Newest Review: ... there was also the option of an activity sheet for younger children. Having visited lots of times before we know our way around but ther... more
Marwell animal park - an awesome day out
Marwell Wildlife Park (Winchester, Hants)
Member Name: rackerss
Marwell Wildlife Park (Winchester, Hants)
Advantages: easy access via road train, lots of rare animals, good conservation work, interesting signs
Disadvantages: maybe not enough to keep young children interested all day
Me and my parents have been visiting animal parks since I was about 10; I've always loved animals and some of my best memories are from these days out. I am now nearly 21 and when I visited home last we decided to take a trip to Marwell like old times. We had been before about 8 years ago and so I didn't remember too much about it, other than it was absolutely pouring with rain!
This time, we had better luck with the weather; it was a bright sunny day, but not too hot to make it uncomfortable. The park is located about 8 miles outside of Winchester in Hampshire - very close to Southampton. We drove (there is free parking), but the park is well connected to Eastleigh Bus Station with bus services. The park opens at 10am and last entry is 90 minutes before closing time (closing time varies but during the summer it is mostly open till 6, spring and Autumn is 5 and winter is 4). Admission during peak times for an adult is £18 with a donation. You can pay without a donation for £16.35, but when you see the wonderful work they do, you've got to be pretty mean to not pay the donation! They also do children, student, senior, disability and family discounts - for full up to date prices see their website where it is all laid out very clearly.
So, what about the park itself? I had the best time! When we first arrived we decided to get the free road train once around the park which took about half an hour. We did this just to get our bearings and see what was on offer. It gave us a chance to sit down and look at the map and also gave us a sneak peak of some animals and got us pumped up for the day ahead. I think the train is actually designed as a way of getting from one part of the park to another - maybe if you have a disability or young children that find it hard to walk for a long distance. Unlike some other animal parks, the road train does not take you anywhere you cannot reach by foot.
There are about 180 species of animal at Marwell covering a wide range of sizes, habitats and level of endangerment. My personal highlights were the giraffes, the snow leopards and the fossa - a cat-like mammal from Madagascar that I have never heard of before. I was fascinated by the leaf-cutter ants; they have set up a tube about 8 meters long with the ants nest at one end and a plant at the other and you can watch the ants cut the leaves and carry them all the way back to their nest - a true miracle of nature. They also have lemurs, zebras, meerkats, kangaroos, flamingos and penguins among others. It is so varied that you don't get bored and each new enclosure is something completely different. Every enclosure has a sign that tells you what is in it, where it is from and it's conservation status. A lot of the signs also have trivia about either the animal, or the work that Marwell is doing in connection with the animal. Now that I'm a bit older I read all the signs and I found it so interesting learning about the work and animals of Marwell.
There is a lot for children to do; lots of play areas etc. but I can imagine young children losing interest. It's an animal park, not a zoo which means the animals are in very large enclosures as similar to their natural habitat as possible. This means they can sometimes be hard to spot, sometimes impossible. It can be disappointing, but I understand how important it is that they have somewhere to hide out of view of the public. There were lots of school trips while we were there which was a bit frustrating as they were shouting and screaming near some of the small enclosures and it was clearly distressing the animals.
We took our own lunch as animal parks aren't particularly well-known for their culinary delights, but there was one café that looked quite nice with hot meals and cold drinks. This was situated in the 'into Africa' part of the zoo and the benches outside looked out over a huge field where zebra, giraffes and ostriches were roaming freely - it truly felt like you were in Africa - amazing view! Even though we went in the summer peak, there were none of the ice cream stalls open! I would have loved a cornetto! The gift shop was like any other zoo gift shop; lots of stuffed toys, animal pictures, books for children and pens and pencils at slightly higher prices than you'd find elsewhere!
Marwell has no drive round safari - all the animals can be viewed and accessed by foot. I personally don't like the drive-round bits as I never have enough faith in my car! There are daily talks with keepers - the times change, but there is a chalk board by the entrance with the day's times. Talks are on Giraffes, Meerkats, Rhinos and Penguins. I wasn't fortunate enough to make these talks, but next time I go I would definitely make sure to be in the right place at the right time.
As an environment student, I found the conservation work they do very interesting. They work with communities in other countries to ensure local protection of the natural wildlife. Their social study on Macaques is really interesting; they are monkeys whose interactions are similar to humans and the research is just fascinating! There are so many things like this to read around the park and I learned so much.
Despite all the animals being enclosed, there are some excellent photo opportunities. My stepfather is a keen photographer and managed to get some amazing photos that didn't even look like we were in a zoo! He managed to cut out fences and glass walls to get photos that looked like we were right next to the animals! Some of the animals are so beautiful it's well worth taking your camera! Having said this, there isn't many good opportunities to have your picture taken with the animals as they are often quite far away from where you are standing.
I would 100% recommend going to Marwell weather you have children or not. There is such a variation in the things to do and there really is something for everyone.
Summary: absolutely love it to bits!