Cute and cuddly to scaly and slippery, we take you through the best places in Australia to indulge your desires to see and experience Australia’s wildlife
With over 4000 native species of fish and marine life, 828 species of birds, 378 mammals and 50 sea creatures, not to mention 140 different types of snakes, 2 types of crocodiles and 300 species of lizards – it’s not hard to see why there’s an animal attraction for visiting Australia!
In fact, given 80% of species are unique to Australia, there’s no better excuse to travel down under and make animal encounters a key part of planning your experience – especially with kids.
With some help from experienced travelling friends, we take a trek around Australia looking for the best places to find Australian wildlife and animal encounters. From zoos and sanctuaries to visiting these creatures in their natural habitats, the choices are honestly endless.
When is it best to visit Australia?
Remember Australia is a huge country! This not only means there can be great distances between attractions, there are also many different climates across the country. Temperatures and seasons vary year-round, from top to bottom!
The southern half of the country has four distinct seasons with warm summer months December through to March and the colder wintery months June to August – the length of the seasons varies but you can normally rely on at least 6-9 months of the year being relatively mild in most locations, though it can unpredictably rain almost year-round!
If you are looking at the tropics or Australia’s “Top End”– that is the top half of Western Australia, most of Queensland and the Northern Territory – they have Wet Season (November to April) and Dry Season (May to October). Whilst it’s probably more pleasant weather-wise to see the tropics in the dry season, you will get a completely different experience in the wet – but beware it’s also cyclone season.
Other than the seasons, the other thing to be mindful of is school holidays. Each state has slightly different timings but broadly all state schools have 4 terms with two weeks off between each term and a longer break over the summer.
Everything is MUCH BUSIER during school holidays in Australia In the more remote locations accommodation will book up fast and attractions can be crowded. On the plus side, many zoos and sanctuaries run special programs for kids (some even offer free entry!), but if you are visiting from overseas, we’d recommend avoiding these times.
Check here for a list of upcoming Australian school holidays to plan your visit
What’s the difference between Zoos & Animal Sanctuaries?
Although the words are often used interchangeably, the key difference is that sanctuaries are a place where injured or endangered wildlife are brought for rehabilitation and potential re-release into the wild if possible. Zoos, on the other hand, are considered a place of captivity where animals are kept in artificially created habitats.
Equally, a sanctuary may have animals born in captivity too, but breeding is usually not their primary focus. You will find the standard of zoos and sanctuaries in Australia to be pretty outstanding.
Anyone concerned about the role of zoos or any animal experiences while in Australia can contact Zoo Aquarium Association. Their role includes establishing breeding & conservation programs and setting professional standards for zoos throughout Australasia.
Best places to find Australian Animals by State
Jump straight to each state:
New South Wales | Victoria | Tasmania | South Australia | Western Australia | Northern Territory | Queensland
Note driving times given are without rest stops. We thoroughly recommend when travelling with children to add a stop at least every two hours and see more of Australia’s unique country towns and produce along the way!
New South Wales Wildlife
As Sydney is the most popular tourist destination in Australia for overseas visitors, we’ll start our journey around Australia in the capital of New South Wales. There are several very accessible wildlife options within the city and day trips away – though we believe the best way to truly capture wildlife is to hire a car and set off around the country!
Taronga Zoo, Sydney
Distance from Sydney CBD: 12 minutes by Ferry from Circular Quay
Opening Hours: Daily 9.30 – 5pm (4.30 May to August); Entry Charge & extra programs available (Under 4’s free)
If you’re in Sydney with a kid over the age of 8 that adores animals, the Taronga Zoo Keeper for a Day experience will be right up their alley. Available for kids 8+, this program provides participants with a full day behind the scenes experience where they are immersed in the world of a zoo keeper.Taronga Zoo also has the single best view of any zoo in Australia, with a wide vista overlooking Sydney Harbour. Your entry gives you access to the famous bird show and the seal show, but arrive early to nab a good seat.The zoo has a plethora of animals from around the world with a focus on their Big 10: 5 Australian and 5 Sumatran animals that the zoo has committed to a rigorous conservation effort over the next decade. Taronga Zoo is run not-for-profit.
Leah from Kid Bucket List – Full Review of the Keeper for a Day program
If you only have a few days in the country then Taronga is definitely the spot for you to get your first taster. Arriving by ferry adds to the fun and you will be rewarded with some simply amazing views of Sydney as you can see here!
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Australian Reptile Park, Central Coast
Distance from Sydney CBD: 79kms North – 1 hour 10 mins drive
Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm Daily (Closed 25 December); Entry Charge (under 3’s free)
At the Australian Reptile Park there are not just opportunities to hand-feed friendly kangaroos, watch a wombat roam or catch a glimpse of an elusive platypus. Here you can also feel how smooth a snake is, watch the huge saltwater croc, Elvis, launch himself for his lunch time meal and watch in awe as the staff milk deadly funnel web spiders for venom to produce life-saving anti-venom. Located on the beautiful Central Coast, NSW the park is nestled in a native bushland setting with lots of space for children to run, as well as having a large playground. There is also a cafe, or if you want to bring your own food a free BBQ and picnic area where you can enjoy your meal while watching emu’s and kangaroos wander freely. Throughout the day there are shows that entertain the whole family, random rangers walking around the park with animals to show you and fun exhibits full of native and exotic reptiles. We are lucky enough to call this place local and every time we go, we are lucky enough to come home with a new experience. One of our favourites was patting weeks old dingo puppies.
Kirsty from Travel with Meraki
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Symbio Wildlife Park, Helensburgh
Distance from Sydney: 66 kms south – 1 hour 30-minute drive
Opening Hours: 9.30am to 5pm daily (closed 25 December); Entry Charge (Under 3’s free)
If your kids are keen to cuddle a crocodile, pet a kangaroo or befriend a koala then you need to head out of Sydney for a day trip that will get them up close with our Australian wildlife. Located in the bushland of Helensburgh is Symbio Wildlife Park where you can meet and learn all about native Australian animals. The park’s grounds are home to dingoes, kangaroos, native birds, koalas, echidnas, emus and other exotic international animals like Sumatran tigers, red pandas and lemurs. The animals all have lots of space to move around and are cared for by a team of keepers, committed to animal welfare. One of our favourite things to do when we’re spending time at Symbio is to visit the friendly kangaroos for the afternoon. They are so used to contact with kids and will let you feed and pat them as they rest in the shade or take their time moving around in social groups. There’s a swimming pool and picnic area so pack your swimmers, snacks and lunch and spend the day under the gum trees.
Evie from Mum Pack Travel
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Featherdale Wildlife Park, Doonside
Distance from Sydney: 45kms West, 55 minutes drive
Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm Daily (closed 25 December); Entry Charge (Under 3’s free)
Featherdale Wildlife Park boasts Australia’s largest collection of native animals. This is THE zoo in Sydney to head to if you would like to learn about Australian animals.Recently the zoo added a private animal encounter experience to their roster of activities. You can choose a reptile, mammal or bird experience and get up close to at least three animals from the group in a special 1:1 experience. Highly recommended.If your budget doesn’t stretch to this, never fear. You can still feed the large population of wallabies and kangaroos, pat a koala and if you’re lucky, see a snake or two.
Leah from Kid Bucket List – Full review of Private Animal Encounters at Featherdale
Located on the outskirts of Sydney, this can easily be done as a day trip from the capital. However, often people will make the overnight stop near Blacktown as a stepping stone the Blue Mountains and beyond, or to experience the suburbs other main attraction for families, the giant Wet n Wild Sydney waterpark.
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Oakvale Farm & Fauna World, Port Stephens
Distance from Sydney: 190kms North – 2 hours 25 mins by car
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm Daily (closed 25 April, 25 December); Entry Charge (Under 3’s free)
Oakvale Farm & Fauna World is located in Salt Ash, NSW at the entrance to the Port Stephens Region. There are Reptile and Koala shows and an opportunity to pat both animals. Oakvale Farm also has a barn with farm animals and an open paddock with kangaroos. Our family loved feeding and taking photos with the docile roos! While they are many species of animals, Australian animals are the star of the show- there’s also opportunities to view dingoes, emus, and wallabies. If little ones tire of the animals, there is playground equipment and a small Thomas the Train ride. Oakvale offers an on-site cafeteria and many of the attractions are covered (in case of rain), so plan to spend at least half of the day.
Leah from Yoder Toter Blog
The Port Stephens area is a popular place for spotting koalas in the wild, as well as dolphins and whales during migration season. We thoroughly recommend visitors spend a few days in the area to enjoy all there is on offer.
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Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo
Distance from Sydney: 400kms north east – 5 hours 20 minutes drive
Opening Hours: 9am to 4pm daily; Entry Charge (under 4’s free)
Sister Zoo of Taronga in Sydney, Western Plains Zoo is around 5 hours drive from Sydney and home to some of the country’s largest exotic animals. With wide open fields, the giraffes, rhinos, hippos, elephants, zebras and other animals could easily think they were on the African Savannah.This zoo has become a bucket list item for many Australian families who try to get here at least once during their kid’s childhood. I recommend budgeting to stay on site an experiencing African style accommodation.
Leah from Kid Bucket List- Guide to a rainy day at Western Plains Zoo Dubbo
Dubbo is very much a trip in itself from Sydney – the driving time suggested here is without stops so you really need to allow a few days at least if heading inland. You can fly into the regional airport, but then you’ll miss the stunning Blue Mountains and lots of stops along the way. There are two routes via Mudgee and Lake Windermere, or further south via Bathurst, Orange and Wellington Caves. Dubbo is also a popular stopping option for those taking the long road trip from Melbourne to Brisbane through the heart of the country – allow an extra day in your itinerary to stop at the zoo.
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Jump to State:
New South Wales | Victoria | Tasmania | South Australia | Western Australia | Northern Territory | Queensland
The cooler climates of Victoria make it the ideal home for many of Australia’s native species (But you better believe the rumours about Melbourne having 4 seasons in one day – plan days out here with sunscreen and raincoats!!)
Distance from Melbourne: 63kms North East – 1 hour 15 minutes drive
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm daily; Entry Charge (Under 4’s free)
Healesville Sanctuary is a bushland haven for Australian wildlife. This is where you can experience the beauty and tranquillity of the bush, and have some of the most affordable native animal interactions that I’ve come across. Some of the highlights are
- the platypus exhibit, where you can almost always find this elusive creature,
- the magnificent bird show, where you will be awed by majestic birds of prey and parrots,
- the koala exhibit, where boardwalks are positioned high up at koala level while echidnas scurry around beneath,
- and the Australian Wildlife Health Centre, where you can watch vets treat sick animals live through glass walls and tv screens. The kids are transfixed!
The animal encounters are suitable for all ages and include getting up close and personal with kangaroos, koalas, dingoes, wombats and snakes. These interactive experiences will make your visit so much more memorable. Take a break at the Kids’ Nature Play playground near the cafe or in the Health Centre’s Future Vets play space. Here kids can learn more about Australia’s native animals by playing vet to injured soft toy animals. Healesville Sanctuary is set amongst the vineyards of the Yarra Valley. There is an excellent cafe on-site, or combine your trip with a winery visit or enjoy the wonderful cafes in the picturesque town of Healesville.
Kiralee from Escape with the Kids
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Where else can I see a platypus?
Seeing a platypus in the wild in Australia isn’t easy, but those willing to head more off the beaten path may be richly rewarded with seeing these graceful creatures playing, normally early morning and late afternoon are the best times.
In Queensland, Running River Bridge near Hidden Valley Cabins is the place to go. A couple of spots in New South Wales, there’s Platypus Reserve on the Bombala River, or a stretch of the Nymbodia River near Pollocks Bridge where they are reported to be brave enough to swim up to canoeists.
In Victoria, your best spot is Lake Elizabeth in Great Otway National Park, and Tassie, the Mersee River in Warrawee Forest Reserve. (Source: Australian Geographic)
Werribee Open Range Zoo, Werribee
Distance from Melbourne: 35km south west – 40 minutes drive
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm daily; Entry charge (Children under 15 are free on weekends and school holidays, Under 3 Free)
Werribee Open Range Zoo is the perfect place to head to see African animals roaming on the Savannah outside their homeland. This non-for-profit zoo has an authentic focus on conservation which makes me feel quite at ease when interacting with the animals across the 200-hectare property.One of the highlights for visitors is the 40-minute safari tour which is included in your ticket price. Your family will be directed onto one of the zoo’s unique safari buses and then driven right into the roaming fields of the zoo’s giraffes, zebras and rhinoceroses as well as a plethora of other amazing animals.
Leah from Kid Bucket List – Full Werribee Zoo Review
Watch out for “Wild Nights” 9-15 July night safari’s + other events throughout the year including their meet the keeper & keeper for the day programs on their website
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Royal Melbourne Zoo
Distance from Melbourne: 15 minutes from the CBD by tram (or parking on site)
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm daily; Entry charge (Children under 15 are free on weekends and school holidays, Under 3 Free)
I don’t know whether it is childhood nostalgia, but the Royal Melbourne Zoo continues to be my favourite zoo in Australia despite our family visiting almost every major zoo in Australia. It has great shade, great food, amazing animal enclosures, and is also non-for-profit with one of the countries best conservation programs. It ticks all the boxes.As one of Australia’s oldest zoos, it also has an amazing history. There wouldn’t be many adults who grew up in Melbourne who didn’t ride the carousel as a kid and have taken their children (and grandchildren!) back to ride it too. It’s quite iconic.The Royal Melbourne Zoo has a plethora of animals on site, from big cats to primates, a menagerie of bird life, Indian Elephants and more. Unlike other zoos, this one even has an entire section dedicated to insects with the most amazing butterfly house. With insects making up 97% of the animal species in the world, I think this addition is perfect. The zoo is also known for bringing back the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect which was thought to be extinct.
Leah from Kid Bucket List – Full Melbourne Zoo Review
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Distance from Melbourne: 141kms south east – 2 hours drive
Opening Hours: Varies by attraction; Some entry fees apply
If close encounters with wildlife near the beach sounds like a dream come true as a family getaway, then get yourself to Phillip Island stat, this world-famous Australian ecotourism destination awaits! A highlight of your visit will be The Antarctic Journey at The Nobbies Centre. This interactive learning experience takes you on a journey to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, to discover the wildlife, climate and ways to help protect the fragile environment.
Seal Rocks, just outside the centre is famous for attracting seals, penguins and other wildlife from the Southern Ocean. Don’t miss the augmented reality area on the third level, where you can pretend that you’re on the ice meeting whales, penguins and seals. The Penguin Parade at Summerland Beach is the biggest attraction for wildlife enthusiasts. Every night just after the sun sets, thousands of little penguins arrive on the beach to find their burrows and feed their young. This is an amazing experience for kids! Just make sure you bring snuggly clothes, it gets cold on the beach in the evening.
Another family must-see is the Koala Conservation Centre. You can wander the extensive pathways and treetop boardwalks to catch a glimpse of these iconic Australian marsupials in the natural bushland setting.
Ali from What Ali Sees – 48-hour visit to Phillip Island with Kids
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Raymond Island Koala Walk
Distance from Melbourne: 300km East – 4 hours 15 minutes drive + Ferry
Opening hours: 24 hours; Entry Free
Located east of Melbourne in the Gippsland Lakes, Raymond Island is accessible by a free 5-minute passenger ferry from Paynesville. The koala walk makes its way through the streets of the island and into bushland. The walk is clearly signposted and seeing a koala is assured. The koala population in Raymond Island is that large they are moving koalas off the island. It’s an amazing experience to see koalas in the wild, we easily see over a dozen on any of our walks.
Mark from Wyld Family Travel – More on Victoria’s Gippsland
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Where else can I see Koalas?
Our most famous cuddly friends can also be spotted in the wild in the You Yangs (45 minutes west of Melbourne), Port Stephens in NSW, Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Noosa Headlands National Park in QLD.
Jump to State:
New South Wales | Victoria | Tasmania | South Australia | Western Australia | Northern Territory | Queensland
Lush and remote Tasmania is often overlooked by a lot of visitors to Australia due to the fact it’s an island, so that little bit harder to reach as part of an around Australia trip. It’s very straight forward though to catch a ferry to Launceston in the north from Melbourne or to fly into Hobart or Launceston. Those that do a richly rewarded with some of Australia’s most dramatic and beautiful landscapes, fresh produce and unique species of fauna.
Devils @ Cradle, Cradle Mountain
Distance from Hobart: 319km North East – 4 hours drive
Opening Hours: Day & evening opening times; Tours must be pre-booked – Entry charge
Cradle Mountain in Tasmania is this one of the most picturesque places to visit in Australia. Better yet, there is probably no better place on earth to begin your child’s discovery and passion for nature. Devils@Cradle should be your first stop with the kids.
Located just near The Lodge and the National Park entrance, is this sanctuary where you can learn all about the endangered Tassie Devil by joining one of the Day Keeper Tours, or an After Dark Feeding Tour. If you want to get the most out of your visit, join one of the daytime tours which commence at 10:30am, 1pm and 3pm. You can hear interesting stories about the devils and quolls located in the park, including how the efforts to protect them from facial tumours (a disease that is causing the Tassie devil population to diminish).
The staff are really informative and will gladly spend time with kids and adults alike to answer any questions about the wildlife.
Ali from What Ali Sees -More on Cradle Mountain
Wombats, wallabies and possums are also regularly seen in the cradle mountain area – though many species here are nocturnal so night tours may be your only way of capturing these creatures in the wild.
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Trowunna, Mole Creek
Distance from Hobart: 250kms 3 hours (Launceston 75km – 55 minutes)
Opening Hours: Daily 9am to 5pm (Closed 25 December); Tours 11am, 1pm, 3pm; Entry Charge
Nestled in between two small towns in northern Tasmania, Trowunna boasts one of the largest Tasmanian Devil conservation programs in Australia,The park focuses on Tasmanian natives with the majority of the animal inhabitants arriving at the park as roadside rescues. It’s the only park we’ve been to where the Tasmanian Devils are handled in front of visitors and where we were able to hear all about what makes them special, as well as watch them feed.
Leah from Kid Bucket List – Full review of Trowunna
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Where else can I see Tasmanian Devils?
These endangered creatures can only be found in Tasmania in the wild; As they are nocturnal and very shy, other than Devils@Cradle and Trowunna, you can find them at the Tasmania Devil Conservation Park – Taranna (also called Tasmanian Devil Unzoo), Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and East Coast Nature World – Bicheno.
Little Penguins, Low Head
Distance from Hobart: 255kms – 3 hours 15 minutes north; From Launceston 56kms – 1 hour drive
Opening Hours: Daily at Sunset (varies by month); Entry charge
Tasmania is lucky enough to have a number of Little Penguin colonies on its shores. On our last visit to the island state, we headed to Low Head for their nightly Penguin parade.Unlike the mainland where the penguin experience has become an enormous tourist attraction, only 60 or so other people joined us on the tour.
You are broken up into small groups of 5 and your host then takes you to the shoreline do you can watch the penguins arrive as dusk falls.Hearing a male penguin sing a love song to lure a mate to his best is quite an experience! A must see when you’re in Tassie.
Leah from Kid Bucket List – Full review of Low Head Penguin Tours
Where else can I see little penguins in Australia?
In addition to Phillip Island and Low Head, the aptly named Penguin Island off the coast near Perth is a protected sanctuary for our feathered friends and other marine wildlife. You will also likely catch a glimpse on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Lion Island, another protected island in Broken Bay, NSW is home to a small but dwindling population. Shore Beach, near Manly, Sydney also has a small colony – this secluded beach is only accessible by kayak and sightings aren’t guaranteed.
In captivity, SEA LIFE in Syndey has a successful breeding program. If its King Penguins you are after, SeaWorld on the Gold Coast is where you’ll find them in their icy habitat.
Jump to State:
South Australian Wildlife
Cleland Wildlife Park, Adelaide Hills
Distance from Adelaide CBD: 10kms – 20 minutes by car
Opening Hours: Daily 9.30am to 5pm (Closed 25 December); Entry charge (under 4’s free)
A wonderful wildlife park, close to the centre of Adelaide. Come here to pet and feed roaming kangaroos and wallabies, hold a koala or join in with feeding times and animal keeper talks. There is a cafe on site but only two high chairs so beat the crowd!
Carrie from Flying with a Baby
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Distance from Adelaide: 210kms 4 hours (drive & ferry)
Opening Hours: 24 hours – organised tour at charge
To get to one of Australia’s true nature playgrounds, take a scenic drive through the Fleurieu Peninsula and a short 45-minute ferry from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw (departing once daily). Over a third of the island is protected nature reserve and home to sea lions, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and many species of bird life.
The beauty of Kangaroo Island is how close you can get to the animals. Going with an organised tour they will show you how to safely approach the animals, and night tours are a must to fully appreciate all the fauna. As well as being able to see animals in the wild in the different conservation reserves, there’s also Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary with a koala walk and nocturnal walk.
Keri from Our Globetrotters
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Staying on Kangaroo Island is the best way to full immerse yourself in this nature experience. You won’t find many chain hotels here but a great selection of Airbnb’s can be found on Kangaroo Island.
Also worth stopping while you’re on the Fleurieu Peninsula at Victor Harbour – take a horse drawn tram over the causeway to Granite Island. Whale watching season to is June to October where southern right whales can be seen as close as 100m away. Sadly, the Fairy Penguin colony that called these island home is all but extinct, no night tours until further notice – Carrie, Flying with a Baby
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Western Australian Wildlife
Australia’s biggest state, of course, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to wildlife. With its huge expanse of coastline, there’s plenty to see both on and off shore. We’ll cover from bottom to top.
Whale Spotting in Western Australia
Seasons vary along the coast; Free to watch from the coast or organised boat tours at charge
The migratory path from the cold waters of Antarctic and the Southern Ocean up to the Indian Ocean that hugs the Western Australian coast makes this coastline prime whale-spotting territory.
Humpback & Southern Right whales can be spotted off the south-west corner of Western Australia from late May through August, Flinders Bay near Augusta being a prime spot. From September to early December catch them in Geographe Bay and up the west coast, past Perth, before they return to the Southern Ocean in the summer for feeding.
The rare Blue Whale may occasionally be spotted to along with other marine life such as dolphins, seals and many species of seabirds. Although there are numerous paid tours to get out close with whale watching, there are plenty of opportunities for land sightings too which can keep the kids entertained for hours!
Unique to Bremer Bay is the Bremer Canyon which due to a natural phenome deep beneath the seabed, attracts Killer Whales (Ocra’s) from late January to late March. As well as catching sight of the largest known pod of Killer Whales in the Southern Hemisphere, you can also spot sharks, giant squid, sperm whales. Although children can go out on a whale watching tour, the general advice we have been given is to wait until they are at least 10 years old, or once you know they have their sea legs as you will travel quite far out into the ocean and there’s no turning back!
Where else can I see whales in Australia
Both whale and dolphin spotting is possible from most parts of Australia at various times of the year. This guide by the Department of Environment and Energy tells you popular watching spots by state, along with safety precautions to be observed and pages where you can get regular updates on daily sightings. See also in this article Hervey Bay
Denmark Animal Farm, Denmark
Distance from Perth: 420kms south – 4 hours 30 mins by car
Opening Hours: Daily 10am to 4pm (Closed 24/25 December); Entry charge (Under 3’s free)
Baby lambs, piglets to pet, alpacas to feed, rabbits to cuddle; as well as kangaroos and a resident koala – the Denmark Animal Farm has everything you would expect of a small family run farm. Mention Denmark …and our 6-year-old daughter immediately glows and asks to visit the animals. Without a doubt, this is one of her favourite places in the whole world; and it’s largely because it’s small, the animals are friendly and happy to be handled.
Most of all you get to participate in plenty of feeding – lambs with bottles, alpacas, baby chickens and more… Call ahead for animal feeding times. The first time we visited the parents were underwhelmed by the simplicity of the animal farm – but it’s perfect for young kids who just want to pet and play! On the other hand, parents will fully appreciate the amazing array of wineries along Scotsdale Road including Rickety Gate and Rockcliffe which can be combined with a visit to the Denmark Animal Farm.
Ariana from World of Travels with Kids
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Uralla Wildlife Sanctuary
Distance from Perth: 355kms south-east – 4 hours 20-minute drive
Opening Hours: 24 hours but visitors welcomed during daylight hours; Entry FREE
There’s nothing overly fancy here but this is the real deal if the kids want to get interactive and help at a real action kangaroo rescue centre. Set up by good Samaritans John & Mandy English back in 2000, they have now upsized property and employee a regular cycle of volunteers from around the world to come and help on their property in remote Perillup, Western Australia.
Mostly Western Greys but a few other species too. The majority are either road accident victims or their mums are killed and the joeys rescued from the pouches. Volunteers are needed to help with round the clock feeding and maintenance of the property. As well as rescuing and rehabilitating ‘roos, they have an ever changing range of local and domestic rescue animals including at our last visit dingos, kookaburras, a wombat.
Whilst entry is completely free, donations are suggested. This could be in the way of blankets, old t-shirts to make bedding and slings for the injured joeys’, or a cash donation in their tin. We’ve never felt forced to donate but seeing the smiles on their faces every year as they walk away we always do. We also “adopted” one of the roos through their adoption sponsorship program (great way to keep your Aussie animal connection), though our adoptee, Zoey has now been released to the wild so we are on the look out for who our next joey will be!!
Keri from Our Globetrotters –Read more on Uralla
Hamelin Bay Stingrays
Distance from Perth: 310 kms south west – 3 hours 40 minutes drive
Often misunderstood to be dangerous animals, stingrays are docile and curious creatures. At Hamelin Bay, in the south-western area of Western Australia, a friendly family of stingrays have been visiting the shore for years, attracted by fishing debris left from fishing boats that use the ramp.
While the stingrays are unlikely to harm humans, remember they are wild animals, protected by law, and are best observed from a distance. If you’re swimming or paddling in the water it’s likely a stingray will approach you for a closer look – stand still and you might feel one rub up against your legs.
Christine from Adventure Baby – Meet the Hamelin Bay Stingrays
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Quokkas of Rottnest Island
Distance from Perth: 31kms – 90 minutes by ferry; 25 minutes from Fremantle terminals
Opening Hours: 24 hours; Wildlife Free
The gorgeous quokkas are the star attractions on Rottnest Island, a small island off the coast of Perth in Western Australia. About the size of a domestic cat, these marsupials are wild but are also curious and unafraid of humans. Quokkas can be found all over the island and while it’s tempting to give one a pat, they are wild animals and for both their protection and ours, visitors must refrain from touching or feeding them. A selfie, however, is a must if you can manage it!
Christine from Adventure Baby – Guide to Rottnest Island
The most popular way to get around the island is by bike which can be taken with you on the ferry or hired on the island. A tourist bus also operates helping passengers to overnight accommodation which varies from camping to premium lodges and a hotel. Book early for peak seasons, especially WA school holidays.
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Monkey Mia & Shark Bay
Distance from Perth: 850kms – 9 hours 15-minute drive
Opening Hours: Daily 7.30am to 3.30pm 24 hours but visitors welcomed during daylight hours; Parks & Wildlife Fee (under 6’s free)
I still hold incredibly fond memories from my own childhood of meeting my first dolphin. Under the careful instruction of park rangers, visitors can stand up close to bottlenose dolphins in the shallow waters. The dolphins started frequenting the area from the 1960’s, looking for fisherman’s scraps before becoming known as a tourist attraction in themselves. Over the decades though it was clear the dolphins were becoming overfeed and suffering from their domesticated ways. Park rangers now ensure only a small handful of fish are given out at three feeding slots a day to encourage the dolphins to continue foraging for their own food. There is the RAC Monkey Mia resort only meters away from the daily feeding area offering a range of accommodation to suit different budgets, however, most visitors stay in the slightly larger town of Denham 25kms away. Shark Bay is otherwise a very remote peninsula of Western Australia, the most westerly point of the country and the first part of Australia discovered by Europeans.
Keri from Our Globetrotters
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Ningaloo Reef, Coral Bay
Distance from Perth: 1,200kms north – 14 hours 35-minute drive
Opening Hours: Daylight Cost: Free, tours extra
One of Australia’s true hidden gems. The sleepy seaside town of Coral Bay is home to world heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef – a 260km long coral reef where you will find turtles, tropical fish, manta rays – even whale sharks. Whilst the hot, dry coral coast of Western Australia is perfect for year-round beachgoers, many of the marine animals are seasonal so plan your travels if there’s a particular experience you are after.
Some are happy to snorkel from the shores or take a glass bottom eco boat out on to the bay, while the brave may want to head out and swim with the gracefully beautiful Manta Rays. Some measuring up to 5m wide this is a truly unique experience.
Year round marine life lives You can expect to see Whale Sharks during March to June; from June to October you will catch the migration of humpbacked whales from the tropics to Antarctica, and November to February is the turtle nesting season.
The area is heavily protected from further development so you will only find 3 choices on accommodation nearby, most visitors will base themselves in the next large regional centre Exmouth. Given the distance to any international airport, this is truly one of the most remote and serene places in Australia to experience marine life and pure relaxation.
Keri from Our Globetrotters
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Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, Broome
Distance from Perth: 2,300kms – 24 hours to drive; Fly 2 hours 30 minutes
Opening Hours: 2pm to 5pm Daily (closed 25 December): Entry charge (under 5’s free)
Founded by Malcolm Douglas, one of Australia’s most famous Bushmen and filmmakers, he originally set up a wilderness reserve on his property near Broome as an animal refuge and to protect endangered species. Upon his death in 2010, the Douglas Family relocated to much larger grounds on the outskirts of Broome to continue his conservation efforts.
Whilst most famous for their huge saltwater crocodiles, the wilderness park includes emus, a cassowary, kangaroos, euros and wallabies, as well as snakes and lizards.
The park is only open to visitors in the afternoon where the crowd is broken into smaller groups to be shown around the park at feeding time, you are then free to explore the grounds and grab an ice cream before closing time – perfect amount of time to cover the grounds.
Keri from Our Globetrotters
Another popular attraction in Broome is camel rides along Cable Beach. Several tour companies are permitted to operate from the northern half of the beach providing this iconic experience
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Northern Territory Wildlife
Probably best known for images of Ayers Rock and red sandy deserts, there’s still plenty to do around the capital Darwin, and of course the famous Kakadu National Park. Best visited during the cooler dry season – this is also the time of year that waterholes are clear from crocs so you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises on encountering crocs in the wild!
Adelaide River Jumping Crocs, Darwin
Distance from Darwin: 64kms south east – minutes by car
Opening Hours: Dry season, various tours & charges
Adelaide River in the Northern Territory is one place you don’t want to be sailing down without an organised tour! From the comfort of your river cruise vessel, a serene journey down the river your guides will slowly start pointing out the beady eyes watching you from the banks. Some croc measures up to 6m long.
Staff dangle meat for the crocs to jump into action and you won’t disappointed! (Those with a very weak disposition may want to remain on shore). There are various different companies running the cruises with different sized vessels to suit your level of comfort with the crocs getting up close and personal.
Keri from Our Globetrotters
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You can’t get much more diverse in climates and variety of wildlife than Queensland. From Brisbane and the Gold Coast in the south to Cairns, Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef in the north, Queensland packs one of the most powerful punches in the world for animal action. Have we saved the best for last?
Distance from Brisbane: 75km North – 1 hour 15-minute drive
Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm Daily; Entry Charge (Under 3’s Free)
Famously known as the ‘Home of the Crocodile Hunter’. Australia Zoo is a popular tourist destination located on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Set on over 100 acres, Australia Zoo is home to over 1200 animals, and offers a plethora experiences, shows and animal encounters.
Walk through the open, spacious grounds of the zoo, seeing many Australian native animals in their natural habitats. Pat or even hold a koala, feed a kangaroo or waddle around with a wombat! The live wildlife shows are a must see – entertaining and educational.
The wildlife warriors in the Crocosseum are a favourite amongst children and adults alike, interacting with the crowd as they feed and play with some huge, ravenous crocodiles.
Aside from all of the Australian animals, the zoo is also home to many animals from Africa and South East Asia, including rhinos and the only giraffes and zebras in Queensland. In school holidays the ‘zookeeper for a day’ program allows kids to get up close and personal with the different animals of the zoo. Our kids rate Australia Zoo as one of the best they have ever visited!
Erin from Seven Wanderers – Top Tips for Visiting Australia Zoo
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast
Distance from Brisbane: 95 kms south – 1 hour 10 mins drive
Opening Hours: Daily 8am to 5pm (closed 25 April, 25 December); Entry Charge (Under 4’s free)
With a diverse range of wildlife, one of our favourite things was being able to get up and personal with kangaroos and wallabies, walking amongst them in a paddock and hand-feeding them. We even got to see some tiny joeys in their mother’s pouch. Our kids have always wanted to see a koala, and there were so many of them in the koala enclosure, sleepily munching away on eucalyptus leaves. For an additional charge (see link below), you can even cuddle one and have your photo taken with them.
The Free-Flight Bird show was really special, we learned a lot about some of Australia’s most beautiful and endangered birds, and got to watch these majestic creatures flying. We also loved learning about the saltwater crocodiles, and watching ‘Boss Hogg’, an almost five-metre long, 800kg crocodile being fed was definitely a highlight!
The park is quite spread out, but it’s easy for families to get around as a miniature train runs across the sanctuary. Our kids even got to wave to Blinky Bill on the way past!
Kylie from Our Overseas Adventures
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Distance from Brisbane: 55kms south – 50 minutes
Opening Hours: Daily 9am-5pm (Closed 25 April, 25 December); Entry Charge
The Gold Coast is renowned for its beaches, shopping, dining and theme parks, but did you know that one of these theme parks could get you up close and personal with a large array of wildlife? At Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, there are koalas and snakes to cuddle, crocodiles to feed, kangaroos to pat, dingoes to encounter, and even tigers to admire. And that’s just to start with.
Dreamworld packs an awful lot into one theme park, with big thrill rides, family rides including Dreamworks Experience and Wiggles World, a huge waterpark, Tiger Island and Corroboree. Corroboree is where a wide variety of Australia’s wildlife is on show. This attraction provides great interactive experiences for families celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, culture and wildlife. It’s also where you can get to see sheep shearing. Dreamworld is a fun full day out.
We arrived at opening and left at closing and weren’t even close to seeing everything. The big thing we love about Dreamworld is that it provides a great variety of activities that will keep everyone from the toddler to the teenager, plus the all-important adults happy.
Nicci from Travel with Boys
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Tin Can Bay
Distance from Brisbane: 220kms North – 3-hour drive
Small feeding donation
Seeing dolphins in the wild is an amazing and exciting experience for any child, so imagine how incredible it would be for them to actually be able to feed one as well! At Tin Can Bay, a small fishing town in Southern Queensland, you’re able to do just that!
At Barnacles Dolphin Centre, under the watchful eye of caring volunteers, you can hand feed beautiful, wild Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins. For over 30 years these gentle creatures have been coming to the centre every morning to interact with the volunteers and be fed fresh fish.
Before feeding begins, visitors are encouraged to stand at the water’s edge and watch the dolphins swimming around and playing, while being told all about the highly endangered creatures. Then, for a small charge/donation, you can purchase a fish which you then bring with you in to the water and feed to one of the dolphins. An absolutely amazing and memorable experience!
Erin from Seven Wanderers – Feeding Dolphins at Tin Can Bay
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The Great Barrier Reef
Could there be a more spectacular and unique natural wildlife experience in Australia than visiting the Great Barrier Reef? We don’t think so. The world’s largest coral reef is home to extraordinary marine life, over 3000 individual reef systems, and hundreds of picture perfect tropical islands. The trouble is it’s hard to decide what part of the reef to explore.
We’ve recently returned from a trip to Port Douglas where we ticked a number of things off our bucket list including snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and discovering the world’s oldest rainforest, the Daintree. We got up close to hundreds of fish, sea creatures, giant clams, coral, a turtle and even a barracuda. It’s an experience we will never forget.
One of the best places for first time visitors is Agincourt Reef which gives you the best of both worlds in terms of being able to experience the incredible outer reef, while still having a few comforts. We chose to go with Quicksilver Cruises who have their own pontoon on the reef, which is great with children, as it provides safety and ease of getting in and out of the water, while showing you some of the best the reef has to offer.
If you have children under five, we would recommend looking at visiting one of the islands instead.
Nicci from Travel with Boys – How to visit the Great Barrier Reef with kids
Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef
Accessible only by light aircraft from Brisbane 80 minutes; Bundaberg 30 minutes, Hervey Bay 40 minutes
One of our favourite adventures in Australia is a visit to Lady Elliot Island – the southern-most reef and island in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It’s a beautiful, protected coral cay with over 1200 species of marine life in its waters. Its conservation and education programs are perfect for kids to absorb in the evenings after coming face-to-face with marine life in the wild during the day.
One of the reasons I love visiting with my daughter Emmie is because the lagoon at high tide is full of friendly turtles – who often swim over for a back scratch – and the open water on the other side of the island is fabulous for diving and snorkelling. We’ve seen sharks and swam along feeding lines of manta rays, only metres away as they glided through the water, scooping up plankton with huge open mouths.
Lady Elliot is also a popular breeding ground for loggerhead and green turtles and if you’re lucky you’ll see some lovely ladies laying eggs or hatchlings erupting from their sandy nest. Education is so important on the island, and movies and talks are given every night on marine issues like shark conservation and plastic pollution. Kids learn so much from the young marine biologists who talk about their passions and lead the snorkel safaris out on the reef or in open water.
Evie from Mum Pack Travel – Magic of Lady Elliot Island
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Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Fitzroy Island
Distance from Brisbane: 1375kms North. Fly to Cairns & take a ferry
Opening Hours: Daily tour 2pm; Entry Charge
The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven sea turtle species. Unfortunately, many turtles become sick and injured from ingesting and becoming entangled in plastics in the ocean. The Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre rescues and cares for these turtles and re-releases them back into the wild. They are also involved in research and educating the public about the risks to these magnificent creatures.
If you are in Cairns and visiting Fitzroy Island on a day trip or as an overnight guest, you can visit the Rehabilitation Centre. Sign up at the General Store for the daily 2pm information centre and tour. Tours cost $8/adults, $5/children and all proceeds go towards supporting the Rehabilitation Centre, which does not receive any government funding. A volunteer will explain the organisation, the challenges for turtles in our oceans and you will visit the small rehab centre on the island.
When we were there we were able to see one of the injured turtles up close and a few of the others in tanks further away. Since these turtles will be re-released into the wild, the When we were there we were able to see one of the injured turtles up close and a few of the others in tanks further away. Since these turtles will be re-released into the wild, the organisation tries to minimize human contact. Our kids loved seeing a sea turtle up close, hearing stories of rescued turtles and learning what they can do to help protect sea turtles.
Dawn from 5 Lost Together – Day Trip to Fitzroy Island
Distance from Brisbane: 286kms north – 3 hours 30 minutes drive
The season runs from late July to November. Watch from the coast for free or tours (charge)
Often referred to as the ‘whale watching capital of the world’ Hervey Bay, a coastal city in Southern Queensland, is home to some of the best up close and personal whale watching experiences you can have. Every year, from late July right through until November, humpback whales make their way to Antarctica after spending time in the warm waters of the tropics calving.
During this migration, they pass right through the pristine and calm waters of Hervey Bay, where tourists flock to see these majestic creatures up close. Many whale watching tours operate out of Hervey Bay. One of the longest running and most reputable is Tasman Venture and with an experienced and knowledgeable crew, they offer unforgettable up-close encounters.
Over the years the whales have become so comfortable with the boats, that they happily come within metres of them, putting on spectacular displays of breaching and tail flapping. They often have their calves with them, which in itself is an incredible sight for kids to see up close. Some boats even come equipped with sound systems which pick up the incredible sounds of the whales ‘singing’ as well as glass bottom viewing areas where kids can sit and watch the whales passing right under the boat. Truly a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, and one that our kids still talk about to this day!
Erin from Seven Wanderers – Full Humpback Whale Watching Encounter
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Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas
Distance from Brisbane: 1,747km – 19 hours drive 1,200kms north – 14 hours 35-minute drive
Flights from Brisbane to Cairns 2 hours 10 minutes; From Sydney 3 hours 10 minutes
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm Daily (Closed 25 December); Entry charge (Free under 4)
Wildlife Habitat is just on the outskirts of Port Douglas and is a real highlight for kids visiting Tropical North Queensland. This immersive wildlife experience puts you right in amongst the action – walking amongst flying birds, feeding kangaroos and wallabies and even cuddling a koala.
A fun way to start the day is to get there early for Breakfast with the Birds – a tropical breakfast buffet in amongst the cacophony of sounds and colours of the birds as they fly and roam around you.
If you’re not an early riser then you can opt for Lunch with the Lorikeets or a Picnic with the Parrots instead. WildNight tours also operate, although not recommended for under 5’s.
Marianne from Mum on the Move – Full Guide to Port Douglas with Kids
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Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, Port Douglas
Getting There: As above!
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm Daily (Closed 25 December); Entry charge (Under 4’s free)
The excellent Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is a 40-minute drive north of Cairns. Set on the site of a commercial crocodile farm, there is plenty of croc-related fun to be had here. You can take a tour of the crocodile farm and stroke a baby croc, enjoy a boat cruise on Hartley’s Lagoon to see the crocodile feeding in action, and be amazed by the Crocodile Attack Show, where one of the park rangers takes on a large Saltie!
But it’s not just about crocodiles at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, make sure you also check out the Gondwana Gateway, where the kids can pet and feed kangaroos and wallabies. You can even pose for a photo with a snake round your neck.
Marianne from Mum on the Move – Full Guide to Port Douglas with Kids
While in Tropical North Queensland, the other thing not to miss is the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Taking visitors from Cairns to Kuranda through the Wet Tropics, a World-Heritage Listed rainforest. You’ll pass by spectacular waterfalls to gorges and of course thousands of species of fauna & flora beneath you.
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Rounding up our best Australian animal encounters
As you can see, pretty much wherever you head in Australia you are bound to come close to our wildlife! We have mostly discussed paid-for experiences, but there are a vast number of National Parks, State Parks, Conservation Reserves and protected areas where you can enjoy for free or minimal cost all Australia has to offer for nature lovers.
A huge thanks to all the families who opened up their photo albums (and their own childhood memories!) to help us collate this unforgettable list of Australian Animal Encounters that kids will love. I hope we have inspired you to see more of Australia – don’t forget to bookmark this page in your favourites and come back to it when you’re planning your next trip Downunder.
Do you have a favourite? Any Australian animal encounters you think we may have missed?
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Disclosures: We are affiliates for “Get Your Guide” ticketing agent. If you purchase your tickets to any of the attractions mentioned through the links on this page it may earn us a small commission which we use to keep the website running as a free resource for all parents. There are also affiliate links for other hotel and tourism services. Our full disclosure policy can be found here. Information provided here is correct as at June 2017. (C) Our Globetrotters. All Images (c) to the mentioned contributor.