What Would Steve Irwin Do?

In Melbourne we were told that kangaroos are the deer of Australia: drive a bit at dusk or dawn and you are bound to run into some. I mean see them, of course, but a collision is probably equally likely. There are yellow "caution kangaroo crossing" sings dotting the coastal road and still we heard countless stories of people wrecking perfectly good Holdens on the wildlife.

Surely there'd be no problem crossing the "spot kangaroo" item our "Must-Do Down Unda" list. Imagine our surprise when, 24 hours before we were set to board a plane departing the country, we had yet to see a hopping marsupial. Neither had we seen a koala, a cassowary or any of the myriad of life-threatening snakes/spiders we'd read so much about. How on earth could we show our face back home? It's preposterous -- like traveling to the U.S. and not seeing an overweight guy chugging a Big Gulp. These are national icons that international visitors should experience and photograph, and we were about to leave the continent without a single shot of a uniquely Aussie animal on our memory card. Our Australia 2006 slide show would have been forever incomplete.

Thank goodness for the Crocodile Hunter!

Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo is just outside of Brisbane, conveniently located on our way to the airport. Billboards exclaiming "CRIKEY!" pointed the way.

It was pouring down rain when we pulled up to the surprisingly small car park. The wet -- along with the hefty price tag -- nearly caused us to turn back. But how glad we are that we persevered!

The first thing you notice, even before going through the turnstiles, are the huge Chairman Mao-like posters of Irwin and his family, perfect for a fan photo-op.

Though the Irwins may often be away from the zoo filming somewhere in the outback, their spirit is ever-present. While thoroughly enjoying this schmaltzy aspect, you also start to appreciate the more fundamental importance of this zoo: they let you touch the animals!

Not only did I see countless koala, I also got to briefly pat one on the back under the vigilant supervision of a keeper.

We fed the kangaroos and wallabies in their vast enclosure, which zoo visitors walk into. There's nothing separating the people for the 'roos, except vastly disparate running/hopping speeds.

A leashed wombat out for a walk around the park was munching on some grass, so we stopped to pet him too. We even paid a little extra to spend some quality time with an echidna, whose sticky long tongue was rather extraordinary.

We had expected to spend just a few hours at the zoo, but checking my watch, we saw it was close to five. There was barely time to browse the gift shops. Crikey!

By Meredith Bragg |  March 25, 2006; 4:45 AM ET  | Category:  Australia
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You'll find plenty of kangaroos and wallabies once you leave the environs of the coastal cities.

I live in Alice Springs, and we have black footed rock wallabies hopping all over our back garden--smashing the plants--and lounging under our pergola on hot afternoons. (It helps to purchase a bag of roo food at the local feedstore and occasionally offer a bowl as a treat!)


Posted by: Phylis Hanna | April 4, 2006 06:05 PM

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