With this being our third consecutive year as annual pass holders, it’s fair to say that Australia Zoo has become rather like a second home to us. Although it features on our top family things to do on the Sunshine Coast, for this reason we felt it deserved it’s own post. We absolutely love the place and we’re confident that if you’re an animal lover like us, you will too.
What makes Australia Zoo so fantastic, I hear you ask? Well, everything as far as we’re concerned….. but we’ll try to be a little more specific.
Here are 10 reasons why you should take a trip to Australia Zoo and see what all the fuss is about for yourself.
Well I guess it kind of goes without saying really, after all, it’s a zoo. So, what’s so special about the animals at Australia Zoo?
For a start, the fact there are so many of them. Set in over 400 hectares, Australia Zoo is home to over 1000 animals, and that’s before you take into account the zoo’s unofficial residents such as the cheeky water dragons, ibis and bush turkey’s – crikey!
What’s more, the animal population continues to grow; there are annual additions to the koala and kangaroo families as joey’s are welcomed each year; seeing the koala joey’s start to emerge from their mother’s pouches is a real highlight for us.
In recent years, the zoo has also welcomed 2 baby giraffes, 2 rhino’s calf’s, 4 tiger cubs and a baby cheetah to name but a few.
The layout of the zoo and the enclosures really maximise your chances of seeing everything in the flesh rather than just a sign telling you what member of the animal kingdom is sleeping out of sight in each enclosure.
Unlike some zoo’s where wire cages impede your view of the animals, the enclosures at Australia Zoo feature glass panels which are low enough to look over, as well as through, where it is safe to do so. The tiger enclosure, however, has reassuringly high glass panels!
The African animal contingent clearly feel right at home in their large grassy enclosure where they have plenty of room to roam and visitors can observe them over the low wooden fence thanks to the steep slope inside the secondary fence which keeps them in and visitors safely out.
There are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the animals too. Right after you enter the zoo, you are welcomed early on in the day by the ‘meet and greet’ crew, which usually features one of the zoo’s beautiful birds, amazing reptiles (not the crocs!) and more often than not, one of the gorgeous koalas.
You can pat the koalas and have your friends and family take a photo of you next to the keeper holding the koala, free of charge.
If you’re short of a camera, professional photographers will capture the moment for you and you can buy the images later from the photo lab.
Throughout the rest of the day, look out for the roving wildlife and try to spot the dingo’s, wombats and big cats being taken for their daily walks.
Check out the koala walk for more free-of -charge koala patting and be sure to venture inside the red and grey kangaroo enclosures to make some marsupial friends.
If you want to feed your new buddies, roo food is available to buy inexpensively ($3 per bag at the time of writing) at any of the zoo’s gift shops or kiosks.
The kids zoo features plenty of farm animals who are game for a pat too.
For visitors wanting a really unique experience, there are various animal encounters offered throughout the day for an extra charge. Overseas visitors can get their ‘must have’ koala cuddling photo snapped near the crocosseum, or book one of the koala encounters for a longer snuggle.
There are opportunities to walk with a tiger or cheetah and to meet the echidnas, wombats and meerkats amongst other experiences. I would suggest you pre-book these experiences to avoid disappointment as they sell out fast.
Pony rides are offered during school holidays (free for annual pass holders) and you can ride a camel too!
There are various shows and presentations throughout the day; the midday crocodile show at the crocosseum is an absolute must for first timers (although we’ve now seen it so many times we could almost host it!).
The Irwin family make regular appearances to feed the crocs during school holidays and if you’re really lucky (?!), you’ll catch Bindi Irwins band playing before the show begins. There is also a tiger show and a koala presentation later in the day.
Conservation at its heart
As I’m sure everyone in the whole world knows, Australia Zoo is owned by the Irwin Family. Originally established on a much small scaler by the parents of conservationist Steve Irwin, known as ‘The Crocodile Hunter’, Steve and his wife Terri subsequently took over and developed the zoo. After his untimely death the family – his wife Terri, daughter Bindi and son Robert Irwin, have continued to build both it and its conservation activities.
Steve’s philosophy for the zoo was ‘conservation through education’, believing that by educating people about wildlife, he could encourage people that it was worth protecting. His conservation legacy lives on through the Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors.
A proportion of the proceeds from the zoo are used to fund both national and international wildlife conservation projects.
With Steve Irwin’s passion being reptiles and especially crocodiles, it is no surprise that one of the zoo’s primary conservation projects involves crocodiles; Australia Zoo work in partnership with the University of Queensland to manage the largest and most successful crocodile research project in the world.
Within Australia, the zoo supports the conservation of Tasmanian devils, Cassowaries and Turtles. They also support conservation projects for endangered wildlife overseas, and by taking part in wildlife experiences such as the Tiger Walk, you are directly contributing to these conservation projects.
There are numerous information boards and displays around the zoo which focus on wildlife conservation and what you can do to help preserve wildlife yourself, whilst the various shows and presentations carry a strong conservation theme.
The man himself may have left us, but his vision to make the Earth we live on a better place certainly hasn’t been forgotten. Look out for all of the Steve Irwin tributes around the zoo – it’s been beautifully done and the film at the end of the crocodile show may just bring a tear to your eye. Steve Irwin’s presence is very much felt even in his absence.
If your kids want to learn more about the animals and their care whilst having a lot of fun along the way, the zoo offers a number of ‘Zoo Keeper for the Day’ experiences. Run during the school holidays and split into different age groups, they are a great way to get behind the scenes of the zoo and gain a deeper understanding of some of the amazing animals.
Visitor experience is the name of the game
We have visited the zoo enough times now to know that the fabulous staff weren’t just ‘having a good day’! We can honestly say that the staff have been amazing on every single visit to the zoo.
The keepers are friendly and approachable with a clear passion for their work and a deep love for the animals within their care. They are all immensely knowledgeable about their species and delighted to answer your questions and impart a little of their wisdom.
Every effort is made to ensure that you have the best day ever when you visit the zoo and although there are opportunities to spend more money whilst you are there, we don’t feel that there is any pressure to do so, unlike at other attractions we’ve visited.
Dining options are reasonably priced with generous portions, and there are plenty of places to eat if you have brought your own picnic. There are free water stations where you can fill up your own water bottles.
We personally feel that the merchandise is fairly priced with discounts offered to annual pass holders.
The zoo is continually being improved and updated and there are often extra things to enjoy whilst you are there.
Overall, it feels as though everyone there wants you to leave loving the zoo as much as they do – well they have us hook, line and sinker!
Making the zoo a great day out is child’s play
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the main reason for visiting the zoo is to see the animals, but according to my kids, you’d be wrong!
Australia Zoo boasts a large children’s recreation area close to the ‘Crocosseum’ featuring a fully shaded bouncing pillow, croc themed tea cup ride and an interactive splash park which has proved a massive hit with my own adventurers.
In the same area, the new ice cream parlour and lolly shop offers a tasty treat for a palatable cost and there are often special offers to keep it affordable. The ice cream portions are huge!
Dotted around the zoo, you will find a number of dinosaurs to climb over and
several crocodiles of the non-biting variety to snap a pic with (pun definitely intended!)
Budding archaeologists can dig for fossils in the sand quarry and the bravest explorers can venture into the dinosaur cave but watch out for the T. Rex!
Over in Africa, interactive puzzles will satisfy curious minds and there are ‘touch and guess’ exhibits to test your animal knowledge.
With so many places to play, you’ll be lucky if your mini me’s will let you see any real animals at all!
It’s all so beautiful
As zoo’s go, Australia Zoo is quite the looker! The zoo is immaculately maintained with heaps of flowers and trees along the pristine walkways adding to the natural beauty of the place as well as providing food and habitat from some of the zoo’s unofficial birds and animals.
The zoo is organised so that animals are grouped according to their native continents or habitats with appropriate theming of enclosures, displays and walkways.
The tiger temple is modelled on Cambodia’s Angkor Wat whilst huge oriental lion statues welcome you to South East Asia.
Bindi’s treehouse on Bindi Island is separated from the rest of the zoo by a lake full of water lillies and ducks
Look out for all of the sculptures and carvings as you walk around the zoo and enjoy the beautiful mosaics outside the crocosseum.
As a photographer, Australia zoo is a veritable feast of beauty with a picture at every turn!
There’s always something new
Since we first started visiting the zoo, we have seen many improvements and additions and there always seems to be something new and exciting.
The meercats have made an adorable extension to Africa and as favourites of Stu and Sam especially, we’re lucky if we can drag them away to look at the rest of the zoo.
The children’s play areas have undergone significant development with the splash park being new since we started visiting and a great asset for the zoo, especially on a hot day (something that is never in short supply in Queensland!).
With the zoo’s 50th anniversary fast approaching in 2020, there are plans underway for ‘Camp Crocodile Hunter’ which is due to open for the occasion. Guests will be able to stay overnight at powered sites, eco cabins and glamping tents after a day of exploring.
It’s great to see the zoo continuously developing before your eyes and to enjoy seeing the way that your admission fees are being used to improve your experience.
Special attractions on special occasions
Never does a special occasion pass without a little added celebration by Australia Zoo.
Easter day visitors can take part in the zoo wide Easter egg hunt and Halloween visitors are invited to trick or treat. Mothers can expect a special treat on mother’s day and fathers are afforded the same privileges on father’s day. See their upcoming events here.
Birthdays are a cause for celebration. Children under 14 can register for the zoo’s birthday club and gain free admission on their own birthday day. Children under 14 visiting on either Robert or Bindi Irwin’s birthdays are also given free entry, with early arrivals also enjoying a barbecued breakfast free of charge.
Treasure hunts run regularly during school holidays where solving riddles and finding clues will score you a small prize from the treasure trove.
The zoo hosts ‘Obstacool’, inflatable play equipment and a giant water slides on occasions during school holidays, all of which are included in your entry ticket. Check the website to see what’s on when.
Value for money
Whenever I see an advert for Australia Zoo on social media, a quick scan of the comments pulls up one consistent negative; the cost. It’s a fair comment, taking an average sized family to the zoo for the day can certainly pack a punch in the wallet department.
That said, I’m sure that now you know what you get for your money, you’ll probably agree that it’s pretty good value.
Actually, you may instead be thinking “Crikey, how are we going to cram all of that into one day?”; with difficulty I suspect!
If you live within travelling distance, the best way to maximise value for money at Australia Zoo is to invest in an annual pass; 12 months of unlimited access to the zoo costs less than 2 separate visits so although it’s a big expense in one go, it’s definitely worth it. Given that feeding the kangaroo’s at Australia Zoo is one of Sam’s favourite pass times, it’s the only way we can afford to visit!
Our school holidays are dotted with return trips and we manage on average a once monthly visit during term time. With all there is on offer at the zoo, no two trips are the same and no one ever gets bored of a day at the zoo.
The best thing about having the annual pass is that you can afford to just pop in for a couple of hours on the way back from somewhere else if you are passing without feeling you have to spend the whole day there to justify the admission fee.
If it’s your first visit and you are yet to be convinced that you’ll want to come back, the zoo offers single admission visitors the opportunity to upgrade to an annual pass before they leave. Well you can’t say fairer than that!
A girl’s gotta shop!
It would be difficult for a self-confessed shopaholic to write about anywhere with retail options without giving them a passing mention!
Australia Zoo is blessed with not one, not two, but FOUR fabulous gift shops where you can further support the zoo’s conservation efforts (hrmmm!).
My favourite shop in which to indulge in a little retail therapy whilst the boys utilise the water park is the beautiful Australiana shop. Here, you will find plenty of good quality Indigenous souvenirs, Australian produce, books and some cool clothing and bushman hats.
Robert Irwin, a budding photographer, has a selection of his work on display at one end of the shop and you can buy prints inexpensively.
If you’re desperate to take home a cuddly reminder of your favourite zoo animal, the shop next to the crocosseum is your best port of call with a vast selection of furry friends to choose from as well as more clothing and a selection of African art.
The elephant shop has a very ‘zen’ feel to it, full of buddha’s and elephants. There you can read the story of why the zoo no longer has it’s own elephants (in short, there were three but two of them died of advanced age and elephant’s don’t do well in solitude; it’s not that easy to simply ‘get another’ so the remaining elephant was re-homed at a different zoo).
Even the most astute parents who have managed to avoid all of the other shops and kiosks throughout the zoo will be delighted to hear that the exit from the zoo is via the gift shop that sells every manner of ‘must have’ zoo memorabilia that a child visitor could possibly need! Perhaps play a blindfold game on the way out of that one?
A beacon of hope for wounded wildlife
As well as the zoo itself, the Australia Zoo complex is also home to the Australia Zoo wildlife hospital. Inspired by Steve Irwin’s mother, who was a dedicated wildlife carer, the original wildlife hospital occupied a renovated avocado packing shed.
Four years and many injured creatures later, an upgrade to the current purpose-built facility now treats between 6-8,000 animals per year making it one of the largest wildlife hospitals in the world.
Zoo visitors can take a sneak peak inside the hospital for a small donation or go behind the scenes for a 30 minute tour for an additional fee, with all the money going directly back to the hospital to help fund it’s fantastic work.
So, there you have it, 10 reasons why you should put Australia Zoo on the top of your visit list!