Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Little Adventures #17: Werribee Open Range Zoo – and a surprise.

(When I retired at the end of 2020, I decided that each month I’d go and do something or see something that I never had before, just to keep life fun. And so the “Little Adventures” were born.)

Three Christmases ago, David30, Izzy and Evan27 gave me a voucher for $136 to take a walking tour for myself and a friend. It had a loooong expiry date, so I naturally put it in a safe place and pretty much forgot about it. Every now and then I’d pick it up, look at the expiry date, nod and think, ‘I really should do something about this…’

A couple of weeks ago I found it and saw that the fatal date was DEC 23, 2023.

Ok. The time to procrastinate was done. So I sat down on Saturday, pulled up the website and had a good look. I booked a ghost walking tour for my sister-in-law Eliza and myself in December.

But I still had money left on the voucher.

I saw a trip to Werribee Open Range Zoo. Funny. I’ve been to Africa and done three safari days, but I’ve never been to Werribee Zoo. So I booked a ticket.

I still had $14 left over, so in the interests of ‘waste not, want not’ I found another activity in the city that was $15. I think that 3 activities for $1 is pretty damned frugal!

I arrived at the zoo just after 10 AM and was surprised to see that it was right beside Werribee Mansion. I remember going there YEARS ago… I was still married so that means that it was in the last century! As I walked into the zoo, I saw a tourist info office and thought I’d pop into this on the way out. Maybe the mansion is a National Trust place and I could get in for free. (I still have to make back my money on my membership. England helped a bit, but I’m not there yet.)

As soon as I entered the zoo grounds, a helpful lady escorted me to where the zoo safari tours leave from. They’re free, included with the price of admission. I joined the 10:30 one, which in hindsight was a mistake. There weren’t all that many people at the zoo on a Monday, but the people that were there were mainly mothers with toddlers.

The bus was full of them. Loud toddlers. So loud that I couldn’t hear most of the commentary that the bus driver was saying. When we pulled back to the loading area after an hour spent driving around, the next bus-load had far fewer toddlers on it.

Just an observation that may help someone else in future. Go after the mums have taken their kids before nap time.

So we spent just under an hour driving around massive paddocks, looking at African animals. Of course it was interesting. Who doesn’t love a giraffe or a hippo? But having been on three African safari days in South Africa, this just wasn’t in the ballpark. It was ok, but…

When I saw the ostriches, I had a flashback from South Africa of turning a curve in the road when we were driving in a minibus and seeing an ostrich loping majestically along the side of the road, just going about its business. It was amazing. Say what you will, it’s a little less magical when the animals are penned up in an enclosure, no matter how big that enclosure is.

Plus the kids screaming in my ear didn’t help, either.

The giraffes were good, though. You can see that there are smaller ones in a cage in the background. All of the giraffes here are male and they just had some adolescent males brought down from Dubbo zoo. The three giraffes who live here were incredibly interested in the new arrivals, who will be in the separate enclosure while they all get more familiar with each other.

The zoo is divided into three main parts: the Australian trail, the African trail and the safari tour. Once I got back, I headed off along the African trail. I wanted to see where the gorillas were because there was a keeper’s talk at 1:45 so I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t miss it by getting lost.

After that, I ducked back to the café area for an early lunch. I thought I’d get in and out before the toddlers descended on it.

There’s an extraordinary number of birds who hang around this place, but I’ve never in my life seen so many Blue Wrens. They were everywhere. Tiny little chonks with such vivid colouring.

There were 3 encounters with animals that were fantastic. The first was the lions.

I rounded the corner on my way around the African trail and there they were. The whole family was up near the glass.

There was Mum, Dad and 3 cubs. So close!

We all got excited when one of the cubs sat up, but then it thought better of the whole idea and lay down again.

I mean, look at this.

It’s like he’s posing.

The camera doesn’t do justice to the range of colours in this guy’s coat and mane. Just beautiful.

I walked further along. The place is very kid-friendly, with cutesy little signs like this all around.

The sign didn’t lie. Three of them, having a nap after breakfast.

Fair enough. I like a good nap, too.

In the wild, hippos prefer to eat at night, but obviously this doesn’t happen here. The keepers feed them just before they leave for the day and then again at 7 AM when their shifts start.

I managed to hear this information on the bus before the kids started yelling.

The ‘giant’ tortoises are in the indoor play area. They’re funny creatures who were surprisingly lively.

I had 45 minutes to kill before the gorilla talk, so I ducked into the Australia trail exhibits.

These are Tamar wallabies. They were listed as extinct in the 1920’s, but then a small population of them that people had taken over to an island in New Zealand were found and brought back to Australia. This zoo is part of the breeding program to bring their numbers back.

I liked how the mob of kangaroos was casually hanging out with the emus, while the cassowaries were close by on the other side of the fence.

Just chillin’.

And then I had close encounter #2.

I accidentally walked a little off the beaten track and noticed a few emus at the back of a fence. I quietly walked over, not wanting to spook them, and one came right up to stand beside me.

Checking me out.

My phone just couldn’t properly capture the iridescence of his face and neck and the texture of his feathers.

I don’t mind admitting that I was glad the fence was there. He was HUGE. That beak could do some damage if he wanted. No wonder they won the Emu War.

However, it was something special to be standing so close to this bird, able to look into its eyes and really observe him. He was standing there of his own free will for several minutes before I slowly started to move away.

I had gorillas to go and hear about!

I got to the gorilla enclosure just in time to see them barrelling out of their house and across the ground to get to the food the keepers had put there. For an hour beforehand, the keepers had been inside with them, doing enrichment activities and health checks.

There are 3 gorillas here – a father and his two sons. One of the sons is now the dominant one, and this is the one who came and sat right before the window, claiming all of the goodies.

Close encounter #3.

For a while, he turned his back on us as the keeper spoke.

The thing I found most interesting is that the gorillas communicate not only by vocalising and body language, but by smell. She said that it smells like fried onions, so a Bunnings sausage sizzle is like having a group of gorillas walk through a patch of rainforest.

Having these 3 close encounters made this whole trip worthwhile. The beauty of these animals is incredible.

As I was leaving, I remembered the Tourist Information Office.

I went in and the guy was very helpful. I got the impression that he’d had a slow day. I asked about Werribee Mansion, (NOT a National Trust property, to my chagrin) and then he mentioned that the State Rose Garden was right beside it.

I didn’t even know we had one! I said this and the guy said, “So many people who live here don’t even know it. It makes me angry, because I’m the president. It’s at its absolute best right now. You really should go and see it.”

When he went on to say that it was free – my favourite price – and was only 500 metres up the road, I told him that I was sold. So off I went.

It was stunning.

I thought I’d only be there for 5 or 10 minutes, but I was there for ages, just wandering around and looking at the blooms.

And blooms there were.

I wandered around the outside of the garden, then entered through this arch.


I loved the look of this – like a bridal veil on the ground.

My Gran loved red roses. Every time I see one, I think of her.

I was thinking about her a lot in this place!

The garden beds are laid out in a Tudor-style formal garden, with heritage roses in a border around the perimeter and a section that David Austin himself came out from England to install.

It was mid-afternoon on a cloudy day, as you can see. There were a few family groups finishing off picnics, and a few other people like me, wandering around and just soaking in the atmosphere.

Speaking of the atmosphere, the air was perfumed. It was almost intoxicating.

As I walked around, I came across the David Austin section.

This bee was really enjoying herself here. She was embedding herself within the billowy petals.

Most of the roses in this part of the garden were named.

The guy in the Tourist Information shop said that a year after David Austin came and planted all of the roses, he had to come back and revise the whole garden plan because they didn’t realise how well roses grow here in Australia.

They had to rip around a third of the plants out.

I really liked this one, even though it doesn’t look like a rose. Though I suppose the leaves give it away.

Here’s a similar one in pink.

The pavilion sits in the middle of the garden, with four paths leading straight to it.

This was a totally unexpected thing to see but I’m glad I did it. Anyone in Melbourne who has a few hours to spare should hop on over and take a picnic. What a lovely place to take someone to sit under a tree, drink some wine and just enjoy.

Dad joke of the day:


  1. sandyg61

    Sounds like a great day for a tourist or local alike. New Farm Park in Brisbane is our rose garden and the State garden in in Toowoomba. You should make it up here for the Carnival of Flowers in September one year.
    You would like the Night Safari in Singapore where the animals are more in their natural habitat at night.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I’ve done the Night Zoo in Singapore. Loved it.

  2. Loretta

    Put the Creswick Open Garden weekend in your calendar for next November! 7-8 private gardens over 2 days and all of them worth seeing. My Melb friends have been mad over David Austin roses for years, so I have been to the Rose garden too.

  3. Josie

    I visited the rose gardens in Regent’s Park in London a few months ago. The garden is every bit as lovely! What a wonderful find!

  4. Lucinda

    Love love love the rose garden!!! This time last year, I visited the Woolmers rose garden in Tassie. The scent was divine – smelt it from the car park. Have to say the State Rose garden in Toowoomba didn’t match but maybe I was there too early – about 7 weeks ago. I will add Werribee to my list.

    I like the idea of Little Adventures.

  5. Kathy

    When I lived in Melbourne we went on the photography safari tour of the zoo and we laughed and had so much fun. Basically it was in the back of a mini truck/ute with a brench seat either side open. You certainly felt like you could have been in Africia. The Rose Garden looks beautiful and what a lovely surprize for you.

    • FrogdancerJones

      You didn’t have screaming toddlers with you? What a shame… (LOL)

  6. chasingfiredownunder

    Love the rose garden! I’ve never actually been inside Werribee mansion but I’ve been down to the rose garden a few times with my husband.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I’m thinking later this year I might take my parents here fore a picnic.

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