Quit The City: Kingdom Of Zion, Whangarei

Quit The City: Kingdom Of Zion, Whangarei

Aucklanders are a spoilt lot. The region has more than its fair share of events, attractions and distractions that leave even the hardest to please content.

But, from time to time, an excuse to escape the familiar is just what a weary city slicker needs and what better excuse than a world-class wildlife sanctuary literally on Auckland’s doorstep.

The Kingdom of Zion (formerly Zion Wildlife Gardens) has had its detractors over the years and hasn’t been a stranger to controversy, but the Northland gem continues to attract a steady stream of support from a public absolutely smitten with the attractions drawcards - Big Cats.

Personally, although not a domestic cat person, I’ve always admired the big cats from afar - be it through thick perspex at a zoo or via a televised programme or youtube clip. As a child, channel surfing would temporarily halt when the Lion Man screened and interestingly, as my own children have taken an interest in the subject, I’m more than happy to sit through a re-run. And, with the anecdotal evidence of nearly 80,000 facebook fans, it seems it’s a sentiment shared by many.

With a long weekend planned in Russell, and restless kids (4 and 6) in tow, the decision was made to break up the journey with a diversion to the Kingdom of Zion.

The park is situated just outside of Kamo - a small town on the outskirts of Whangarei. If you’re driving, the route is well signposted from Whangarei and do be wary - if you’re using sat nav, take the automated directions with a grain of salt - if you’re like us you’ll find the journey a helluva lot more easy than the ‘voice in the box’ would have you think. The Kingdom of Zion also works closely with various bus operators with day tours leaving from downtown Auckland (refer to its site for details).

The Kingdom of Zion is open daily and offers a diverse range of tour options - from the general guided tour to feed and enrichment tours - giving a more intimate perspective of the cats and their habits. We arrived for the feeding tour at 2.00 - a tour that takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays - and were joined by another group of Aucklanders.

Signing our lives away, we were given an introduction to the park by Emma - a charming park warden who, although relatively new to Zion, is very passionate about the cats and the role that a park like the Kingdom of Zion plays in education and conservation.

Guidance by a warden is mandatory, so excitedly we made our way to see the first of the 30 plus cats calling Kingdom of Zion home. Mandla, the beautiful black leopard with piercing eyes and a regal tail scales down from his perch eagerly awaiting the delivery of a fleshy-parcel from keeper Graeme. It was amazing to still see the leopard markings just hidden by the excess black pigment.

Around every stretch we were confronted by another beautiful, intriguing beast and favourites were hard to determine. You’re literally within six feet of land’s apex predators and every growl, scratch and smell is a sensory overload.

The tawny lions were right up there for me, with its resplendent mane and iconic stare but when push came to shove, the white tigers proved too irresistible for the youngsters and Zion, who not only is the park named after but is who the lion in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe movie is modelled on. All cats were fed by keeper Graeme through the safety of the cage with the exception of the cheetahs who were hand fed (it’s the one species that visitors to the park can have a more hands on experience with).

Ninety minutes later, having watched 30+ big cats devour beef donated by local farmers, the Feeding Tour was over.

Emma, Graeme and the other Kingdom of Zion staff were fantastic in their approach and their enthusiasm, but it was those majestic big cats that really stole the show.

A memorable day out that will appeal to groups and individuals of all ages. Aucklanders - get to it.

Children are free with a paying adult over the four days of Easter – up to 4 children per paying adult. The Kingdom of Zion will also have chocolate tasting (yummy handmade chocolates) plus Zion cookies and cupcakes for sale.

Need To Know

Location: Kamo, near Whangarei
Pricing: General Tour priced from $60 Adult/ $25 Child. Refer website for other pricing/tours
Suitability: Flat, even terrain suitable for all visitors.
What to bring: Hat, sunscreen, water (although you can buy drinks/snacks from reception), push chair for younger kids, camera
More Info: www.kingdomofzion.co.nz, Facebook

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Content updated: 26/02/2020 12:56

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