Each time one of my students has asked me where they can get a photograph of themselves holding a cute, cuddly koala, I’ve recommended “the zoo” in the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns CBD based on word of mouth. But if truth be told, I had never actually been there. In fact, when hearing about a zoo in the Casino, the very thought conjured up images of koalas on slot machines and wallabies wagering in high stakes poker. So with my mother visiting the land down under for the very first time, flying all the way from the “Windy City,” USA, I thought it the perfect time to rethink my warped view of marsupials playing pokies. Little did I know that Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome is the world’s first challenge ropes course inside a wildlife park.
Taking the elevator to the fourth floor, my mother and I were first struck by the interior view of the famous glass dome which tops the casino, which I had previously only seen from the outside. We were warmly received by ZOOM manager, Daphne, who then gave us a map and informed us of all the presentations available throughout the day. Commencing the day with the educational portion of the activities, we entered the wildlife park and were immediately met with the sounds of the tropical rainforest from every direction. Arriving at Cockatoo Corner, we met Jake, an exceptionally knowledgeable wildlife keeper, at the 10:00am Morning Feeding Tour where we were able to witness birds interacting at their most active time of day. Soon after, we were led through the freshwater croc and estuarine croc areas where mom got to learn the difference between the two. Later she confidently identified a “freshie” based on Jake’s detailed description of their snouts, being much narrower and pointed than “salties.”
Before starting the 11:00am Reptile Show, we wandered around the grounds reading up on local wildlife and taking amazing shots of birds free to roam cage-free. I have to admit that I preferred the birds above all else, my favourites being the laughing kookaburra, the red tailed black cockatoo snacking on seeds, and the wandering whistling ducks bathing in their miniature cascade. Mom especially loved the social nature of the rainbow lorikeets and napping Nellie, her first time seeing a koala in the flesh. After our tour of the park, we caught up with Jake again, only this time with a snake around his neck. For the Reptile Show, Jake enlightened us on Aussie snakes as well as allowed us to caress an albino python. No need to worry about bites (though unpleasant) – we learned that they’re not venomous as pythons prefer to strangle their prey. We also had the chance to pet a surprisingly soft juvenile estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), the earth’s oldest living dinosaur.
Once we had satisfied our intellectual curiosity, it was time to take on the physical challenge of the ZOOM course. My mother, being 61 years young, honestly didn’t know what she was getting into. But with her dauntless spirit for novel experiences, she heartily accepted my proposal of completing four of the six challenge ropes courses. So with some trepidation, the blind followed the blind, me leading the way onto our first course, the Mid-ZOOM. The Mid-ZOOM course is great for those who have never tried ropes courses, being less physically demanding and closer to the ground. But with that said, it’s neither for the faint-hearted nor for those with a fear of heights! The course runs 3 metres above ground and has a wide array of challenges including beam walking, climbing walls, crawling through tunnels, ascending a cargo net and swinging from precarious step to step on moving foot-sized panels. You’ll even get your first taste of zip lining. Though all of this may sound intimidating, the thrill of having completed the course is exhilarating; my mother’s sense of accomplishment on having unleashed her inner daredevil is something you can’t get anywhere else in Cairns CBD.
After that adrenaline-racing activity, we climbed the winding staircase to reach the Dome Climb, a physically milder activity but nonetheless got the heart pumping with the most spectacular panoramas of Cairns. Feeling pretty stable on the 60 cm wide platform, we were safely fastened to the rooftop via the SafeRoller belay system, meaning there was no need to unhook and re-hook our karabiners, free to admire the stunning vistas from the Trinity Inlet and Coral Sea to Walsh’s Pyramid. It’s the perfect chance for photo op- our best selfies were taken on the Dome. Finally, there’s something for everyone with gems of Cairns history posted at every corner. Where else can you admire the sights, brush up on local history, all while atop a dome?
Before returning to the sanctuary of the ground floor, you have the choice of heading back by staircase or by Power Jump, an exhilarating leap from 13 metres high. We opted for the death-seeking thrill-seeking route where my excitement reached its climax with a terrifying step off the ledge. After the initial feeling of my stomach in my chest, the few seconds remaining to the trampoline base below were easy peasy. The fan device attached to the harness took away that heart-in-throat feeling, allowing me to tranquilly descend in an effortless landing.
Our final test of strength and willpower was the HI-ZOOM, a greater level of difficulty than the Mid-Zoom comprising more byzantine crossings. My greatest challenge was the rope wall, requiring all of my upper body strength to get across, while mom loved seeing our feathery friends up close and personal in their element 12 metres above ground. But without a doubt, the highlight of the day was finishing the most challenging course by zip lining over Goliath, the massive 4 metre saltwater crocodile. While we didn’t get a photo with a huggable koala, we were snapped with (not AT) the colossal reptile, our favourite souvenir from our holidays in Oz.
Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome is the perfect attraction for those wanting to pack everything into one day, comprising of multiple attractions in one. With the most iconic Australian animal life housed in the comfort of the exquisite Reef Casino and a compilation of daring adventure challenges that will appease the adrenaline junkie’s appetite, Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome is a one-stop shop for visitors and locals alike. If you want to find out more about Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome, you can visit https://cairnszoom.com.au/ and see CCEB Travel to book your adventure!
–Nina, CCEB Teacher