The giant pandas are the big drawcard at Adelaide Zoo, and it’s true that kids do love to watch these black and white furry balls as they laze around behind the glass. But there’s so much more to see and do here! There’s an amazing range of activities on offer daily. Join an Animal Encounter tour (extra cost) for a very different perspective on animals you usually only see from far away. How else would you find out that a giraffe’s head, which looks quite small from a distance, is really huge, or that it has thick, black eyelashes and a long, rough tongue? Kids giggle delightedly at the feeling of this huge beast’s tongue gently slurping carrots right out of their hands.
■ The Children’s Zoo, which offers an opportunity to feed and pat kangaroos, wallabies and some farm animals. Designated times are: 10am–12pm and 2–4pm. Limited supplies of animal food are available from the Children’s Zoo gatekeeper.
■ The free keeper talks throughout the day. Check the website or pick up a leaflet at the entrance.
■ Free walkabout tours with volunteer guides, which depart from different points around the zoo every half hour (look for the special yellow signposts). Check the website or pick up a leaflet at the zoo entrance.
■ The walk-through aviary, which has wetlands and rainforest zones. See if you can spot bowerbird bowers and the long-nosed potoroo (not a bird) who confidently wanders around and waits at the gate between the zones to be let through.
■ Treasures hidden in the bamboo forest leading to the panda enclosure – look for the pretend panda embryo in a lump of amber, and statues of pandas at various ages, which kids can climb on.
■ The male panda’s specially chilled stone. He likes to rest on his half, but you can try out the other half outside the glass.
Wang Wang and Funi are stars at Adelaide Zoo because this is the only place in Australia where you can see giant pandas. Less than 2500 giant pandas remain in the wild in the mountains of South West China. They live in bamboo forests and have to spend more than ten hours a day eating in order to meet their nutrition needs! At the zoo, they are kept separate because in the wild they live a solitary lifestyle. You can find out more about the zoo’s giant pandas at www.giantpanda.org.au.
■ When planning your visiting time, be aware that most animals are more active in the morning and several of the zoo exhibits close at 4pm.
■ If you plan to see the giant pandas, check if you need to book a panda pass before you go. Note that pandas have an hour’s break from public viewing from 2.45pm. Don’t expect a spectacular display – pandas don’t actually do very much.
■ Animal Encounters need to be booked ahead by phone or online. Most encounters have a minimum age requirement of 8 years. Don’t book an Animal Encounter if your child won’t cope with the experience. In most encounters you feed the animals, but are not allowed to pat them. In the spider monkey encounter you have to be able to stand quietly to imitate a tree while these cheeky little creatures – who look as if they have been playing in yellow paint – climb on your head and down your arms to eat from a bowl of vegetables. Some children will be thrilled at the feel of tiny claws gripping them, but others will be frightened.
■ There are more extensive behind the scenes tours available (high cost).
■ The cafe is closed by 4pm (though you can still get snacks and drinks from vending machines) so you may want to bring your own food.
■ The zoo has no car park and street parking has a four-hour limit in very expensive meters. However, the zoo is near the CBD and can be accessed by foot or public transport.
■ If you plan to visit Monarto Zoological Park as well, purchase a Two Zoos Pass, only available at the gate.