For years, Outback Oasis has given visitors a lovely taste of the down under, within minutes of home. With recent additions and natural exhibits, offerings from this place of beauty continue to expand.
Photography by Dan Austin
What began as Winter Haven’s adventure down under is blooming with diversity in flora, fauna, and fun. From private weddings, parties, and fundraisers, to acoustic music and cuisine from around the world, and a new Butterfly Encounter filled with flying flowers of the sky, Outback Oasis is experiencing a magical metamorphosis.
Wildlife artist Paul Schulz is transforming his home into a tropical paradise, complete with two living kangaroos, Joey and Auzzie. He hand feeds his pets that he raised from babies granola bars and kangaroo chow in an enclosure they share with a giant rabbit and two tortoises.
Not far from home to his “Outback Ambassadors,” a waterfall spills into a pond filled with adult aquarium fish, surrounded by lush gardens along with a multi-trunk date palm called Medusa.
“We sell tickets at the entrance and online for our new house events, staged in our Australian-style courtyard with a stunning view of the waterfall,” says Schulz, whose recent new series of events included Taco Tuesday and Thursday Food Truck-A-Roos this past September and October.
“Our goal is to take an average evening and give you a spectacular dinner date in a one-of-a-kind, exotic setting. What could be more romantic than watching the sunset with a stunning view of our majestic waterfall, as you dine under the stars while being entertained by talented local acoustic musicians?”
Another new attraction features “Butterfly Buckaroo” Gil Daigneau who offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with butterflies every other Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through the end of the year.
“The interactive walk-through exhibit includes flowering plants and hundreds of butterflies in a confined area. Be sure to wear bright colors, and move slowly to let the butterflies land on you. In the enclosure, nectar feeding sticks give kids the opportunity to hold butterflies for amazing photos.”
Butterfly pupae also are available to take home your very own butterfly and watch it hatch. “We provide the information, education, and inspiration for you to plant your own butterfly gardens. It truly is a remarkable feeling when you transform your yard with colorful blossoms and larva plants for caterpillars, for a healthy butterfly population.”
“Amy the Mermaid,” a live mermaid who founded Dreams Can Come True Entertainment, is on hand on Butterfly Saturday to help kids feed the fish. Food is available to purchase from Got Candy & More. Butterfly Encounter tickets are available at the gate for $10 (adults), $5 (children 5-12), and free for kids 4 years and under. Various activities and souvenirs for sale complement the experience.
KENNETH TREISTER’S NAUTILUS
Another friend of Schulz’s, Kenneth Treister, FAIA, is designing an art garden that features a 25-foot, interactive “Nautilus” sculpture. The renowned architect, artist, author, sculptor, photographer, and lecturer is most known for designing the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach.
What Schulz says he cares most about is biodiversity. “We wouldn’t live without biodiversity, and it nourishes our soul. A lot of what we interpret as beauty comes from nature. Every color, every texture, every pattern that you can imagine, you can see it.”
Schulz started buying neighboring lands, including property owned by his next-door-neighbor, Billy Joe Watson. After gaining a wetland restoration permit, Schulz pumped water out of an old clay pit, scraped the mud out with heavy equipment, and then reshaped the bottom to create the Watson Lake Preserve, named in honor of his friend.
He even added a paved scenic overlook so drivers and bicyclists can enjoy the view on Country Club Road. Schulz’s vision and huge financial investment is unrivaled in the beautiful wildlife corridor.
Artistic talent and a love of nature are in Schulz’s genes. He was inspired by his maternal grandfather, a master engraver with the U.S. Mint and commercial artist.
Schulz’s late mother, Helene, was a supporter of the arts and helped found local theater groups.
His father, H.E. “Bert” Schulz, had a passion for environmental stewardship and took Paul to the Galapagos Islands when he was 11, and trekking through the Amazon at age 14. From the forests of Central and South America, to the plains of Africa, the world traveler also has explored the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, New Zealand, Bora Bora, and other exotic locations.
Schulz began his career as a design coordinator for Hallmark Card Company after graduating with a major in economics and minor in art from Davidson College in 1982. He returned home in 1985 to run Florida Chemical, the citrus oils business his father started in 1942. He retired in 2006 after serving 21 years as president and CEO to follow his bliss creating art and conserving nature.
In addition to offering this Eden-like paradise for corporate events, photo shoots, and wedding ceremonies, Schulz delights in seeing Outback Oasis grow in popularity with annual events such as Valentine’s Day dinner and Easter brunch.
“We continue to evolve into a world-class, one-of-a-kind venue that our community can be very excited to visit,” he says.