“ Address: Captain Cook Highway / Palm Cove / Cairns / Queensland / Tel: +61 7 4055 3669 „
~Ooh, baby baby, it's a Wild World~
Cairns Tropical Zoo is an award-winning attraction that's been open for 40 years and offers the opportunity for visitors to get a bit more 'up close and personal' with the animals than many of Australia's larger zoos. It is located on the main road that runs north of Cairns towards Port Douglas and it was our chosen destination for killing time on our 'decompression day' after three days out on the Great Barrier Reef. It hadn't taken long for us to realise that there wasn't much else in Cairns that could hold our attention and fill time before we headed back to Cairns airport for our flight back to Sydney.
Cairns Tropical Zoo should be about a half hour drive from central Cairns unless you foolishly choose to take the bus which takes so many detours through beach communities that it took about an hour and a half. We were seriously starting to wonder if we'd missed the zoo because the bus journey was so long. We were very relieved when we started to see signs by the road indicating that the Zoo was coming up very soon and were very pleased to get off and head in.
~Not exactly cheap cheap cheap~
Viewed from the outside you can be forgiven for thinking it might be quite a small place as it's hard to tell from the road how far the zoo spreads. It's actually got a total area of six hectares. Considering that the entrance prices are AU$32 per adult, we did wonder if we were going to get our money's worth. It's also only open between 8.30 am and 4 pm and after our long bus ride we didn't arrive until nearly 1 pm. Putting our reservations behind us (and thinking that there was no way we wanted to head back on the bus again) we paid up for two tickets and two bags of wallaby food and headed in to see the animals.
The first animals to greet us were two birds - a large white cockatoo and a splendid blue macaw. Past them and we met a couple of wallabies, hanging around waiting to be fed. The poor little chaps had been getting fed all morning by visitors and were clearly a bit jaded and most of the food was stolen by ducks who'd worked out that hanging out with the wallabies was a good way to get a full tummy.
With our maps in hands and a rough timetable of some of the key events on offer, we headed off to just wander around and enjoy the animals. It was July, the middle of the local winter, and the morning rush had already passed and the zoo was very quiet. Highlights included the very non-native red panda who must have been a bit bemused at finding himself such a long way from his Himalayan habitat. I can (and do) watch red pandas for hours every time I see them and this was a particularly fine beast. We headed off to see lemurs and weird little monkey things before finding ourselves amongst some rather more local beasts. A dingo reclined on a rock, a cassowary waved its wattle in our direction and we walked through several large aviaries of very friendly and colourful birds. Something large and white pooped on my husband which I'm sure was lucky (and very funny).
We gathered at one particular pen to wait for the marsupial chat from one of the keepers. She entered the wombat pen with a large mail koala and proceeded to tell us and another couple about how the two beasts were similar and how each was adapted to its particular habitat. The wombat was less impressed with being discussed and shot inside a tree trunk whilst she explained that they have really tough nether regions that can withstand getting bitten by predators. Basically they leap into a hole, stick their bums in the air and ignore anyone biting them. The koala went by the name of Romeo and we learned that he had a couple of wives and babies in the maternity ward which we'd be able to see later.
Next we headed back to the birds, seeing some of the unique weird feathered Australians - kookaburras, frogmouths and the weird long legged chaps with bug eyes that seemed to be wandering all over the centre of Cairns. We then joined a large group of people waiting to get scared silly by the crocodiles. There is something so ancient and primitive about these beasties that they really do give me the heebie-jeebies. We were introduced to a killer-croc who'd been sent to the zoo after getting too aggressive. Aside from a couple of impressive tooth-baring yawns, he wasn't in the mood to look too menacing. After about 15 minutes of the warden trying to show how tough the crocodiles were, he gave up and explained that it was just too cold, and the crocs weren't in the mood to do much other than just sit around trying to warm up. Usefully I learned to tell the difference between fish eating crocs and ones that might have a go at a human although I'm not sure I'd stick around long enough to check the shape of a crocodile's nose if one was heading my way. I was happy to leave the big beasts behind and head over to the enclosures with the much smaller lizards and their friends.
~Mother and Baby Unit~
One of the highlights of the zoo came next and was a visit to the 'nursery' where the new mum koalas and their little ones are kept in a relatively quiet male-koala-free zone. Most of my photos show the koalas fast asleep although I did manage to accidentally catch a bit of action with the video setting on my camera when one of the mums handed her baby over to her friend, walked along a branch and peed before heading back to reclaim her little one. Koalas mostly just wedge themselves between branches and sleep - it's not a bad life.
Close to the nursery is a place where you can have your photograph taken with an animal of your choice (from a selection obviously, you can't just go and grab a crocodile and ask him for a 'snap'). They charge AU$15 per photograph for doing this and we weren't interested because we'd prefer to see the animals in a less 'staged' setting. We headed back to the far side of the zoo to meet the kangaroos and to observe some children completely ignoring the 'no entry signs' but despite hanging around with some degree of anticipation, none of the roos gave the kids a good kicking so we decided to do a quick once-round again of our favourite animals. In my case this of course meant going straight back to the red panda for another 15 minutes of gazing lovingly at a sleepy beast. If anyone is familiar with the website icanhavecheeseburger.com and their photos of so-called mono-rail cats (cats lying with their legs hanging down on either side of a branch or sofa-back etc) I can happily confirm that red pandas also love to adopt to monorail position.
When we'd seen everything we wanted to we headed out of the zoo, crossed the road and waited absolutely ages for a bus to take us back to Cairns by an even longer and convoluted route than the one that we'd taken in the morning. If you want to try something REALLY different, they have a wedding chapel on site for the ultimate in unusual wedding locations. All of the animals appeared to be very well looked after and free from the usual signs of captivity anxiety. I've always had mixed feelings about zoos, but this was a small, friendly place that was clearly taking seriously the responsibility to educate visitors about their animals and environmental issues. Whilst I thoroughly recommend a visit to Cairns Tropical Zoo, I can't say the same for the local buses. Get a taxi or a hire car if you can