The Urban Outback

A walk on Australia’s (sort of) wild side

By: Michele Kayal

You don’t have to send clients to the outback to get them a full-frontal view of Australia’s famous wildlife. If clients are headed only to Australia’s major cities, they’ve still got plenty of opportunities to snuggle a koala or pet a wily kangaroo. Major tour companies who offer commissions can deliver them right to the creatures’ doors.

At the Australia Zoo, about 45 minutes north of Brisbane, clients can watch giant crocodiles snatch raw meat from the hand of a trainer (who cannot possibly be getting paid enough for what he does). The zoo is the project of television’s Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. But in addition to the scary, scaly reptiles, he has also stocked the park with sweet-faced cuddly kangaroos. The roos dozens of them loll around in an open field, waiting for people to pet them. They roll over and let visitors stroke their tummies, and eagerly approach kids who can feed them pellets available in the park.

The koalas are also available for stroking. They sit in shoulder-high trees in gazebos throughout the park, and trainers even walk around with the cuddly marsupials, offering them for petting and pictures.

And if your clients have never seen a wombat (looks like a dog-sized guinea pig), or that beast of cartoon fame, the Tasmanian devil, then the Australia Zoo’s the place.

In Canberra, kangaroos are a common site on the grassy shoulders of the city’s highways, but they can be viewed in a more pastoral setting at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, a 13,600-acre preserve less than 30 miles from the city center. A tragic fire in January 2003 decimated the preserve and killed all of the animals save a lone koala who’s been renamed “Lucky.”

Today, the preserve is recovering nicely and the animals are starting to return. Herds of kangaroos play just behind the visitor center, letting humans get close enough for great photos. Tidbinbilla is also a good destination for a hike, with lots of trails, and on weekends rangers offer guided walks to show off some of the park’s exotic creatures, such as the emu, rock wallaby and platypus.

If clients won’t be snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef then have them hit the Sydney Aquarium instead. Sharks, turtles and giant rays fly overhead in the aquarium’s Oceanarium, a transparent tube that snakes through a giant fish tank, making it feel like you’re walking underwater. A similar tube at the Great Barrier Reef display lets visitors feel like they are walking through the dive site’s caverns. Fish swarm above and below, until you emerge into a giant aqua-theater, where you can sit and watch whale sharks and rays dive and swirl in a floor-to-ceiling tank that takes up an entire wall. They look like they will fly right overhead.

So who needs the outback. Let clients know that animals run wild just about everywhere in Australia.


In Brisbane:
Gray Line, Day Tours and Australian Day Tours all offer excursions that include the Australia Zoo.
The Croc Express full-day tour includes zoo entry and croc feeding and snake-handling shows.
All tours pay 10 to 15 percent commission.

In Canberra:
Go Bush Tours takes visitors to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, as well as to the nearby Deep Space Communications Center and Stromlo Observatory. Agents receive 10 to 15 percent commission.

In Sydney:
The Sydney Aquarium is centrally located at the city’s Darling Harbor, but Great Sights Day Tours offers excursions to the city’s nearby mountains and several wildlife preserves. Agents receive 10 percent commission.