When visiting Palm Cove, set aside an evening for the Cairns Night Zoo, where you’ll see wild animals like you’ve never seen before them. Some of the animals are more active at night, so visiting the zoo in the dark is a thrilling, wild adventure that is both spooky and breathtaking.
The Night Zoo begins with dinner at 7 p.m. at the Cairns Zoo BBQ restaurant. There, you’ll have your choice of seafood, steak or sausages. There are plenty of meat dishes to satisfy the BBQ fan, but there are salads and other options, too, for those who prefer to eat vegetarian (notify the zoo when booking). Dinner also includes dessert and soft drinks, and adults are welcome to the adjoining bar for free beer and wine, as well as dancing and live music.
After the animal tour ends at 10 p.m., adults can come back to the bar for more dancing, including bush dance instruction, and drinks.
Touring With a Torch
The tour begins after dinner, once night has fallen. Lights are turned off throughout the zoo. A tour guide will lead you through the zoo carrying only a flaming torch, and some of the guests will be able to carry lit torches, too.
Animals You’ll See
Some of the animals you’ll see during your Night Zoo visit include:
- Owls and Other Birds
- Pythons and Other Reptiles
- The Cane Toad
Nighttime produces some very unusual behaviours in wild animals, so every visit will be different. Perhaps you’ll come across the saltwater crocodiles at feeding time and watch as they snap for their food from pitch-black waters. Kangaroos happen to be nocturnal, so if you saw them during the day, they’d most likely be sleeping; at dusk, they’re quite active and ready to eat. Pythons are nocturnal hunters, so a night zoo visit might be the only chance you have at seeing the reptile’s unusual feeding style of swallowing prey whole and exploding in girth. Another nocturnal reptile is the cane toad, so you’re not going to see its unusual behaviour of spitting toxic fluid — up to one metre — when startled unless you visit at night. That’s why it’s fascinating to visit the night zoo, where you can see these animals at their most active.
When not touring the zoo by torchlight, you’ll enjoy the warmth of a campfire, where zookeepers present smaller animals for interactive demonstrations. You might get to pet a koala or feed a kangaroo.
Viewing the Constellations
If it’s a relatively clear night, your Night Zoo tour guide may ask if you want to spend some time viewing the constellations. It’s a great chance to see the sky, especially if you’re coming from an urban area. Kids who are interested in astronomy, but aren’t as crazy about animals, will have something to look forward to during the experience.
The Cairns Zoo stores stay open late for Night Zoo participants, so once you’re done with your tour, you can stop by for a souvenir on your way out. You can also pick up any digital photos you had taken during the tour. Children especially love having their photo taken with a koala or while feeding the kangaroos.
How to Sign Up
You have to call ahead to join a Night Zoo tour, as space is limited. The Night Zoo operates every day of the week except Friday and Sunday, and it’s closed on some holidays. If you’re only in town for the weekend, make your reservations quickly, as Saturday tours book fast. Since the tour starts at 7 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m., it’s not too late for the kids if you’d like to take them along.
Prices are $95 for adults and $47.50 for kids ages four to 15. If you need a lift to the zoo, you can ask about rides to and from locations such as Cairns, Port Douglas and downtown Palm Cove, for an extra fee. It might be worth it to book the tour shuttle back and forth to your hotel even if you have a rental, largely because parking spaces tend to fill up quickly.