Australia is a country bursting at the seams with wildlife encounters and zoos begging for your backpacker dollar. Below are some of the key ones that I’ve encountered on my working holiday so far and my honest opinion on each one – should you be looking for something other than the shiny leaflet in the tourist office that is!
1. AQWA – Perth, Western Australia
WA’s aquarium in Perth may initially look like a standard run of the mill aquarium the same as anywhere else, however the knowledgeable staff there really make it a full day’s outing to remember, and not just for small people either. My boyfriend and I were equally as impressed as the families with small children and the RSL day trippers too.
There is a large variety of sea life to view and interact with in all the usual ways, however the layout is imaginative and throughout the course of the day the staff lurk about in different zones ready to give you a ‘guided tour’ of some of the displays and are full of information. They welcome all questions, even the most ridiculous and really make some things which look dead boring very interesting. You’ll certainly look at some of those shells a bit closer when next you wade into the water.
The top attraction in my opinion is the travelator that goes through the shark and ray tank. It’s almost 100m in length if memory serves and you get slowly whisked round whilst watching the huge rays, turtles, sharks and fish swim about over your head. Very surreal, especially if you’re there at feeding time which is a very simple procedure to plan around, in fact you might find it hard to get off, good thing there’s no limit to the number of circuits.
Verdict: Worth the $30 entrance ticket even if you’re not the biggest fan of the underwater world!
2. Crocosaurus Cove and the Cage of Death – Darwin, Northern Territory
Home to some of the biggest crocodiles in captivity this attraction is a major draw in Darwin and I have mixed views on it. Given that we had already been to a few ‘croccy’ places we weren’t sure what to expect, however the crocodiles were very impressive. They were indeed huge, the talks from the staff were brilliant, the feeding of the snakes might not be for everyone but we certainly enjoyed it. There’s the obligatory holding of crocodiles – free if you don’t take a picture but costly if you want a snap – no pun intended! As well as the reptile gallery where you can handle a variety of lizards which is always good fun.
The best parts in my opinion were the feeding of the crocodiles, their jaws are immense, plus being able to feed an adolescent crocodile yourself with a fishing rod was great fun. If you’ve done your research you know there’s a tank you can swim in with the crocodiles behind you (in their own tank) so in pictures it looks like you’re swimming with them, brilliant, a great photo opportunity and also a chance to cool off, I’m all over it!
This is where in my opinion the story should end. The so called ‘Cage of Death’ for us was a massive let down. Hugely expensive for what the experience was and in fact something I would strenuously dissuade people from paying for. For $160 you can indeed be lowered into their tank in a Perspex tube and get 360 degree views, but only if the crocodile is performing an aquatic ballet, which captive fed animals generally can’t be bothered with. Whilst we were there all the people that did the encounter had a similar experience to us – the crocodile is just not bothered by you as you’re probably the 8th or 9th person to be dipped in, so there’s not that much to see. The photos on the website clearly happened at some point in time; however I think must be the exception rather than the rule
Verdict: great day out at the crocosaurus cove definitely worth as visit. I wouldn’t put the cage of indifference on the top of my Australian bucket list, there’s far better things to spend your money on while in Australia on a working holiday visa
3. Australia zoo – Brisbane, Queensland
Steve Irwin’s legacy to Australia and a huge draw to the country for some tourists is a well polished operation bound to delight all who enter its gates. How to describe it? Obviously it’s got lots of crocodiles and native wildlife. There’s a great walk through paddock where you can feed and stroke the kangaroos, a must for almost all travellers as depending on where you go in Australia this might be your only, and definitely closest, kangaroo experience.
The show they put on in the big crocoseum is really entertaining and informative, there’s other shows dotted about the different enclosures all day and the tiger one was certainly worth squishing up to strangers for, although the cynic in me couldn’t quite swallow all the guff about how this was ‘natural behaviour’ they encouraged but hey ho, it’s all in the name of a great day out.
As well as all the expected Australian wildlife there’s also an Africa section as well as elephants from India and American alligators. Plus the chance to cuddle a koala always goes down well with almost all tourists – Queensland is the only state you can do this in. The Zoo also has a lot of conservation projects which your entrance money goes towards and generally it’s an all round big tick. The only thing I would urge caution on would be the food. It’s incredibly overpriced and not especially tasty, but that’s hardly a unique complaint in the world of tourist attractions!
Verdict: 100% worth going to, however if you can’t fit it into your schedule there’s plenty of other places offering smaller less famous versions of the same thing
4. Monkey Mia – Shark Bay, Western Australia
The official chat goes along the lines of ‘No trip to WA is complete without….’ or ‘The highlight in many people’s trips to Australia….’ Well personally I wouldn’t pay any attention to this whatsoever. Monkey Mia is a very long road to nowhere, literally. It’s roughly a 400km return trip off the main highway and at the end of it you are charged entrance to what is essentially a beach where dolphins often, but not always come for a free feed.
I have the following grievances with the Monkey Mia experience. Firstly they’re not wild dolphins really as they know they are coming to a certain bucket for food. Secondly there’s a lot of people there (dependent on when you go) all crowding in to see one dolphin. Thirdly, there is no guarantee you’ll see the dolphins, they’re only really there in the mornings so that’s a very early start or an expensive overnight stay somewhere to be sure of seeing them. And finally, there is literally nothing else to do there. If you miss the feeding in the morning you still have to pay just to drive into the area and feedback from other travellers we’ve met has all been quite negative.
Do not despair. There is another answer. It comes in the form of the $10 dolphin encounter in Bunbury just south of Perth. Here you can see wild dolphins at the beach in much the same way, and best of all, your ticket is valid for three trips, so if you miss them you can always come back. The dolphins here are truly wild, they’re not fed and enjoy coming to the beach to see the people there. Plus for an extra fee you can join a boat trip out to swim with them in the bay.
Verdict: Why waste your travel money in Monkey Mia when Bunbury is a far greater alternative
5. Tasmanian devils at Natureworld – Bicheno, Tasmania
Tasmanian devils conjure up all sorts of images, sadly not many of them authentic representations due to the fact that they are dying left right and centre (at the time of our visit) due to some facial tumour disease. There are lots of places in Tas that claim to be the best place to see them and learn about them. Personally I can’t testify as to which is the best as we only went to one place, slightly off the beaten track, but what a great time we had at Natureworld in Bitcheno.
On first glance it looks a bit of a tired run down shabby but much loved establishment. It’s got all the usual suspects, including snake pits, white deer in the woods, feeding of emus and kangaroos, however a few unexpected gems such as the nocturnal house with brilliant quolls and their wombats seem to breed like stink, getting to cuddle a wombat was a personal highlight for me! The walk through aviary section was brilliant too, electric parrots and a cockatoo that had us going for ages wondering who was talking to us! There was also an interesting section with wedge tailed eagles, a raptor that eludes many travellers if they don’t head off the east coast potentially, and joy of joys was the devil section.
As per the staff gave great information and answered all questions, the feeding was very interesting and the animals seemed in great health and very content. There were several different areas of the small park to wander about and the devils were scattered in a few locations to ensure you got to see your fill of them.
Verdict: we felt that $24 was a bit steep initially however left having had a brilliant time and who wouldn’t want to hug a baby wombat?
6. Koala Hosital Port Macquarie, New South Wales
Discovering that the Koala hospital at Port Macquarie was a top 10 thing to do in NSW came as a bit of a surprise to me. We had previously been to a whole variety of other wildlife parks/zoos/centres etc along the way as well as spotting multiple wild koalas ones on our travels; however on reflection perhaps it’s not such a surprise after all. We have been very fortunate in our travels and gone all over the country. If you’re only sticking to the East Coast it is very conceivable that you could miss these critters all together as they are very difficult to spot. You could simply stick to 10 things to do in Sydney.
The hospital is not a very large or lengthy attraction – you can stay as long as you like obviously and as it’s a hospital some of the koalas are indeed very sick with heartbreaking stories. However I believe it’s entry by donation so not an especially expensive trip out, and you’re guaranteed to see some cutie pies, plus you have the knowledge that you are directly contributing to the ongoing care and conservation projects they run.
Verdict: It’s not the end of the world if you miss it but it’s a great experience and fantastic value for money
7. Seaworld – The Gold Coast, Queensland
Say what you will about Seaworld, it’s a popular worldwide attraction that keeps people coming back year in year out. The Seaworld on The Gold Coast has its dolphin show, shark tank, ray interaction pool, penguin polar house and sealion show much the same and as expected if you’ve ever been to another Seaworld, however… they also have polar bears. Yes that’s right polar bears.
The dolphin show is the standard performance which you sit down to guiltily thinking, ‘hmm shouldn’t they be out in the – oh my god – that’s amazing – pick me to feed them, me, me, meeeeeeeee – I will happily bash that child out the way if you would only pick ME’. The shark tank is hypnotic, you could (and I have) easily stand there for half an hour just watching them swim about. The penguins are hilarious leaping in and out of the water, waddling about and generally performing for the crowds. The jet ski show was pretty immense as well, especially if you’re into that kind of thing, and even if you’re not! The rest of it I won’t bore you with (although the water rides were unexpectedly good fun) as you can predict it all.
What I want to impress upon you is how awesome the polar bears are. They have a brilliantly designed enclosure and you can watch them in the water in the split level underwater viewing section as well as from above, and the best, the very best – they have a cub. Little Henry was born there and we went back and forth gazing adoringly at his cute little bear bottom and fun games he was playing with mum. Put simply, I was ready to wear my ‘I heart Seaworld’ t-shirt and ring my bell after a few minutes of setting eyes on him. It’s a very expensive day out if you just rock up, however there’s an annual pass you can buy for about $100 which gives you entry to Seaworld, Movie World and Wet N Wild which we thought was great value for money and we went to all three at least twice during our time on the Gold Coast. Activities like this is why we travel.
Verdict: If you’re going to the Gold Coast get the annual three parks pass and you’ll have a fantastic few days. Give the polar bears my love!