Monday, 7 January 2013

Colchester Zoo - a birthday trip and a review

It's Mini's birthday today. Woo hoo! The boy has turned 6!
To celebrate we took him to our nearest zoo  - Colchester Zoo, after receiving a free family ticket courtesy of the Family Days Out voucher initiative from
Yes, it's a bit sneaky using it for a cheap free birthday treat, but Mini didn't know and as money is tight, it meant we were able to spend more on gifts, and buy lunch out instead of taking a picnic.

So, not a great day weather-wise but we headed over anyway, and met up with Auntie H and Baby Whizz (for her first ever zoo trip!) in the (free) car park. I've lived in various places across East Anglia for almost all of my life, but Colchester Zoo has always been the zoo we've gone back to. Mini's zoo trips have always been there too, but we've not been since before Dollop was born (so this was her first ever trip too!).
The reasons we go back? It's always changing, improving and developing. New enclosures are being built all the time, and in fact we saw them working on a new area for the Sun Bears today. Well laid out, buggy friendly and well signposted. And, it's always clean and tidy - inside and outside of the enclosures.

We started quite late today as we have a bit of a drive to get there, and left prompt to get home for Mini's birthday tea. As a result we didn't fit *everything* in, but today we saw:

Red pandas, chimpanzees, gibbons, orangutans, elephants, zebras, ostriches, giraffes, tigers, lions, rhinos, meerkats, mangabeys, sun bears, cockroaches, pirhanas, stick insects, sealions, African land snails, tortoises, komodo dragons, rhinoceros hornbills, flamingos, iguanas, tropical fish, anteaters, baboons, snakes, and Mini's favourite - the penguins.

The list of what we didn't see is just as long, and I was particularly disappointed that we missed my own favourite - the lemurs, but it just means we'll have to go back (such a hardship!). Auntie H and I are already looking forward to it.

So we saw a lot, we ate a really reasonably-priced meal in Cafe Umphaha (which serves a selection of hot and cold food, and has masses of seating, with lots of highchairs for the little ones), we enjoyed takeaway coffees a bit later from the Playa Patagonia Coffee Shop, that was all great, but there were some pretty cool highlights...

Number 1:
We watched the penguins being fed. From this far away *holds hands a few inches apart*. Mini and Dollop could have touched them (if they'd have been allowed or wanted to!). Lots of little Humboldt's penguins waddling along to a 'stage' area, where fat bowls of fish were waiting, surrounded by 30 odd children and their parents and buggies! Here are a few of the photos that the NC managed to get:

Number 2:
Mini, Dollop and the NC fed the giraffes! Each day the giraffes have two feeding sessions where rows of eager and willing children and their equally eager and willing parents line up to each receive a piece of cabbage/suitable fruit or vegetable to hold up for the giraffe to scoop out of their hands with a long leathery tongue. Today we were greeted by Isha, a 4 and a half year old reticulated giraffe, who was more than willing to eat the proffered greenery...

This is the moment Isha sucked up the cabbage Mini was holding. That's the NC's hand on the right waiting to feed her too.

And finally, highlight Number 3:
After seeing as much of the zoo as we could, we headed back toward the exit to see the final requested animal by Mini - the bears...Sun Bears in this case. Really beautiful creatures. As we turned away, the NC and I remembered that the discovery centre was just around the corner, and as Mini had earlier mentioned holding a snake, we thought we'd take a look.
Sadly, as we entered, it was clear that there were no animals out for holding. So we had a look at the bugs and beasties, including giant African land snails, and a lovely looking python.
Upon seeing a friendly looking keeper, I encouraged Mini to ask if there was any chance of holding a snake, and we were so impressed that she took the time to check the snakes (they can't be handled if shedding) to find one who was ready to hold! So Mini got his wish, he was able to stroke (downwards toward the tail only) a Royal Python! Dollop wasn't quite brave enough, but even Auntie H and I had a quick go, once we'd been reassured by the keeper that it would just feel like a handbag. Which it did.

It was an amazing day. And for Mini, a child who doesn't often share how he's feeling, to have him declare it 'the best birthday ever' and 'a fantastic day out' said it all for me. (And that was after we'd run out of time for him to go on the adventure playground!)

Oh, and Colchester Zoo is on twitter - @colchesterzoo AND they have an app which the NC was most thrilled to download! I'd also like to add that the zoo celebrates it's 50th birthday this year, so this summer there will be some extra special happenings...we can't wait to go back!
One of the Stand Tall giraffes, part of the 50th birthday celebrations

Walking underneath the swimming sealions

A gorgeous tank near the Orangutans
Red pandas
Plenty of outside seating for drier days
One of the many photo points around the zoo - with posing (model) penguins below, we also spotted others with meerkats and sealions

Orangutan - we think this one is Rajang, who was born in 1968. It was hard to tell though as the other Orangutan was playing with a blanket and we couldn't see his head!

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