Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo celebrated Bindi Irwin’s fourteenth birthday today with free entry for all children, so we were there (along with most of homeschooling southeast Queensland). This is the first time we’ve been to Australia Zoo, and I was thankful that my dad accompanied us on this outing to lend a hand and provide moral support.

This trip about an hour and a half north was the first big outing we’ve taken in our new bus. I packed some extra items as we hoped to stay overnight at a friend’s, and once everyone was in their seats, we were off. The bus is easy to drive and has more power than our horse truck in New Zealand, so it was a pleasure to be on the road again.

Finding the zoo was quite easy. Once we were north of Brisbane, the signs kept assuring us that we were on the right road — Steve Irwin Way — and the distance to Australia Zoo.

One reason that we haven’t been to Australia Zoo before is because the cost seems way too high. Adult tickets are $59, and a family pass (with three children) is $189. The fact that children were free today is what made a visit especially attractive — well, that and the fact that we wanted to try out our new rig.

Rhinoceros lizard at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The first animal we spy is a very lazy rhinoceros lizard sunning itself on a rock.

Shuttle bus at Australia Zoo, July 2012
We catch the shuttle bus to the end of the line — the Africa exhibit — and then make our slow way back to where we started.

In the shuttle, I realised what an enormous task I have before me in suddenly becoming a single parent. Although my ever-patient dad was on hand to help with the girls, they all wanted to be sitting next to me or on my lap. I just don’t have enough surface area to go around, and so — as a family — we will have to make the necessary adjustments in our attitudes so that no one misses out on attention or affection.

Victor Bissett and Calista Mae, July 2012
Calista has adopted Pa as her special friend and is happy to sit with him while we ride past the animal exhibits.

Cheetah at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The cheetahs are a relatively new addition to the zoo, and they take their handlers for regular walks in a mango orchard alongside the African animal exhibit.

African animals at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The giraffes, zebras and a lone rhinoceros live together in a big plain. A baby rhino was born earlier this year, but she's not put on display yet.

African animals at Australia Zoo, July 2012
While we sit and gain some energy with an ice-cream (it's 700 metres to the next lot of animals), we watch the animals move around their pen. (The mama rhino is on the left of this photo.)

When we reach the tiger exhibit, it’s just in time for the show. Handlers demonstrate the ways that they train the tigers so that simple medical procedures like checking teeth and taking blood can be performed without knocking the tigers out.

Tiger at Australia Zoo, July 2012
A small carton of milk is used as a reward when training the tigers.

Tiger at Australia Zoo, July 2012
Australia Zoo is very proud of the fact that they use reward-based training instead of fear-based training in the handling of their wildcats.

Asian elephants at Australia Zoo, July 2012
Our girls are more excited by the fountain aerating the water at the elephant exhibit than the actual animals.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Australia Zoo without a large number of Australian animals. First up, we saw koalas — up close and even touchable!

Koala at Australia Zoo, July 2012
Koalas are nocturnal animas, so I don't know how these ones' natural cycles were adjusted so they would be lively during the daytime.

Koalas at Australia Zoo, July 2012
A baby koala with its mummy charms all the visitors by navigating its mothers body despite her seeming indifference to its location as she feeds from the branches on display.

Brioni touching a koala at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The koala is as soft as it appears and not at all smelly!

A large number of kangaroos lounge in a park area, and food can be bought and offered to them. When we were approaching the roos, a man came up to us and gave me a packet of roo-food.

This small gesture reminded me that we are still a specially-blessed family and can experience the sparkles of generosity wherever we go. Although I sometimes feel like the world has caved in on me, our children don’t need to know this emotional burden. They can grow up in freedom and love, believing that strangers will be kind to us as we are kind to others too.

Aisha petting a kangaroo at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The red kangaroos are very tame, and by this time of the day they were also so well-fed they refused the food we offered.

Australia Zoo also features a great variety of native birds. They are contained in a large, netted enclosure, and are easy to approach. If we had been more relaxed at this point of our excursion, we could have spent a lot of time looking at the various birds. But we were hungry, so we continued on quite quickly.

King parrots at Australia Zoo, July 2012
This male king parrot outshines his mate (to the right) with his brilliant plumage.

Brioni reading a map at Australia Zoo, July 2012
At almost six, Brioni is demonstrating a natural aptitude for navigation. She enjoys using the map to plot our route (to the food-court) as we move around the zoo.

Handler and wedge-tailed eagle at Australia Zoo, July 2012
This fabulous bird is a wedge-tailed eagle, and quite a small one, too. They grow much bigger than this.

Hairy-nosed wombat at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The hairy-nosed wombat is out, grazing on its tidy lawn when we pass by its pen. I'm baffled at how the zoo-keepers have persuaded this nocturnal animal to act more alive in the day-time.

Delaney at Australia Zoo, July 2012
Our girls love the zoo's playgrounds almost more than the animals!

Jumping castle at Australia Zoo, July 2012
A number of kiddie rides are operating in honour of Bindi's birthday. Our girls enjoy the jumping castle together.

Finally we reach the food-court, only to discover that the only food we can purchase is the last two remaining cups of hot chips… and ice-creams. Sometimes the hard decisions are taken out of my hands, and it’s ice-creams all around — buoying up the girls with energy and life!

Delaney watching a bird at Australia Zoo, July 2012
A willy-wagtail bird comes and chirps at us as we sit in the food-court.

Albino Burmese python at Australia Zoo, July 2012
We're startled to discover a snake lurking under the staircase. This albino Burmese python is 14 feet long.

Camels at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The camels live with a small herd of goats in a very sandy enclosure.

Running near the crocodiles at Australia Zoo, July 2012
The sugar hit has given the girls a boost of energy, and they start running all over the grandstands near the crocodile pools.

Playing at the playground at Australia Zoo, July 2012
When our girls want to stop and play on a playground again, I have to deliberately remind myself that their whole experience of the zoo is what is important, and not just checking off a list of the animals seen.

Crocodiles at Australia Zoo, July 2012
As we peer through the fences, the bigger crocs are hiding from us in their pools, but these smaller fellows are happy enough to be on the bank and give us the feeling of having a "reptile encounter".

We didn’t see any of the really big shows like the reptile encounter in the “Crocoseum”, but our time at Australia Zoo was a great way to start getting out and about as a smaller family unit. I’m going to make sure I have food with me next time so our girls don’t languish like they did today, and we’ll adjust to having only one adult to pay attention to all four children.

All in all, I think I would return to Australia Zoo to see the exhibits we missed. I’m thankful we visited in the winter-time, because I can see how it would be very hot and unpleasant in the summer. As for paying full price to see everything… I don’t think that’s likely — it doesn’t seem worth the money asked for the full price. We’ll wait until we can get free entry for the children again.