Most major cities have a zoo which they proudly tell tourists they must visit. But we’ve visited many zoos and animal parks over the years so we tend to pick and choose carefully, particularly when we don’t have long in a city. AJ and I only had a few days in Adelaide but couldn’t go past a visit to Adelaide Zoo. I still remember the fanfare back in 2009 when, the now resident Pandas, Wang Wang and Fu Ni arrived. It seems the Pandas are not the only reason to put Adelaide Zoo on your list of must-see attractions, the accessibility and inclusive experiences stand out as some of the best we’ve seen in Australia. I know, it’s a big call but read on and I’m sure you’ll agree.
The moment we walked through the gates we noticed a laid back feel to the zoo, no sign of queues and no-one was rushing. We visited the week before Adelaide school holidays so perhaps that made it quieter.
For wheelchair users, pram pushers, anyone with a mobility restriction and little toddler legs, this zoo is a dream. There’s only one small steep path and even that can be avoided. The rest of the zoo has wide, level paths throughout making getting around an absolute joy.
Mornings are usually the best time to see animals at their most active so we arrived when the zoo opened at 9.30am. The hippos were happily munching on their hay and easy to spy from the low fences encircling their enclosure.
Similarly, the Pandas were on the prowl for fresh bamboo in their enclosures. Wang Wang and Fu Ni each have their own area. Fu Ni is ladylike in her approach to her enclosure, being particular about how it’s kept and generally liking it just so.
We were lucky enough to see both the pandas awake and busy. Fu Ni had a wander around her enclosure and then, much to the delight of adults and toddlers alike, plonked herself in front of the floor to ceiling window to munch on bamboo. What a privilege to have the animals so close to visitors.
The pandas have large indoor and outdoor areas to explore. For keen photographers like myself, the outdoor viewing is perfect for capturing lovely photos without the reflections of the glass on the indoor enclosures.
The zoo is home to 2500 animals and 250 species of exotic and native mammals, birds, reptiles and fish exhibited over eight hectares. The many trees which line the paths provide lots of shade throughout the zoo which we welcomed on the warm day we visited.
Giraffes are always one of my favourites at a zoo and it seems I’m not the only one curious to watch them. I was amused to see the meerkat checking out his neighbour. Grass is always greener it seems.
We find each zoo we visit has different offerings and Adelaide had many surprises including a white meerkat which we’ve never seen before.
I am particularly obsessed by Orangutans and my dream is to see them in the wild one day. So I couldn’t wait to see Adelaide Zoo’s resident Orangutans. I was delighted when I saw one of the beautiful Orangutans sitting in the tree house in the enclosure. Before I could even raise my camera, he or she expertly pulled a sheet over itself leaving only an Orangutan butt on show. Forever the optimist I stood waiting for it to appear again. AJ assured me it was unlikely as he or she looked too settled. I reluctantly agreed to move on with the promise we could return before we left the zoo (who is the parent and who is the child in this relationship). We returned but an Orangutan butt was still all I could see so I’m afraid I have no photos to share.
FOR THE KIDS
Most kids find a trip to the zoo exciting but it’s even more special when you can role play going on safari while visiting. A genius addition to the Adelaide Zoo experience is the option to hire a Zooburu safari jeep ($15 at time of writing). These well designed jeeps have space for two children, driver and passenger, plus room for bags on the roof.
They’ve been designed to be a good height for parents doing the pushing so there’s no sore backs at the end of the day.
Nature’s Playground is a recent addition to Adelaide Zoo. The nature inspired play space has been designed as an environment where visitors of all ages and abilities can let their imaginations run wild. The playground includes play equipment built on nature play principles that stimulate all senses through climbing structures, water play and aerial walkway.
Variety have installed a lift so children of all abilities can access the aerial walkway. For children able to use a slide this allows access to it without using stairs.
There’s a birds nest swing and some elevated sand tables. I’m told the playground is set to expand over the coming years.
Stand-alone wheelchair accessible bathroom facilities are nearby with plans for a hoist and adult size change table to be fitted in the near future.
The lift has an access code to ensure it’s used by those who need it rather than joy riders! The lift code can be found on your Adelaide Zoo map which you’ll be given on entry.
We love nothing more than interacting with the animals so we’ve done many behind-the-scenes experiences. We’ve found that there’s usually a limited number of experiences for wheelchair users and we’ve often been disappointed to find that the best experiences aren’t accessible at all due to the limitations of the enclosures. However, Adelaide Zoo prides itself on being inclusive and we could see that making the entire zoo as accessible as possible is a priority – including the animal encounters. I get ridiculously excited when I find this at an attraction.
We were booked in to do the squirrel monkey encounter because this is accessible and we were told the squirrel monkeys are particularly curious about wheelchairs. When we met with the keeper and discussed the wheelchair access she told us that the squirrel monkeys are so curious about wheelchairs they’ll fixate on the chair and ignore other visitors so she takes groups in separately to make sure the monkeys share the love around.
For the purposes of the blog, we borrowed one of the zoo’s wheelchairs to demonstrate how interactive this experience can be for wheelchair users. The squirrel monkeys were more interactive with AJ in the chair than they were when she was out. It was so fun to watch them explore the chair, looking at their reflections in the chrome frame of the chair and clambering all over AJ.
The giraffe feed, panda behind-the-scenes and hippo experience are all wheelchair accessible.
Even watching the hippo encounter was amazing. I’ve never had the opportunity to see hippo teeth up close and it certainly proves why they are one of the deadliest animals. Fortunately at Adelaide Zoo you can get up close with a wheelchair without danger.
The level path and low fence makes this encounter wheelchair accessible.
Just look at that jaw and those teeth!
In the warmer months of the year Adelaide Zoo offers a camping experience called Wild Nights. The rooftop tents can be accessed by lift but do require visitors to have some mobility, in my opinion. The tents have a lip around the edge and the mattresses are on the ground.
The paving block path which leads between the tents would also be tricky with a wheelchair. There is an accessible bathroom facility at the base of the building.
Adelaide Zoo has a café and restaurant, both with freshly prepared options. The Fig Tree café is located in the centre of the zoo and offers a range of sandwiches, croissants and burgers for a quick on-the-go lunch. The Wisteria Restaurant is close to the entrance of the zoo and offers a more upmarket menu with a range of salads, soups and main meals including salt & pepper squid, grilled chicken burgers and more.
Many families choose to bring their own picnic and it’s lovely to see so many people sharing meals at the shaded picnic tables around the Zoo.
Accessible bathrooms are available.
Wheelchairs may be borrowed for the day (deposit needs to be left).
Parking is available either in the streets surrounding the zoo (metered parking) or at a parking station nearby. We found street parking easily at the front of the zoo but we arrived prior to the zoo opening. The zoo has arrangements with parking stations nearby for discounted parking which is cheaper than the metered parking. You can read more about that here.
Plan your day by visiting the Adelaide Zoo website prior to your visit.
If you’d like to participate in an animal encounter, enquire and book in advance. Not all animal encounters run every day and numbers are limited. Make sure you check to see if it is wheelchair accessible if you need access.
Ensure you wear, or take, enclosed footwear for the squirrel monkey encounter. You can’t take your own camera into the encounter as the monkeys fancy a bit of a chew on cameras. As part of the encounter you receive one printed photo.
Get to the zoo at opening time to see the animals at their most active. I suggest heading to the pandas early if you’d like to see them awake.
We would like to thank Danielle for taking time out of her day to take us on a tour of the zoo, Phil for organising our visit and to both of them for being so open to feedback and ideas regarding access. It is wonderful to see staff so interested in access and inclusion. Thanks also to Nicole for the great pics of the squirrel monkey encounter and to the lovely keeper, whose name escapes me.
We were guests of Adelaide Zoo for our visit and for the squirrel monkey encounter. As always, our opinions are our own and our enthusiasm stems from a wonderful day where we saw access and inclusion top of mind.
Before or after your visit at the zoo, take a walk along the River Torrens opposite the zoo’s entrance. It’s wheelchair accessible and the reflections in the water are stunning.