How can you decide which is the best wildlife sanctuary in Australia to visit if you have limited time and need to choose just one?
While in Australia, my Instagram feed was full of pictures of reef fish, cuddly koalas and kangaroos with funny facial expressions. I visited a tonne of different parks, including WILD LIFE Sydney, Featherdale Wildlife Park, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
All of these places have a wide variety of Australian wildlife and will give you a good feel for the kinds of animals you might be lucky enough to spot in the wild, but this post will cover the pros and cons of each of the parks I have first-hand experience of, along with Australia Zoo, which is just too significant not to mention!
While all of the wildlife parks offer single passes, group discounts, season passes, concessions and additional extras, the simplest way to compare costs is to list the prices of single day adult tickets.
Australia Zoo $59
Lone Pine $30
WILD LIFE Sydney $28 online and $40 on the door
* Prices accurate for July 2014
While Currumbin and Australia Zoo are more on the pricey side, they’re also larger and offer more unique experiences, so I’d say that they’re all fairly priced and your decision should really come down to what you want to see and do during your visit and how much of an effort you’re willing to put in to get there.
Currumbin (Gold Coast) is a little isolated. If you don’t have a car, there’s a shuttle bus service from Mariner’s Cove, Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach.
Australia Zoo (Sunshine Coast) offers Greyhound bus transfers from destinations along the coast between Noosa and Mooloolaba. There’s also a city train that runs from Gold Coast via Brisbane and meets a courtesy coach at the station in Beerwah, where the zoo is located. The ‘Croc Express’ coach runs from Brisbane ($110 including entry) and Gold Coast ($129) and provides commentary.
Lone Pine (Brisbane) is about 13 km from Brisbane’s CBD. It’s an easy drive or you can catch the 430 or 445 bus. The most fun way to get there is by boat. The Miramar leaves Brisbane at 10 am and takes approximately 1 hour 15 minutes. It’s a great way to see the city too.
Featherdale (Sydney) is in Doonside on the Kildare Road. You can drive there easily if you have a car, or you can take the North Shore and Western Line train from Sydney to Blacktown Station and then bus 725 from stand 9, which drops you outside Featherdale 10 minutes later. Most of the day tours from Sydney to the Blue Mountains also include an hour here, so you may want to consider combining the two.
WILD LIFE Sydney (Sydney) is very easily accessible. If you’re staying in Sydney’s CBD, it’s just a 10-minute stroll down to Darling Harbour. If you’re coming from anywhere else in Sydney, there are great transport links and you can plan your journey using the Sydney Buses website.
VARIETY OF WILDLIFE
All of these parks have a focus on native Australian wildlife, and you can expect to find koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, cassowaries, echidnas, wombats, dingoes, crocodiles and a variety of snakes, other reptiles and birds.
Lone Pine is a koala sanctuary, and the focus is definitely on their care and rehabilitation. However, there is a good selection of other native species. Australia Zoo is the only park in this list to have branched out to include animals from other continents. With favourites from the African savanna, such as the giraffe, rhino and cheetah, as well as Komodo dragons and red pandas, this park definitely trumps the rest when it comes to variety.
EXPERIENCES AND ENCOUNTERS
First and foremost, if your sole reason for visiting one of these parks is to hold a koala, note that Queensland is the only Australian state or territory where this is legal. You can have your photo taken with them at any of the parks, but Featherdale will only let you stroke them briefly and WILD LIFE Sydney won’t allow any contact at all.
You can also feed kangaroos and wallabies at all five parks. Featherdale has a smaller number of them bouncing along the visitor footpaths. WILD LIFE Sydney has a relatively small enclosure. Currumbin and Lone Pine have large fields with a big variety of species that are used to posing for selfies – those lying down won’t even flinch if you spoon them. Try to get there early in the day or on a weekday when there are fewer tourists with food and the animals are hungry.
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF EACH PARK
Currumbin really aims to entertain, providing a number of lively and informative shows with audience participation, including sheep shearing, crocodile behaviour, birds of prey in flight and pelican and eel feeding. Where it really excels, though, is in the efforts it’s made to be really original. You can go on a ‘segway safari’ or sign up for the high ropes adventure course, giving you a bird’s eye view of some of the enclosures from the treetops as you cross hanging bridges or whiz by on a zipline. Also, in addition to the popular koala, you can have your photo taken with an eagle, dingo, possum, echidna, barn owl, olive python or baby saltwater croc, or even feed your own adult saltie!
Australia Zoo is the big daddy in terms of entertainment. You could spend your whole day there and still not see everything. The main draw, though, is that the zoo was founded and developed by the legendary naturalist Steve Urwin and his family. Everything is done on a massive scale. There’s a crocoseum – the largest wildlife arena in the world – where a crocodile show of epic proportions is kicked off by visitors on opposite sides taking part in a ‘Crike-off’ to see who can shout ‘Crikey’ the loudest. The set up allows people to see how saltwater crocodiles behave in the wild. You can also watch teams of vets working at an on-site wildlife hospital, take a tiger for a walk or wander through an enclosure designed to simulate an African safari park,where animals roam free on open plains.
Lone Pine packs quite a punch for its size. The highlights are the koala presentation and the lorikeet feeding, which is way more ‘hands on’ than you might expect! There are talks throughout the day in the form of informative show and tells, introducing animals such as the snake, platypus and Tasmanian devil. It also runs a behind-the-scenes tour as well as small group encounters with reptiles, birds of prey, dingoes and koalas.
Featherdale is much smaller than the others. It’s possible to walk by all of the enclosures, taking photos along the way, in just over an hour. There are talks and animal feeding sessions throughout the day. It’s an excellent stop on the way from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, but the overall experience is less memorable than the other parks.
WILD LIFE SYDNEY
WILD LIFE Sydney is surprisingly large considering its inner-city location, but in comparison with Australia Zoo, Currumbin, and even Lone Pine, it still feels quite small. Rather than getting lost in a zoo-style setting, there’s a logical pathway past each enclosure. Talks are given on koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils and cassowaries. The behind the scenes tour is especially good, providing heaps of information on different species and individual animals. One of the main attractions is Rex – the biggest captive crocodile in NSW at over 5 metres in length. You can also have your photo taken holding a snake or snooping behind a koala.
If money’s tight and you just want to get a feel for the country’s wildlife, by all means head to WILD LIFE Sydney, Featherdale or Lone Pine. If holding a koala is a deal breaker, make sure you head up to Queensland. In my opinion, the extra $10 or $20 goes a long way at Currumbin and Australia Zoo. These two really go out of their way to entertain and to provide a wide range of options for people of different ages and with different tastes. I would be heavily swayed by location too, though. If you’re backpacking, Currumbin and Australia Zoo are also the priciest to reach on public transport from major cities.
If you’re planning to travel to Australia as a tourist, you must make sure you apply for an Australia visa in advance. Everyone who is not an Australian citizen requires one, and you won’t be able to check in for your inbound flight without it. Although you won’t be permitted to work in Australia while on the visitor visa, you are allowed to volunteer, so why not ask around one of the wildlife centres to see if they need a hand?!
I experienced Currumbin as part of Contiki’s BEACHES AND REEFS tour from Sydney to Cairns, which was sponsored by Contiki. While they requested that I write about my trip, the choice of topics has been left entirely up to me. Any opinions expressed are a genuine reflection on how I felt about my experiences.