Airboats and Gators

Alligators! When you think of Florida wilderness, you think alligators. Florida is famous for its Everglades, a vast tract of wetland at the southern tip of the state. It is an area heavily populated with alligators. But the whole state is dotted with lakes and swamps and you can find alligators in all 67 counties. There are, in fact, 1.3 million gators in the entire state. After our Caribbean cruise, my wife, her sister and I spent a week in Orlando. On the last day of our visit we decided to visit Wild Florida, an airboat and gator park on Cypress Lake, about 45 miles from the city. When going there, you have to exit the Florida Turnpike (a toll highway) at St. Cloud exit #244) and take Highway 192 to the Old Canoe Creek Road. We missed the exit and figured we would just exit later but available exits were Sunpass only and do not accept cash or credit cards. (Passes available to regular commuters.) We had to double back. Wild Florida has handy detailed instructions for getting there. (Note – the map below shows exiting at Exit 240. That is wrong. Exit at 244 if you do not have a Sunpass and head east to and turn right on Vermont Avenue which later becomes Old Canoe Creek Road.) Canoe Creek Road passes under the turnpike and you hang a right at Lake Cypress Road. Wild Florida advertises itself as being “in the middle of nowhere” and it truly is. It sits on the shore of Cypress Lake, a good size lake surrounded on three sides by nature preserves and on the fourth by farmland. Wild Florida includes a zoo and nature walk as well as offering airboat rides. And if you’ve never been on one, it is a must-do experience. We booked an hour long excursion. The airboat dock is offshore aways and accessed by a long boardwalk.
The airboat dock is accessed by a long boardwalk over a field of reeds and rushes.
The airboat dock is accessed by a long boardwalk over a field of reeds and rushes.
Our guide Will steered his airboat to a berth and we got on. Lifejackets and ear protection was handed out. The airboats are fairly loud. Will gave us a spiel about the lake and its 800 alligators, the many cypress trees and the flora and fauna that abound there. He also explained that the airboat was invented and developed in Canada in 1905 by a team led by Alexander Graham Bell – yep – the telephone guy!
3 - skipper Will and our airboat
Will steers our airboat to the dock to load passengers.
After his chat, Will revved up the engine and we tore along the shoreline at a good clip. The airboat is a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a large air prop at the rear behind the pilot. It skims over reeds and vegetation and is perfect for the Everglades. Our first foray took us along the shore where we could see many cypress trees, their branches seemingly dripping grey moss. But it was January and this would green up later in the year. Waterfowl took flight on our approach making a pretty picture. We stopped again as Will gave us some more interesting tidbits. Then the engine roared to life again and we sped across an area dense with reeds and rushes. All of a sudden Will pointed and shouted “Alligator”, pulling the airboat around and towards a clump of vegetation. The alligators like to bask atop a bunch of reeds to catch the sun. We spotted a big old gator soaking up some rays. I stood up and moved to the edge of the boat to get a good picture. Just after I snapped my shot, the gator got wind of me and hustled into the water. It moved so suddenly and so quickly it scared the heck out of me.
One big ole gator!
One big ole gator!
We took off once more and spotted more gators and some large turtles as well. And then we came across a rather gross dead animal floating in the water. A wild boar, Will said. Probably shot by a framer. They are considered pests. Will told us that the alligators would strip the carcass as it decomposes.
Eeeoooh! The carcass of a wild boar floating in the reeds. The alligators will strip the carcass as it decomposes.
Eeeoooh! The carcass of a wild boar floating in the reeds. The alligators will strip the carcass as it decomposes.
We cruised along some more and Will took us up Dead Man’s Creek – a small inlet dense with vegetation along its shores. We stopped inside this peaceful setting, taking in the quiet and the beauty of the scenery. Cypress trees were everywhere and Will explained that the many woody shafts poking out of the water around the trees were called cypress knees. Since the entire root system of the cypress is below water, the roots can’t get air. The knees are like so many snorkels bringing life-enhancing air to the roots.
A cypress grove up Dead Man's Creek. Notice the cypress knees, natural snorkels that bring air to the tree roots.
A cypress grove up Dead Man’s Creek. Notice the cypress knees, natural snorkels that bring air to the tree roots.
After a spell, Will revved up the engine once again and we took off slowly at first through the winding waterway, and then full blast through waters and marshes along a fence line. At one point he pointed the craft directly into a vast tract of reeds and we plowed over them  and stopped in the middle. Clearly a boat with the typical below-water propeller would get seriously tangled here. But the airboat – no sweat! We then headed out of the reeds and into open water charging at full speed across the kilometre or so of lake.  No gators here. They only hang out along the shoreline or in the marshes. During our ride I got a great photo of my wife and her sister, wind blowing their hair out behind them. With the ear protection headset, it reminded me of a famous Maxell battery ad from the 1980s called Blown Away Guy.
Blown Away Gals!
Blown Away Gals!
Back at the dock we walked around Hawk Swamp, an area of cypress swamp with boardwalks letting you observe the swamp up close. A large sign warned not to touch the snakes!
Beware of snakes!
Beware of snakes!
After the swamp walk, we headed for the wildlife preserve where they had a variety of animals on display – a small zoo really. It had tropical birds, raccoons, lemurs, pythons and a giant tortoise among other things. But the big attraction, of course, were the gators. Lots of them. There were elevated walkways above the water and you could get baggies of tasty treats to throw to them.
Lots of gators!
Lots of gators!
In most zoos, the animals are fairly quiet and subdued. Not here. The pythons were on the move. The parrots were squawkers. And the alligators, when food was offered, were eager and energetic swimmers. So if you’re ever in Orlando and looking for something more fun than Universal Studios or Disney World, check out Wild Florida. It was one of the highlights of our visit. Click on Photo Gallery for additional pics or scroll on down if you are on the main page. Follow us on Facebook!
Posted on
This article was previously published at Travelicious as Wild Florida. There may be slight variations in this article including an improved  map and travel guide as well as an additional photo gallery. Alligators! When you think of Florida wilderness, you think alligators. Florida is famous for its Everglades, a vast tract of wetland at the southern tip of the state. It is an area heavily populated with alligators. But the whole state is dotted with lakes and swamps and you can find alligators in all 67 counties. There are, in fact, 1.3 million gators in the entire state.
This article was previously published at Travelicious as Wild Florida. There may be slight variations in this article including an improved  map and travel guide as well as an additional photo gallery. Alligators! When you think of Florida wilderness, you think alligators. Florida is famous for its Everglades, a vast tract of wetland at the southern tip of the state. It is an area heavily populated with alligators. But the whole state is dotted with lakes and swamps and you can find alligators in all 67 counties. There are, in fact, 1.3 million gators in the entire state. After our Caribbean cruise, my wife, her sister and I spent a week in Orlando. On the last day of our visit we decided to visit Wild Florida, an airboat and gator park on Cypress Lake, about 45 miles from the city. When going there, you have to exit the Florida Turnpike (a toll highway) at St. Cloud exit #244) and take Highway 192 to the Old Canoe Creek Road. We missed the exit and figured we would just exit later but available exits were Sunpass only and do not accept cash or credit cards. (Passes available to regular commuters.) We had to double back. Wild Florida has handy detailed instructions for getting there. (Note – the map below shows exiting at Exit 240. That is wrong. Exit at 244 if you do not have a Sunpass and head east to and turn right on Vermont Avenue which later becomes Old Canoe Creek Road.) Canoe Creek Road passes under the turnpike and you hang a right at Lake Cypress Road. Wild Florida advertises itself as being “in the middle of nowhere” and it truly is. It sits on the shore of Cypress Lake, a good size lake surrounded on three sides by nature preserves and on the fourth by farmland. Wild Florida includes a zoo and nature walk as well as offering airboat rides. And if you’ve never been on one, it is a must-do experience. We booked an hour long excursion. The airboat dock is offshore aways and accessed by a long boardwalk.
The airboat dock is accessed by a long boardwalk over a field of reeds and rushes.
The airboat dock is accessed by a long boardwalk over a field of reeds and rushes.
Our guide Will steered his airboat to a berth and we got on. Lifejackets and ear protection was handed out. The airboats are fairly loud. Will gave us a spiel about the lake and its 800 alligators, the many cypress trees and the flora and fauna that abound there. He also explained that the airboat was invented and developed in Canada in 1905 by a team led by Alexander Graham Bell – yep – the telephone guy!
3 - skipper Will and our airboat
Will steers our airboat to the dock to load passengers.
After his chat, Will revved up the engine and we tore along the shoreline at a good clip. The airboat is a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a large air prop at the rear behind the pilot. It skims over reeds and vegetation and is perfect for the Everglades. Our first foray took us along the shore where we could see many cypress trees, their branches seemingly dripping grey moss. But it was January and this would green up later in the year. Waterfowl took flight on our approach making a pretty picture. We stopped again as Will gave us some more interesting tidbits. Then the engine roared to life again and we sped across an area dense with reeds and rushes. All of a sudden Will pointed and shouted “Alligator”, pulling the airboat around and towards a clump of vegetation. The alligators like to bask atop a bunch of reeds to catch the sun. We spotted a big old gator soaking up some rays. I stood up and moved to the edge of the boat to get a good picture. Just after I snapped my shot, the gator got wind of me and hustled into the water. It moved so suddenly and so quickly it scared the heck out of me.
One big ole gator!
One big ole gator!
We took off once more and spotted more gators and some large turtles as well. And then we came across a rather gross dead animal floating in the water. A wild boar, Will said. Probably shot by a framer. They are considered pests. Will told us that the alligators would strip the carcass as it decomposes.
Eeeoooh! The carcass of a wild boar floating in the reeds. The alligators will strip the carcass as it decomposes.
Eeeoooh! The carcass of a wild boar floating in the reeds. The alligators will strip the carcass as it decomposes.
We cruised along some more and Will took us up Dead Man’s Creek – a small inlet dense with vegetation along its shores. We stopped inside this peaceful setting, taking in the quiet and the beauty of the scenery. Cypress trees were everywhere and Will explained that the many woody shafts poking out of the water around the trees were called cypress knees. Since the entire root system of the cypress is below water, the roots can’t get air. The knees are like so many snorkels bringing life-enhancing air to the roots.
A cypress grove up Dead Man's Creek. Notice the cypress knees, natural snorkels that bring air to the tree roots.
A cypress grove up Dead Man’s Creek. Notice the cypress knees, natural snorkels that bring air to the tree roots.
After a spell, Will revved up the engine once again and we took off slowly at first through the winding waterway, and then full blast through waters and marshes along a fence line. At one point he pointed the craft directly into a vast tract of reeds and we plowed over them  and stopped in the middle. Clearly a boat with the typical below-water propeller would get seriously tangled here. But the airboat – no sweat! We then headed out of the reeds and into open water charging at full speed across the kilometre or so of lake.  No gators here. They only hang out along the shoreline or in the marshes. During our ride I got a great photo of my wife and her sister, wind blowing their hair out behind them. With the ear protection headset, it reminded me of a famous Maxell battery ad from the 1980s called Blown Away Guy.
Blown Away Gals!
Blown Away Gals!
Back at the dock we walked around Hawk Swamp, an area of cypress swamp with boardwalks letting you observe the swamp up close. A large sign warned not to touch the snakes!
Beware of snakes!
Beware of snakes!
After the swamp walk, we headed for the wildlife preserve where they had a variety of animals on display – a small zoo really. It had tropical birds, raccoons, lemurs, pythons and a giant tortoise among other things. But the big attraction, of course, were the gators. Lots of them. There were elevated walkways above the water and you could get baggies of tasty treats to throw to them.
Lots of gators!
Lots of gators!
In most zoos, the animals are fairly quiet and subdued. Not here. The pythons were on the move. The parrots were squawkers. And the alligators, when food was offered, were eager and energetic swimmers. So if you’re ever in Orlando and looking for something more fun than Universal Studios or Disney World, check out Wild Florida. It was one of the highlights of our visit. Click on Photo Gallery for additional pics or scroll on down if you are on the main page. Follow us on Facebook!
Posted on
This article was previously published at Travelicious as Wild Florida. There may be slight variations in this article including an improved  map and travel guide as well as an additional photo gallery.

Photo Gallery: Caversham Wildlife Park

Here are some more pictures from our visit to the Caversham Wildlife Park.

Map of the Caversham Wildlife Park. The park includes a farm which we did not visit.
Map of the Caversham Wildlife Park.
A joey nursing.
A joey nursing.
Janis and Sarah petting a kangaroo.
Janis and Sarah petting a kangaroo.
A barking owl at the Caversham Wildlife Park. The sound it makes sounds like a barking dog.
A barking owl at the Caversham Wildlife Park. The sound it makes sounds like a barking dog.
A kookaburra
A kookaburra
A bettong, an Australian marsupial the size of a large rat.
A bettong, an Australian marsupial the size of a large rat.
A cuddly looking wombat. They are actually quite fierce when threatened.
A cuddly looking wombat. They are actually quite fierce when threatened.
Koalas like to eat and to sleep. It only eats eucalyptus leaves.
Koalas like to eat and to sleep. It only eats eucalyptus leaves.
Did I say sleep? I think I could get used to being a koala!
Did I say sleep? I think I could get used to being a koala!
This was taken through a window earlier in our visit. A bit grey but the koala's pose is classic.
This was taken through a window earlier in our visit. A bit grey but the koala’s pose is classic.
Can't remember what these birds are called. Some sort of water bird.
Can’t remember what these birds are called. Some sort of water bird.
Close up of one of these birds.
Close up of one of these birds.
A black swan. We've seen them in the wild quite a lot, but always at a distance.
A black swan. We’ve seen them in the wild quite a lot, but always at a distance.
We'll close this gallery with a pic of Janis and a koala.
We’ll close this gallery with a pic of Janis and a koala.

Caversham Wildlife Park

When you visit Australia, you want to see kangaroos. Don’t ask me why, but you do. It is the iconic animal of that country and they are very common and you see signs everywhere warning of the possibility of kangaroos crossing, just as in Canada we have signs warning of deer crossing.

But actually spotting a kangaroo is not as common as you would think. When we were visiting our daughter and her fiancé in May, we didn’t actually see a kangaroo until we visited the Margaret River area. The first one we saw was road kill. In fact, the risk of hitting a kangaroo in wilderness areas is high enough that many people fit their vehicles with roo bars – sort of like cow catchers for kangaroos to protect the vehicle from damage. Our daughter reported a work colleague had her car badly damaged from hitting a roo a couple of weeks ago.

IMG_1196r
An SUV outfitted with a roo bar. It is recommended that you hit the kangaroo if one jumps out in front of your car, rather than swerve to avoid it.

But we did see some troops of kangaroos over the next few days in Margaret River, and on our wine country tour we spotted a number of them hopping across the road ahead of us. We even spotted a couple out in the vineyards.

And in Perth, you can spot them in open fields occasionally, and on golf courses. Recently we were going to family dinner and spotted quite a few in a field. Jamie pulled a u-ey and parked nearby and we got our first close look at them. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera handy.

But if you really want to get up close and personal with kangaroos, I really recommend the Caversham Wildlife Park near Perth. It’s about half an hour northeast of the city in the town of Whiteman.

The entrance to the Caversham Wildlife Park.
The entrance to the Caversham Wildlife Park.

Our daughter took us there recently and we had a wonderful time. The park is home to many of the species indigenous to Australia. The privately owned and operated park receives no government funding. It charges an admission fee of $27 for adults, $12 for children and $19 for seniors.

The park is divided into various sections, each featuring different types of animals. And there are special presentations to make your visit even more enjoyable. But the highlight for us, and probably for most people, are the kangaroos. There are a lot of them. You enter the kangaroo exhibit area through double gates, each about twenty feet apart. Sort of an airlock to keep kangaroos from sneaking out as visitors enter.

IMG_4299r
There are dozens of kangaroos in the Caversham Wildlife Park.

You actually get up close and personal with the kangaroos. You can pet them (but no touching joeys or the pouches) and feed them. There is a large bin filled with food pellets for that purpose. The kangaroos are very tame, quite used to humans.

Sarah feeding a couple of roos. The park has both red and grey kangaroos.
Sarah feeding a couple of roos. The park has both red and grey kangaroos, though they look more white than grey.

We were there in February and a good number of the roos had joeys. We saw a lot of tails and legs sticking out of pouches, and the occasional head as well. As often as not, the roos are completely tucked inside, not visible except for the bulge in mom’s tummy.

IMG_4304r
Mama roo with a joey’s head and legs sticking out of its pouch. Australia is home to many different kinds of marsupials.

The park has a lot of birds on display from all over Australia, everything from cockatoos and budgerigars to black swans, owls, ducks and other water fowl and even an eagle, a buzzard and a couple of emus. The enclosures are, for the most part, quite large and spacious with netting over the top to keep the birds from flying away.

Colorful parrot at the Caversham Wildlife Park.
Colorful parrot at the Caversham Wildlife Park.

We went in the reptile house, but it had frogs, lizards and pythons. It did not have any of Australia’s indigenous poisonous snakes of which there are a great many. I have seen the poisonous dugite three times in the wild now. One of them was this morning, a small juvenile less than a foot long slithering across our path as we walked the dog. These juveniles are considered aggressive and dangerous despite their small size.

A tree frog indigenous to Australia.
A tree frog indigenous to Australia.

Meanwhile back at Caversham, our schedule told us there was a special 2 PM up close showing of wombats and friends. So we headed over. Several curators were there with different animals which we could see up close and sometimes touch. These included a bobtail lizard, a couple of owls, a kookaburra, a python, a bettong, and, of course, a rather fat and sleepy wombat.

The kookaburra, an odd looking bird with blue wing feathers and bright bluetail feathers. It makes a laughing song as noted in the song, "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree."
The kookaburra, an odd looking bird with blue wing feathers and bright blue tail feathers. It makes a laughing song as noted in the song, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree.”

We had seen the bobtail lizard in the wild a few times and told to avoid getting too close as they have a very strong jaw like a snapping turtle. But this fellow was raised in captivity and quite used to people and not dangerous.

We couldn’t touch the owls but they sat on perches less than two feet away so we could look at them up close. But we could touch the python, though Sarah and Janis declined.

Yours truly with a black-headed python.
Yours truly with a black-headed python.

A curator sat on a bench with the large wombat on her lap, lying back quite contendedly. He was also raised in captivity and quite used to people. I asked her (the curator, not the wombat) about the critter and she said they could be quite fierce in the wild. They can run fast and their chief defence is a bony plate on their lower back. They have only a stubby tail.

A fat wombat snoozes on the curator's lap. No! We are not pointing at its privates. We are stroking its legs, the only part we were allowed to touch.
A fat wombat snoozes on the curator’s lap. No! We are not pointing at its privates. We are stroking its legs, the only part we were allowed to touch.

This bony plate is quite hard and the wombat has strong leg muscles. If pursued, usually by a dingo which is its main predator, the wombat will wait until the right moment and smash its bony back into the dingo’s face, breaking its nose.

Isn't he just so cute and cuddly? He's actually quite fierce when he has to defend himself.
Isn’t he just so cute and cuddly? He’s actually quite fierce when he has to defend himself.

Wikipedia relates that the wombat will often duck into a burrow and when the dingo moves its head over its hind quarters to get at its fleshy upper back, the wombat will thrust with its legs, smashing the dingo’s skull against the ceiling of the burrow killing it.

Our wombat looked more like sleepy-eyed Joe than a fierce animal. Looks can be deceiving.

Later in the afternoon, the koalas were on display. We had passed the enclosure earlier, but you could only see through a window. Now the koala pen was open and we could venture in. Several curators were on hand to talk about the animal and there were two we were allow to pet. Their fur is not as soft as you might expect. It was actually a bit coarse. But they are cute all the same. Several were sound asleep in their eucalyptus trees.

The koala is cuddly looking, but his fur is actually quite coarse.
The koala is cuddly looking, but his fur is actually quite coarse.

We saw many other animals that day including a small crocodile, a quokka, a quoll (Aussies seem to like the letter Q), wallabies, a Tasmanian devil, giant flying fox bats and a couple of dingos. All in all, a great excursion.

Giant flying fox bats are native to parts of Australia.
Giant flying fox bats are native to parts of Australia.

And if you want to make a full day of it, there are other attractions nearby including three transport museums, one devoted to tractors, children’s play areas, an operating vintage tram and shops and a restaurant.

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