African adventures at the Zion Wildlife Gardens

Last weekend, before I started getting really sick, I took Lukas and Eliza to the Zion Wildlife Gardens about 20 minutes north of Whangarei.

The park-like "sanctuary" is home to a huge variety of the world's rarest big cats like Barbary and white lions, Bengal tigers and much more. The aim of the gardens is to preserve endangered species - some of these are already extinct in the wilderness.

The only way to get into the Gardens is by booking one of the tours that are available daily (all prices given in New Zealand dollars):

General Guided Tours: Walk through the gardens and meet all the sanctuaries wildlife. Duration: 60mins. Cost: $60 per adult, $30 per child (aged 2 to 12), under 2yrs free. Maximum of 16 people.

That's the one we booked. However, we were lucky to go there on a half price weekend so check the website regularly for discounts and more! The tour lasted almost two hours and our guide told us a lot of interesting stuff about the animals, where they're from, what they usually feed on... For young kids most of this stuff is rather boring I'd say they just want to look at the animals. But you could ask all kinds of questions and the guy wsa happy to answer them all.

He even got to give them all a little scratch which they really enjoyed. I would have been too by the way... But no luck - safety reasons... So I thought I would be happy by just taking pictures. However, unfortunately all the animals are behind fences so when you try to focus it usually focusses on the fence and not on the animal ;-( So I only got a few half-decent shots...

My opinion: The wildlife gardens are worth a visit - but the price they ask for is quite high. If you wanted to go there with your family thinking 2 kids and 2 parents you'd have to pay $180 in total - that's probably about 100 Euros!!! And just for an hour - you can't go walking around on your own... Of course they need money to keep the place running but so do zoos and they have a much larger variety of animals and if you're into photography better options for picturetaking.

Only do it if you're really into wildlife, want to learn lots of things that you'd never hear about in a zoo - after all our guide has been working in Tansania and other places so he was full of interesting bits and pieces. But don't expect too much, just enjoy watching the cats while you can.

Here are other - even more expensive - tours that might be worth considering (text is taken from website on August 1, 2010)...

The Works Tour: You will be greeted by Ash one of our experienced big cat handlers. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around the park, and watch him hand feed the once wild cheetahs Kenya and Thabo, give Kahli the tigress her much loved bottle of milk. Be awed at the strength and height of Tygo, as he stretches full length on his hind legs. Take the opportunity to feed our gorgeous big cats their appetiser with tongs, before watching them enjoy the main course on the second part of this tour. Duration: 2 hours. Cost: $100 per adult, $40 per child (aged 2 to 12).

Cheetah Chat Experience: Have you always wanted to get up close and personal with our beautiful cheetahs Kenya and Thabo? Well, now you can! Enjoy a group guided tour of Zion Wildlife Gardens with the additional bonus of spending 15mins interacting with these two very special cats. Enter the enclosure with our big cat handlers and have the opportunity to feed these gorgeous furry spotted friends. Cost: $175 per person (at least 12yrs)

Cub Encounters: When lion or tiger cubs are available everyone gets the opportunity for a private hands-on cub encounter during this tour. This guided journey through the wildlife gardens includes all the wildlife as in the Guided Tour plus a very special opportunity to interact with our latest cubs. Duration: 80mins. Cost: $200 per adult, $50 per child (aged 2 to 12).

Tiger Walk (only in the brochure): Just imagine walking through the sanctuary with a tiger within arms length. Cost: $650 for up to two people, $200 per extra person.

Big Cat Tour (only in the brochure): Meet and pat one of the big cats. Duration: 90mins. Cost: $250 per adult (at least 16yrs).

Young Adult Big Cat Encounter (only in the brochure): A full guided tour fpr up to six people when young lion or tiger cats are available. Duration: 80mins, includes 20mins with young adult tiger/lion. Cost: $200 per person (at least 12yrs).

Behind The Scenes: Have you always wanted to meet the Zion Team and their bevy of beautiful cats? Well, now you can get even closer to the big cats and the amazing staff behind Zion Wildlife Gardens! With Behind the Scenes Experience you will spend a day interacting with the Zion staff and big cats. But don't think you'll be standing back taking photos - oh no! You'll be too busy helping Dennis as he takes guided tours around the park, accompanying Ash as he drives the quad bike through the Gardens to feed the hungry cats and watching the staff interacting and spending time with their favourite furry friends! And as a special bonus you will get to spend time with our male and female cheetahs and share morning tea with them. Find out how the professionals go about cleaning the enclosures, share stories and enjoy lunch with some of the Zion team and much much much more - at the end of your Behind the Scenes Experience, you'll know just what it's like to be a big cat handler! Cost: $850 per adult (at least 16yrs), $1500 per couple.

Standard tour times are 9.30am, 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30 pm. You need to pre-book, but I've seen people just turn up and still make it onto a tour. Call (09) 435 0110. It's on Gray Road in Kamo/Whangarei.

More pictures on Facebook...


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