Australia with kids: Why Melbourne Zoo has left me speechless

I love Australia. I went there multiple times, and I truly think it’s an amazing destination to visit with kids. However, while I usually write about great places to visit with children, this article about Melbourne Zoo will be an exception.

To start off, unlike my daughter, I don’t like zoos. I don’t support the idea of keeping wild animals in captivity for our entertainment. Yes, some species may benefit from breeding programs. Some of the animals would probably end up as dinner were they not locked up in their enclosures protected from predators. However, none of them chose to live in a zoo or in an aquarium, no matter the size.

But I am also a mother, and mum readers will understand that we always want the best for our children. Thea adores animals, and while it makes me a hypocrite and I hate myself for going there, we visit zoos and wildlife parks.
So, what’s wrong with Melbourne Zoo?


Koalas, Tasmanian Devils, wombats, echidnas, Dingo dogs, quolls, saltwater crocodiles, macropods, flying foxes, Australian magpies… These are the animals that Thea and I were expecting to see while boarding a train in Melbourne’s Central Station. I imagined those animals being housed in spacious enclosures matching their natural habitats in the wild as closely as possible. Unfortunately, it was so naive of me.

It was a lovely sunny day. We were in a great mood after having delicious lunch, and we both like train rides. Besides, what can be better than a train ride to the Zoo in Australia for a toddler?

Unfortunately, our hopes to see the abovementioned animals shattered soon after entering this rundown place.
What we actually did get to see in Melbourne Zoo were the following: one giraffe, one zebra, two sad-looking kangaroos, a dirty emu, and a penguin swimming in an aquarium of the size more suitable for a goldfish. Oh, and some birds, which we can see plenty of in Europe for free.

Obviously, the feature photo of this article is a stock photo. I simply had not a single pretty photo from Melbourne Zoo to upload instead.
The staff was nice, though, and when asked where all the animals were, they told us they were hiding from the sun. So apparently, those animals do exist; however, they were nowhere to be seen…

We met several other families, all looking puzzled and disappointed. The conversation would go something like, ‘Hi, did you see any animals the way you came from?’ and the answer that followed, ‘No, not at all, have you?’

Melbourne zoo

Not seeing the animals we expected to see was disappointing. But you know what’s worse? The conditions in which those animals are kept.

A couple of times we got lost. A couple of times the dirt sand pavements lead us to dead ends.

During our walk in the birds enclosure while wading through dry bushes and dirt I seriously worried about the possibility of a black widow crawling on my head. I was trying not to think about all those other pretty looking, but nasty species that may be lurking in the bushes ready to jump at us.

Having visited Jurong Bird Park in Singapore where birds fly freely in clean and super spacious bird enclosures full of lush greenery and waterfalls, seeing such conditions for birds in Melbourne zoo was a total shock.

I really wanted my daughter to see at least some animals. So I followed the map and tried to reach the enclosures by pushing her stroller on rundown pathways. We would successfully reach the desired enclosure, however instead of the animals we’d just see a sad fenced small area with a sunburnt board with information on what animal is residing there.

Thea liked the penguin. It seemed to do its best to make out the most of this miserable situation. They had a fan inside that cave so it was good to cool down.

Okay, I may have exaggerated that the penguin’s pool is more suitable for a goldfish. However, it is still WAY too small for a penguin. And I don’t even know if it’s just one penguin, maybe more of them were living in that small tank.

Moreover, it was so rundown. The hill covered in blueish plastic, which I am guessing was meant to be an iceberg, had peeled off. If zookeepers think that with that iceberg imitation, they tricked the penguin into thinking it’s swimming in the wild, they are so wrong.
Moreover, the tank’s surface was all dusty, dirty, and sad to look at. But, surprisingly it doesn’t look that bad in the photo.


Seeing the dirty emu and two kangaroos was probably the highlight for Thea. If you can call it that way.
While my daughter enjoyed seeing the kangaroos from her picture books, I just wanted to cut that wired fence and let them run away into the wild where they actually belong.

Melbourne zoo

I think we visited 60% of the park. When I came to the conclusion that the other 40 % would be pretty much the same, we headed toward the exit. Bought some overpriced water along the way and waved goodbye at what seemed to be the only two staff members at the park.

I don’t usually leave bad feedback. Even with Uber drivers, if they are not nice, I say, maybe he is having a bad day. I skip ratings instead of giving them 1 star. BUT Melbourne Zoo was just mind-blowing! How it can possibly have positive reviews on Tripadvisor is a total mystery to me!

Actually, after posting a short review on Instagram, I received a pretty aggressive message. It was from a girl who had visited Melbourne Zoo too. Basically, according to her, I’m evil, critical, and picky. I beg your pardon, but what I saw in that zoo was pathetic. I only hope that for the sake of the animals and the visitors, they have improved that zoo since our visit in February 2019.

If you’ve been to Melbourne Zoo after this date, please share what you thought of it. Who knows, maybe it is worth a visit now?
However, if you are looking for a really nice zoo to go to with children, go to Singapore Zoo. It is an example of what the zoo should be like and how animals should be treated. I’ve written an article about wildlife parks in Singapore, and you can read it below:




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Vaiva and Thea

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In this blog I write about great places to go to with kids as well as give advice on travelling with young children.

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