HOLDING her son Robert's hand, Terri Irwin had every reason to beam as Australia Zoo's African Queen as she walked through a crowd of admirers at Australia Zoo yesterday.

But she was far from an aloof royal, stopping constantly to say hello to young children and personally thanking them for coming to see the Zoo's new Africa exhibit.

She spent time with a three-year-old named Juliette, telling her how Bindi was the same age when she and Steve Irwin started dreaming of an African wildlife experience where zebra, rhino and giraffe would interact exactly as they did in the wild.

The late Crocodile Hunter was determined to let people see wildlife from around the world in the one place at Australia Zoo so they could fall in love with them and share his passion for saving them.

Yesterday, hundreds shared the journey with Terri, Bindi and Robert after the family welcomed the first shuttle buses on safari before Bindi officially declared Africa open followed by high fives and "belly bumps" between Terri and Robert.

"It's fun hearing what everyone likes," Terri said as she walked through the exhibit, admiring the Queensland bottle trees which only narrowly survived our floods.

"The weather is absolutely perfect. It's just like an African day."

"I think Steve is doing some organising (from above). There's not a cloud in the sky."

She recalled how Steve would walk the open field of orchards, talking about Africa.

"He would stand out here with (zoo director) Wes (Mannion), myself and our general manager, Frank and say, 'here is my dream'."

Terri said she was so proud of the whole team behind the construction of the exhibit.

Many had worked into the night to get it open for the September school holidays.

Zoo director Wes Mannion said he had talked with Steve about his vision since he was 14.

"It is something I dream about every night," he said.

"People have worked through their weekends but have a look at it. They can stand here and say I helped build it."

He said Steve would be blown away by how well the first stage of Africa had turned out.

Terri said she had no doubt Africa would be a turning point for the Zoo, which has battled through tough economic times - and tourism on the Sunshine Coast.

"This is just such a positive step forward," she said. "I think it is fantastic to have a one-of-a-kind for Queensland. It is the only mixed animal African exhibit."

She said the Zoo was particularly proud to be able to bring the extra attraction without any additional cost to ticket prices.


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