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The Auckland Zoo experience with a wheelchair

Auckland zoo is huge. You can spend a whole day exploring the animal exhibits and it's also accessible. Here's what you need to know.

You could easily spend an entire day at Auckland Zoo.

This place really is huge. It covers 16.35 hectares and is home to 875 individual animals. Nestled among the expansive Western Springs Park, the wildlife sanctuary is surrounded by a natural spring-fed lake.

Auckland Zoo is an accessible destination in itself. It has a tram (not wheelchair accessible) that links visitors to the Zoo with the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), another popular visitor attraction.

It had been over a year since we’d last visited Auckland Zoo so we figured it was time to get reacquainted. The Zoo is a great accessible place to visit and it recently received a Be. Accessible GOLD Rating for accessibility. Two areas had undergone recent improvements, Africa – The Pridelands, and Australia so we were keen to check them out.

The car parking at the Zoo can fill up fairly quickly so it pays to get there as early as you can. Otherwise, you might find yourself parallel parking along the road or over in the overflow car park below. This will mean a push up the path that you would want to avoid if you can. There are a number of mobility parks across from the main entrance and you will generally find one or two free.

Reception Area

On entry, you will find an accessible ticketing booth, a café, toilets and a souvenir shop – all very easy to access. Caregivers will receive a free entry when accompanying a client or a family member with a disability. A free easy to navigate Auckland Zoo Map is on hand to guide you around the habitats. With the map, you will find listed the animal encounter times so you can plan which areas you wish to focus on first. Also available is a map that points out the area’s around the zoo that is not deemed accessible. The Zoo states that 90% of the zoo is wheelchair accessible and 70% is accessible with a mobility scooter. They also state that services dogs are welcome in most areas.

Just as you go through with your tickets you will find an Information Centre just on your left with a large number of courtesy wheelchairs, pushchairs, and a mobility scooter.

Improvements To Africa Section

Out of habit, we always tend to start by saying ‘hello’ to the giraffes. There is an elevated boardwalk that takes you around the enclosure, which then opens out to several viewing platforms, one of which, gives you the opportunity to get up close and feed the giraffes at scheduled times.

Auckland Zoo has three giraffes, two adult females called Rukiya and Kiraka plus a female giraffe calf called Kabili. She was born on New Years Eve 2016. Along with the giraffes, you will find one zebra and an Ostrich.

After you have walked your way around the giraffe enclosure you will come out to view the white rhinos. Then a little bit further along you will find yourself in the newly upgraded area. One thing that stood out for us here was the door entries leading through to the different areas. They were a lot easier to walk and wheel through, the ground becomes a little uneven in places due to creating the feel of the African terrain. It was all negotiable however, it just added to the African themed environment.

New Accessible Toilet

Just beside the Kavango Primary School, we spied a sign directing us to the new toilet block. On checking, we found a rather spacious well-equipped accessible toilet.

We particularly love all the little touches, like the different coloured letter boxes painted by a local primary school attracting brightly coloured birds. And the African style Kavango Primary School which when googled found exists in Namibia. You really get a feeling of being in Africa and completely forget that you are in downtown Auckland. Auckland Zoo is very clever at transporting you to the different countries by reflecting brilliantly the animal’s habitats.

We noted the use of glass from the floor upwards acting as fencing to the different enclosures. This allows good viewing for everyone from toddler size to those sitting in wheelchairs, pushchairs or mobility scooters. It also allows visitors the opportunity to be on the same level as the animals. The Meerkats were a particular attraction in this area being very inquisitive little performers.

Sri Lankan Section, Home of the Elephants

Passing through Africa we came into Sri Lanka! Here is home to the elephants and where you will find the Watering Hole Café, a popular place, particularly the rock waterfall feature in the centre which attracts the children to paddle to cool off in the warmer months. The whole area is flat and paved with plenty of tables and boxes laid out to sit on for a snack break or picnic lunch. The Café is surrounded by the lions, elephants and flamingo habitats. Shelter from the sun or the rain can be found under thatched roofed tables and trees. There is also a small raised seating area around the side of the Café building which offers a roof.

New Zealand, The Forest

We headed onto to one of our favourite areas of the Zoo – the New Zealand section. This area represents beautifully the different locations around New Zealand from the high country, forest, islands, coast, nightlife through to the wetlands. Of particular interest to us is the forest, Te Waonui a Tane. Here you get to walk through a native forest and see native birds that are often hard to find in the wild. Negotiating the doors into the forest may need assistance if entering solo but, there is always someone on hand to lend a hand.

On the other side of the gate, there is a bit of a gradient first off but then we found things easy going. There are steps to access viewing platforms over the forest canopy but we didn’t feel this affected our overall experience from not being able to venture up them. The path meanders around so there is no need to double back the way you came in. On exit, we passed through another double gate, as you open one gate there is a wait for that gate to close behind you before you can open the second to move through. This is purely a safety feature to ensure the birds don’t escape. The Kea’s, in particular, would be smart enough to work on their escape plan, they are particularly cheeky and inquisitive. Once through we then wheeled down a ramp back out onto the main pathway.

Improvements made to Australia Section

The Australia section had undergone vast improvements so we were eager to take a look around. In the past, it had been possible to access, but not easy, with too many heavy doors and small spaces. We were certainly not disappointed on our visit. The overall areas provided a much better space to move around in. This is home to a Tasmanian Devil, Goliath Stick Insects, Lace Monitor and much more. We particularly liked the glass floor sections on some of the boardwalks, we didn’t see anything but wondered what residents used these underground tunnels.

We found entry into buildings and out again a lot easier with the help of push button automatic sliding doors. Plus, we liked the use of plastic strip and rope curtains hanging in door entries to prevent birds from escaping. It worked a lot better than having to open one door and wait for another to close behind us.

Once again, we enjoyed the viewing outlook from floor to ceiling. It really enhances the whole zoo experience allowing visitors to feel part of the animal habitats. This Lace Monitor Lizard was checking us out as much as we were checking him out.

What improvements are next on the agenda?

Plenty, there is a complete re-development happening with South East Asia, homes to animals like the Orangutans and the Tigers. There is an all-weather area in the plans and space for more night events to take place. Also, Darwin’s Café area, which is the main food venue has plans for a makeover. The bathroom facilities are dated so we look forward to seeing the improvements being made there.

Because the area is so vast and the development period is from December 2017 to August 2018 they are bringing in Weta Workshop – Bug Lab Exhibition for the Summer months! It was previously at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington.

So, lots on the horizon and we are looking forward to returning to check out all the improvements made through South East Asia in Autumn 2018!


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