Your child tentatively holds out one hand, offering a carrot. The elephant’s long, grey trunk snakes forward, snatches it up, and promptly transfers it to its gaping mouth. Shining eyes turn towards you and an awed voice says, ‘The elephant ate from my hand!’ Australia Zoo gives kids some very special opportunities for getting close to animals. Kids spend hours at the Tiger Temple's unusual underwater viewing area where they can watch the tigers swimming. They love meeting the animals going for walks with keepers through the zoo grounds, and patting and feeding the kangaroos in their free-roaming enclosure.
■ The elephant feeding, twice daily (no extra cost).
■ Hand-feeding the free-roaming red and grey kangaroos (small charge for food).
■ The Wildlife Warriors performance in the 5000-seat Crocoseum. You’ll see a crocodile feeding, but the highlight is watching the birds fly over the heads of the audience. Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin sometimes appear in these shows.
■ The tiger show – see how playful tigers can be! They play with toys, wrestle with keepers and dive into their pool. Show times vary each day, so check the time on your arrival.
■ The wildlife photo studio where you can have a photo taken with various animals (extra cost); see the website for timetable.
■ The Kids Zoo where kids can pat and feed baby animals; small charge for food.
■ The koala walkthrough, where you can pat a koala at any time; (no extra cost).
■ Bindi’s pony trail, where there are free pony rides for little ones under 127 centimetres tall.
■ Farmyard Fun encounter (extra cost) where under-10s can get right inside the animal enclosures. Give the keepers a hand with cleaning, brushing, cuddling and feeding.
The wombat is the closest relative to the koala. Females have a pouch that faces backwards so their babies don’t get dirt in their faces when mum digs the burrow! They usually move slowly but are capable of amazing speeds. They eat grasses and roots. Their powerful claws are for digging, and if predators enter their burrows they tend to crush them with their backsides.
■ Although it is called Australia Zoo, animals from all over the world are on display.
■ Ask the keepers if you can pat the animals being walked through the grounds.
■ Wear a hat, sunscreen and comfortable walking shoes, although there are plenty of shaded areas.
■ Make use of the website to plan your visit. There are several shows through the day.
■ All the shows are accompanied by information about animal conservation (and opportunities for donations).
■ The zoo is very spread out, which gives the animals plenty of space, but means you have to walk a lot. Luckily, you can hop aboard a free shuttle if you get tired!
■ Queues to feed the elephants tend to be shorter in the afternoon. If there is a queue, it generally moves quickly.
■ You can bring your own picnic to enjoy on the lawn, or purchase meals from the huge undercover food court which has plenty of choices, including some healthy options.
■ Mosquitoes can be a problem in the wetland section and the nearby kangaroo enclosure, so bring insect repellent.
■ You can reach the zoo by a free coach that departs from various Sunshine Coast points every morning; phone the zoo to book your seats.
■ There are various animal encounters, and even Wildlife Hospital Tours, available for an extra cost; various age restrictions.
■ Kids can take a break from animal-viewing in the shaded playgrounds, the jumping castle, and the free rides.
■ Prams and red pull-along wagons are available for hire.