BLESS YOU, THEMBI
An up-close encounter is not to be sneezed at
People pay a lot of money to get up close to the wildlife. But every now and then you get an experience money can’t buy. After a morning exploring Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria – whose proud mantra is that it’s not a zoo, but a zoo-based conservation sanctuary – we had the opportunity to hand-feed the six resident giraffes.
The guide explained these pampered animals have their own heated bedroom to retreat to when the weather cools.
And she warns the unpredictable giraffes are easily frightened, so holding aloft a tempting carrot or branch full of leaves is no guarantee these graceful animals will approach. But Thembi’s tummy won out over his shy nature and he wandered over, his long grey tongue snaking out to grab the proffered food. Giraffes of his size weigh roughly 1500kg and can eat up to 80kg of food a day.
Then, out of nowhere, Thembi sneezed. Nine-year-old Evie was in the firing line. “Now there’s an experience money can’t buy,” a guide said as we tried to clean the mega-herbivore’s nasal waste from her hair and jacket. “That’s good luck, you know,” said another.
Evie remained unconvinced.
Werribee Open Range Zoo is unlike any other in Australia; it aims to be one of the world’s leading conservation organisations. From a visitor’s point of view, it offers a chance to see animals in a more natural habitat than your usual zoo, without cages.
The family-friendly off-road safari is the best way to see the animals. The onehour ride will offer up views of bison – the first animals to arrive at the zoo 30 years ago – Mongolian wild horses, hippos, antelope, giraffes and camels, including Vera who thinks she’s a dog and will give chase if your safari vehicle slows down.
If you’re short on time, a half-day is enough to experience the zoo, just 30 minutes out of the Melbourne CBD.
With only 48 hours in Melbourne, we chose a central accommodation base, Oaks on Market, where we left the car in the parking station to walk to many of the city’s most popular areas.
The two-bedroom, self-contained apartments are large and have a full kitchen and laundry though we chose a full buffet breakfast at the hotel’s Oak and Vine restaurant to fuel up for a full day exploring. Oak and Vine’s dinner menu includes kids’ meals, with dine-in and room service offered.
The first stop for this feline-loving family was Melbourne Cat Cafe – Australia’s first – opened in 2014 by Anita and Myles Loughran, a 20-minute walk from Oaks on Market. The two-storey cafe is hidden down one of the city’s famed laneways, Guildford Lane. Greeted by the reclining reception cat, Lynx, who likes to suss out guests, we take a one-hour slot and head to the downstairs room where many of the 15 resident cats sleep, lounge and play. Not all are up for a pat or cuddle, but all are curious and some can be coaxed out with the twirl of a cat toy.
Most of the visitors to the cafe (with coffee, tea and snacks on the second level) are women in their 20s and 30s, but Anita says they get all kinds of visitors – a group of bikies even turned up once decked in full leather. And while children are welcome, little ones under eight are discouraged.
After visiting Werribee Open Range Zoo the next morning, we took the advice of Oaks assistant manager Nishty Mannick and headed to Papa Gino’s in Lygon St for an authentic Italian lunch. Lygon St, just north of the CBD in Carlton, has dozens of good Italian outlets, ranging from family-friendly cafes and restaurants to upscale options and bars.
THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF OAKS HOTELS & RESORTS