After a week spent mostly at home recovering from jetlag and a nagging cold, I’ve been itching to bring Little T out to visit some local attractions once we both felt better. Most days the weather hasn’t been on our side, and I finally decided to just head out the other day despite the dreary weather. With it being school holidays, I wanted to be somewhere outdoors and away from the crowds and decided on the expansive ZSL Whipsnade Zoo outside of London, which we visited in April. I have also signed up for an annual membership and wanted to make sure to head back to either ZSL Whipsnade Zoo or ZSL London Zoo a couple more times before the membership is up for renewal next April.
It was a spur of the moment decision and that morning I packed our lunches and water bottles, the changing bag and camera, and I also brought along Little T’s scooter and helmet so he could use his scooter between exhibits. After an hour’s drive, we made our way to Dunstable and waited in a queue to bring the car into the zoo. With the membership, I just needed to pay £11 (half price) to bring the car in while my admission was free (and children under 3 go free).
I already had an idea of where I wanted us to go, with the goal that we’d start making our way back home in the afternoon when Little T would be ready for his nap. The plan was to visit the exhibits we didn’t see last time: the Penguins, Butterfly House and the Giraffes, and to do the Passage Through Asia drive again to see the deer, camels and yaks. We managed to check these off the list, along with the added bonuses of Little T having a blast at the petting zoo and a surprise encounter with the elephants!
Even with grey skies, the view from the zoo’s lookout points are fantastic.
After I parked the car, Little T was very happy to get on his scooter to head over to the penguins exhibit. At the first pool, the penguins clustered on a wooden plank while a couple of ducks swam around and a seagull perched on a rock, taking in the surroundings.
At the next pool, several penguins in this group were enjoying diving into the water and swimming around. It was a busy day at the zoo, with plenty of families about, but there was plenty of space around the enclosure for everyone to have a good look at the penguins.
The only drawback to using the car is me having to coax Little T back into the car seat to get to the next spot, so during our day at the zoo I limited the number of times I’d have to take him out and planned our next and final stop to be the centrally located Base Camp, which is where you’ll find the Discovery Zone, Butterfly House and Hullabazoo Farm and playground. It was lunchtime at this point, so Little T was happy to get back into the car when I mentioned having something to eat. I originally planned to stop at a picnic table but when I brought out the Yumbox, he started mowing through his lunch, so we just had our lunch break there before carrying on through the zoo to the Base Camp.
On our previous post, I shared some of the sights you see driving around the zoo, including the rhinos, onyx and Passage through Asia. The rhinos were right by the fence this time around so we got a very good view of them as we drove past. I didn’t take photos though and was wishing I did! It would have been a great photo and later on in the afternoon when we drove by again they were at the far end of the field.
It took a while to find an empty spot in the parking lot near the Discovery Zone entrance. I had to circle around a few times and was about to give up and go to another lot when a spot freed up. Once we were parked, I brought out the scooter again and then we were off to the next stop: the Butterfly House.
It was warm and humid in the enclosure and butterflies were darting around our heads, stopping briefly here and there for a split second or two on a leaf before fluttering away again.
I was a bit worried that this butterfly would get trampled on or run over by a stroller since it kept hanging out on the ground. It eventually flew away to the safety of the trees.
Watching the butterflies was a highlight for me. They’re beautiful and graceful and Little T was also truly mesmerized by them. One landed on his head for a brief moment – I wish I got a photo of that!
Little T was just as interested in checking out the crocodiles lounging in their pool nearby and he kept running over to look at them, although they didn’t move a millimeter since we entered the Butterfly House.
It was nearly nap-time and Little T was losing steam. His interest in using his scooter had waned, so we went back to the car to trade the scooter for his stroller and set out to look for the giraffes. It was about a ten minute walk to the Africa section from the Discovery Zone, with a few sights along the way like these European bison relaxing in their field.
And after passing by the small forest where the wolves live, we took a ramp to a lookout area with a view of the giraffe exhibit. Most of the giraffes were inside the barn for lunchtime, and this one was standing right in front of where the ramp ends, so we had a fantastic view of the beautiful animal. Again, although there were plenty of people around at the zoo, there is a lot of space to have a good look at each exhibit so you don’t need to jostle for a view or wait around until a small gap frees up for you to peek your head through.
We continued into the barn area and stood on a balcony where we could watch another three giraffes nibbling away at their food while one more giraffe relaxed on the ground.
Now it was way past nap-time but I wanted to make one last stop at the Hullabazoo play area and farm before making our way home. So we headed back towards the Base Camp, where the Discovery Zone, Butterfly House and Hullabazoo are located and where the car was parked.
Along the way, we saw a moose, although Little T was distracted with some sticks and leaves he started to collect from the ground.
We ran across a large field where a barbecue was set up to the right…
… and a couple of the Patagonian maras that roam freely about the zoo were relaxing.
Little T had a quick play at the playground…
And then we went into the Hullabazoo Farm and straight for the petting zoo which caught Little T’s eye. There were several gentle pygmy goats who were so sweet and patient with the little children. Little T happily stroked and even hugged the goats. We were there for a while and Little T didn’t want to leave! After some time, I managed to get him to the sink to wash his hands, but then he went running right back to the petting zoo.
We eventually left the petting zoo and once back in the car, we took one last lap around the zoo. I was happy that we were able to see some of the animals that we didn’t have a chance to see last time, and it was especially worth the trip for Little T to enjoy his first petting zoo experience – that was precious to see how much he loved to interact with the goats. I was only a bit disappointed that we didn’t have time to see the elephants, but when we turned the corner at the Africa section, we were happily surprised to see four elephants heading down the road towards us, walking in single file, tail to trunk.
On our last visit, we actually saw the elephants by chance as they were on their way back to their exhibit, and it was amazing to watch them another time while they were in the middle of their daily walk.
Then we went for one last drive around Passage Through Asia…
… where the deer were resting in the grass…
… and the camels grazed alongside another group of deer.
We had a great time checking out the spots we didn’t see last time, with the highlights of our visit being Little T’s petting zoo encounter, butterflies fluttering about us at the Butterfly House, watching the penguins and coming across the elephants on their walk around the zoo. While you can also park your car for free just outside the entrance and, if need be, use a bus within the zoo to get from place to place, I like having the option to drive the car around. It was also helpful to have the car nearby and bring out the scooter or stroller when we needed them to get around.
Overall, I’m glad I didn’t let the dreary weather hold us back from enjoying a day out and new experience. The animal enclosures are expansive and well kept and although we visited during school holidays, because the zoo is so spread out, we were never crowded or had any difficulty finding a good spot to observe the animals.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2LF
Opening Hours: 1000 – 1800 (last entry 1700), until 6 September 2015. (view up-to-date opening times here). Open every day of the year except Christmas Day.
Tickets: Adult tickets are £22.50, children 3+ are £16.35 and children under 3 years go free. Group discounts and online family offers are available on their website. ZSL membership includes unlimited annual visits and half price car entry to Whipsnade Zoo.
Parking and car admission: External parking is free. Car entry is £22 for non-members and £11 for ZSL members.
Good to Know:
Bring a jacket just in case – it does tend to get windy especially at the lookout points.
I’d recommend bringing a picnic as a cheaper and healthier alternative to the on-site restaurants. There are plenty of picnic tables throughout the zoo.
ZSL offer 20% off the annual membership price if you pay by direct debit. You can upgrade your visit to London Zoo or Whipsnade Zoo and redeem the price of your ticket against the membership, paying the difference. (details here)
Bring your confirmation email and a photo ID if you visit the zoo before receiving your membership card in the post, and hold on to both during your visit to receive membership discounts on purchases such as reduced price steam train tickets. Then stop by the Visitor’s Centre to have your photo taken and receive your membership card.
A souvenir guide is available for about £5 and is a fun resource to hold onto for your visits. In addition to a map and a guide to the zoo’s amenities, there are photos and interesting facts about the animals and the ZSL’s conservation efforts.