The main highway south from the far north looked exceedingly scenic. It's just a pity that with the rain and low cloud we didn't get to see it at its best. After we'd checked in to a motel the sun eventually came out so we set off to explore. Whangarei was much more pleasant than we'd expected. Its town centre was nicely set out, it had a lively bustle about it and the area around Town Basin along the river front was really quite attractive. But the main reason we'd stopped in Whangarei was to visit Zion Wildlife Gardens, a wildlife park and sanctuary for endangered big cats, which is about 10km west of the town in bonnie rolling countryside. www.zionwildlifegardens.co.nz
There wasn't any mention of this place in any of our guide books but we had stumbled across a TV programme about it one Sunday night and had decided we must go there. The TV programme is called The Lion Man and it's apparently showing in the UK on some TV channels but mainly Sky 1 on Friday nights at 7.30pm. The guy who founded the park, Craig Busch is known as 'The Lion Man' as he has a great affinity for the cats and has worked with them for years. The park focuses on White and Barbary Lions, White Tigers and Cheetahs but also has a beautiful pair of Civets, and its resident arthritic old baboon called Foxy, who had been brought up in, and rescued from a circus, was a real cutie and loved a back scratch.
All the cats were magnificent and in such excellent shape that they were obviously very well cared for. Zion has successfully bred a number of White Lion and White Tiger cubs and are hoping that its pairs of Cheetahs and Civets will also produce young. The Park also takes part in breeding programmes with other conservation organisations across the world and we were happy that our entry fees would be contributing to keeping such a worthwhile venture going. It was really amazing to see young adolescent male White Lions and White Tigers lounging about together and even lying on top of one another - you'd never think to see lions and tigers cohabiting anywhere in the world. These youngsters had been brought up together so didn't know that they shouldn't be friends. Our guide reassured us that the Park had absolutely no plans to breed the two species so contraception would soon be needed! Every morning the big cats are taken for a walk around the sizeable estate - some on leads and some roaming free. When the young White Lions are taken for their walk the young White Tigers really miss them and are anxious until they are happily reunited - and vice versa when the White Tigers go for their walk. We could have had a tour involving activities with the cats but this would have been very expensive, and in any case we've already had lots of experiences with lions and tigers in the real wild!
After saying goodbye to those wonderful cats we high tailed it down State Highway 1 back to Auckland.
E & M xxx