Thank you to all those who voted in my little survey on the side bar - the majority of you are keen to see travel-flavoured posts every now and then, which makes me very happy.
So, without any further ado - here's the down and dirty about Australia Zoo.
For those not familiar with the place, the Zoo is about an hour north of Brisbane and is the home of the late Steve Irwin. I say 'is' and not 'was' because Steve's spirit is still very much alive here - from the billboards still showing his face to the conservation work that the Zoo continues in his name.
Steve was a zany character and I quite enjoyed his exuberant antics, not that he was beyond controversy.
Some of you may remember when Steve took his then newborn son Robert into a crocodile enclosure for feeding time. All hell broke loose (in the media, not in the crocodile pen), and I have to say I didn't side with team Irwin. Might have something to do with newborns looking far too much like defrosted chickens for my comfort.
While his ideas for croc-proofing children might not sit well with me, it's hard not to be impressed with his animal conservation work and his beautiful zoo. (The zoo was created by Steve's parents and is now run by Steve's widow, Terri and kids Bindi and Robert).
Be prepared for lots of walking - Australia Zoo is big (there is a complimentary shuttle bus for those feeling lazy). This is for good reason - the animal enclosures are all large and well maintained.
It's hard work being a wombat
We were very excited to see the two new tiger cubs:
As well as the 8 week old giraffe calf. Fun fact: the mother of this calf and the two other pregnant females were all knocked up by the one male. Titillating! (he deserves a pat on the back though as Rothschild giraffes are on the verge of extinction in the wild.)
He's the one with the smirk on his face.
The other two female giraffes are due to give birth in Feb or March, so there will be even more cute baby giraffes to see soon.
The White Rhinos (doing their best impression of Brown Rhinos) were also hanging around with the giraffes.
I took a nicer photo than the one above, but when I got home and looked at it there was a rhino in the background doing a torrential steaming wee, so I had to delete it. Photobombed.
At midday the Crocodile Show is conducted at the Crocoseum.
A tip - get there about 20 mins before starting time to get a good seat. And look out for the volunteer guides when you enter the stadium - ask them where the best spot to sit is and they will happily help you out. The Crocoseum is also right next to the main eating area, so try to plan your meal time to not coincide with the end of the (~ 30 min) show - the whole Crocoseum files in for lunch afterwards and it's super crowded.
Using a pig leg tied to a rope to show a death roll *shudder*
Monty the croc (who apparently couldn't stand Steve, but is quite fond of Terri) was as grumpy as you'd expect, which made for a good show.
Both Bindi and Robert fed Monty. While the video footage of baby Bob raised my heartbeat, I didn't feel the same concern during the show. Both kids were very croc-savvy and very well supervised (you can see Terri shadowing Bindi's arm and Wes holding Robert's shirt in the photos below).
It made me a little misty-eyed to see the family working together, doing what they love, carrying on Steve's legacy. I have no doubt that when he looks down on them from the great wildlife park in the sky he's proud of what he sees.
Terri, Robert and Bindi
While I loved the Croc Show, the highlight of the Zoo for me was the koala enclosure. It's huge - you walk through it - and has the largest number of koalas I have ever seen in one space. A good dozen of them are brought down onto gumleaf lined perches for you to gawk at up close (only one koala is allowed to be patted - under supervision of the staff).
For those who've never seen a koala in the flesh (or fur), I would recommend Australia Zoo for this reason alone.
Koalas sleep a lot (they only eat eucalyptus leaves which don't provide much energy, hence the need for frequent napping). We were endlessly amused by the ways they rammed themselves into branch forks to sleep without dropping from the trees.
Why you shouldn't try to pat koalas in the wild
In the afternoon we saw the trainers working with the new tiger cubs, introducing them to some of the fully grown tigers.
Viewing made for a strange mix of emotions: the cubs are adorable, the grown tigers are majestic, the respect for the trainers who may have the coolest job ever (seriously, imagine dropping the fact you're a tiger trainer when out on the town; they've probably seen more ladies' knickers than Tom Jones). But underneath all this was a baseline of mild terror because you knew if that tiger decided to disembowel the cub, there wouldn't be a whole lot that could be done to stop him.
The cubs were super-keen to jump all over the adults and had to be restrained a little. Patience, grasshopper.
The first adult male was very unimpressed.
GET OFF MY LAWN
About 2 seconds after the following photo he took a big swipe at the cub and the two had to be separated.
The big cat then came up to the window directly in front of us (where an annoying spectator was continuously firing off his flash in the animal's face) and let us know how he felt about it all.
The second adult tiger faired a little better. He had a bit of a sniff and a nose-nudge and then gave a resounding 'meh'. I'll take a 'meh' over teeth marks in my neck any day.
This was a very long post - so well done if you've made it this far!
As you can probably guess, we had a fantastic time at Australia Zoo and would recommend a visit to anyone - Australian or otherwise.
You can find all the details on their website, including any special events they have planned (such as for Australia Day, Valentine's Day), maps, admission prices, etc.
A fun day out suitable for all ages - get thyself to the Zoo!