The four kids are beside themselves with excitement on the 50-minute drive from Melbourne out to Victoria's newest theme park, . They've been watching YouTube videos of the rides and water slides and chatter the whole way, occasionally squealing in anticipation. A cheer goes up in the car when we catch the first glimpse of the yellow tunnel and, seconds later, the huge pheasant which is the park's mascot.
is educational, super fun and one of the best ways you can entertain a bunch of kids on a weekend or during the school holidays.
We enter the park and, after dropping our swimming gear in the poolside cabana that's ours for the day, we run to meet Liam, the Zookeeper and parrot specialist, who is leading us on a VIP Animal Encounter Experience. Liam already has a resplendent blue-feathered Amazonian macaw on his arm and we 'ooh and ahh' as we put out our hands to stroke her colourful feathers. Yet to be named, the impressive creature is only 10 months old and still in training, so is attached to a halter and receiving almond treats for good behaviour. We take turns allowing her to perch on our arms and posing for photos.
Next, we wander down into the wildlife area to visit with Moree, a coastal carpet python from the Queensland rainforest. Snake handler, Beth, is allowing the snake to explore the rocks surrounding the enclosure "so it makes it a positive experience for Moree
". Beth is reassuring when the kids hang back, scared. She informs us that snakes like this have lots of little teeth, not big sharp fangs. "If she bites you, the worst thing that's going to happened is the wound gets infected
". "A snake bite is really lame, it doesn't look impressive
". Gradually the kids warm up and the boys even allow Moree to swirl and circle around their bodies, commenting on the scales and the snake's muscular movements. "It's like a massage!
" they exclaim.
As we make our way down the trail, we stop off for a quick chat with the native parrots, a mixture of galahs and cockatoos. "Parrots are really noisy, they live a really long time and they can be a bit nasty as well,
" says Liam. "99% of our parrots have been re-homed and they talk a lot
." Liam is full of interesting tidbits of information about parrots. Galahs can live for up to 50 years and cockatoos up to 100 years.
The kids are captivated with Liam, who has completed a Bachelor of Veterinary Bioscience and has had two years of valuable practical experience working at Gumbuya Park before it transitioned to the new .
They ask him hundreds of questions throughout the tour. His passion and expertise shine through every time he opens his mouth to answer them. The new owners of are supportive, encouraging their staff to specialise and keep up to date with current research. They are part of the Zoos and Aquariums Association (ZAA) and send their staff to Zoological conferences and training. They are dedicated to making the theme park a sustainable park for the area. It's not just a short-term thing.
As part of the animal encounters, we visit Freddie and Fran, the emus and pat them through the fence. We also hand feed Alfie, the resident deer, who slobbers all over our hands and has the kids squealing with joy.
Next, we wander amongst the Eastern grey kangaroos with Liam pointing out joeys in pouches. Being able to touch their fur and be so close to these animals is awesome. We leave their space wiping even more slobber from the kangaroos' mouths on the seat of our pants and head to the Dingo enclosure.
Michelle, the Dingo Keeper, is waiting for us. The dingoes are still playful puppies and get very excited. Michelle and Liam hold them by their collars to control them while they introduce Nara, the alpha of the pack, and Kiata, the subordinate. After being told the rule not to pat the pups on the head, we are allowed to touch them. The consensus is that their fur feels like a Labrador or a Corgi. All the dingos have Aboriginal names; Nara (companion), Kiata (summer heat), Indi (Sunshine), Munji (lightning) and Talara (rain). Michelle tells us that sometimes the dingoes do squabble."Dingo fights sound really scary. They do lots of growling and snarling but they rarely hurt each other.
" Like toddlers, these dingoes fight a lot.
The last animals on our trail are the koalas. We are taken right inside their pen but can only look up at them on their tree perches. You can't actually cuddle the koalas as it's illegal to handle them in Victoria. But being so close to them, inside their cage, is so special. The kids are compassionate enough to accept the rule and not be disappointed. They ask another hundred questions and Liam patiently explains all about their native habitats, their diseases and what they eat.
Having such an up close and personal encounter with so many animals is fantastic. There is an extra charge for the VIP tour but it's well worth the money and comparable to animal encounters at the Melbourne Zoo or Healesville Sanctuary. As we say goodbye, Liam comments that he loves running these Animal Encounters and tours because the program gives kids confidence with animals. "It's a bit of a joy
", he admits with a smile.
By this stage, the day is warming up and the kids can hardly wait to strip off and hit the water park.
The second I sit on the cushioned deck lounge in the quiet sanctuary of the cabana I am like a traveller who, once they've experienced first class on an aeroplane, can never go back to economy. With sun shade screens that come down to give us privacy and personal space in a crazy, colourful, active, vibrant hub, I feel cocooned and supremely happy.
The Lazy River is full of families enjoying the water but there is space for everyone. Kids lounge on blow up rings or just float and lift their legs, letting the strong current circulate them. I sit in the cabana and wave as they pass me, over and over again.
The fabulous water slides are such a drawcard for kids. It's a warm, sunny day and not even the hundreds of stairs that lead to the top of the slide deters them from sliding twenty times in a row. The Taipan snakes its way around so many corners, you don't know where you are until you burst out into the bright sunshine and the pool. The boomerang flings us so high up into the air we think we'll fly up into the sky but, as boomerangs do, turns us around and we land safely every time.
The Flowrider is a skills-based ride and the lifeguard on duty instructs kids in the techniques needed to be successful surfing or bodyboarding. She encourages them all to throw themselves into the jets and body surf. The kids all try it but surface bruised and not keen to attempt it more than once. This costs $20 per child for half an hour.
For the younger children, Outback Explorers has a playground and an array of fun rides for the little ones. A small roller coaster, teacups which spin around and the dodgem cars give them opportunities to experience rides without the fear factor. Try the Outback Pirate ship to give them a thrill.
With the hills of Nar Nar Goon as a backdrop, the rides in this section are a little more exciting and designed for pre-teen kids. The tree swing is high and fast and the roller coaster has us laughing with exhilaration.
Cafes and Shops
Food onsite is a mixture of healthy snacks and good, old-fashioned, fried fish and chip type fare. The kids love it and couldn't be happier sharing nuggets and calamari while I eat a salad roll. One bonus for those adults travelling with a designated driver is that the cafe sells beer, wine and cider.
This is hands-down the best day of the school holidays for these kids and they are all planning to come here for their birthday parties. The Junior Zookeeper program could be a great gift. Working with the animals, and caring for them is fun but, as Liam warns, "about 70% of the job is just cleaning up animal poo
The water slides are closed for the Winter months but will reopen in Spring. Check the website to be sure.
Coming soon in the next stage of the development is a Woolshed Auditorium, a Dinosaur Experience and an Indigenous Cultural Centre.
will certainly be on the agenda for future school holidays, especially once the weather heats up again. We can't wait!
201803 - 2023-06-16 05:10:31