Christchurch Zoo Guide
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For any animal lover, Christchurch is a fantastic place to find a spectacular array of creatures big and small, from New Zealand natives to exotic imports. New Zealand zoos and wildlife reserves tend to have a major focus on conservation and breeding efforts, with a goal of either restoring wild populations or simply keeping the species alive in captivity.
This is especially crucial work in New Zealand, where many of our native species have become threatened or endangered due to human interference over the last several hundred years. By visiting a Christchurch zoo, you won’t just have a fantastic day out, you’ll also be helping to fund crucial conservation programs.
There are two major zoos in Christchurch, each with its own attractions and must-see enclosures. However the locations and layouts are quite different, so it’s best to pick the one that will most suit your holiday itinerary. Each are located a little outside the city, so the most convenient way to reach them is with a rental car.
Orana Wildlife Park
Orana Wildlife Park is the only open range zoo in New Zealand, which makes it the perfect place to observe animals in as close to their natural environment as possible. The enclosures are large with plenty of room for the African native animals in particular to roam around. The welfare and happiness of the animals is essential here, and you can get a better impression of their naturally occurring behaviour.
Orana Wildlife Park is located on Macleans Island Road, which is 15 minutes from the city centre. Get onto John’s Road heading north from the Airport, and you’ll find the turnoff clearly signposted. The road has some unexpected curves and hills, so be careful as you go. There is ample parking when you arrive.
Planning A Visit
The wildlife park keeps a daily schedule of animal feedings, so if you want to have as many chances as possible to see animals active and engaged, you can simply follow the itinerary around the park throughout the day. The first feeding is at 10 am just after opening, and the last one is just before closing, so you can structure your entire day around the feeding times.
Even without the feedings, you can expect to spend at least half a day walking around the park, enjoying the different enclosures and watching the animals play. Because it’s an open range zoo, the exhibits are quite large and a lot of walking is required to navigate between them all. There is however a cart that does a loop around the park, which you can hop on and hope off at various stops in case you need a break. As you ride, the driver will give you extra information about the different species on display, so it can also be a great way to finish off the day.
If you’re visiting the park during summer, during the hottest part of the day the animals are likely to be off napping in the shade somewhere. Morning and late afternoon are the better times to see some action, though most of the animals will almost certainly turn up when the feeder arrives.
Because of its size, Orana Wildlife Park is able to provide habitats for a huge range of different species from all over the globe. The park is divided up into a number of different geographical areas, and each one contains its own array of species. The areas include:
- New Zealand
Each area has enclosures designed specifically for the type of climates and environments found there, to help the animals thrive.
In the New Zealand section, you’ll find a number of endangered native species – including our national bird, the Kiwi! These are kept in a special hut that’s darkened through the day, so that visitors get a chance to see their natural nocturnal behaviour. There’s also Tuatara and other native lizards, as well as a splendid aviary full of native species with incredible bird song. A special enclosure houses the kea, an intelligent and curious parrot – the feeding demonstration is definitely worth a watch to experience how smart these birds are.
The largest area of the park is dedicated to African species, which roam about in large enclosures. The giraffe, rhinoceros, zebra and zebra all mill about grazing during the day, and the giraffe offer an up-close encounter during feeding time where you can get a great photo. Orana also now offers a glimpse of the only gorillas in New Zealand, with their brand new specially-designed facility.
The animals from Asia include the spectacular tiger display, where you’ll find a number of Sumatran tigers sleeping, eating and playing in their big enclosure. The feeding demonstration is definitely worth a look. There are also the small-clawed otters, as well as the loud and sociable gibbons.
New Zealand’s nearest neighbour, Australia, has provided a number of species for the park. One of the feature animals, the Tasmanian Devils, are part of a crucial preservation program. Malignant tumours have devastated the native population in Tasmania, so tumour-free animals have been sent to holding facilities around the world. Hopefully they’ll be able to return someday, but until the disease is wiped out, places such as Orana Wildlife Park remain an essential haven for them. There are also bird species such as cockatoo and emu.
One of the best things about a wildlife park such as Orana, is the way the animals are kept with as little human interaction as possible. That said, there are a number of ways you can get up close and personal with some of the specimens. Orana Park offers the following experiences:
- Lion Encounter. One of the most popular interactions, the lion encounter uses a specially modified vehicle with a wire cage on the back, from which visitors can watch as the keepers feed the lions right from the midst of the enclosure. It’s the best way to understand the size and power of these predators, as they clamber over the vehicle and fight for pieces of meat.
- Giraffe Feed. For those who prefer something with a little less adrenaline, you can hand feed giraffes twice daily. This allows you to get up close with these gentle, and very hungry creatures as you offer them shoots from a viewing platform.
For those who prefer a more condensed experience, Willowbank Reserve is less expansive than Orana Park, with smaller enclosures and a guided path that takes you through. However it still has an excellent array of exhibits, with a variety of animals on display.
Willowbank is just a short drive from the city, and easiest to find by heading north along Johns Road, and turning right at the Sawyer’s Arms roundabout, then left into Gardiners Road and then right into Hussey Road. Close to the airport, it’s an easy destination after picking up your rental vehicle.
Depsite its smaller size, Willowbank still has an amazing array of animals on display. In terms of exotic species, lemurs and gibbons swing from the trees, and an entire island of capuchin monkeys bustles with activity. There are also parrots and macaws, as well as aviaries filled with other amazing birds from around the world.
In the Heritage New Zealand section, you’ll find a number of introduced species to New Zealand who have helped develop and cultivate the land over the last hundred or so years. These include a Clydesdale horse, llamas, goats, miniature horses and kune kune pigs. These species are all part of a traditional Kiwi farmyard, and you’ll find them enclosed in traditional buildings with historic farming equipment.
In the Natural New Zealand area, you’ll find species that are native to the country, including a number of up-close enounters. Of particular interest is the kea house, which is a massive aviary in which the kea are free to roam and inspect visitors. There are also kaka and takahe – two extremely rare species that you will not encounter in the wild, as they are not only endangered but very shy. And of course, you can also see the famous kiwi – Willowbank has the widest range of kiwi on display in Christchurch, with North Island Brown, Great Spotted, Okarito Brown and Haast Tokoeka. These are kept in the nocturnal house, so you’ll be able to watch them scurry through the leaf litter and search for food even during the day.
For anyone who loves animals, both of these Christchurch zoos offer an amazing experience by bringing together both native and exotic species from around the globe. Whether you’ve got a full day or just a couple of hours, they’re the perfect place to have up-close encounters with some truly incredible animals. Best of all, they’re both involved with conservation and preservation efforts, so supporting the zoo is an excellent way to help preserve these species for future generations to enjoy.