The Reptile Park

NO TRIP TO AUSTRALIA IS AUTHENTIC WITHOUT AN UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL ENCOUNTER WITH THE ASTOUNDING ANTIPODEAN FAUNA. There are a number of places in the greater Sydney region which will grant you this opportunity, such as Featherdale Wildlife Park near Blacktown, which I monitored once as a Cumberland journalist. For sentimental reasons, however, I would recommend the Australian Reptile Park above Featherdale, if you have time to visit only one menagerie while you are in Sydney. Featherdale Wildlife Park might have all the cuter-than-cute animals that tourists just love to cuddle in front of the camera -- but the Australian Reptile Park has a creepier, more eccentric edge.

There are plenty of koalas, wombats and kangaroos at the Reptile Park -- but as the name suggests, they are not the main drawcard. Tourists are free to cuddle koalas in front of the camera -- but more often than not they choose to stroke a huge sagging python or a spiky desert dragon. This is a zoo dedicated to all the animals man loves to hate -- those animals otherwise known as creepy-crawlies.

Spend some time here, and hopefully you will gain some new respect for the cold-blooded creatures of this world.

Pictures of the Australian Reptile Park

This is certainly a zoo with a difference, as the park's own website points out: "The Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1948 - by the late and great ERIC WORRELL, Australia's first naturalist - and is now regarded as one of the countries (sic) premier attractions. The Sanctuary is the only zoo in Australia committed to saving lives with a Venom-Milking Program in place for the past 50+ years, saving over 300 lives each year being the sole supplier of a variety of venoms, which is used for all snake and funnel-web anti-venom in Australia."

Snake Milk & Robot Spiders

THAT'S RIGHT, they milk spiders and snakes here just as a farmer might milk a cow! If you have ever wondered what a reptile feels like, feel free to fondle a plethora of willing pythons, baby alligators, and all manner of leathery lizards (crocodiles, unfortunately, are too aggressive to be handled!) Some of the other animals which can be seen here include the unique platypus (the star of the Australian Pavilion at 2005's World Expo at Aichi in Japan), the aforementioned koalas and wombats, Tasmanian devils, echidnas, dingoes and of course the ubiquitous and ever-friendly hand-fed kangaroos. There are more koalas than I have ever seen in one place and they all seem to spend most of the time sleeping. I came across an aviary full of bats and dozing Australian frogmouths.

Dozing frogmouths

The last time I visited, giant animatronic models of some of Australia's deadliest arachnids could be found inside Spider World, which in my opinion was a little kitsch, a little bit degrading. It appears that the park's real spiders were killed in a devastating fire in the year 2000, so that might explain why they have turned to machine spiders instead. If you feel hungry, you can hit the Hard Croc Cafe, but I wouldn't bother though because the food is nothing special, and besides, there is a barbeque area on the lawn nearby. For overpriced stuffed toys and birds that sing if you push them the right way, see the Australiana gift shop. All in all, the Australian Reptile Park should entertain you for a few hours.

Ploddy the Dinosaur

THE REPTILE PARK has held three addresses over the decades... actually, four if you count the backyard zoo that Worrell created in Sydney when he was 10 years-old. Its first official incarnation was the Ocean Beach Aquarium at Umina, which is now a private house with curiously round windows. In 1958 the aquarium moved to North Gosford and was renamed the Australian Reptile Park. As Worrell became a well known identity Australia-wide, the park expanded from its two original snake pits and entry kiosk. In 1963 a 40-tonne, 30-metre dinosaur named Ploddy was erected at the entrance to the park.

In 1993 the park, now under new owners, relocated to its present site at Somersby, strategically sat upon the Sydney-Newcastle Expressway. Ploddy is visible to those driving the freeway north to the Central Coast, Barrington Tops and Port Stephens, just before the Gosford turnoff. Follow the signs to the park and you will pass meadows of wildflowers and brooks tumbling down lazy sandstone waterfalls. Eucalyptus trees exude their exquisite loveliness. Inside the park, the animals all look at home and in their natural environment here, unlike their counterparts in a city zoo.

Do you have any experiences to share regarding your visit to the Australian Reptile Park? I haven't been there since 2005, so I am interested to hear how it is going these days.

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