Seeing native animals in Sydney especially kangaroos and koalas is on the top of most visitor’s lists when planning their trip to Australia and Sydney provides quite a few opportunities to see our Aussie wildlife including wombats, kangaroos, koalas and platypus up close.
Updated: 15 October 2019
Through my work with international students, I seemed to find myself visiting animal parks several times a year. So read on and discover how you can meet some of the cutest locals.
- Where to find native animals in Sydney
- Animal Parks in Sydney
- Where to see animals in their natural habitat
- Where to see Australian animals in Sydney- in my opinion
Where to find native animals in Sydney
Do you want to
- Have your photo taken with a Koala?
- Hand-feed a kangaroo?
- See animals in the wild?
- Sleep in a zoo and wake up and help feed the animals?
- Choose the best experience for small kids?
- Best options for budget travellers?
- Trying to choose between Wildlife Sydney vs Taronga zoo
Well, let’s work out the best choice for you.
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Animal Parks in Sydney
Taronga Zoo – The zoo with a view.
Taronga is an indigenous word that means beautiful view, and the zoo certainly offers that, with great views of the city, well-designed enclosures and a broad range of animals to see. Opened in 1916, it has seen plenty of renovation in the last few years with the new tiger trek being the most recent addition.
The zoo sits on a hill overlooking the city and is home to over 4000 animals and 350 different species. You can easily spend a whole day here, and there are some beautiful picnic spots but if your time is limited 3-4 hours would get you around, possibly less if you stick with just the Australian animal zones.
Daily shows at Taronga:
- The Bird Show – One of the favourites is the bird show, it’s got the best location overlooking Sydney Harbour, and it’s an entertaining show.
- The Seal show – A relatively standard seal performance but lots of fun if you have not seen one before. It’s popular so arrive at the area early if you want a seat.
- Koala encounters – These cost extra, but they do give you the opportunity to get up close to the koalas and spend 15 mins observing them and snapping away with your camera. You are in a small group, so if getting the perfect koala photo is important to you I would get to the zoo early to book your spot as these are limited and book out early each day. These can only be reserved in person.
They also have unique offerings like the Autism Services where they open the zoo early and provide extra support for kids with Autism to enjoy their Taronga experience.
The zoo also offers several behind the scenes tours and VIP tours. Including the Wild Australia Tour. This two-hour zoo keeper tour will get you up close to many of our countries cutest creatures including wombats, bilbies, sugar gliders, and of course Kangaroos and Koalas. You also get to tour areas that are not open to the public. I highly recommend this tour for anyone want to learn more about Australian animals.
If you want to try something special you can spend the night glamping Roar and Snore program.
You get to help with the morning feeding and have the zoo to yourself before it opens to the public. These packages sell for between $300-335 for adults depending on the season.
If you are short of time or want to avoid crowds, they have a great 90-minute private tour
For anyone travelling with children, this free Taronga Zoo app is worth downloading. There is also a wild rope climbing experience and a brand new tiger trek. While it can seem an expensive day out with entry about $46 for adults and $26 for kids, there is a lot to see and do, and you can easily spend a full day here.
Fellow writer LC from Birdgehls has written an excellent post on How to have a ripper day at Taronga Zoo and gives lots of great advice.
- BYO food, what’s on offer is pricey and not that interesting.
- Register on the website for your $1 birthday ticket if you would like to spend your birthday at the zoo.
- Buy your ticket in advance so you can use the sky chair ride from the wharf. You cannot buy tickets on arrival and must go to the top entry via bus or entry via the bottom and walk uphill to the main zoo area.
When: Every day except Xmas Day from 9.30am-4pm (winter) or 5pm (summer)
Where: Bradley’s Head in Mosman
Why: Iconic views, great new enclosures and lots of animal talks and shows.
How: Ferry from Circular Quay – every 30 mins.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
I love Featherdale, for getting up close to native wildlife. It is better than Taronga Zoo if you are just keen to see Australian animals. There are over 1700 animals here from 250 species including the most extensive collection of koalas in NSW.
The park is not huge, but all the big names are here, kangaroos, koalas, quokkas, quolls, bilbies, wombats, crocodiles and frilled neck lizards.
Emus, wallabies and Kangaroos roam free in 3 walk-in enclosures but have zones they can go back to if the visitors start to annoy them.
Featherdale is also one of the few places where you can get your photo taken with a koala using your camera free of charge.
If you feel the need to pat a koala, you can pay extra for a one on one koala encounter that will allow you to pet the lower part of the animal, but you cannot touch the face or head. They do this because it is kinder to the animals. It is a statewide rule in NSW and one I fully support.
The 45 minute trip to Sydney’s western suburbs where Featherdale is hardly a scenic one, but the park itself is fantastic. Entry is $32 for adults and $17 for kids, making it cheaper than Taronga. You can buy your ticket here for $32 before you go.
Many tours to the Blue Mountains stop here so check that option if you are planning to take Blue Mountains day tour.
Local Tip: While this park is small you can easily spend half a day here as you don’t feel the need to rush around and there áre plenty of talks and activities throughout the day so check the event list when you arrive and plan your day around the events that most appeal.
Read this detailed review of a day at Featherdale for more great photos and details on planning your visit. We believe it’s the best option for close encounters with native Australian animals. It is also wheelchair and pram friendly.
When: 9am-5pm every day except Christmas Day (Summer 8am-6pm)
Where: 217-229 Kildare Road, Doonside
How: Take the train from Central or Town Hall to Blacktown, then either jump in a taxi or catch the Busway 725 bus No.725 from the station. It’s about a 10 minute trip to the station to the park.
Sea Life Aquarium Sydney
Sea Life is home to 13000 marine animals, including two dugongs, Pig and Wuru, who were rescued off the coast of Queensland there are only 5 in captivity in the world, and they are fantastic to see. The Aquarium has an excellent dugong website you can check out if you want to learn more about them.
Another highlight was the glass viewing tunnels where the water – and the fish – are all around you. The stingrays are my favourite, so graceful as they glide above you. I also really like the fairy penguins. There are regular talks including a shark feeding at 11 am every day.
The newest attraction, which I have not seen yet, is the Penguin expedition ride that allows you to get up close to King and Gentoo Penguins.
I have not visited many aquariums in other cities so I don’t have a lot to compare this with so you should know that upfront. If time or budget is tight then for me this is not a must-see site. If you are travelling with young kids or are hit with some wet days, it could be a good option, but I was a little underwhelmed.
Keep an eye on tourist brochures in your accommodation as there are often discount vouchers available for entry.
You might also like to consider the Merlin combo passes that provide admission to Wildlife Zoo and Sydney Tower as well. If you just want to visit Sea Life you can purchase a single ticket here.
When: open daily from 9 am to 6 pm
Where: Darling Harbour
Why: The kids will love it, penguins, sharks and dugongs – along with over 10 000 fish!
How: Right in the middle of Darling Harbour – You can’t miss it
I recently visited Wildlife Sydney for the first time in years, and I think it is best suited to people who don’t have time for a visit to Taronga or Featherdale. Being centrally located and if you are short on time and don’t want to miss seeing some Australian animals up close, it is a reasonable choice.
On the weekends they offer breakfast with the Koalas which is limited to 30 people so really gives you a chance some great photos. I watched this happening during my visit and it looked great.
One thing I enjoyed at Wildlife Sydney was the keeper talks. I listened to several of these and the keepers are all knowledgeable and passionate.
When: open daily from 9.30am to 5 pm
Where: Darling Harbour – right next to the aquarium.
Why: A visit here might not be my first choice if you have minimal time in Sydney or mobility problems it might be your best bet. It’s also great in bad weather.
How: Right in the middle of Darling Harbour – You can’t miss it
Tip: Get a combined ticket with one of the other Darling Harbour attractions for the best value. Don’t miss the platypus or cassowary as it is hard to see these two in the wild.
Travelling beyond Sydney? Check out this article on the best zoos around Australia
Symbio Wildlife Park
In many ways, Symbio is the southern suburbs version of Featherdale. It has a great collection of animals and is especially suitable for small children. Its location means it attracts less tourist and more local families, so it is often not as busy as Featherdale which is popular with Blue Mountains tour groups. If you have access to a car, this could be an excellent choice. Public transport is possible but check the timetables as the services are infrequent.
Guided tours that include the under the radar Royal National Park and Stanwell Tops and the stunning sea cliff bridge are also available
When: open daily from 9 am to 6 pm
Where: 7-11 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Helensburgh
Why: Symbio is a great family day out – perfect size for exploring with kids.
How: It’s a 45 min drive from the centre of the city or a train from Central to Helensburgh and then a short bus ride (bus goes hourly)
Tip: While you are in the area make sure you visit Stanwell Tops for dramatic clifftop views of the South Coast.
Where to see animals in their natural habitat
Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Park
A nice little walk from Manly Wharf, the cabbage Tree Aquatic reserve covers an area of approximately 20 hectares from the southern end of Manly Beach to the northern end of Shelly Beach Headland.
Make sure you check out this information brochure on the sculptures that line the path to Shelly beach.
The reserve usually attracts schools of small fish, and you can also spot groper. The area is staffed by volunteers on the weekends who are happy to answer questions. It’s an excellent spot for snorkelling or underwater photography with over 150 different species of fish recorded here at various times.
If you don’t fancy snorkelling alone or have not tried it before you could join a snorkelling tour.
When: Daylight hours but early morning is best
Where: Shelly Beach Manly
Why: Eco walk that is wheelchair and visually impaired friendly
How: Walk from Manly Beach around to Shelly Beach
Tip: Shelly Beach is a great spot to watch the sunset being the only west-facing beach along the coast of NSW. It is also a really shelter beach for kids.
Euroka Clearing is at Glenbrook, in the Lower Blue Mountains is a great place to get among the local wildlife. The area used to attract a large number of eastern grey kangaroos, but lately, these have been appearing in much smaller numbers, and sometimes you don’t see any at all.
The best time to see them is at dawn and dusk – this applies whenever you are looking for roos. There are 40 campsites at the clearing which is a very good idea as it’s easiest to observe the animals before anyone arrives.
Tip: Make a trip of it and do the walk to Red Hands Cave for some indigenous rock art.
These kangaroos are not like the ones in the zoo, you can not hand feed them, but they are used to people visiting the area so do not tend to scare too easily. Having said that stay away from the large males as they can get aggressive. The mothers are also very protective if there are small joeys in the group.
When: Early morning or dusk is best
Where: Blue Labyrinth NSW 2780 (part of the Blue Mountains National Park)
Why: Kookaburras, Cockatoos and Kangaroos in their natural habitat – and you can camp here too!
How: Best to drive to Euroka, it is approx 65km from the city. The nearest train station is at Glenbrook, and from here you would need to walk approx 5km.
Collins Beach is in Sydney Harbour National Park, a small sheltered beach that is home to a small colony of fairy penguins. Lately, the numbers have dropped so if you do see them please do not try to touch them or get too close.
The beach itself is beautiful and so secluded that you feel like you are miles away from anywhere that even without penguin sightings it’s worth a visit.
When: daylight hours
Where: Collins Beach Road Manly
Why: A beautiful small beach where you can see little fairy penguins
How: Bus from Manly
Visit the Sydney Harbour National Park website for more details.
So let’s answer those questions from the beginning,
Where to see Australian animals in Sydney- in my opinion
- Where to get your photo taken with a Koala? Featherdale
- Where to hand-feed a kangaroo? Featherdale
- Where to see animals in the wild? Euroka Clearing
- Where to sleep in a zoo and wake up and help feed the animals? Taronga
- Which is the best animal experience for small kids? Featherdale or Symbio
- What is the best way for budget travellers to see native animals in Sydney? Euroka, Shelly Beach or Featherdale
- Where to see Australian animals in bad weather? Sealife Sydney or Wildlife World
Trying to choose between Wildlife Sydney vs Taronga zoo?
It depends on the time and age/ability of the visitors. Wildlife Sydney is good for pram and wheelchair users or those with really limited time. For everyone else, the zoo would be my choice.
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