is the Park's "Kids 2 Keeper" program that combines learning and fun to bring out the naturalist in your child and develop future zoologists. The program is available to kids between 3-6 years, 8-12 years and 13-18 years who are really more teenagers or young adults. Then there's the kids birthday party program or Hugo's Birthday Party Pack that combines the wildlife shows, playtime with the cuddly animals and Hugo the giant tortoise and party food and lollies in the bushland picnic setting. Wish I was a kid again.
5) Spider and Snake Milking
Forgot all about the mundane milking of cows or goats. Milking spiders and snakes is a totally different ball game, and at the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, it is serious business. The Park is the only zoo in Australia who has been saving over 300 lives each year for the past 50 years through its venom-milking program. It is the sole supplier of a range of venom used for all snake and funnel-web anti-venom in Australia.
I was informed that Australian snakes like the tiger snake have some of the most lethal animal toxins known to science. 100 such snakes are milked regularly. I was surprised to learn that the funnel-web spider actually lives in the Sydney region and the female with its shiny black body and bright red abdominal stripe is the dangerous one. You can actually watch daily demonstrations of venomous snake and funnel-web spider milking at the Park.
The wonderful up close and personal animal experience and efforts of the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary will have you thinking more about animal conservation and the role you and I can play. A small contribution ranging from $80 to over $500 can help defray the daily costs of feeding and caring for the animals, afford the zoo keepers and contribute to the breeding, education and venom programs. You and your family, clubs, groups, schools or company can sponsor or adopt your favourite animal. As a thank you from the Park, adoptees get a personalised adoption certificate, name recognition in the website and invitation to the annual Crazy Critter Adoption BBQ.
Less than an hour's drive from Sydney, the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary provides an excellent venue to spend a day with the family, kids and animals in an Australian bushland.