the zoo's banner for its $5 wintersRight now the magnolias are in bloom along Roy Street in Newtown, and it’s gorgeous. But of course, it’s around this time last year that it snowed, so don’t be fooled – it’s still winter. The good news though, means that Wellington Zoo has entry for only $5 on Wednesdays throughout all of August.

Naturally we don’t suggest pulling a sickie just to visit, but let’s face it, your office is probably full of walking plague factories anyway, now might be the perfect time to go get some fresh air.

Of course, if you’re unable to visit the zoo on a Wednesday (or even if you can), there are a couple of special kinds of visits you might really enjoy. Kim of Whisky and Wry has some great pictures from when a group of her friends had a sleepover at the zoo,  but if you reaaaaaaaaaally wanna get up close and personal – and you have a good chunk of cash burning a hole in your pocket – you should book in for an animal close encounter.

For Xmas, I was given a voucher for a close encounter with a cheetah, so at Easter weekend I rocked up to the zoo.

Find out what a cheetah smells like, how their fur feels and what they sound like when they purr. Go into our special intimate encounter space and meet the cheetahs. Our zoo keepers will tell you why these animals are endangered and what you can do to help them.

However, it happened to be a very sunny lovely day, and although the cheetahs were hand-reared and well-trained, they decided they’d rather hang out in the sun than come and meet some people, so we had to reschedule. Apparently that’s only ever happened once though. Anyway, the cheetah encounter was fantastic! I’m somewhat of a cat person so it was really interesting to compare and contrast with domestic cats. Cheetahs are apparently the only big cats that purr (and purr loudly they did!) and very weirdly, the bones in their tails are square (you get to touch them!). I wanted to climb up on the tabe and spoon with the cheetah the way I spoon with my cat, but that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. In fact, you only get to stroke the back of the cheetahs and the tail, away from the sharp bits.  You’re not really in any danger, but be careful though – if you’re allergic to house cats, you should probably take antihistamines before your encounter.

The lovely people at the zoo will take photos for you so that you get maximum pussy touching time, but I haven’t downloaded my pictures yet, so look at other people’s cheetah encounters instead!

Of course, cheetahs aren’t the only animals you can meet. A couple of years ago, I took my friend for a Red Panda Encounter for her 30th birthday.

Hand feed a red panda and get up close to the cutest animals in the Zoo and their keepers. Sit inside their enclosure as the pandas approach you, put their paws on your knees and delicately take a grape or some pear from your hand. Interact with the red pandas and their keepers – learn why there are only 2,500 red pandas left in the world, and what makes them so special.

You get to go right into the enclosures with a keeper, and the pandas come gambolling up to you, letting you feed them and climbing all over your laps.


red panda huddle

Warning: you might actually die from cute overload when you see the face the pandas make as they tip their heads back in glee making sure not to drop any grape juice.

red panda eating fruit

Like I said earlier, the close encounters aren’t cheap at all (Cheetah encounters are $150, the red panda experience is $90 but some of that money goes to conservation programmes), and access is a little limited (there’s a height and age minimum for the cheetahs so they don’t think you’re prey and try to eat you), but if you’re after an unforgettable experience for an animal lover, they’re highly recommended. I even know people who proposed amongst the red pandas…