Think Australia Zoo is only crocodiles, kangaroos and koalas, and solely for the kids? Think again - there's so much to see and do, you could easily spend an entire day there, whatever your age. It's also a good detour on the way from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane Airport. Pop in before you catch your flight and end your holiday on a high.
Did you know . . .
It was first opened in 1970 as the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park. Steve and Terri Irwin took over the park from Steve's parents in the early 90s, rebranding as Australia Zoo in 1998. The Irwins' vision was to make the zoo the biggest and best wildlife conservation facility in the world, a mission Terri continues, helped by daughter Bindi and brother Bob. There are more than 1200 native and exotic animals at the zoo, many of which visitors can get close to . . . from walking through the kangaroo enclosure and giving them a pat as you pass, to cuddling a koala, it's an animal lovers' paradise. All proceeds go back into the zoo and the Irwins' Wildlife Warriors charity.
Australia Zoo is HUGE. The entire park area covers close to 40ha, with 28 of those open to visitors, so you want to make sure you're wearing comfortable gear. It's probably going to be hot so wear sunscreen and a hat, bring water (there are water fountains all around the park for refills) and plan your day well so you don't miss the exhibits you really want to see. You're allowed to bring in your own food, so you can sit down for a peaceful picnic rather than spending money at the foodcourt ...
just don't share your leftovers with the animals. There are trundlers available for small kids so you can push them around the park, rather than having to cope with tantrums when they don't want to walk anymore. And make sure your phone or camera is fully charged as you don't want a flat battery when you're about to take that all important wombat selfie.
The big show
One thing you don't want to miss is the midday show at the "Crocoseum" - a 5000-seater stadium. The show is loud, high-octane, and a little cheesy, but filled with Steve Irwin's trademark passion and entertainment. The zoo's all-star keepers showcase colourful birds, snakes and huge saltwater crocodiles, in fun, interactive displays, aiming to educate as well as entertain.
Make it personal
There are plenty of ways to get a little bit extra from your visit to the zoo - get a professional photograph taken while cuddling a koala or a snake, take a behind-the-scenes Segway tour, give the kids a camel ride, or choose from one of 22 different encounters, where you have the chance to get close to some of the zoo's animals, including ringtailed lemurs, rhinos, red pandas, elephants and cheetahs. You can also tour the zoo's Wildlife Hospital, a separate facility that has seen more than 64,000 injured native animals through its doors since it opened in 2004. The working animal hospital has an emergency clinic, an ICU, rehabilitation areas, and a surgical theatre with viewing window - so prepare for the possibility you will witness surgical procedures.
Meet the team
Make sure you spend some time chatting to one of the zoo's more than 400 staff and 300 volunteers, working to keep Steve Irwin's legacy alive. Brandon Gifford, the keeper who showed me around the Wildlife Hospital, had dreamed of working with crocodiles at the zoo since he was a child watching Irwin on TV. He started as a volunteer and now works there full-time as one of the crocodile handlers. His passion for his job
is palpable, a trait reflected in the entire team. Steve Irwin would be proud.