A review of “New Zealand’s only open range zoo” I visited Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch for the first time ever on the 5th of January 2016, and for some reason I am only getting round to writing a review now… I remember my visit quite well, and I want to start writing reviews for other zoos that I visit/have been to; so why not start with Orana? I don’t have any photos to accompany my review sorry, but here is the zoo map if you want to follow along. I arrived at Orana just before opening time, and there was already a long line of people waiting outside. Luckily I had already booked my lion encounter experience, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit. There is a small gift shop located next to the ticket booth - spent way more money in here than I should have when I was leaving, on souvenirs to remember my trip! When you enter the zoo, there is a nice shaded area with picnic tables and a cafe. On the left is two large enclosures for meerkats and porcupines; the latter were extremely active for the short time I was watching them. I soon noticed the lack of any information signs around these exhibits. The only signage I could find was posts dug into the ground that just had the species name of the animal (no scientific name), and some pieces of paper stuck onto the glass saying “do not feed the animals!” I let it slide, and hoped that the rest of the zoo would have more signage, but unfortunately… it didn’t. I mean, a few of the exhibits had some small fact sheets about the animals but that was it. Just those posts with the species name on them. Although I guess they are going for a minimal safari park type look to save money? Just behind the meerkat and porcupine exhibits, is an enclosure for Asian small-clawed otters. I liked this exhibit, and thought it had good hiding opportunities for the otters. Continuing along the left path, you pass a kids playground and the main zoo shuttle stop (which I will detail later in this review). The left side of the zoo isn’t really sorted geographically and features animals from all over the world. The main path is a loop, and you come to exhibits for NZ native animals first. The largest aviary “Lowland Forest” is a nice walk-through aviary which is home to tui, bellbird, wood pigeon, blue duck and red and yellow crowned parakeets. There is a seperate aviary next to it for brown teal. The other main aviary is for kea and is a good size but seems quite dark. Along from the aviaries is a reptile display for tuatara, and native gecko species - honestly can’t remember these exhibits at all. The kiwi house is also in this area. I’m not certain, but I don’t think there is glass separating visitors from the kiwi like other NZ displays. Didn’t see any though. Seperate islands for spider monkey’s and black and white ruffed lemurs are up next, both of which are very good for their inhabitants. Further along the path is seperate enclosures for emu and wallabies which are surrounded by high chain-link fence - seems a bit over the top for these species when a walkthrough exhibit such as the ones at Auckland and Wellington could be achieved pretty easily. The tiger enclosure is very disappointing - it seems small and is surrounded by high chain-link fences on three sides with a small pool of water at the front for viewing across. There is no trees or proper vegetation, so the tiger doesn’t really have anywhere to hide. It just looks awful honestly, and it really is saying something how the historic tiger exhibit at Auckland Zoo (which is due to be demolished soon) is miles better than this one. The next enclosure is for springbok, and is a nice hill with lots of grazing. On the right is the Tasmanian devil enclosure which is very big, and overall a nice display of the animals. Up the path from here is the African lion habitat. All viewing of the lions is through mesh, but it’s a huge enclosure and has ample space for the inhabitants. Zoo visitors who are taking part in the lion encounter meet at the far end of the enclosure, but I will get to that later in the review. “African Plains” is the sign that greets you when you to continue along the path from the lions to the other half of the zoo. An African adventure… but the first exhibit you come to is for yaks! Oh well, their enclosure is nice enough. Very nice actually; as is the rest of the hoof stock exhibits in this part of the zoo. They are all very large with only a water moat separating visitors from the animals - this is the open range experience that I wanted from Orana. The animals displayed here are: (in order) zebra, bison (again, not an African species!) giraffe, white rhinoceros, water buffalo and waterbuck which are all contained in seperate enclosures. The rhino enclosure is huge, and the free rhino encounter at certain times throughout the day lets you get really close to them. Opposite the zebras, is an island for ring-tailed lemurs which I thought was very good. The cheetah enclosure is located along from the waterbuck, and despite being chainlink fenced, it’s huge and is great for these beautiful cats. The cheetah presentation was worth staying for as well. After the cheetahs, you walk up a hill to Orana’s newest exhibit: the Great Ape Centre. This complex was designed to hold NZ’s only gorillas on one side and orangutans on the other (which haven’t arrived yet). Although the gorillas were very cool to see, their enclosure is basically a grass hill surrounded by a circle concrete wall with a wooden climbing frame in the middle - very disappointing. It's obvious that the original plans for this exhibit were heavily scaled back after the earthquake to save money. One of the main problems I have with the enclosure is that there isn't really anywhere for the gorilla's to get out of view from the public. There is a building in-between the gorilla and orangutan enclosures where visitors can view the indoor dens for animals. A door stays open so the gorillas can choose to either be inside or out, but once inside they are behind glass so can't hide from visitors here either. The currently vacant orangutan exhibit doesn't look much better. One thing I will give them though, is that there is some really good educational displays inside the building which is a step in the right direction. Overall, the Great Ape Centre is a below average exhibit and doesn't suit the large, open African exhibits behind it. Along the path from the gorilla’s is the African hunting dog exhibit (which strangely has been removed from Orana’s map?) I would probably rate this slightly below Hamilton’s exhibit because viewing is only through mesh. The final exhibit is for siamang gibbons, and what a great exhibit it is! Huge, lots of vertical space, and only water separating visitors from the animals. After seeing all the exhibits, I decided to take a lap around the park on the free zoo shuttle. The driver was very knowledgeable on the history of the park and on all the animals - well worth the ride! I can’t see it on the zoo map, but I’m pretty sure there is an information centre near the entrance somewhere. There was a collage of photographs from Orana’s history on one of the walls which is really interesting and worth checking out if you ever visit Orana yourself. Finally the time came to do Orana’s famous lion encounter, which is when zoo visitors pay a bit extra to go in a cage on the back of a truck which is driven through the lion reserve. An amazing experience - would definitely do it again! The lions climb on top of the cage and leap up to eat food given to them by the keeper. After the lion encounter, I had a quick look at some of the exhibits again and left the zoo right on closing time. Overall, I had a great first visit to Orana Wildlife Park and was impressed. I felt like I was being quite critical writing this review, but I want to make it clear that I really liked Orana and the good definitely out-weighed the bad. The left half of the zoo is pretty average with some good exhibits and some poor ones. I liked the NZ bird aviaries and spider monkey/lemur islands. This half doesn’t feel “open range” in my opinion and some exhibits could use some renovation. The right side of the zoo is excellent (apart from the Great Ape Centre) and has a cool safari feel to it. The siamang and rhino exhibits are highlights and the lion experience is awesome. I give huge credit to Orana as they are charity run and don’t get any government funding for new exhibits and renovations like other NZ zoos. I will definitely visit Orana again if I get the opportunity!