Australian zoos are major tourist attractions that play a key role in keeping some of the world’s most endangered animals alive. If you’re interested in getting close to nature, here is our pick of the country’s best zoo experiences
- Melbourne Zoo
- Lone Pine Sanctuary
- Australia Zoo
- Dubbo Western Plains Zoo
- Phillip Island Nature Park
- Adelaide Zoo
- Hunter Valley Zoo
- Sydney Taronga Zoo
- Werribee Open Range Zoo
- Busselton Jetty
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Recently ranked Australia’s best zoo in a poll of international travellers, Melbourne Zoo is also Australia’s oldest, first opening its doors in 1862. The zoo boasts more than 5000 animals from more than 300 species on 22 hectares of grounds and enclosures.
Because of its age, Melbourne Zoo boasts a great spot close to the city. It’s just a 15-minute drive from the CBD to the zoo or you can catch a train to Royal Park and wander over from there.
Cost of entry: $37 general admission, discounts for children, pensioners, students and families.
Best zoo for: Lions! The Lion Gorge development is the pride of Melbourne Zoo (pun fully intended). This multi-million dollar exhibition is the best of its kind in Australia. As well as lions, you can see African wild dogs and Philippines crocodiles in the gorge. See more about Lion Gorge on the Melbourne Zoo website.
Lone Pine Sanctuary
If you love koalas, then this is the place for you. Located in Brisbane, Lone Pine Sanctuary is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and is heavily involved in research to save these iconic marsupials.
Lone Pine is 12km from Brisbane CBD. This can be driven, but public transport users can get either the 430 or 445 bus. Alternatively, a boat from Southbank to Lone Pine Sanctuary is available. Find out more about getting to the sanctuary on the Lone Pine website.
Cost of entry: $36 general admission, discounts for children, students, seniors and families.
Best zoo for : Koalas! With more than 130 koalas in its grounds, with several different habitat types, Lone Pine Sanctuary is a haven for koala lovers. As the sanctuary is in Queensland, you can also hug a koala, something which isn’t allowed in many other states.
Another option in Queensland is Australia Zoo, originally set up by TV icon Steve Irwin — the Crocodile Hunter. The zoo is now run by his family, including kids Bindi and Robert.
The zoo is in Beerwah. This is 25 minutes from Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast or an hour’s drive from Brisbane via the Steve Irwin Way, also known as Glass House Mountains Tourist Drive.
Cost of entry: $59 general admission. Discounts for children, pensioners, students and families.
Best zoo for: Crocs! It’s no surprise that Steve Irwin’s legacy involves crocodiles. See this ancient reptile in the daily show and find out why Steve had such an affinity for them. Showtimes and more available on the Australia Zoo website.
Dubbo Western Plains Zoo
Get a taste of the African plains in a visit to Dubbo’s Western Plains. Compared with other zoos in Australia, Dubbo’s enclosures are luxurious. Animals are given plenty of space to roam giving them a more natural environment than you are likely to see elsewhere. Here you can cycle around the six-kilometre circuit and experience the wild animals of Africa with just a moat separating you and the animals.
Cost of entry: $48 general admission. Save 10% by booking online through the Western Plans Zoo website.
Best zoo for: Giraffes! One of Dubbo Zoo’s wildlife encounter options gives you the chance to hand-feed giraffes.
Phillip Island Nature Park
Penguins aren’t the first animal you associate with Australia, but down along the southern coasts (and much of Tasmania) it’s possible to see the little critters. Perhaps the best spot is Phillip Island in Victoria, roughly 90 minutes from Melbourne.
The aquatic swimmers leave their home at sunrise and come back at sunset, often in a military-style parade. Along the island, you’ll find viewing platforms for the best spots to watch from. An app is also available for extra images and webcams set around the park.
Cost of entry: $26.20 for general viewing admission, however this can be upgraded for better perks or for access to more parks.
Best zoo for : Penguins! Like clockwork, they start coming back to their nests. The Phillip Island website even has a countdown to their evening arrival.
After Melbourne Zoo, Adelaide Zoo is the oldest attraction of its kind in Australia. The zoo holds more than 2500 animals (from more than 250 species), including the rare attraction of giant pandas.
The zoo is found in the green belt to the north of Adelaide CBD, beside the River Torrens. It’s just a five-minute drive from the east end of Rundle Mall. Beside the zoo is the city’s botanic garden, for another glimpse of beautiful nature.
Cost of entry: $36 for general admission, discounts for children, concession tickets and adults. Tickets and passes can be bought on the Adelaide Zoo website.
Best zoo for: Pandas! Adelaide Zoo is home to the only two giant pandas in Australia: Funi and Wang Wang.
Hunter Valley Zoo
Located in one of Australia’s most loved wine regions, the Hunter Valley Zoo is a welcome break from the copious vineyard tours and wine samples ( semillion is the area’s specialty). The zoo is smaller than most on the list, but that adds to its charm in many ways. Wander the paths and appreciate the exotic birds, mammals, primates and reptiles on show.
The zoo is in Nukalba between Cessnock and Rothbury, close to Ernest Hill Wines.
Cost of entry: $29 for general admission. Discounts for concession, children and groups.
Best zoo for: Meerkats! Hunter Valley Zoo offers an experience upgrade that allows you to enter the meerkat enclosure. Apparently, they’re particularly fond of climbing on hats.
Sydney Taronga Zoo
Dating back to 1916, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, located in Mosman, offers a packed day for visitors. There are more than 20 keeper talks and shows each day and an estimated 4000 animals on site, and some enclosures have views over the water to the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
The best way to the zoo is by ferry from Circular Quay, but you can also drive along the Lower North Shore to get there (not advised during peak hours).
Cost of entry: $47 general admission. Save 10% on single tickets and 20% on family/group tickets if you order through the Taronga Zoo website.
Best zoo for : Sleepovers! Sydney Zoo offers a Roar & Snore experience that allows visitors to see nocturnal animals at their busiest and stay over at the zoo in its glamping facilities.
Werribee Open Range Zoo
Like Dubbo Zoo, Werribee offers its inhabitants much more space than the average zoo. Animals from Africa are the main attraction, with gorillas, giraffes, big cats and hippos popular with visitors. Safaris are available for those who want to get in the enclosures and close to the animals.
Werribee Zoo, and Werribee itself, is 35km south-west from Melbourne CBD, roughly halfway towards Avalon Airport.
Cost of entry: $37 general admission, discounts for children, seniors and concession. Membership also available through the Werribee Zoo website.
Best zoo for : Gorillas! Werribee is home to one of the world’s largest gorilla enclosures, with more than 6000 square metres granted to the majestic primates. Daily keeper talks give you more information and several viewing platforms give you unique ways to see the animals feed and play.
Around 220 kilometres south-west of Perth is one of Australia’s more unique marine ‘zoos’. Described as Australia’s greatest artificial reef, the Busselton Jetty has more than 300 marine species and is host to an array of colourful sponges, corals and fish.
The Underwater Observatory – eight metres below the water’s surface and 1.7km along the jetty – can host 48 people at a time. This gives visitors to see
The jetty also boasts that title of the longest wooden jetty in the world.
Cost of entry: $4 for a Jetty Day Pass, $13.50 for the Jetty Train and $34 for the Underwater Observatory (includes train ride and day pass). See a full list of ticket prices on the Busselton Jetty website.
Best zoo for: Marine life! Busselton Jetty is one of only five underwater observatories in the world. What you see can vary from day to day and season to season, but even on murky days there are VR goggles available to give you a taste of what may be lurking nearby.
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