We haven't done any animal posts for New Zealand because, quite frankly, there haven't been too many interesting ones to mention! After travelling for over nine weeks in the country I can completely understand all the sheep jokes: everywhere we looked we saw flocks of them. As much as I love cute little sheep, they can get pretty boring after awhile.
A glossy ad for lion cub interaction caught our eye on the way into Rotorua so we had to head over to the Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park to check them out. The park is home to a variety of native New Zealand wildlife and we were surprised to learn that they have wallabies here. Coming from Australia, we missed the likes of kangaroos, koalas and wombats and were excited to see some animals besides sheep. They even had a little possum on display - alive no less! (In case you didn't know, possums are protected in Australia while New Zealanders see them as pests and have no qualms about shooting them on site. We don't like possums either, but possum jokes with the locals entertained us plenty on our travels).
But the real draw for us was the lion park. We often watch African nature shows and love the big cats, especially little cubs. No, lions are not native to New Zealand, but it was pretty cool to see them up so close and to have the chance to pat eight month old Ella, their youngest cub. Unfortunately they only allow free play with the cubs when they are very young and we had to pat her through the bars of a cage for safety (still an awesome experience to get that close!) The pride here was born out of retired circus lions from Australia and the park has a breeding program for these incredible creatures. Feeding time is every day at 2.30pm. It was here that we got a very close look at lion behaviour and had a bit of a hair-raising experience.
I was filming the feeding and did not realize that one of the females was heavily pregnant and getting a bit sick during the meal (I was watching everything through my little video screen). One of the male lions was being a good protector and lunged at me three times. I was behind the fence, of course, but getting so close to the ferocity of these animals was something I've never experienced before.
The second half of the feeding video is here so you can see all the action, which happens towards the end. The lion roars and jumps right at me three times. I tried to hold the camera steady but even knowing you are safe does not stop the knee-jerk reaction when an animal this size comes at you.
Rotorua smell rating: 1/5
Shuttle: We went to the wildlife park with Grumpy's Limo, a shuttle servicing Rotorua. Grumpy is a jolly good guy - we highly recommend doing as many trips as you can with him.
Want to see something else from Rotorua? Check out the first post in our series:
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Have you ever had a close encounter with a big cat?