The Werribee Open Range Zoo in Australia is home to a variety of African animals. It is off the beaten path a bit, but if you follow the signs from M1 out of Melbourne you will have no problem finding it. The place is heavily themed with an eye towards really putting you into an African safari mind-set. This makes the trip worthwhile, even if it does only take up about 2 hours of your day.
Admittance to the zoo is about $22 Australian per adult. This includes a safari ride on their converted bus. Do take the earliest ride available and then do the walking tour. The bus is painted like a safari jeep and takes you out behind the grounds where you can get up close and almost personal with a wide range of animals. The camels here were very cool and walked almost up to my open window. Zebras were grazing in several spots, as were gazelles. The bus had to stop for a bit to allow a family of Rhinos to cross in front of us, which made for some great photographs.
During this bus tour, our driver kept up a running commentary on the Open Range Zoo and it’s animals. Do be warned that this tour encompasses some pretty hairy hills and at times it is a bit of a knuckle-biter. Our bus stalled on one steep up-grade making the driver back down the hill in reverse onto a narrow bridge to try a second run at the thing. That was a bit too exciting for me. I’d have rather gotten off and taken my chances with the bison hanging out over the hill.
The walking part of the Werribee Zoo is on a dirt path that winds through various African trees, complete with sound effects. They have cheetahs, hippos, and zebras here, to name just a few, but my favourites of the day by far were the lions and the Meerkats.
We hit the place just in time to catch the Meerkat show going on near the entrance. Werribee has 3 separate Meerkat families, but the main set where the show is held. Since Meerkats cannot be held, lest their group abandon them, the show was pretty much just the park employee giving a little talk while tossing food over the low enclosure. It was quite interesting though. There was a lot of frolicking going on in that enclosure leading to lots of great pictures.
At the Lion enclosure we were awestruck. Rather than fencing and ditches, the viewing area is a wall of very thick glass. The lions come right up to the glass, leading to pictures that look like you were right there with them. I wanted to get rid of that glass and pet them. Werribee has 3 females and 2 males for your viewing enjoyment. Being so close to them was just amazing, protected or not.
There are several areas to barbecue and picnic, complete with little grass-roofed huts to huddle in should it begin to rain or to use for getting out of the hot sun. Additionally, there is the Meerkat Bistro for drinks and light sandwiches. From noon to 14:30 they serve a hot lunch, but from 9 to 17 they are open for sodas, beer, desserts, and what have you.
The gift shop is filled with a myriad of African safari type of things. Unfortunately the hat I wanted did not have the Werribee Open Range Safari logo on it. Why would I buy a plain hat here? They did have one style of baseball cap with the logo, but I wanted one of the others. Oh well…For the price, the Werribee Open Range Zoo is worth it. The safari path is 1000 mitres long, and the volcanic path with a few kangaroos and emus is 500 metres. Combined with the bus tour, you can plan to spend a couple of entertaining hours here. Do bring the kids.