A hand-raised emu can be an awful pest.
Visitors may see the amusing evidence of that when visiting the
Australian Reptile Park, located about 90 minutes from Sydney. That
is to say, it's amusing if it is not your lunch the emus are after.
are warm-blooded animals about, the park's original focus was
reptiles; hence, the name. It is Australia's sole source of venom
from poisonous snakes and the funnel-web spider; the venom used to
create serums to treat bites from these most dangerous of
Park visitors are
treated to daily sessions with snakes, in which a handler
demonstrates how he extracts venom. In a private demonstration, I
watched a minder milk one for venom.
The snake did not
seem to give much venom that day, but
our host said that, despite appearances, he'd in fact extracted
enough to kill all of four of us adults in the room.
Visitors also can
watch the experts milk spiders, but no one ever touches those
In a warm and
fuzzy counterpoint to all the snake- and spider-handling,
hand-raised kangaroos and koalas live at the park, as
Visitors can feed
the kangaroos, which roam the grounds freely -- as do those cheeky
emus. The koalas are brought out for guests and can be petted, but
not on the head; their fur feels like lamb's wool.
The U.S. is the
second-largest FIT market for the park, after the U.K., according
to Mary Rayner, general manager, and these are mostly self-drive
customers. For groups, she said, one park program is called Sex in
what the animals get up to in the park," she said, adding this is a
hit with the U.S. market.
gorgeous, green countryside to pet koalas, feed kangaroos and watch
someone else handle poisonous snakes makes a unique morning, but it
is a relatively tame choice for Australia.
include swimming with dolphins and sea lions, at Baird Bay, for
example, or swimming with the world's largest fish, the whale
shark, at Coral Bay.
tourists don't even have to go to a seashore for a daring encounter
with underwater creatures of some magnitude. The Melbourne Aquarium
offers its Diving With Sharks experience, a guided tour that brings
travelers face-to-face with grey nurse sharks, seven gill sharks
and giant stingrays, plus lots of exotic fish.
wildlife-oriented choices were equally appealing to the animal
lover in me but didn't require knowing how to dive.
Park Zoo has a unique gimmick for luring and educating visitors.
Called Roar 'n' Snore, it is a Saturday-night sleep-over at the zoo
and includes close contact with selected animals -- a few reptiles,
plus the de rigeur kangaroos and koalas -- a night tour of the zoo,
winding up at just the right spot for great evening views of the
Sydney Harbour Bridge; a morning giraffe feeding; and a
behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo kitchens, to learn a few secrets
of gourmet dining, wildlife-park-style.
My group of
roarers and snorers learned that zoo buyers get first dibs on fresh
fruits and vegetables, followed by restaurants, then exporters,
then the average consumer. We also tasted a sweet and grainy syrup,
a nectar mix created for birds and others, made with wheat, honey
We also had a
look at other meals in waiting: frozen rats, mice and male chicks
plus live worms. In this case, there was no sampling.
I participated in
Roar 'n' Snore with about two dozen visitors, mostly Australians,
of all ages. We slept in tents on the ground inside the zoo's
education center, earning me, I believe, the title of first person
in history to sleep on the ground while her luggage resided in a
room at a luxury hotel.
Plans are afoot
to upgrade the accommodations to make the program more attractive
in the overseas market. After the revamping, the program will be
The Taronga Zoo
also has a colony of little penguins -- the world's smallest, at
about 12 inches tall and 2.2 pounds.
But I had already
seen the best show these creatures put on, called the Penguin
Parade by its marketers at Phillip Island Nature Park, about 90
minutes from Melbourne.
live on Australia's coast year-round, spending their days at sea,
with some number returning to their nests each evening, like
clockwork, at dusk. For safety, they come ashore in
Even in the dim
sunset, visitors -- on viewing stands and raised, wooden walkways
-- can see these tiny, white-breasted birds emerge from the water
and cross the sand in "rafts" of 20 or more. (No photography is
allowed, but park managers have added low-wattage lighting that the
Once safely off
the exposed beach, penguins noisily peel off one by one to find
their nests, tucked away under trees or on hillsides.
In mating season,
up to 2,000 can show up on the beach. At other times, the number is
as low as 400, but there's still plenty of
arrive with tours, take day trips from Melbourne or drive in rental
For more, see
Australian Reptile Park, www.reptilepark.com.au; Melbourne Aquarium, www.melbourneaquarium.com.au; Taronga Park Zoo, www.zoo.nsw.gov.au; and Phillip Island Nature Park, www.penguins.org.au.
To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail
to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].