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David Fleay Wildlife Park ranger

David Fleay Wildlife Park on the Gold Coast is an Australian animal attraction with a difference. Koalas nibble on gum leaves, tree kangaroos snooze in between forked branches and a cassowary struts past admiring onlookers, her turquoise neck held high. Enclosures at David Fleay Wildlife Park are landscaped to resemble the animals’ natural habitats, making this attraction a peaceful sanctuary as well as a top choice for animal lovers.

Established in 1951, this Gold Coast wildlife park at Burleigh Heads was founded by renowned Australian scientist, Dr David Fleay. He is known as the ‘Father of Australian Conservation’ and has inspired generations of Australians in their love for Australia’s unique wildlife. David Fleay Wildlife Park is Queensland’s only Government owned and operated wildlife park, where research, conservation and education remain at the heart of every visitor experience.


Our family arrives in time for the Creatures of the Night Show, a captivating presentation which takes place, not at night, but in a darkened theatre.  We sit spellbound as a Park Ranger coaxes a shy ringtail possum to show us her curly tail and demonstrates how a sugar glider flies. We feel the air shift under an owl’s wings as it soars low over our heads, a demonstration that is completely silent except for the soft gasp of the audience as they marvel at this amazing creature.

When we leave the theatre my son’s footsteps echo on the park’s pram-friendly wooden boardwalks as he walks from one section of the park to another, eager to catch a glimpse of rock wallabies, tree kangaroos, pademelons and curlews. We stop to marvel at the crocodile section where a huge reptile eyes us off from inside his enclosure. I could swear the mighty croc grins at our surprised squeals when he slides into the water beneath the boardwalk.

Tree kangaroo
Tree kangaroo

We spend almost half an hour at Wallaby Way, a free-range area where wallabies and emus interact with visitors. These animals are only fed by Park Rangers so they don’t approach visitors for food, something which makes this wildlife experience more authentic. We are stopped in our tracks by a curious roo which changes course mid-hop to meet our family, allowing our son to bend down beside her, close enough to touch.  If an animal approaches, it is because it chooses to interact with you, not to get food. 

Exploring Wallaby Way
Exploring Wallaby Way

We move on to the Nocturnal House where we meet Wally, a platypus who uses his waterfall as a water slide. Wally wriggles his bill in the gravel at the bottom of his pool, putting on a show that draws other families to his glass enclosure, which covers an entire wall. After many failed attempts to spot platypus ‘in the wild’, we are thrilled to finally see one up close. In the afternoon, we learn more about these amazing animals at a Plat Chat and Feed session and watch a presentation on the elegant cassowary we saw earlier.

After a picnic lunch surrounded by a chorus of native birdsong, we takes our seats for the Fleay’s in Flight show, an entertaining half hour filled with snakes, birds of prey, and a brolga with a story to tell. After Inala the eagle’s stunning entrance, Righty and Lefty, two rescued pelicans, amble onto the stage and try to eat as many fish as possible as the ranger talks about why they live in the park. A barking owl soars over the crowd and a huge python has everyone lifting their feet as it slides towards the audience.

However, it is story of T.A. which earns the loudest applause (and the biggest laugh). When the park was undergoing renovations, the metre-high brolga decided the tradesmen, with their utility belts and bags of supplies, looked like Park Rangers carrying food and wouldn’t leave them alone. Eventually the workers gave up trying to move the brolga on and dubbed her T.A.—tradies’ assistant.  T.A. is still on the job at Fleay’s, helping to educate visitors about Australia’s unique wildlife.

Disclosure: The writer and her family paid for their visit to David Fleay Wildlife Park.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.