Thursday, August 19, 2010
Going to the zoo
The first time we took our then very small children to Australia, we we took them to a zoo. We went to a big, swanky, well-known zoo, paid a fortune for the entry fee, then several extra fortunes for "close encounters", photos, animal food and lunch. We clutched the huge map and raced miles from one end of the park to the other in the scorching-for-us (mid-winter) sunshine to catch various feeding times and jostled with huge crowds of people to see handlers wrangle various animals.
The day was a complete disaster. The zoo itself was fantastic, but simply too much for two tiny children to enjoy. I remember one hilarious-in-retrospect scene where we adults chastised the children for moaning about having tired legs, being hot-and-bothered and at their lack of interest in the hundredth species of fancy rat of the day. We instructed them to "Be grateful!" and "Hurry up and have fun!". In reality, the most fun the children had all day was sitting in the shade with an ice block while enjoying the antics of various wild birds trying to eat our lunch.
You certainly won't have that sort of experience at Marapana Wildlife Park. My children and I went there recently and had a fantastic time and not just because my children are now much older. The entry charges are extremely reasonable and at first I was surprised that we weren't given a park map, then I turned around and saw that that is because there is no need. Marapana is a small wildlife park. This is a good thing! There are not huge numbers of species at this park, but certainly enough to serve as a great introduction to Australian wildlife plus some introduced species also found locally.
But the best thing about this zoo is that it is a petting zoo. On entry visitors are each handed a bucket of animal food and brief instructions about which few animals not to feed. Visitors are able to pat and feed many of the animals making this a quite different experience from the other zoos I've been to in Australia. My favourites were the wombats. I realised that on all my various trips to zoos over the years, the most I'd ever seen of a wombat was its backside poking out of a log.
Several times when we were wondering about some creature, the zoo staff would casually come up and explain the history of a particular animal, the status of this species in the wild, the reason behind some behaviour or describe its unique breeding habits (leading to fun chats in the car on the way home...).
There is a lovely casual, relaxed atmosphere at this zoo and I highly recommend a visit, even if you just go for an hour or two. It would have been the perfect place to take my tiny children to all those years ago. This zoo is not at all flashy, in fact some bits are a wee bit huckery, but sometimes that when combined with small, hands-on, friendly and inexpensive can be a unique and winning formula.
(And please excuse these photos. Just like the day years ago when our video recorder went bung and much to my embarrassment the technician removed a piece of jammy toast from it, so after hours of reading my camera manual and taking test shots, I looked at the lens and found a once-edible substance smeared all over it. Mmmmm, not nice.)