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Feeding the kangaroos at Symbio Wildlife Park © Mick Maric

Cuddle Crazy

Bronte Gossling discovers the up-close and personal animal encounters that will leave the kids in a happy daze.

What is it about animals that instantly makes the world go ‘aww’? Perhaps it’s their sweet, docile nature, or their soft fur and unconditional affection. Luckily for us animal-lovers, zoos around Australia are willing to indulge our cuddlesome habit.

Symbio Wildlife Park, NSW

Symbio wildlife park on the southern outskirts of Sydney is a must for animal-lovers. As well as offering a ‘Keeper for a Day’ programme, there are behind-the-scenes tours and encounters for little ones. Hand-feed lemurs, red pandas or cotton-top tamarins and marmosets. Aussie Zoom allows interaction with native animals, while Exotic Zoom offers close encounters of the meerkat and monkey kind.

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Adelaide Zoo, SA

As the only zoo in the Southern Hemisphere that cares for giant pandas, Adelaide Zoo’s Panda & Friends is your chance to see Wang Wang and Fu Ni, and their red cousins, up close. Tour the Bamboo Forest before opening and see the pandas welcome the day. It’s a great opportunity for little ones six and up to learn about conservation and meet more amazing zoo residents. Teens 16-plus can get even closer with the VIP Panda behind-thescenes programme.

Australia Zoo, QLD

Australia Zoo, one hour north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast, was made famous by the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. The 42-hectare zoo is an interactive conservation destination where you can get up close to tigers, koalas, lemurs and cheetahs. Watch a saltwater croc strike from the water’s edge in the daily Wildlife Warriors show, and explore the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, the largest and busiest of its kind in the world. With more than 70,000 native Australian animals being treated since 2004, it’s the largest of the Wildlife Warriors’ conservation projects and relies solely on donations made to the charity to continue its work.

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Robert Irwin © Australia Zoo

Taronga Western Plains Zoo, NSW

Head behind the scenes and into the enclosures with one of Taronga Western Plains Zoo’s cute daily activities and interactive tours of animal troops, litters and prides. One of the most popular encounters for kids 10 years and up is meeting the meerkats. Head inside the exhibit with the keeper and sit down for these curious little critters to come get up close and personal with you. For adventurous kids over seven, the zoo’s Big Cat Encounter will get hearts racing. Though it might seem intimidating at first, it’s worth facing your fears to feed a magnificent Sumatran tiger while you learn about their plight in the wild.

SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, NSW

SEA LIFE takes marine and wildlife attractions to the next level. In addition to the fantastical underwater journey of discovery throughout its 12 themed zones, the aquarium offers animal encounters that will take your breath away. SEA LIFE has now introduced a world-first penguin ride-through experience, Penguin Expedition. Explorers hop aboard their raft and ride through the exhibit, inspired by subantarctic Macquarie Island and its vast and varied birdlife. The boats allow you to get up close to Sydney’s only colony of king and gentoo penguins. Watch and marvel at these cuties as they slip, slide and waddle on the ice – in a cool but comfortable six-degree-Celsius environment. It provides a great opportunity for kids to learn about conservation efforts for these fascinating flightless birds.

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Sea World, QLD

Aside from the scintillating daily sea creature shows, Sea World - renowned for its out-of-this-world theme park and world-class oceanarium - offers a series of fascinating interactive experiences for families. Pack your swimmers to journey through the park on exciting educational tours that can see you swimming with dolphins, snorkelling with sea creatures that lurk in the lagoon or, if you dare, diving into Shark Lagoon to feed these fearsome predators. Kids 14 and up who would prefer to stay above water can rug up and step onto the ice for their very own Antarctic adventure with king and gentoo penguins.

Sea World Cub Watch

Keep an eye out for Sea World's two newborn polar bear cubs. Born on 26 April 2017, these cute 'n' cuddly bubs are currently bonding with their mother, 16-year-old Liya, and are being closely observed by the veterinary team in their world-class maternity den, via state-of-the-art monitoring systems.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, QLD

Located on the sunny Gold Coast, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a key factor in putting Currumbin on the map as a prime tourist destination. With more than nine up-close and personal animal encounters, a wildlife hospital and multiple shows and enticing enclosures, it’s not hard to see why. Spend some quality time with the resident wombats, Lee and Janome, on Currumbin’s Wombat Walk. These magnificent marsupials are normally nocturnal, but Currumbin’s special two are happy to play and cuddle – they seriously do not want to miss out on quality time with vivacious visitors! While you’re there, stop off at the koala sanctuary and snap a quick photo before they fall asleep in your arms. For those little ones that have a hankering for hands-on animal training, keep an eye out for the Bird Training Experience, where you can get a VIP lesson and see some of their feathered friends up-close in their full free-flight glory.

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Aquarium of Western Sydney, WA

Fondly known as AQWA, this unique aquarium is one of the best in sunny Western Australia. Not only does it have six zones open for exploration, AQWA is also a one-stop shop for interaction with all your favourite submarine denizens. Join a PADI-qualified divemaster in the new Adventure Bay exhibit and swim with the fishes in Snorkel Discovery, search for medallions in Treasure Hunter, or learn to swim like Ariel as you splash around with a real-life Perth Mermaid in Mermaid Magic. Water babies who are more adventurous, however, might want to grab their wetsuits and blankets for a Shark Sleepover. During WA school holidays, kids seven to 12 are invited to wander through AQWA’s exhibitions by night with their own Ocean Guide, watch a movie on the giant sail screen and fall asleep under three million litres of water – surrounded by sharks, stingrays, turtles and hundreds of fish.

National Zoo & Aquarium, ACT

Home to a huge variety of exotic creatures from around the planet, Canberra's National Zoo & Aquarium offers multiple opportunities for close encounters of the furry, feathered and flippered kind. The hands-on Family Tour offers kids over four the opportunity to hand-feed and meet bears, monkeys and more. Or for a real hoot, head into the aviary for an encounter with Barking Owl siblings, Rocco and Ruby, with the zoo's awesome Owl Encounter.

The National Zoo & Aquarium's brand-new area has more than doubled the size the zoo, creating one of the few open-range sections of a zoo found in a city environment anywhere in the world. The easily walkable domain allows young animal-lovers to see a variety of young creatures including a baby giraffe, zebra foals, elk calves, adolescent lemurs and a baby siamang, most of which have previously been off display to visitors until now.

Other animals in the open-range area include white rhinos, zebra, cheetah, giraffe, elk, maned wolves and more, all housed in inspiring naturalistic surroundings.

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Maned wolves © Ann Eldridge



This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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