With over 100 zoos, wildlife refuges and sanctuaries scattered across Australia, and limited time to see everything, it can be difficult to decide which ones are worth visiting. But after a bit of research, one choice stood out for us as a “must see”: the Australia Zoo.
The Australia Zoo was, of course, made famous by the late Steve Irwin, also known as the Crocodile Hunter. But it was actually Steve’s parents, Bob and Lyn Irwin, who opened the zoo in 1970. Originally, they named it Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park. In 1982, they expanded the park and renamed it the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. Steve and his wife, Terri changed the name to the Australia Zoo In 1998.
Mark and I decided to visit the zoo as a day trip from Brisbane. We had already rented a car for our Australia adventure, and getting to the zoo was pretty straightforward. The zoo is about an hour’s drive due North from Brisbane. You can also get there by hired coach/tour bus, but then the length of your stay is determined by the tour company, and not at your own pace. We preferred the freedom offered by driving ourselves.
When we arrived at the admission gate, our cashier informed us that we had arrived at the perfect time – the main show, Wildlife Warriors, was starting very shortly! She told us it was the highlight of the visit, so we made a point of heading straight to the main stage to snag good seats.
Being low season though, and mid-week to boot, there was no shortage of good seats. The stadium (known as the Crocoseum….get it?) was barely half full!
Birds started off the show – flying and swooping over the heads of the spectators. (It’s really hard to photograph birds with a regular camera while they’re in flight. And it really doesn’t do the show justice. You’ll just have to take my word for it – it was spectacular!) The presenters talked about the different skills and abilities of each bird species as they were brought out. Some had super-speed, some could change direction on a dime, and others can be trained to take money from the outstretched hands of gullible visitors.
Once the birds were safely away, the zookeepers brought out some less cuddly creatures – snakes. (Note all the empty seats in the stands. November is an ideal time to go!)
Of course, no animal show in Australia would be complete without crocodiles! This saltwater crocodile made his entrance by way of a shallow pool in the center of the stage. The water sort of created an optical illusion. He doesn’t look very big here, does he?
But once out of the water, we realized he was huge! Look at the size of this croc! (Meant to be read in an Australian accent)
The zookeepers obviously know how to interact with potentially dangerous animals like these. And, of course, you have to make sure they’re well-fed. What do crocodiles like to eat? How about a whole chicken?
Here’s a quick video we grabbed of the moment the zookeeper threw the chicken for the crocodile to eat. It happens in an instant!
I can see why the show is hyped up by the gate attendants. It was funny, informative and entertaining. They used this sort of… I don’t know how to describe the music, but it was the kind that lifts you up and almost makes you teary-eyed at the same time. It just gets you right in the feels.
After the show, Mark and I explored the zoo itself. The zoo is situated on 100 acres of land, so we did the best we could to see as much of it as possible in an afternoon! We chose to skip the Africa section, because our primary goal was to see the animals that are native to Australia. (We’ve been to Africa twice, so we weren’t worried about seeing giraffes or zebras.)
Luckily, the main stage was close to an exhibit of one of the most iconic animals in Australia – the koalas!
For some reason, I thought koalas were bigger than they really are. They grow to between 60 – 85 cm and weigh anywhere from 4 – 15 kg. They also sleep for about 22 hours a day. Their diet of eucalyptus leaves requires a lot of energy to digest, which basically tires them out! (In fact, they move so little that in another area of the zoo, there are signs marking which trees have koalas in them. So, basically it’s someone’s job to walk around every morning, find a koala in a tree and place a sign on it!)
And, despite often being referred to as “koala bears”, these adorable creatures are actually marsupials, and not part of the bear family.
A zookeeper was nearby, so I asked her how koalas manage to stay cool in Australia with such thick fur coats. While they do pant to lower their body temperature, this method can also be dehydrating. Their best method for staying cool is by hugging tree trunks. In a study, thermal cameras were used to show that tree trunks manage to stay quite cool, even during heat waves. Koalas hug the trunks like organic ice packs to keep cool!
We continued on along the path around the crocodile enclosures, where the zoo houses both saltwater and freshwater crocs. They actually have sweet faces. Look, this one is smiling!
Each enclosure had a sign with the crocodile’s name and a few interesting facts about each one. Bosco sounds like a handful!
Of course, the zoo has dingoes on display as well. They don’t look so vicious when you’re safely behind a fence.
There aren’t very many pure-bred dingoes left. About a third of the entire dingo population is actually a mix of dingo and domestic dog breeds. But unlike domesticated dog breeds, dingoes don’t bark – they howl like wolves.
Some animals, like the tasmanian devils and binturongs, were too shy and difficult to photograph. But we did manage to get some photos of the larger, slower animals, like these Aldabran tortoises!
The Aldabran tortoise is the largest land tortoise species in the world. They can weigh up to 300kg when they’re full grown!
Next to the monster-sized tortoises were these little fellows, Australian freshwater turtles. Their faces are a little bit E.T.-like:
A water dragon lounging by a sign saying “please don’t touch the water dragons” amuses me. It’s like he knows the sign is for him and he’s taunting you as you walk by. Can’t touch this!
Have you ever seen a tawny frogmouth? I thought I knew what they looked like. I mean, yes, actually I DO know what they look like. But to answer this sign, no, I didn’t see them. Mark finally had to point them out to me.
My excuse is that they sat completely unmoving, and looked like they were part of the branches they were perching on. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it:
Once we finished with the crocodile/turtle district, we headed back towards the Crocoseum to the other side of the zoo. This is where the fuzzier creatures reside.
As soon as we stepped through this gate, I realized this was an area completely different from the rest of the zoo. The kangaroos were not behind fences or glass walls. They were out in the open, just lounging around in the sun. Whoa. Was this a good idea?
We hadn’t gone more than 5 feet when Mark said we needed to turn back and go to the souvenir shop. “But we’re not done here!” I lamented. I followed him to the shop and we split up – I perused the t-shirts while he struck up a conversation with the cashier. I was ignorant to what was happening.
A few minutes later, Mark handed me this bag:
I still wasn’t quite sure what I was meant to do with this. Mark pointed out the sign on the gate, a sign that I had completely missed. We were actually allowed to hand feed the kangaroos running (or hopping) loose around the grounds! Oh. My. Gawd.
The ‘Roo Food just looks like veggie pellets you would feed a rabbit or other small animal. And considering how many people must visit the zoo during high season, these small pellets make sense.
The rules for approaching and feeding the kangaroos are posted on the gates. However, it was immediately apparent to us that many visitors don’t take the time to read the warnings!
We saw several children, unaccompanied by adults, running up to kangaroos, spooking them, or not having food in their hands when approaching them, and consequently getting bit, scratched and lunged at. There was a lot of screaming, crying and running back to parents as a result.
As this was my first up-close and personal encounter with kangaroos, seeing small children running away and crying didn’t exactly put me in my comfort zone. I love animals, but ones that can potentially kick me to death don’t exactly fall into my “sweet and cuddly” category. But I also didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to hand feed a kangaroo!
The basic, paraphrased rules in feeding a kangaroo at the Australia Zoo are as follows:
- Approach slowly; don’t chase the kangaroos
- If they are in their “safe zone” (aka a section that’s cordoned off from the main area), leave them alone. This is where they go to rest and get away from visitors
- When you approach a kangaroo to feed it, keep your palm flat
- Crouch down and keep your hand low to the ground
- Don’t pull your hand away from the kangaroo abruptly if you have food (you’re just teasing it and you’ll incur its wrath)
The rules all seemed straightforward enough. So I tentatively approached a lounging kangaroo with a small handful of ‘Roo chow and crouched down. I extended my hand and presented it to the kangaroo. Success!
Actually, most of the kangaroos were quite disinterested in the chow. I suspect they get more than their fill of pellets throughout the day, and by the afternoon they were full, lazy, and completely non-plussed by the thought of one more veggie pellet shoved towards them.
I, on the other hand, was in my Happy Place. My goal in Australia was to feed, pet and/or hold some sort of native animal species, and I got to both feed and pet the ‘roos. Happy Happy, Joy Joy!
After feeding the kangaroos for about a half hour, we decided it was time to feed ourselves. So we popped over to the zoo cafeteria. We ordered hot dogs, which look way different here than what we’re used to seeing in Canada. First of all, they have red casings! They also don’t use a lot of condiments. There was no relish or mustard, which are my two go-two toppings. They only had ketchup. We also got a side of tater tots. Not my favourite meal of the trip, I’ll be honest! When you’re hot and dehydrated, it’s hard to work up the amount of saliva required to eat this much bread.
Cool thing about the cafeteria though, is that they continue the zoo theme by having trees growing up through the center of the dining area. Oh, and look at what’s sitting in the tree:
By late afternoon, we were getting a bit zoo-ed out though. Our tickets also covered a visit to the wildlife hospital on the grounds, but we decided to forego it since we had a one-hour drive back to Brisbane and didn’t want to risk having to drive in the dark.
If you want to visit the Australia Zoo, here are the bits of info you’ll need:
How to get there: http://www.australiazoo.com.au/visit-us/how-to-get-here/
Admission prices as of September 2017:
Adult – $59
Child (3-14) $35
Family 4 (2 adult 2 child) $172
Family 5 (2 adult 3 child) $189