Australia’s native wildlife is one of the country’s biggest draw-cards for international and domestic visitors, but where are the best places to cuddle koalas, feed kangaroos and come face-to-face with the endangered Tasmanian devil? Start with this list of the top 10 zoos and nature reserves you can find in Australia.
Founded by Steve Irwin’s parents in 1970, the ‘Home of the Crocodile Hunter’ has been fronted by Steve’s wife Terri and kids Bob and Bindi since the great man’s tragic death in 2006. Australia Zoo continues the Croc Hunter’s legacy with more than 1,000 animals on 100 acres, an hour’s drive north of Brisbane in the Sunshine Coast hinterland — don’t miss the legendary live crocodile feeding show.
It’s hard to know what’s the bigger attraction for visitors to Sydney’s famous zoo: the collection of 4,000 animals to see, or the million-dollar views of Sydney Harbour and the city skyline. Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo to stroll around the lush waterfront grounds, including the newly opened jungle-themed ‘Tiger Trek’ where you can get up close and personal with the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger.
Head on an African safari on the outskirts of Melbourne with a guided off-road tour of the Werribee Open Range Zoo. These 225 hectares of wide open savannah are home to gorillas, lions, monkeys, cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, antelopes and all the other stunning creatures you’d expect to spot in the African wild, let alone just half an hour from the middle of Melbourne.
Australia’s oldest zoo is also one of the country’s best, loaded with exhibits just north of Melbourne’s city centre. We’re talking five Asian elephants, an orangutan sanctuary, butterfly greenhouse, lion gorge, reptile house, aviary, treetop canopy for apes and monkeys, spaces replicating the Australian Outback plus Asian and African rainforest conditions, as well as a $20-million ‘Wild Sea’ underwater display.
Australia’s ultimate ‘zoofari’ is waiting five hours’ west of Sydney at this five-kilometre circuit of New South Wales’ Great Western Plains, peppered with rare and endangered animals like giraffes, elephants, rhinos and big cats. Admission to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo includes two days to roam around, while you can also book a luxurious lodge on site to spend the night with the wildlife.
It’s illegal to actually hold koalas in Australia except in the states of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, so this Brisbane sanctuary is a super popular destination for those wanting to cuddle a koala. Lone Pine opened as a refuge for injured koalas in 1927 and now 130 of the furry little fellas reside here, as well as a catalogue of other Australian species including kangaroos, wallabies, platypuses, Tasmanian devils, dingos, echidnas and crocodiles.
If you think that the Central Australian desert is a barren wasteland of red dirt, a visit to the Alice Springs Desert Park will change your mind. This 1300-hectare slice of the Red Centre educates guests about the culture and science of the region’s vibrant landscapes, visiting native plants and animals in three distinct desert habitats: sand country, desert rivers and woodland.
The star of this nature reserve 90 minutes from Melbourne is the Penguin Parade, a viewing area at Summerland Beach that provides an intimate perspective of the Little Penguins as they waddle across the sand at sunset to return to their burrows after a day’s fishing at sea. Phillip Island Nature Park also includes an Antarctic museum and jet boat tours to Australia’s largest fur seal colony.
Perched above the South Australian capital in the bucolic Adelaide Hills, the Cleland Wildlife Park conserves 130 species of Australian wildlife in 25 hectares of beautiful bushland. Interact with the animals by hand-feeding a kangaroo, cuddling a koala and holding a reptile, or booking a spot on the park’s brand new tour, Breakfast with the Birds.
The idea of this revolutionary ‘unzoo’ is to be a zoo without cages, in a bid to save the endangered Tassie devil from extinction. The Unzoo contains four unfenced devil habitats that educate visitors about this rare marsupial, as well as paddocks for kangaroos, wallabies, native hens, bandicoots, possums and 100 bird species to roam free.