Australia has some beautiful zoos! I love being able to get up close and watch these animals. With my kids learning a lot recently about living things and studying animals, I decided it was time to take them on a fun excursion to Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Taronga Western Plains is a gorgeous zoo that is set up on a huge site that allow for the animals to have beautiful large areas in which to roam. The space makes it seem like you are spying them out in the wild.
There are several ways to see the animals at the zoo. You can walk, take a bike, hire one of the golf style buggy's or take your car. My children decided that they wanted to walk so they could properly get close to the viewing areas for each of the animals. I reluctantly agreed, with my mum radar going off telling me that I would be going back for the car part way through the trip.
We started off well, each of the three kids and my gorgeous niece and I all walking through the zoo. The first animal we saw was the hyena. These African dogs were running around and coming very close to the fences, allowing us to get a really good look at them. My two year old son was especially impressed with them.
We meandered our way through the zoo enjoying how little guests there were that day and getting to see the animals really well. I was enjoying my little planned outing and the kids were all on their best behaviour.
At the meerkats enclosure my children were absolutely smitten with the adorable little furry creatures in the enclosure. They watched them carefully and Caitlin asked about why one of them was always standing on its hind legs and looking around. I leapt onto this teaching opportunity and explained to her that meerkats have a "lookout" who keeps their eye out for predators in order to alert the rest of the gang. I explained that the lookout meerkat would start barking if they sensed danger. She loved learning about this and wanted to stay and see if the little meerkat would start barking. I told her it was unlikely as there were no predators around and the little meerkats were safe in their enclosure.
It did lead to some great discussions later though and we furthered their learning by watching some meerkat documentaries and learning about their warning systems. Zac fell so in love with the meerkats that he begged me to put him in the enclosure with them so he could hold them.
Deciding I would rather not be kicked out of the zoo, I tried to explain that I wasn't allowed to do that. Zac, who really doesn't like being told "no" (well what child does?) moved on to pleading "yes!", "tiny bit!"... I eventually changed his fixed mind and asked if he wanted to see the giraffe. Fortunately that worked!
About a quarter of the way around the huge zoo (the track is around a 5km loop from start to finish - not including the little trails off to the various enclosures) my kids started to get tired. Brianna, my 6 year old, begged me to get the car while Caitlin whined that she didn't want to be getting in and out of the car all day and would rather walk.
After some arguing between the kids, I made an executive decision to walk back and get the car and left the littlies with Charlotte (my 16 year old niece, who made the whole trip so much easier).
I decided to run back to the car so as not to waste animal-watching time and within about 15 minutes was back with the kids. We left the car in a convenient spot and did a circle to see some more animals. I used the time to tell the children facts about the animals that they didn't know - "did you know that the spots on a giraffe are like fingerprints for us? Yeah, every one has a different pattern" - it didn't take long before I had a small gathering of people listening as I became the new tour guide. (I now hope that I had all my facts straight and didn't just tell a bunch of people a whole lot of useless information... well, too late now!)
After each group of animals we returned to the car and would drive around to the next nearest viewing spot. The kids really enjoyed being in the car without having to wear their seatbelts as we cruised very slowly through the park. I made a mental note that next time I will hire the golf buggy.
We stayed at the zoo until after closing time and really made the most of the quiet of the zoo with so little guests. One of the highlights of the kids was to see wild kangaroos coming through the zoo and within a close proximity to us. There is something special about seeing a wild animal rather than one in an enclosure.
The lion was our last stop before we headed back to our hotel for the night. Zac loved seeing the lion and was quite impressed to see it sleeping not far from one of the glass viewing areas of the huge enclosure. He told us how the lion had gone to bed and was tired and proceeded to shush the other guests around to not bother him. Fortunately they thought it was very cute and not at all obnoxious.
The next day we returned to the zoo for the Dubbo Stampede, a fun run that includes distances from 5.3km to a full marathon. We had signed up for the family 5km and were excited to do the one lap of the zoo in a much more energetic manner than we had the day before.
The morning started a little different that I had planned with the air temperature being around 1 degree. The kids were each wrapped in a big fleece blanket and poor little Zac just cried because his little feet were so cold.
We had decided to the do the run in two groups: Caitlin and I were going to run the 5km with Zac in the pram and Charlotte and Bri were going to walk/run together. Turns out we all ended up run/walking it together as Caitlin had rather less stamina as she hadn't been training as much since we started homeschooling.
At the finish line the kids were excited to be given their finisher medals and I gave mine to Zac so he didn't feel left out. He perked up back to his usual self after we were given a bag of lollies and some water after our run. The lollies made him forget any past pain of cold feet and zooming through the zoo on a small stroller.
All in all I think the run made a lovely memory for our weekend and the finisher medals adorn the kids bedroom wall as a memento of our weekend away.