8 animals you can see up close in Sydney

There’s something magical about getting up close to exotic or native animals you usually only see in wildlife documentaries. Embrace that childhood sense of wonder when you interact with these incredible creatures, from rainbow sea slugs to cute quokkas.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Jan 2022 -
min read

Nudibranch at Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve

A nudibranch is a fascinating creature – there are more than 2000 known species of this soft-bodied mollusc that’s related to the sea slug, with an incredible variation in colours, forms and patterns. They can have feathery gills or horns and can grow up to 40cm. The thrill of spotting one in the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve on an Ecotreasures snorkelling tour in Manly will stay with you all day, plus you'll encounter the many other fish that call this protected area home. Before you dive in, your expert guide will take you on a headland nature walk and tell you all about the native marine life you’re about to encounter, as well as the local wildlife, Australian environment and history of Manly.

Giraffes at Taronga Zoo Sydney

Ever been to the zoo and missed your favourite animal because they were sleeping in a hidden spot in their enclosure? Many animals are nocturnal and are most active at night, which is what makes the Roar and Snore experience at Taronga Zoo so exciting. After dinner, a guide will take you on a night safari, where you’ll get to see many animals prowling around that are usually sleeping during the day. You may have admired the elegant giraffes from afar before but during this experience, you’ll be able to admire their enormous tongues up close as you help feed them. After a cosy night in your glamping tents, you’ll also get to wander around the zoo early in the morning before it opens to other visitors.

Family enjoying an encounter with a giraffe during the giraffe keeper talk at Taronga Zoo, Sydney North

Taronga Zoo, Mosman

Capybara at Sydney Zoo

For an opportunity to handfeed the largest rodent in the world, head to Sydney Zoo in Western Sydney. Native to South America, these curious animals are excellent swimmers and are highly social. Capybara encounters are held every day at the zoo; try not to squeal as it nibbles at a snack in your hand and say cheese as you pose for a photo.

Capybara at Sydney Zoo - Western Sydney

Capybara at Sydney Zoo - Western Sydney. Image Credit: Sydney Zoo

Penguins at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

You can’t help but smile as you watch these cheeky birds waddle and hop along the ice. With the daily Penguin Passport experience, you can get up close to SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium’s sub-Antarctic penguin colony. Pull on a snowsuit that will keep you comfortable in the cool enclosure and walk carefully into the icy enclosure to meet the king and gentoo penguins. You’ll be enthralled as you watch the keepers perform enrichment activities, see their food being prepared and learn how they keep the enclosure at the right temperature. 

Penguins at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

Up close with a penguin colony at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. Image Credit: Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Numbat at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

Frankie the rescue numbat arrived at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour at the end of 2020, and is a unique marsupial – one of the only ones that are active during the day and carnivorous. Watch Frankie as he uses his pointy nose and long tongue to find termites to eat in his newly designed habitat – he eats up to 20,000 in a day. Numbats are native to Western Australia and are classified as endangered, with fewer than 1000 left in the wild.

Numbat settling in at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

Frankie the Numbat settling in at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo. Image Credit: WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo

Whales in Sydney Harbour

Seeing a tail slap from one of the many vantage points on Sydney’s coast is a joyful sight but nothing compares to getting up close to these enormous mammals. Between May and November, join a whale watching cruise with Ocean Extreme; the Ocean Explorer option will have you seeking out these majestic animals for two to three hours along with a marine biologist. You’ll be speechless as you see the whale breach, where most of their body launches out of the deep blue to slap back down with a splash.

Humpback whale breaching near Sydney Heads on its annual migration along the NSW coastline

Humpback whale breaching near Sydney Heads on its annual migration along the NSW coastline.

Quokkas at Featherdale Wildlife Park

You’ve probably seen quokka selfies all over Instagram, but they are generally only possible on Rottnest Island in Western Australia. Instead, get up close to these smiley critters at Featherdale Wildlife Park in Western Sydney. During this fun encounter, you’ll get to sit inside the quokka enclosure, offer them food and snap that all important photo. The park offers a number of other animal encounters including koalas, penguins and crocodiles.

Quokka at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Quokka at Featherdale Wildlife Park. Image Credit: Featherdale Wildlife Park

Owls at Feathered Friends

With their big round eyes and watchful gaze, owls are mesmerising birds. If you’ve ever seen one in the wild, you’ll have felt their powerful presence. Feathered Friends is a bird sanctuary in Western Sydney, with hawks, owls and black cockatoos in their care. In the Owl Experience, you’ll glove up and free fly either a barn owl, sooty owl or boobook owl depending on the day, watching it launch and return to your arm. Owls have a calm energy and are very patient; the magic of looking into its eyes will stay with you.

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