When I first went to sleep in Adelaide, I was sure that jetlag would be the driving force behind me waking up at some strange hour. As it turns out, I was wrong; instead I would be woken up by birdsong.
At 5am, my eyes snapped open as the sound of birds resounded outside the house. Squawks, tweets, whistling – I couldn’t venture a guess as to how many species I was listening to in that single moment. As a girl who’s grown used to the sound of cars and the occasional fox cry outside my home in London, that morning moment in Adelaide temporarily convinced me that I had managed to somehow fall asleep in a zoo. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t help but smile as the cacophony of bird conversations continued outside.
This was new, and I liked it.
I’ll admit that, apart from getting to spend time with my beloved sister, the thing that excited me most about visiting Australia was the chance to see its unique wildlife. I’ve always loved animals. When I was a youngster, a few kids from my neighbourhood and I formed an animal rescue club, and we would set out every afternoon after school in search of animals in distress. (They only probably showed signs of distress at the sight of us!) I even workshadowed at a veterinary clinic during high school, determined that I would become a vet… until I realised a huge part of the job involved having to put animals to sleep. I decided to skip on that career choice and to just continue to adore animals on a non-professional basis.
When it came to the animals in Australia, however, I thought that any interactions would be isolated to actual zoos, but, over the next three weeks in Adelaide, I was set to have all sorts of animal encounters – even just a few steps away from our own doorstep.
If you’re similarly inclined and want the chance to have some special animal sightings in and near Adelaide, then a visit to any of the places listed below will definitely make for a memorable day.
Be warned: An alarming amount of animal photos will follow, including impossibly cute ones.
– Gorge Wildlife Park –
Our afternoon at Gorge Wildlife Park has to be the first one on this list, because this happened to take place on my first full day in Adelaide, right after my birdsong alarm clock sounded me into consciousness. Our visit was a surprise, with my sister and her husband driving us out of Adelaide city and into the countryside, following signs to Cudlee Creek. My mum and I didn’t know where we were heading until we pulled up under the cockatoo-fronted Gorge Wildlife Park sign.
I still didn’t really know what we were in for, but if it involved getting to see Australia’s famous creatures, then that suited me just fine.
When compared to wildlife parks elsewhere in Australia, Gorge is pretty special for two reasons. The first is that it’s family owned, making this park the largest privately owned collection of Australian and other animals in the country. The second is that, unlike other parks, there are no surcharges for additional animal experiences. What sort of experiences, you ask? We’ll get to that in a minute.
Set over 14 acres, you can easily spend the bulk of a day wandering past and through enclosures. Gorge Wildlife Park is home to some of the country’s most renowned animals: dingoes, echidnas, Tasmanian Devils, wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, a wide array of birdlife and, of course, koalas. But the locals don’t get all the attention; you can also find animals from other places here, like American alligators, meerkats, lemurs and otters.
And the best thing is that there are plenty of opportunities to get more hands on. You can buy some animal feed at the entrance, which proves useful when you take a stroll through either the wallaby enclosure or the one for the resident kangaroo gang. I think we spent an hour in the latter enclosure, feeding the sweet-natured kangaroos, a large number of which were of an albino variety. While most of the kangaroos simply ate out of our hands, we came across a red kangaroo youngster who had developed a strange feeding habit. Instead of just eating out of it, she held onto your hand with both of her front paws, and then leisurely munched away at each mouthful. She only released your hand when she was done with all of the food in the current handful. Needless to say, I fell hopelessly in love.
But getting to feed kangaroos isn’t all that Gorge Wildlife Park is great for. Remember those experiences I mentioned earlier? Wait for it… You can hold a koala at Gorge Wildlife Park!
For no additional charge, you can cuddle one of these adorable animals. There are three different sessions you can queue for, either at 11:30, 13:30 or 15:30. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous before my encounter, as I didn’t know what to expect. But, of course, there was nothing to fear. My new best friend’s name was Prickles and, granted, she was more interested in the eucalyptus leaves nearby than in having a cuddle, but it was an amazing moment nonetheless. As with any animal encounter in Australia, remember to listen to and do exactly as the animal’s handler advises, and be prepared – koalas are heavier than they look!
After the koala holding, we explored the rest of the park, which also features a reptile house (the residents of which I never, ever want to meet out in the wild) as well as wild Rosella parrots that fly around and show off their colourful plumage.
Since this was my sister’s very first experience when she visited her now-husband in Australia, I’m so happy that Gorge Wildlife Park turned out to be mine as well.
– Belair National Park –
Some of my favourite animal encounters in Adelaide were the unplanned ones.
Since my sister lived nearby, we visited Belair National Park a number of times, simply to do the mundane task of walking Hazel, our family dog (who travelled all the way from Cape Town, just like my cat did). But the setting was anything but mundane.
Just a short drive away from the city centre, Belair National Park covers a massive area of 835 hectares and it was established all the way back in 1891, which made it the second national park in all of Australia. Nowadays, it’s a popular place for active folk, with tennis courts and sports ovals but also kilometres of walking, running and cycling trails. It’s also, as it turns out, a superb spot to do some animal spotting.
On our first walk there, even my sister couldn’t believe how many animals we saw on a single visit.
We glimpsed two koalas having a snooze up in their trees, we saw birds that matched up to the entirety of the colour spectrum, including some extremely vocal kookaburras, and there were numerous kangaroos, grown-ups and joeys alike. We even spotted an echidna, which is a rare find in the wild, as they’re solitary creatures and are intensely shy. This particular chap, however, was way too engrossed in a termite feast to even notice I was standing nearby. It was fascinating to see an echidna that close, as it is one of only two egg-laying mammals in the whole world (the other is a platypus).
Other common species in the park include the southern brown bandicoot, tawny frogmouth, the brown tree frog and shingleback lizard.
When you’re not looking for wildlife, there are plenty of other reasons to keep you within the confines of Belair National Park. There are the activities I listed above, but you can also have a barbecue in designated areas, kids can spend hours at the adventure playground and you can take a tour of the Old Government House. The latter was built during the Victorian times and served as the home of several governors in the 1800s.
All of these can lead to you having a full day in Belair National Park… but another draw will be the general appearance of the park itself. Filled with plantlife of every shape and size, with massive eucalyptus trees towering over the pathways, and water features that act like gigantic mirrors against the wide skies above, Belair National Park is an escape into nature. When I look back on my time in Adelaide, the park stands out as one of my favourite spots.
Note: Since Belair is a national park, remember that any animals encountered here will be wild and can act unpredictably. Always keep your distance!
– Adelaide Zoo –
From privately owned wildlife parks to random animal encounters in the wild, Adelaide Zoo is another absolute must for animal lovers visiting Adelaide. While I said you could spend an entire afternoon at both of the places listed above, you will spend an entire day at Adelaide Zoo.
This zoo is home to 3,000 animals. 3,000. With a focus on both native and exotic species, you’ll receive a map of the zoo upon entry and will not know which direction to dash off into first. Entry is a bit steep ($33.50 at the time of our visit) but you’ll soon see why the experience is worth every bit of that amount.
Adelaide Zoo also happens to be extremely easy to visit, as – unlike most zoos in the world – it’s located in the city centre. It’s the country’s second-oldest zoo, opening up back in 1883. It also has one of the most varied collections of animals I’ve ever seen in one place, with species from Australia, South American, South East Asia, India and Africa. In one afternoon, I got to see so many animals I’d only ever seen in documentaries on the TV.
For example, Adelaide Zoo is home to a pair of giant pandas. Fu Ni and Wang Wang are the only breeding pair of giant pandas in the Southern Hemisphere. Sadly, giant pandas are an endangered species due to loss of habitat and other factors, so it was amazing to see these stunning animals up close. Even though both of them were deeply engaged in the act of sleeping, I think we just stared at them for about 15 minutes. You can also see the painfully cute red pandas hanging around in trees in nearby enclosures.
You can also see other endangered species like the Malayan Sun Bear (the smallest of all bear species), Sumatran tigers and Sumatran orang-utans at the zoo. But the truth is, there’s almost no end to the amount of animals you’ll see there. And, unlike what you might see in other zoos, some species are grouped together in enclosures, as these groupings would naturally occur in the wild.
To get visitors more involved, the zoo holds a number of different feeding sessions during the day, which are printed on the map. We saw lions getting fed, as well as the tigers, pelicans and squirrel monkeys. There are also additional animal experiences that you can do, although you’d have to book and pay for these ahead of time.
We were simply happy to wander around the different areas of the zoo, including to the children’s education area. And that’s where we found quokkas.
I don’t mean to alarm you, but, if you don’t already know about them, prepare to meet the happiest animal on earth. And the cutest.
Extremely chilled out and friendly, these quokkas were happy to pose for some selfies with us. One of them was especially curious about me, taking the time to sniff my face before hopping onto my lap to enjoy an extended ear scratch. With the quokka quickly shooting up to the top of my list of favourite animals, this experience had to be one of my top animal encounters in Adelaide.
Quokka excitement over. For now, anyway.
Apart from ensuring the welfare of its many animals, Adelaide Zoo is also committed to conservation and to raising awareness about environmental issues, both locally and abroad. As if you couldn’t tell already, I couldn’t recommend the zoo enough – and it’s a must on any Adelaide itinerary.
Keen to experience your own animal encounters in Adelaide? Apart from these three spots, there are a few places I didn’t get to, such as Cleland Wildlife Park and, a little further afield, Monarto Zoo. A brilliant reason to go back, methinks.
I had high hopes when it came to my visit to Australia, and, happily, my expectations equated to reality. I saw animals every day while in Adelaide – whether it was in these venues or just in the garden outside. There was a resident koala in the nearby park that we could spot every other day, and the neighbourhood was filled with galahs, a bright pink and white parrot. In addition, for those three weeks, my bird alarm clock would always wake me just before the real alarm would have time to sound. All of this was, sincerely, magical.
I can’t wait to get back to Australia so that I can have many more moments like these.
Have you been to Adelaide? What have been your favourite animal encounters in the world? Let me know in the comments below!
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