Work starts on Monarto Safari Park expansion

Construction of a new visitors' centre has started, and an 80-room resort will not be far behind.

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Work has started on a $16.5 million visitor centre set to become the gateway to the biggest safari experience anywhere in the world outside of Africa.

In time, Monarto Safari Park’s Wild Africa expansion will boast new animals, an 80-room resort and 25 glamping sites.

But the first thing visitors will see when they approach the park’s new main entrance, off Monarto Road, will be the elegant building designed by Adelaide firm Intro Architecture.

Its concrete slab – weighing “as much as 155 southern white rhinos” – was laid early on Tuesday morning.

Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Bensted said the building would be finished by next February, and the resort only a few months after that.

“Monarto has grown hugely over the last 10 years, and particularly over the last five years, and we’re now on the cusp of what will be the next iteration of Monarto Safari Park,” she said.

“Gerry Ryan is totally committed to the $40 million investment (in the resort); the land next door that we call Wild Africa now has some animals in it ... so that's getting ready to offer an absolute world-class tourism experience.”

She said the visitors’ centre would be open to the public, not just to paying guests.

“For local residents (it will be) a place where people can have coffees, there’ll be a cafe, retail, all of our memberships, a playground area,” she said.

It would also feature parenting rooms and even a space where visitors could leave their dogs, rather than having them sit in their cars or camper vans – “it really has got a huge level of design thought that has gone into it”.

Elaine Bensted, Brenton Lewis, Steven Marshall, Michael McCormack, Tony Pasin and Adrian Pederick officially get the project started. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Emus wandered freely through the construction site on Friday morning as Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Premier Steven Marshall visited to ceremonially turn the first sod.

The federal government will invest almost $11.3 million in the project and the state government almost $4.6 million.

Mr Marshall described the park’s expansion as an “iconic” project that would boost domestic and international tourism.

“We can’t go to Africa at the moment, but people can come here,” he said.

Mr McCormack said it would be great for the economy, creating 136 construction jobs and 89 ongoing positions.

“These are the sorts of things we need to do in regional Australia and regional South Australia,” he said.

Murray Bridge Mayor Brenton Lewis, too, described the safari park’s expansion as a “game-changer” for the Murraylands.

Monarto Safari Park welcomed 160,000 visitors per year in pre-COVID times, and will hope to grow that number beyond 200,000 once international travel becomes possible again.