We woke up early, freezing through to our bones in the free rest area we’d found just outside of Beerwah. It was conveniently located on the intersection of the Bruce and Steve Irwin Highways. Yes, a section of road had been renamed after that late great man and yes, today we were wetting our pants with excitement that we’d be visiting his family’s Australia Zoo. The sun was just rising above the trees and as it did we soon warned up.
These free areas are hard to come by unless you have the pricey Camp 6 book that the silver nomads rely on to find them, we somehow just seemed to stumble upon them accidentally. You can sleep without worrying whether you’ll get a knock on your window at night from a copper, or worse from some teenagers. The toilets tend to be of the composting kind and this particular one made Glastonbury’s long drops look and smell like the Hilton. Still I shouldn’t moan since it had cost us nothing. On this occasion however, we both chose not to use the dunnies!
After 20 minutes of driving we were at the car park of Australia Zoo, and the second car there. Maybe we’d been a little too excited when estimating how long it would take to get there. Trying to look as casual as we could, we ran over to the entrance ready to sprint through the moment they opened the gates, did I mention we were excited? On the walls outside were huge pictures of Steve Irwin doing his thing, holding crocs or just jumping in the air, all with his trademark crazy wild facial expressions showing his passion for the wildlife he worked with. This zoo we found out had been opened by his parents to care for the native wildlife of Australia. As a boy he’d been involved with everything his parents did, from relocating dangerous saltwater crocodiles to handling venomous snakes, hence his passion.
Anyway, back at the gates. As the zoo opened, we bought our tickets and Emma was immediately handed a baby saltwater crocodile to hold as we had our picture taken, what a start! The place was buzzing, people had come from all over Australia and like us, all over the world to visit this place so we weren’t the only ones who were excited. As you walk around the zoo you can’t help but notice the lizards running around all over the place, you nearly tread on them they’re that bold. They’re all wild and benefit from the food scraps visitors drop and no doubt steal food from the animal enclosures. Soon we’d seen everything from a Komodo Dragon to a Giant Tortoise, but it was the species native to Australia that we really wanted to see today. The zoo didn’t disappoint as we got a close look at some pretty big saltwater crocs, most of these guys had featured in TV programs Steve had made. There was a walk through kangaroo and wallaby enclosure that let us get really close up to the magnificent creatures and also feed them if you liked. We saw some Echidnas too, cool little fellows, they trundle around, covered in spines, a bit like our hedgehogs back home. We got a close up look at some koalas that were snoozing in the midday sun, we’d been trying our hardest to spot one in the wild in the trees but had succeeded only in getting sore necks. A big highlight of the day was seeing a Cassowary, we’d hoped to see one in the Daintree national park north of Cairns but only managed to hear their calls at night. The creature was more magnificent than we’d expected, not quite as big as an emu, but with a black body and a striking blue and red head with a large crest of bone on top. It crept over to its tray of fruit and picked at all of the cubes of melon which it ate whole leaving all of the other fruits alone. We could see the the sharp edged lumps of fruit slowly sliding down inside its throat. They have a large claw on each foot that can apparently be put to very good use if you come across one on a bad day.
The best part of the day was the huge show at midday at the ‘Crocoseum’. Sat in a huge stadium, cockatoos and lorikeets flew around above our heads, circling the area, followed by a giant condor. Clips of Steve’s kids talking about the zoo’s work were played on the big screen along with a tribute to their father. The keepers then brought the biggest saltwater croc out into the middle stage area and proceeded to show what the bad boy could do. The croc was sat submerged in the pool and the moment the keeper stepped into the water with it, it went into hunting mode. Using its tail, it propelled itself towards the keeper without there being so much as a ripple on the surface. The keeper wisely stepped out of the pool just as the croc went for him. The keeper explained that in the water or by its edge, the croc has the upper hand, out of the water though, a human can walk backwards quicker than a croc can run. This went against what a few Queenslanders had told us, who said that you can’t outrun one on land and that your best hope was to run in a zigzag. Not sure who’s right, probably best not to put yourself in a position where you might meet one in the first place I reckon! The keepers then demonstrated how high the croc could jump by luring it to do so with a piece of meat, these are seriously dangerous fellas!
By 4pm we were both pretty tired after an awesome day, but we had one last stop. Onsite at the zoo is also a wildlife hospital that our ticket got us into. By allowing visitors to peak inside the place, they could make some money to go towards funding the hospital. The centre treated wild animals that had been brought in injured, and rehabilitated and released them when possible. On that day the majority of admissions were koalas either mauled by dogs or hit by cars. We saw several recovering from anesthetic after operations, their injuries were plain to see. There was also a turtle in that day that had a propeller injury, quite a sad sight.
When travelling and bound by a budget often many days you can’t do too much in order to save your money, but days like today were what it’s all about, when you can enjoy that money you’d saved.
Our next big stop was Brisbane, a nice city but there’s not too much for me to say about it. We walked around the fairly generic shopping areas and past the high rises finding ourselves in the Botanic gardens besides the river. Here we sat and ate our lunch followed by a cheeky little Tim Tam, double coated of course. We crossed to the pretty and vibrant south bank where hundreds of families were out enjoying their weekend in the biggest and most impressive lagoon we’d seen so far. It was odd seeing so much bare flesh in the middle of a city! As we walked through a large heaving market, a kindly old lady with a zimmer frame told me that I “was a bastard too”, I thanked her for this (wtf!?) and headed onto a nearby pub. We sat outside enjoying a perfect pint of Fat Yak with hordes of kiwis in their All Blacks shirts in town for the big game later on. At $9 a pint we couldn’t afford another and so headed back across the river to our van. The cost of parking meant we really couldn’t afford to stick around any longer anyway, so we settled for a flying visit through this city.
Until next time,