Whenever I travel Down Under I look for opportunities to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s fabulous fauna –I mean, what could be more memorable than rubbing elbows with a gray kangaroo and cuddling a koala? Through the years I have visited and thoroughly enjoyed visits to Taronga Zoo in Sydney’s harbor and to the Koala Park Sanctuary in West Pennant Hills, a half hour from the center of Sydney. Most recently, there was another opportunity while in port at the Billabong Sanctuary near Townsville, North Queensland, Australia during Holland America’s Amsterdam’s 2019 Grand World Voyage. The Billabong Sanctuary, offered as an optional shipboard excursion, is a 26-acre interactive wildlife park presenting a variety of shows and activities in Nome, 11 miles south of Townsville.
Here are nine not-to-be-missed attractions at the Billabong Sanctuary:
1) The Koala Experience – These fluffy-teddy-bear-looking critters are marsupials and to me, surprisingly heavy. They tend to latch on to you as if you were a tree and they may smell like a cough drop –their diet consists of eucalyptus leaves. Queensland (where the Billabong Sanctuary is located), South Australia and Western Australia are the only places in Australia where it is legal to hold a koala –in other states, like New South Wales where Sydney is located, it is illegal.
2) Dingo Experience – Visitors learn about dingoes, who came to Australia some 18,000 years ago and so are considered native animals.
3) Crocodile feeding –Get your camera ready to capture the moment when a huge saltwater crocodile jumps out of the water to gobble up a chicken hanging from one of the park rangers’ pole. Unbelievable!
4) Wombat Experience – You can learn about wombats, the largest burrowing mammals in the world –to me they look like overgrown mice—during this experience and then pet one and pose for a picture with it.
5) Reptile Experience – A park ranger showcases snakes (yikes!) including pythons from the safety of the sanctuary’s reptile pit as well as lizards and baby crocs. You can pose with a python or other reptiles if you dare –I must confess, I always pass on posing with a monster Burmese python curled around my neck!
6) Free-Flight Bird Show – Several birds are displayed in action including an owl and a kite and you can pose with Quixote, a rainbow lorikeet (this sounds like more my speed!).
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7) Turtle feeding and races – You can feed Krefft’s turtles and then cheer your favorite on the turtle derby –the winner gets an extra chunk of fish skin.
8) Kangaroo feeding – Hobnobbing with friendly free-ranging, docile gray kangaroos as you feed them, pet them and take photos of them is always fun and makes for iconic photos of a visit Down Under (wear something red and you have your Christmas photo!). You can feed kangaroos at your leisure during your visit –bags of food for them are for sale at nominal price at the park (just keep an eye on the bag of food as the sanctuary’s geese have been known to abscond with them!).
9) Cassowary feeding – Cassowaries are the third largest species of bird in the world (after the ostrich and emu) and less than 1,000 of these magnificent birds are left in the world. You can feed them some fruit and photograph them. One of them is appropriately called Hope, I was glad to learn.