Sydney is a bustling urban metropolis, but if you think our concrete jungle has little to offer in the way of animal inhabitants, you'd be wrong. There’s many a stable, sanctuary, zoo and harbour beach where wildlife from around the globe thrives.
Aside from native fauna roaming free in their natural habitats, there are plenty of more exotic creatures you can encounter at one of Sydney's fine animal attractions, from those critters you can meet in the flesh, to those you're better off admiring from afar.
Need more animal energy in your life? Check out Sydney’s best dog beaches and these adorable critters that you’ll meet on your next Blue Mountains getaway.
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Animal encounters in Sydney
Who do you meet? Everyone from Mr Giraffe to Mrs Andean Condor.
While Taronga has transferred its corporate focus from entertainment to environmental conservation, it has also perfected the zoo experience for animal lovers in more than 100 years of operation. Watch shows where seals snap up fish or condors take flight, feed penguins and giraffes at animal meet-and-greets, or navigate a ropes course above the habitats. For the remainder of your visit, follow meandering pathways to animal enclosures looking out at the city skyline.
Who do you meet? Wildlife from both near and far, from lions, tigers and elephants, to wombats, wallabies and koalas.
Sydney's first new zoo in a century may be a 35km journey from the CBD, out by Bungarribee, but the state-of-the-art enclosures, carefully considered park design and sheer range of wildlife make it well worth the trip. Its innovative layout whisks visitors on a round-the-world journey on an intuitive circuit of paths, leading you through the familiar outback of Australia via the waters of the world’s rivers, deltas and shallow seas, before heading on to explore the jungles of South East Asia, and finally, the great plains of Africa.
Who do you meet? The crawlers, jumpers, flyers and slitherers of the Australian animal family.
When it comes to cute native critters, the team at Featherdale have the cuddly, enchanting goods. The Western Sydney centre will introduce you to rare and endangered Aussie species like bilbies and Tasmanian devils, as well as more commonly encountered fellas like kangaroos and kookaburras. We know you’re dying for a pat, so make the most of the hands-on experiences here: cuddle a possum, chill with a dingo, chat with a baby croc or hang with a koala.
Who do you meet? A whole world of sea life under the waves.
Shelly Beach might be a favourite for sunbathers looking for a more secluded stretch of sand in Manly, but the calm waters are also part of an aquatic reserve, so it’s teeming with marine wildlife. You’ll be spotting Blue Gropers and the occasional wobbegong or dolphin as you snorkel or scuba dive in the bay. On dry land, wave to a sunbaking water dragon and try not to startle the brush turkeys who will be your constant companions as you walk from Shelly Beach around Cabbage Tree Bay.
Who do you meet? Koalas, of course, but also some of their bush mates and barnyard friends.
When they’re not napping, you’ll be able to see Blinky Bill look-a-likes at koala shows throughout the day. While these gumleaf-loving floofs are clearly the stars, the sanctuary also houses echidnas, emus and other native birds, plus a mob of roos who are happy to have you join their ranks. To mix it up, there’s also visiting lambs to cuddle and even a sheep-shearing show. You can see the ten acres of lush Pennant Hills rainforest on partially guided tours, or amble down the leafy paths solo.
Who do you meet? The cast of Finding Nemo, basically.
If you reckon it’s better where it’s wetter, the obvious choice is the aquarium. The tunnels of this Darling Harbour wet-weather excursion favourite transport you under the waves, where you’ll meet colourful aquatic fish, not-so-scary-after-all sharks, curios cephalopods, wise turtles and even a couple of placid dugongs. The colony of fairy penguins are charming, and you can learn more about them and other residents at the feeding time talks, plus other specialised experiences like the shark dive and the penguin expedition boat ride.
Who do you meet? Whales on their annual migration.
The best time to spot these majestic creatures off Cape Solander, in Kamay Botany Bay National Park, is when they’re heading south with their new calves to feed in Antarctic waters from May to August. This popular whale watching haunt named after botanist Daniel Solander includes an unbeatable lookout and is a good starting point for a walk through the park. Information on whales can be found near the lookout, and you may glimpse a humpback just 200m from the coast. Also keep an eye out for rarer sea giants like orcas and minke whales.
Who do you meet? Moos, baahs, oinks, neighs and quacks.
While it was once solely a working farmstead, the Abbotsbury venue now also showcases a rural lifestyle less than an hour’s drive from Sydney CBD. You’ll be meeting the most adorable farmhands, from lambs to cattle dogs, peacocks, ponies and even the occasional koala. Daily shows demonstrate the uncanny ability of working dogs to bend sheep to their will, as well as the arts of shearing sheep, using a stockwhip and milking cows. Koalas make an appearance at the 2pm talks, and the animals are prepared for patting at 10.30am and 3pm.
Who do you meet? Australia’s feathered and furred faves.
Did you know Australia has a big five? Wild Life Sydney Zoo reckons we do: kangaroos, crocodiles, koalas, wombats and platypuses. They may not be as ferocious as South Africa’s list, but they’re pretty adorbs (mostly), and you’ll meet them all at this harbourside zoo. There are talks and feeding sessions where you’ll become an expert in Tasmanian devils, cassowaries and lorikeets. Then, pretend you're a fairy in the butterfly enclosure, be transported to tropical Queensland at the Daintree exhibit or spy nocturnal creatures in the nightfall habitat.
Who do you meet? The littlest, fluffiest farm animals.
Spend hours cooing over a barnyard of baby animals – chicks, lambs, calfs, kids, ducklings and rabbits, you name it. The almost too adorable experiences at Golden Ridge Animal Farm are largely aimed at human children wanting to learn about the 500 furry and feathered farm residents, but grown-ups can tag along too. You’ll be visiting in the morning (there’s sweatier farm work to be done after lunch) to cuddle the smaller members of the farm family, milk cows, meet the bigger herds and bottle feed lambs and baby goats.