Our scheduled time in the city of Cairns, Australia was tight, and we had a lot of things we wanted to see. Cairns was a great base for exploring things like the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Mossman Gorge, but that left little time for more local things. We knew that the Cairns Tropical Zoo might be worth a visit, but with our flight from Sydney landing so close to closing time, the only way we would be able to see the zoo at all was by booking the Night Zoo Experience. It included dinner and a tour by torchlight around the zoo to visit and learn about the nocturnal creatures living there. We decided to just go for it, booking it a few days before we left.
The drive from our hotel was about thirty minutes and the entrance was easy to find. First up was the barbeque dinner, which was nothing special. The seats were assigned which was a little odd, luckily we enjoyed the company of the others that happened to be at our table. The vegetarian option was, in a word, poor, some sort of fried plantain stuffed with pumpkin. I filled up on salad while my husband classified the barbecued meat as “decent”.
After everyone had eaten, we congregated in a small area to learn about a few birds, most notably the Sulphur crested cockatoo. While they are somewhat raucous and a bit wild, they live to be over sixty years old which is why many people like to have them as pets- they can literally be a lifelong companion. As our guide, Brad, was teaching us all of this, I began to get very distracted. There was a large number of guests in our tour group that didn’t speak English, and the interpreter was speaking over the guide which meant I had to strain to hear what Brad was saying. I hoped that once we moved to a more open area this wouldn’t be a problem.
Unfortunately, the next stop was even worse. A fenced in ring was surrounded by a circle of benches, where we were told to take a seat so that a handler could bring different animals into the ring. She was explaining all sorts of interesting facts about them- how old they were, what they liked to eat, their daily habits… and this was literally impossible to hear. The interpreter was yelling his translation because the group that needed to hear him ended up spreading out. We were welcome to take photographs, but they asked us not to use the flash, not to stand up, and not to reach our arms over the fence. Between the different languages and the photography rules, chaos ensued. Some people thought they weren’t allowed to take any photos at all while others completely ignored the rules! People were standing on the benches, other people were yelling at the people who were standing on the benches, the handlers were struggling to keep the animals from getting wound up, the interpreter was rushing around trying to make sure everyone understood what was going on… and as a result I can barely even remember which animals I saw at this spot. We didn’t get any good photos either, and at that point I was feeling pretty discouraged about the evening.
Eventually we moved on from that spot and it was time to meet the koalas! We were able to pet one at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania, but this time we paid a little bit extra to hold one ourselves and get a photo taken. This little lady was named Mumari, and she was pleasant to hold and much less grumpy than the last one we met. I cannot get over how soft her fur was! Her handler told us that many other people have the same opinion, and so it is quite a shame that koalas are by nature irritable animals because their fur would make them so nice to cuddle. After we got individual shots, they were kind enough to snap a quick one of us together with our personal camera.
It was dark enough now that we had to turn on our torches (we call them flashlights in the states!) and they gave us quite a unique perspective as the night continued. The next stop included watching the crocodiles being fed. We tried to find a space to stand away from the interpreter, hoping to be able to hear the guides, and it was a little bit better. We got nice views of the crocs, even in the dark. They are beautifully mysterious animals and their strength is truly amazing. A walk through the reptile house was next on the list, and this was enjoyable because it was done at our own pace. We were able to just read the information on the walls instead of straining to hear it being spoken. I was even able to wrap myself in a snake for a photo!
The last animals on our list were the kangaroos. We had an amazing time feeding kangaroos at Bonorong, and this experience was very different. It was very dark, so we had to put our torches to good use. This was hard at first but after we got used to it, it actually made the experience very unique! There was also a bonfire burning and we enjoyed some billy tea and damper in front of the flames as the kangaroos hopped around us in the dark. The best part was finding one with a little joey in her pouch! He stuck his little head out a few times to say hi, and the staff told us he would probably pop out for good in a few weeks.
The final event of the evening was snacks, drinks, some traditional music, and learning traditional dances! Luckily I had our great guide, Brad, as my partner for the first verse because sometimes I tend to have two left feet. Most of the group joined in for at least one round and we finished the night with smiles on our faces. The gift shop was truly excellent, we found great souvenirs there for our young nieces as well as something affordable enough to purchase one for each of my 25 coworkers! Brad ended up ringing up our purchases, and during our small talk we mentioned that we were heading to the Daintree Rainforest tomorrow. Some other people would have just smiled and said, “that’s nice,” but Brad actually pulled out a map and gave us some incredibly detailed tips. Restaurants, routes to drive, swimming holes… he truly went above and beyond! Later in my post about our Daintree experience you’ll see how incredibly helpful he was.
In addition to Brad, there were a few other fantastic staff members- the young lady who was handling the koalas was fabulous, as was the woman who brought the small animals into the circular ring, I just wish I could remember their names. Even with the subpar food and the initial difficulties hearing over the interpreter, the standout staff and cuter than cute creatures made this event something I can recommend- but if you are a vegetarian, maybe have a snack before arriving. Check out www.cairnsnightzoo.com for all the info!