One of the most incredible things about visiting Australia is the unique and fascinating (and sometimes terrifying) animals that exists only on that continent. When we visited Australia, rarely a day went by when we didn't encounter native Australian animals, either in a zoo, a wildlife park, or sometimes, in the wild. Australia has plenty of opportunities to learn about, and in some cases, interact (meaning feed, pet and/or cuddle) with marsupials, monotremes, and the other incredible and fascinating native animals.
In Sydney, even a quick walk through Royal Botanic Gardens will surprise you with flying foxes (gigantic, enormous bats) and wild cockatoos (ever wondered where they live in the wild? The answer is Australia.) But across the bay, Taronga Zoo has more than 300 species, including a pretty broad range of Australian animals. It's a short ferry ride from the Sydney Opera House, so, you'll have a terrific little harbor cruise on your way. Once you're there, your experience will pretty much be a traditional zoo experience. Australian animals aren't the only ones you'll see. In fact, of all of the animals on display, I was most fascinated by the komodo dragons. They were like little sluggish dinosaurs just loping around in their enclosure! Taronga Zoo was also our best chance to actually lay eyes on a platypus, but apparently, they're shy. We tried to wait it out, but eventually we moved on to other animals.
In Sydney, itself, you'll find the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo and the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. They're right next to each other at Darling Harbor, and you can buy a combo ticket to see both. Both focus exclusively on Australian wildlife and sealife, so you won't find gorillas and chimpanzees. But it's really worthwhile, to get a sense of how extraordinary the native animals are. We went to this zoo and aquarium before venturing to the outback, so I was somewhat terrified when I learned ithat Australia has four or five of the most deadly venomous snakes (when a snake is called the "Death Adder," that's no joke), and a lot of the top-ten most venomous spiders. The aquarium has a walk-through exhibit where you're surrounded by sharks swiming all around you. The zoo has a rooftop koala exhibit and a walk-through kangaroo enclosure. If you're not leaving Sydney, these two places are probably the most convenient and comprehensive places to experience the full range of Australian wildlife and sea life.
If you're exploring Australia outside of Sydney (and you really should), an easy excursion from Sydney is a trip to the Blue Mountains, which will put you right near Featherdale Wildlife Park. At Featherdale, you can have an up-close and personal interaction with more than 1,700 animals from nearly 300 Australian species. And when I say up-close and personal, imagine feeding kangaroos and wallabies out of your hands. Yep. They'll come right up to you for kibble. Imagine standing eye-to-eye with an emu. Yeah, that happened, too. (Note: I did not get pecked. They look like they might peck. But I didn't get pecked. It was still kinda freaky.) You can also give a koala some pets and scritches.
Ferndale was also where I first saw and fell in love with wombats. I don't think I'd ever seen a wombat in person, before,, and even though they warn you that the wombats might be inclined to bite, I could not restrain myself from reaching into the enclosure to scratch the little guy.
I would like to get a pet wombat, but David won't let me. I would feed him and take him on walks and name him "Bitey."
Australia is about the size of the continental United States, so don't make the mistake of thinking you can spend a day to "drive around the island." You can't do that. You can and should, however, fly to the middle of the continent to spend some time in the outback, where you can see dingos and camels, in the wild. The camels aren't native to Australia, but about a hundred years ago, some farmers (who now had motorized vehicles), released their camels into the wild, and a population of feral camels took hold. I didn't manage to get any good photos of the camels I saw, but if you drive around the area of Uluru and Kings Canyon, you'll likely see them.
If you're staying in Uluru, make sure you get up early to see the sun rise over the sandstone monolith. You'll also encounter a pack of dingos, who've learned that humans bearing food will likely show up in the morning in that particular place. Dingos come in lots of shades and colors--something I didn't know before seeing them in the wild. You'll be on a deck, and they'll keep their distance, for the most part, but hang on to your babies, just the same.
The rules about whether you're allowed to touch, or better yet hold a koala vary from state-to-state in Australia. A visit to Queensland is necessary, if you hope to actually have a chance to cuddle with a koala. It used to be possible to cuddle a koala (or hold a baby crocodile) at the Cairns Tropical Zoo. But that facility closed down in early 2016, and most of the animals were relocated. There are other wildlife parks near Cairns and Port Douglas where you can cuddle koalas, like the Kuranda Koala Gardens.
Queensland is also your point of departure for the Great Barrier Reef. There are no shortage of companies that will take you out for a scuba or snorkling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Plan your excursion carefully, because you'll see more fish more easily when it's a bright, sunny day. It was somewhat overcast when we went, and as a result, we didn't get the best photos. But the Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world, for sure. Make sure you see it before it dies off!
We visited many wildlife parks and zoos on our last trip to Australia, but the unparalleled variety of species native to that continent pretty much makes that a 'must do' experience, when planning a visit "down under."
If you're planning a trip to Australia and want to make certain that you get up close and personal with the native fauna, Huckleberry Travel can help. Send us a note to start planning your amazing vacation to Australia!