Review: Take a walk on the wild side at Australia Zoo
From humble beginnings, Australia Zoo on Queensland's Sunshine Coast now sets the standard for wildlife parks and attractions around the world. Spend a day in the company of all creatures great and small.
Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane is the legacy of famous wildlife warrior Steve Irwin and his family, and is home to a vast array of native and exotic animal and bird species. Enjoy wildlife presentations throughout the day, including a crocodile feeding and the Birds of Prey show. The zoo’s expert handlers even walk some of the animals through the park. Hours: 9am to 5pm daily
What was once just a couple of acres dedicated to Australian wildlife and known rather modestly as the Beerwah Reptile Park, has gradually been transformed into a 1,000-acre world-class tourist attraction named Australia Zoo.
Tucked away in the Beerwah State Forest on South East Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Australia Zoo is a testament to the passion and commitment of the Irwin family past and present to wildlife education and conservation. That commitment certainly hasn’t wavered since the tragic death of Steve Irwin in 2006. He remains a key figure at the zoo, which is beautifully presented and home to some 1,200 Australian and exotic animals.
A family trip to Australia Zoo is an experience that has cropped up from time to time over the past two decades, and like all previous visits, our latest meander through this wonderful animal kingdom doesn’t fail to impress. Located about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane, and around the same south of Noosa, the zoo is well signposted and easy to find if you are self-driving.
There’s a huge amount to see and a lot of ground to cover, so heed the management’s advice and plan your day in advance. The Australia Zoo website has heaps of detailed information about what to expect, and what’s on where and at what time. You’ll have to be on your toes if you want to see it all and you need to have your timing just right if you are going to make it to all the shows and presentations that are offered. If you see none other, don’t miss the Wildlife Warriors show at the Crocoseum at 12noon, and the Birds of Prey show at 3pm. It’s breathtaking!
Inevitably the zoo has to make some compromises between providing appropriate living conditions for the animals and a rewarding experience for patrons, and it takes time and patience to get a glimpse of some of the shyer residents. But there are plenty of easy ‘oh look’ moments along the way — a wombat in a billy cart, a cheetah taking a walk with a keeper, and many more. The animals’ natural habitats are faithfully recreated, and a particular highlight for me was rounding a corner to see the Out of Africa display — complete with giraffes and zebras grazing a savannah-like grassy plain, and rhinos lazing in the sun. And let’s not forget the super-conscientious sentry meerkat — on a rock, on the job, and unflagging in his or her duty.
The interpretive boards at each exhibit use relaxed Aussie vernacular and are short enough even for younger children to read, and chatty enough to make the facts easy to remember. The snake displays are particularly informative.
There are around 500 people employed by Australia Zoo and a fair number of this khaki clad army is on the ground assisting guests. Their commitment is obvious. Just asking the way to something usually results in a follow up question from the helper: ‘…and have you seen…?’. They always seem happy to take the time to explain with authority something of interest.
If you are going to cover the entire facility on foot, it’s a lot of walking. Most of it though is through pleasant well-kept, shady greenery. Even so, a hat and sunscreen are must-haves. There is a large comfortable shuttle which makes numerous stops to pick up and set down guests at key locations throughout the zoo. There are also private transport options available — among them a not outlandishly expensive private buggy with a driver. It can seat five people comfortably and costs $450 for five hours. It’s well worth the additional cost if it makes a visit to the zoo possible for those not able to spend a whole day on their feet.
Self-catering picnickers are welcome at the zoo and there are lovely places to set up camp at lunchtime. Alternatively, the Crikey Café and other catering facilities offer a vast array of food choices at comparatively reasonable cost. Also bring your swimmers. When the kids have seen enough, and you’re longing for a break, the water park offers lots of refreshing fun.
We manage to tick off most of the zoo’s recommended list of top ten highlights, but sadly something has to give. In the end, it’s the Wildlife Hospital — one of the largest of its kind in the world. We decide to save that for next time.
All in all, Australia Zoo is a wonderful opportunity to view, guilt-free, a whole world of wildlife. And you’re sure to learn a huge amount about the natural world along the way.