I had a wonderful time on my trip to Australia earlier this year, but visiting Australia Zoo was definitely one of the highlights that I’ll never forget. I grew up watching the Crocodile Hunter and Steve Irwin’s other shows with my family, so when I learned that the Irwin family had their own zoo, I knew I had to make time for it.
After reading about how large the zoo is, I decided to take the Australia Zoo Platinum Adventure tour. The package consists of a private, guided tour and a professional photographer along with lunch, snacks, and hands-on encounters with every animal. It’s definitely the best way to see the zoo if you have the time and budget.
The day started early when my driver picked me up from the Q1 Resort in Surfers before sunrise. She told me all about the zoo’s history on the two-hour drive to Beerwah. The tour kicked off first thing in the morning before the zoo even opened.
The Tiger Walk
The adventure starts with the tiger walk, where you get to join the tiger’s caretakers and accompany them on their morning walk around the zoo. This particular tiger is about three years old. He was huge and still not fully grown! They instructed me to pet him with a firm, flat hand from the base of his neck to the tip of his tail.
The tiger is actually on a leash and handlers are right nearby, paying close attention to his body language. Unsurprisingly, there is no telling him to “lay down” or “stay.” In order to get photos with him, we waited until he plopped on the ground for a brief rest. When he decided to stand up, photo time was over and we continued our unforgettable walk through the zoo.
By the way, if you ever find yourself near the zoo, you can book the Tiger Walk as a standalone experience. In fact, you can book most of these activities individually in case you don’t have the whole day. With that said, I highly recommend the Platinum Adventure.
The Animal Hospital
After meeting the tiger, my tour guide took me over to the animal hospital. It is the only hospital of its kind in the area and I was told that all of the money I spent on the tour would be going to help the hospital continue its work. People are constantly bringing in wildlife that they find injured–especially koalas that have been hit by cars.
My guide showed me the list of new admissions from that morning alone (and it was before 8 AM), with the most recent being a snake with a deformed spine. The veterinarians concluded that she must have been run over at some point, and they took X-rays to see how serious the internal damage was.
It was very intriguing seeing the scans and meeting the snake while it was under anesthesia. However, they feared the deformation would complicate the egg-laying process, so they were pondering what to do about the injury when my guide took me outside to tour the koala enclosures.
They had row after row of koala enclosures, most housing koalas who were being treated for Chlamydia. Apparently, that’s a major issue in Australia. Locals can recognize infected koalas by their brown bottoms and they bring them in for treatment. They also have various enclosures that can house everything from frogs to turtles to birds and all other kinds of beautiful Australian wildlife.
Following the hospital tour, I got to meet all sorts of wonderful animals. One of my favorite hangouts was the meerkat habitat. I got to feed them as they continuously climbed onto my head and shoulders, using me as a sentry post.
They were incredibly small, agile, and light. Their tiny paws were absolutely adorable! They have small claws as well, which weren’t very sharp but enabled them to climb all over everything.
While I sat and fed them, they gradually warmed up to me. Before I knew it, I had three or four standing on me at once! My sisters and I used to watch “Meerkat Manor” on Animal Plant when we were young, so it was so much fun getting to interact with these little guys in person. The caretakers also had plenty of fun stories to share, which was true for every habitat I visited. You can instantly tell just how much everyone loves their work at the zoo.
On top of the professionals who work there, hundreds of volunteers help out every year. Aside from the size of the team running things, I was also impressed by how large the habitats are for the animals. It was unlike any zoo I’ve been to the in the states. The animals have plenty of companions along with lots of room to run and natural obstacles all throughout their enclosures.
I like how they use natural boundaries as much as possible, too. It helps make things feel much more immersive and friendly than the bars and high fences found at other zoos.
For instance, Bindi’s Island is a small manmade island within the zoo. Once you cross the bridge to get to it, you’ll be greeted by countless lemurs swinging in the trees above your head. Make your way to the treehouse and you’ll find parrots perched in the open. Some are part of the exhibit while others are wild parrots that have decided to call the zoo home themselves–that’s how wonderful it is!
As for the meerkat habitat, a waist-high clay wall and careful tree placement somehow kept them in their own area. It goes to show that a lot of thought, experience, and love for the animals went into planning every aspect of the zoo.
My favorite hangout at the zoo had to be the dingo enclosure! I was only a week into my trip, but I was already missing my dog back at home, so interacting with the dingoes was extra special. Surprisingly, their caretakers actually said they’re more cat-like than dog-like, but they were cuddly none the less!
They’re all trained to give kisses and stand on your shoulders for photos, but I liked petting them more than anything. They’re just as soft as they look and they’re very playful. I had a great time sitting in the enclosure and speaking to the three handlers who told me about Fraser Island where the dingoes run wild and often amuse campers. Later in my trip, I actually talked to some tourists who camped there and they said dingoes stole their frisbee one night.
The Giant Tortoises
Another fun excursion of the day was getting to meet the zoo’s giant tortoises. I was able to sit down in their enclosure and pet them for awhile, with the only real danger being accidentally getting a toe stepped on since they weigh around 300 pounds. Luckily, they don’t move too fast. I was told they love getting their shells rubbed and scratched because they’re actually filled with nerve endings.
If I worked at the zoo, I think this habitat would be one of my favorite hangouts, but my tour guide said she preferred the indoor exhibit where they keep some of the world’s most venomous snakes and spiders.
The Animal Extravaganza
Throughout the day, my tour guide continuously offered drinks and snacks until I eventually sat down to lunch, which I was able to select in advance. All of the food was truly delicious, particularly the chocolate mint cake, but there was still lots more fun to be had!
After eating, it was time to experience the “Animal Extravaganza,” which is another standalone experience you can do. If you’re going to the zoo and you only have a little bit of time, I’d definitely recommend this! You get to hold a snake, meet a parrot, pet a wombat, and cuddle a koala in one go.
Needless to say, I chose to spend most of my time holding the Koala. Even if you don’t go to the zoo, everyone will encourage you to meet one during your trip. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to see them, including the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (which I repeatedly heard great things about).
Exploring Other Habitats
In-between the photographed animal encounters, my tour guide and I explored all other parts of the zoo. Time was set aside in the schedule to watch the daily show at the Crocoseum, too.
We also visited the walk-through kangaroo habitat, where I was able to pet and feed some greedy kangaroos who repeatedly grabbed my hand to hog the snacks. My tour guide snapped some photos of them before we headed off to see more.
If you’re wondering, everyone can get hands-on with the kangaroos during their visit. You can also walk through the koala enclosure and beautiful aviary, both of which are extremely peaceful.
Late in the afternoon, we rejoined the photographer and headed out to the rhino exhibit. Someone who worked on the Irwin family’s show had family visiting the zoo, so they joined us in meeting the rhino for his snack time. While the skin of a rhino may look tough and leathery, we soon learned it’s quite soft. They’re apparently quite tame, too, judging by the knee-high log that kept him in his enclosure.
Feeding an echidna at Australia Zoo I quickly realized why the zoo saved the echidna exhibit for last.
I sat down in the enclosure and chatted with the friendly caretaker who told me how one of the echidnas actually came to them blind. Of course, that didn’t stop either of them from eating the bug smoothie straight out of my palm. I was warned about the mess before it was put in my hand, but let’s just say I was glad my hotel had a washing machine!
I learned lots of fun facts about them as they ate. If you look at their long tongues, you’ll know why they’re alternatively called spiny anteaters. They’re also one of only four living mammals that lay eggs (platypus also fall into this category, but I’ve yet to meet one of them). They eat pretty fast, too, although their method of using their darting tongues seems quite inefficient. I was told their tongues can reach up to 18 centimeters out of their “beaks.”
Their quills are hollow and they cannot be “thrown” or “ejected,” as some may tell you. They could do some damage with their long claws, though, which they use to split open logs in order to dig out termites. With that said, these echidnas were very calm and friendly, and I had a great time holding them.
The Zoo Is a Must-See
To sum it up, I adored every single moment at the zoo. I could fill a book with all of the memories I made that day alone and I have far too many photos to include here. The photographer professionally edited and developed them at the end of the day as part of the package, sending me home with a CD and some gorgeous prints.
I would 100% recommend the zoo for any animal lover. If you have time for a tour, I’d suggest going for it. Aside from the hands-on experiences, you also get dozens of brag-worthy pictures without having to spend a second looking through a screen. Just look at a map of the zoo and you’ll get a sense of how much there is to see!