Hamilton Zoo’s visitor experience manager Dave Smart is very charitable towards other zoos. “Auckland is freaking awesome,” he says, and then adds, “but Hamilton… well, it’s something very special.” While Auckland has had to create enclosures in a concrete jungle, Hamilton has had the benefit of using a natural landscape. The 600 native and exotic animals that live in the 25-hectare park can graze, stalk, creep, sleep and lollop over natural hills and valleys. Humans can track them along bush-lined paths or from discreet viewing platforms. For a small additional fee, you can get up close enough to scratch a rhino’s thick hide. Or you can sleep over in a nearby astronomical observatory and hear the tigers’ pillow talk, followed by breakfast at the zoo. In future you may also be able to go glamping. Dave, who describes himself as a “keeper of the humanoids”, says 120,000 visitors come each year. They all have their favourite species. “The meerkats and chimps love performing; the big cats like lying about and the rhinos just plod.” This is the only zoo in New Zealand where you will see the Brazilian tapir whose ugly but reliable proboscis has not changed over millions of years.
That alone is worth the entry fee. 183 Brymer Road,
(07) 838 6720, hamiltonzoo.co.nz