Wild Nights Werribee Zoo

Werribee Zoo Wild Nights 2015

Most children would’ve had zoo excursions a-plenty, but a visit during twilight and night times? Perhaps not so many.

There’s something rather thrilling about walking about under the velvety, starry sky, knowing there are slumbering animals all around – and quite a number who are bright-eyed and awake.

When:  27 June – 11 July 2015, gates open at 4pm but event activities kick off at 5.30pm, final entry is 7pm and the event finishes at 8.30pm

Where:  Werribee Open Range Zoo, K Road WERRIBEE

Cost:  Adults: $35 / $10 members, Children 4 – 15 years: $7 / $5 members, Under 4 years: Free

Thank you to our guest contributor Thuy On for this fabulous review and photos.

Wild Nights at Werribee Open Range Zoo offers a range of nocturnal activities throughout the school holidays. It’s a canny move to de-familiarise the typical zoo visit. Animal-watching during daylight hours is after all, completely different from spotting shy little critters who come out to play at night.

Although the festivities begin in earnest from 5.30pm, doors open at 4.00. Our family of 3, as well as one of Miss 7’s school friends entered the gate at 4.30 – perfect timing as it was still clear and bright enough to see various larger-sized beasts settling down for the evening and to orient ourselves with the basic layout of the zoo (this would prove invaluable once it became darker).

We saw lions, African wild dogs and leopards nestled in their respective cubby-holes, all sweetly curled up together for warmth. Although we didn’t spot them ourselves, more vigilant eyes may be rewarded by appearances of squirrel gilders, fat-tailed dunnarts and Eastern-Barred bandicoots. We did spy a number of hippos, though they were half-submerged, unable to be coaxed out of the water. No matter, there was plenty of traipsing to do before the nightlife began.

With the amount of clothing worn, we all looked like Michelin men but the layers were completely necessary given the depths of the cold in the plains of Werribee Open. The girls played on the outdoor play equipment and when night fell were given a packet of glow sticks to arrange into necklaces and bracelets. (We brought our own but there were some on sale). By this stage night was upon us. By the light of the performers who were starting up near the entrance with their array of fire tricks, we had dinner: a picnic bought from home that was supplemented by the hot chips available at the Meerkat Bistro.

At Wild Night at Werribee Zoo, the journey is just as important as the destination. We took our time dawdling along, slightly spooked by the pre-recorded animal noises booming out at various hidey-holes and the grotesque grins on the tiki masks positioned at random intervals. With torches a-ready, we made our way to the ten-minute talk on “Serval under the Stars”. (The other alterative was “How the Lion Got its Roar.”). Passing the Secret Garden was like entering a silent disco. Picture the foliage being dappled with lasers and smoke and bats flying high above.

The serval, a large African wild cat, elicited much admiration from the crowd. It showed us its nimble athleticism and grace by leaping and pouncing and posing for meaty tricks.

Next up was the highly impressive fire show: the three performers tumbling, balancing and twirling a range of fire-lit equipment swords, hula hoops, even a unicycle.

The girls wanted to play after being slightly numbed from sitting still for half an hour so we headed to the interactive Glow Zone – a jumble of glow-in-the-dark silk scarves, hoops and other play toys. The last stop for the night (and by this time it was 8) was the marshmallow toasting with sticks over an open fire.

It was a long night, full of strangeness and wonder. When quizzed which bits they liked best, the girls were undecided: “Everything!”

Tips/comments about the overall experience:

  • Though there were a number of toddlers and babies, Wild Night is probably best suited for school kids. Toddlers with their smaller legs tend to tire more easily (and also have a tendency to wander off exploring, which can be stressful if they decide to play hide and seek in the dark).
  • It’s worth arriving at 4.00 so you can wander about and see some other animals before they retire for the night. At this time many are still up and about.
  • Aside from coats, bring beanies and gloves as well. You will need them when the temperature drops. Torches are mandatory because all paths are only partially lit.
  • To keep costs down, consider bringing your own food, drinks and snacks. Plan for at least 2-4 hours with the necessary amount of fruit and snack packs required to boost flagging energy levels.
  • Be ready to supervise around the open fire pit when roasting marshmallows. There are a large number of children all waving long sticks in the air, (and half-melted marshmallows at the tip) which can prove dangerous without due care.
  • If you need a more immersive night-time experience, consider an upgrade to the dusk safari tour – which roams around the savannah or even an overnight Slumber Safari Camp (apparently that includes electric blankets!)

Read our review from 2014 and visit the Werribee Zoo website for more information.

Thuy On is a freelance arts journalist who has written on theatre, comedy, film and books. Currently she is the Books Editor of The Big Issue and has a regular books column in the Fairfax papers on Sunday.