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Creepy critter park in Leigh is a secret gem

A few kilometres from Wisteria Lane, otherwise known as Omaha, you’ll find American alligators more suited to the swamps of Louisiana than suburban Rodney.

Ti Point Reptile Park overlooks Little Omaha Bay and commands an envious view for its inhabitants. Twenty years ago those animals were zebras and four groups of monkeys. These days you’ll find Eastern Water Dragons, Yellow Foot Tortoises and a monkey named Harrison.

In Rodney.

But who exactly is behind Ti Point Reptile Park and is it worth the $50 family pass?

45 years ago Ivan Borich dreamt of starting a wildlife park with mammals and birds. But space became too tight for the larger animals and there was little choice but to shut up shop. Ivan shipped the zebras to Hamilton and found homes for many of the monkeys.

Through business heartbreak came opportunity. Reptiles - the perfect choice!

Zebras were replaced with tuatara, skinks, geckos, star tortoises, Asian box turtles, Florida softshell turtles, green iguanas, blue tongued skinks, chameleons and water dragons.

A fascinating display, which we nearly missed completely.

The Northland Green Gecko. Photo: Ivan Borich

When we arrived at Ti Point during our Easter holiday break we drove straight past Ivan’s sign. We weren’t convinced. Weren't the best reptile parks in Northern Queensland? $50, really?

A Trip Advisor reviewer admired the range of animals at Ti Point, but warned the premises were gloomy. He was right. The park is gloomy, even a little creepy, which is not a bad thing given the clientele who inhibit it. This ain’t Australia Zoo. It’s unpolished, rustic and real, with a scaly surprise around every corner. The steep property winds its way down through damp alleyways. It’s as if someone’s backyard transformed into an array of cages joined together to house everything from tuatara to tortoises.

I never thought we’d chew through 90 minutes in this place. As the name suggests, there are reptiles galore, and not all of them shy. Two Mediterranean tortoises were having a grand old romp ensuring the future of their species, forcing us to stop our kids taking multiple pictures of such a private moment. Other reptiles, namely exotic lizards who knew they were as much, sunbathed under personal heat pumps and enjoyed a smorgasbord of homegrown insects.

And the drama! We saw a dead tortoise! Two dead tortoises! Or so we thought.

Leopard tortoises, the kind children can safely take photos of. Photo: Ti Point Reptile Park

When they’re not getting jiggy with it (see above) the Mediterranean variety have a habit of sticking their heads down large holes in the ground, giving the appearance of a reptile having decided to end it all. In reality, they’re hibernating, or at least attempting to, a challenge given New Zealand’s temperate climate.

The stars of the show, two American alligators from Australia, sit at the bottom of the property. There’s a four year old female called Jet and an unnamed 20-year-old male. ‘After a school visit we sometimes find stones in their enclosure,’ says Ivan. ‘Gators can be uninteresting creatures, they just lie there, people think they're dead. Obviously kids want some action.’

If we wanted any we’d come at the wrong time. It would have been great to watch Jet or No Name devour a rabbit or a possum, but these guys were fed in mid-April, a week before we arrived. They won’t eat again until September.

To prove he has better work stories Ivan adds, ‘It’s quite safe to get into the cage with them, but you do have to remember if it’s nesting time the female will get possessive of one corner and the male will get possessive of the pool. You’d never jump in the water with them.’

Green iguana in breeding colours. Photo: Ti Point Reptile Park 

But where does one buy an alligator, or a zebra, or monkey? The answer is you don’t. The Zoo Association trades animals at no cost, though veterinary requirements and shipping are the responsibility of the owner, which could send you broke for giraffes, not so much for geckos.

As you’d imagine, looking after hundreds of creatures requires 24 hour attention. With only two permanent staff the Borich family surely have an inherent love of animals.

‘I get that a lot,’ says Ivan.‘But it’s no different to being left-handed or right-handed. You're born a certain way and that's the way it is.’

A few days after our visit I tell Ivan I’d like to write an article about the park. I ask him if there’s anything he’d like to add. ‘Not really,’ he replies in Barry Crump-style. ‘It’s here and that's it.’

Warkworth’s mini Jurassic Park awaits.

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