We had a good day out at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm last week. We were invited as guests, and, as the first year of school approaches for my daughter, I’m keen to do as many things with her as I can. So, we said yes, and off we went.
The first thing that struck me, as an adult human, was actually the view – you almost forget there’s a blinkin’ giraffe right in front of you when you see the beautiful Severn Estuary behind it. The zoo farm is nestled in amongst a lot of green space. At first glance, if it wasn’t for the noise of playful gibbons awaiting their lunch, you’d think you were on a farm. A farm with a LOT of stuff for kids to do.
If you’ve ever been to a family attraction with preschoolers, you’ll know that sometimes, it’s not the main event that they love. I have fond memories of the steps in Colston Hall’s foyer, for example – having shepherded a toddler up and down them 40,000 times. Similarly, when we’ve visited the Bristol Aquarium, the only part given more than a cursory glance is that weird globule window thing in the middle that you can get inside.
My sister tells a funny story about visiting Chester Zoo with my niece for her third birthday party, and videoing her in ecstasy over a slug, whilst a leopard wanders about casually in the background. Thus it was at Noah’s Ark for me and mine. Whilst I watched, completely spellbound, by the most majestic lion taking stock of the world from his high platform, Tibbs and friends squabbled over who had collected the largest rock from the pathway around the enclosure. As I watched a mother and baby team of giraffes from Noah’s Ark’s incredible head-height viewing gallery, as they ate their leafy breakfast from the carefully hung snack bunch, Tibbs attempted a world’s loudest stamping record. As we headed out of the main animal area, the adults stopped to admire the peaceful camels, the children stuffed grass into the mouths of their opposite neighbours, the much less exotic goats.
But that’s the brilliant diversity of day-out attractions, there is something for everyone, and at every age, there’s a flashpoint of wonder. I stood for ages watching a lizard balancing on a branch, with its incredible beaded feet, and its naturally fantastical colouring. Behind me, the kids were in excited meltdown, watching a small crocodile bask amongst even smaller fish, hypothesising about why exactly it was that the crocodile was letting the fish live with it. Tibbs’ answer was pretty much the same as the reasons why somebody sits nearest the buffet at a wedding.
We all came together in wonder at the sight of two creatures in particular, the rhinos, and the elephants. They are just almost incomprehensible. I have never seen a rhino in such close quarters (we were very lucky, the pair were in their shelter, having a nap, resting their great noses on the floor). The elephants were in playful mode, snaking their amazing trunks around tiny thistles. The little girl stood next to us, who was about 10, said to her mother “they look so WISE”. They truly are incredible. To my utter shame, I have ridden an elephant some 20 years ago in Thailand. I have regretted it ever since. It was nice to see some enjoying a large and plentiful enclosure.
We had our picnic amongst the animals (I loved the way there were benches everywhere pretty much, and play areas where your children could act like the monkeys that surrounded them). Some of the animals receive a lot less attention than others from visitors. I have a real soft spot for Capybara, because I love guinea pigs, but nobody else seemed to be that bothered. It might have been because of the large parrot behind them, yelling a pretty constant HELLO at top volume.
We visited during reptile week and there was a ‘most poisonous snakes in the world’ show and tell, from behind a fantastically Lecter-like perspex cage in the theatre. It left me cold, because I think snakes are snaky, but many of the kids were entranced. It was in this area that I saw my first, and only, references to creationism on a set of three A3 sized posters. On a scale of offensive to all, confusing and off-putting imagery, I’d put it very, very low on my personal tally.
As regular readers may know, I am a fervent disliker of most elements of soft play. I think it stretches every parent to tolerate the noise, the potential mishaps and the hive-like noise and heat. Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm has a distinctly above average indoor play setting. Especially for older, school age children. It’s challenging without being frightening, boasts a rather Sergeant Pepper-esque rainbow slide and one of those ‘sheer drop’ slides that kids LOVE.
The winning play bit for me was the hay barn. As always, the most simple concepts are the best – two large rows of bales, rope swings in between, lots of hay on the floor. It was ace. I did wonder what the big heavy horses parked in stables next door were thinking.
We didn’t go in the cafe, or go in the gift shop. The loos were easy to find and the baby change was decent. We did love watching the family of gibbons playing, they are so skilful and comical. I also liked the reindeer and american bison, both of whom had rather adorable babies at foot.
Walking back to the car, I had a bug-eyed baby, who was so excited he hadn’t slept all day, and a little girl complaining of sore feet. My pedometer said 5.4k for the day, which I was thrilled about, because we were all feeling that nice sort of tired after a day of the nicest sort of fun – a trip where everyone gets something to remember.
We were guests of Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, so thank you for the experience.