Stops and things to do on Audinghen to Stein am Rhein drive or road trip
Not your average zoo… It takes some time to grow accustomed to the park’s core concepts of sustainably bringing humans closer to nature and the animals within it (with this in mind, you’ll also not find many rare and exotic animals at this zoo, but rather ones that you might encounter in nature yourself as well). The use of natural materials in the construction of enclosures, for example, leads both to natural looking barriers and charming, decorative wood cabins (spaced out around the park as observation huts), as well as some dilapidated looking constructions. Likewise, the general lack of landscaping in the park makes certain parts look unkempt or neglected (like the path leading from the main entrance past the donkeys to the start of the adventure trail), whereas in other parts, such as the forested green path, it works towards an immersive experience that makes you believe you’re actually out in nature (if not for being pulled out of this immersion by the presence of wire-mesh cages and tree huts). The downside of this, however, is that spaces feel way less open and much more cramped than in a typical zoo. This stands in stark contrast to the large open spaces that form the animal enclosures. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s easy to spot the animals, as the many hiding places in the enclosures mean that the animals are often in hiding or located far off in the distance (certain animals can even only be seen if one takes a ride on the train the park offers!): I’d therefore recommend attending as many of the frequent (but somewhat hard to find) shows as possible, taking some binoculars and spending some calm and quiet time at each enclosure to view the animals. As this can be very trying for young children, the park offers a great playground (next to the main entrance) and a fun petting zoo with a tractor and “milkable” cows.
The best way to visit the park, however, is to book an overnight stay. We spent the night at the deer meadow. This will get you a small and simple wooden house with a comfortable bed, kitchenette with mini-fridge and microwave, bathroom with shower (with wooden floor) and dry/composting toilet. And while I’m generally not a big fan of the latter, the way the park implemented them certainly makes them the best (and cleanest) I’ve had the experience of using: a separate bag, freshly installed for your visit, collects the waste inside the toilet, while a sprinkling of sawdust after use prevents any unpleasant odors from escaping. A similar concern with sustainability and the environment can also be seen in the kitchen, where garbage is sorted in four different categories. Depending on your preference, dinner is served in either restaurant or brought to your room for you to heat up using the microwave (although, unfortunately, there’s no easy way of doing dishes as a drying rack and even a mixing tap for warm – but not scolding hot – water are missing), leading to an overall pleasant stay. However, what makes an overnight stay worthwhile, above all else, is the spacious balcony overlooking the deer meadow, giving you first row seats to animal feedings at sunset and dawn. Be prepared to get up early to witness this spectacle (in fact, there are no curtains, so you’ll naturally awaken as the sun comes up), but there’s nothing that can quite compare to seeing a majestic stag slowly walking through the rolling morning mist while the sky, starting off bright pink, takes on an increasingly blue colour, birds waking up and flying across the meadow, with wolves howling in the distance.
Overall, we had a unique experience in the park, that I can highly recommend. However, the main value of this experience derives from the overnight stay and taking the time to enjoy the view from our room. I think that if we were to have visited the park as a regular day’s outing, our experience would’ve been less worthwhile.