Top Wildlife Experiences in Australia for the Whole Family

Mar 25, 2019

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Australia is a holy-grail destination for many miles and points collectors and their families. It’s far away — so you’re getting great value for your loyalty currency (especially at the front of the plane) — and it’s a place that many people will only visit once and take away lasting memories.

The country is especially well-known for its wonderful and weird animals. But with many venomous and deadly snakes, spiders and sea creatures, parents could feel justifiably nervous about letting their kids run wild in the wild while traveling Down Under. Fortunately, there are many ways to learn about the amazing wildlife in controlled yet natural environments. We’ll talk about some of the best examples below but, first, here are some tips for getting to Australia:

Now, let’s dive into the places you can take your nature-minded kids when you get there.

Taronga Zoo Sydney, NSW

Sydney’s Taronga Zoo has one of the world’s most impressive urban zoo settings, with views of the city skyline including the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals belonging to 350 species. And it isn’t just about animals, there are high ropes courses too. Located in the suburb of Mosman, Taronga Zoo can be reached by ferry from Circular Quay, Darling Harbour or Manly Wharf, which adds an extra element of fun.

There’s a second Taronga Zoo, the Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo, in the town of Dubbo, northwest of Sydney. It houses large animals like elephants, which need more space than Sydney can provide. The experience at Dubbo Zoo (as it’s commonly known) is more like a safari park, as you can hire a cart to get around the large area.

Admission: Tickets cost AU$42.30 (approx. US$30) for adults, AU$24.30 (approx. US$17) for kids aged 4–15, and family passes start at AU$80.80 (approx. US$58). Tickets are cheaper if bought in advance online.

Nearby points hotels: Intercontinental Sydney (from 65k IHG Rewards Club points per night) | Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay (Category 5, from 35k points per night) | The Westin Sydney (Category 5, from 35k Marriott points per night) | Hilton Sydney (from 30k–70k points per night) | Hyatt Regency Sydney (from 20k points per night)

Taronga, a zoo with a view (Photo by Getty Images)
Taronga, a zoo with a view (Photo by Getty Images)

Australia Zoo, QLD

“Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin was an Australian conservationist and TV personality who died in 2006 in a freak accident while filming an underwater documentary. Australia Zoo, an hour north of Brisbane on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, was Irwin’s baby. With the help of Irwin’s wife and children, the zoo continues his work of educating visitors about animals and conservation, and is especially active in crocodile research, working with the University of Queensland on the largest study of crocs in the world. As well as the stealthy reptiles themselves, visitors can check out the koalas, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils and dingoes.

Admission: There are many different ticket categories with various inclusions, but basic one-day passes cost AU$59 (approx. US$42) for adults and AU$35 (approx. US$25) for kids aged 3–14. A four-person family ticket costs AU$172 (approx. US$125). Animal encounters and VIP experiences can be booked at higher rates. Tickets are cheaper when purchased online.

Nearby points hotels: Best Western Plus Lake Kawana Hotel (from 20k points per night) | Ramada Resort by Wyndham Golden Beach (15k points per night; note that Wyndham’s award chart changes April 3, 2019)

A zoo is the safest place to spot a croc in Australia (Photo by Getty Images)
A zoo is the safest place to spot a croc in Australia (Photo by Getty Images)

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, QLD

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, just outside Brisbane, is the largest koala sanctuary in the world. Home to 130 of the furry little creatures, it’s an absolute must-visit for kids, who will also see kangaroos and other Australian wildlife in a natural-like habitat. Shows are held regularly throughout the day and include lorikeet feeding, a sheep dog show and talks with various animal specialists.

Those 12 and older who want a unique encounter with a koala can book a special package for AU$150 that includes learning about a koala during a health check and a special photo op with a new furry friend.

Admission: Day passes cost AU$34.20 (approx. US$24) for adults, AU$19.30 (approx. US$14) for kids aged 3–13, and family passes start at AU$54 (approx. US$39). Tickets are cheaper when purchased online.

Nearby points hotels: TRYP by Wyndham Fortitude Valley Hotel Brisbane (15k points per night; note that Wyndham’s award chart changes April 3, 2019) | W Brisbane (Category 5, from 35k points per night)

Alice Springs Desert Park, NT

Alice Springs is a town in the red desert center of Australia, and the Alice Springs Desert Park showcases the life that thrives in this harsh landscape. There’s a focus on teaching visitors how Aboriginal people survive in the desert and how plants and animals adapt to the conditions created over millions of years. Three distinct habitats have been recreated in the park — Desert Rivers, Sand Country and Woodland — and the park also offers a nocturnal tour.

Admission: Tickets cost AU$32 (approx. US$23) for adults, AU$16 (approx. US$11) for kids aged 5–15, and family tickets start at AU$54.50 (US$39).

Nearby points hotels: Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters (from 25k IHG Rewards Club points per night) | DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Alice Springs (from 22k–30k points per night)

Dingo pups at the Alice Springs Desert Park (Photo by Getty Images)
Dingo pups at the Alice Springs Desert Park (Photo by Getty Images)

Healesville Sanctuary, VIC

Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary made it onto TPG‘s 18 Amazing Places to Travel in 2018 list, and it’s still great in 2019. East of Melbourne, the sanctuary calls itself a bushland haven for native Australian wildlife. Healesville’s walk-through aviary is great fun, plus visitors can encounter kangaroos, platypus, dingoes and koalas — and there’s a special interactive nature play area for kids.

Admission: Day passes are AU$37 (approx. US$26) for adults and AU$19 (US$13) for kids aged 4–15 on weekdays, but it’s important to note that kids enter for free on the weekends.

Head to the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary to get up close and personal with Australia's marsupials. Photo by Eric Rosen.
Head to the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary to get up close and personal with Australia’s marsupials. (Photo by Eric Rosen)

Nearby points hotels: There aren’t any points hotels in the immediate area but you can book several nearby properties and earn 10x miles per dollar when booking through and paying with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

12 Mile Bird Park, WA

With almost 100 separate aviaries housing more than 600 birds that belong to 80 species, the 12 Mile Bird Park is an essential stop for bird lovers traveling to the spectacular resort town of Broome. Australia has some of the most colorful, flamboyant and noisiest birds you’ll find anywhere in the world, and at 12 Mile Bird Park visitors can see Australia’s own kookaburras and cockatoos, among many others. Some of them even talk! There’s also a petting area where kids can get close to farmyard animals like miniature horses, alpacas, goats and rabbits.

Admission: Tickets cost AU$15 (approx. US$10) for adults, AU$10 (approx. US$7) for kids (5–15 years) and family passes (two adults and three kids) cost AU$40 (approx. US$29).

Nearby points hotel: Ramada Resort by Wyndham Eco Beach Broome (15k points per night; note that Wyndham’s award chart changes April 3, 2019)

Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, TAS

Tasmanian Devils are a cute (if somewhat scary) little carnivorous marsupial that can only be found in the wild on the island of Tasmania, although they once lived on mainland Australia too. Since the 1990s the species has been ravaged by the infectious Devil Face Tumour Disease. Conservation efforts are underway in Tasmania and around the world. The animals can be found in zoos, but it doesn’t get much better than seeing the little devils on their home turf, at the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo. This place is an “unzoo” rather than a zoo because the animals aren’t kept in cages or noticeable enclosures and visitors encounter animals in as natural a setting as possible. A highlight is seeing the devils during feeding time, as they’re famously aggressive! Other Australian wildlife and birds can be found in the natural park area, and there are talks about devil conservation.

Admission: Entry tickets are valid for a whole year, making it great value for local visitors, plus proceeds go back into devil conservation. Tickets cost AU$36 (approx. US$26) for adults, AU$20 (approx. US$15) for kids aged 4–16, and family tickets (for up to four children) cost AU$89 (approx. US$64).

Nearby points hotels: There are no points hotels we could find in the area so you’re best off booking lodging through somewhere such as the Chase Travel site, where you can earn or spend Ultimate Rewards points. (Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points per dollar spent on travel; excluding the $300 travel credit.) Or charge your accommodations to a credit card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard where you can use your points to “erase” travel purchases made with the card.

A Tasmanian Devil (Photo by Getty Images)
A Tasmanian Devil (Photo by Getty Images)

Bottom Line

Wherever you’re traveling in the vast country of Australia, there’s a great way for the kids and adults to visit wildlife in a safe and environmentally sound way that also benefits conservation and animal welfare.

If you have a favorite place to safely experience wildlife with a family in Australia, we’d love to hear about it.

Looking for eco-friendly wildlife experiences but not in Australia? Here are some ideas:

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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