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Best animal encounters in NSW

Going wild at home? Household feeling like a rumble in the jungle? Change your spots and head out for one of these awesome wildlife encounters around New South Wales. This top list of animal encounters in NSW, compiled by the experts at Destination NSW, will certainly ruffle some feathers.

Dubbo Zoo

For the ultimate treat, Zoofari at Taronga Western Plains in Dubbo is an unforgettable safari experience. You’ll spend the night in an Animal View Lodge, situated on the edge of a vast savannah, taking in the giraffes, zebras and rhinos as they roam. Hire bikes and enjoy the native bushlands of this incredible region.

Then discover another world and take a step back in time at Old Dubbo Gaol. The State Heritage listed site, which remains intact and restored, comes to life during School Holidays, with characters in costume roaming the grounds. Be berated by one of the strict wardens, or pick-pocketed by their cunning prisoners!

Other Zoo Experiences in NSW

Play with meerkats at Mogo Wildlife Park on the South Coast, go behind the scenes at the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby on the Central Coast, or be a zookeeper for the day at Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park. Feed the koalas at Oakvale Wildlife Park, 25km out of Newcastle. Then, meet the animals at Port Macquarie’s Billabong Zoo – including tong-feeding their world famous snow leopards. 

Sydney Zoo

The new Sydney Zoo in Western Sydney reopened its doors on 4 July 2020 with a whole host of interesting animal encounters in NSW.

For an animal-loving child, or a kid who’d love to be a zookeeper one day, there’s really no better experience than their Mini Zookeeper for a Day program. This program teaches children what it takes to become a zookeeper and provides an opportunity to get hands-on experience feeding and caring for a range of different animals.

The Zoo has just welcomed three cheeky baboon babies and a mischievous pair of otters. And you can take in the best view in Western Sydney. Book a ride on their new Ferris wheel and see the zoo from a new view. Only for the school holidays. 

keeper experience at Sydney Zoo
Be a mini keeper for a day in a unique NSW animal experience! Credit: Destination NSW

Coffs Coast

Solitary Islands Coastal Walk is an easy four-day walk over 60km of coastline on the Coffs Coast. Enjoy some of the best free animal encounters in NSW, including whale watching, birdwatching and swimming on your journey from Red Rock to the coastal village of Sawtell.

There are spectacular places to picnic and plenty of shorter walk options or camping depending on how energetic you all feel. Pack some binoculars to spot the white bellied eagles and little terns. Keep an eye out for the playful dolphins along the coast for a spontaneous experience of NSW animals in the wild. 

Although it’s not free, we also love Coffs’ Dolphin Marine Conservation Park where kids learn so much about these beautiful marine creatures.

North Coast

You’ll find some of the largest species of bass in Australia in NSW’s Clarence River, which just happens to be the largest river on the eastern seaboard. Just outside of the stunning coastal town of Yamba, take the kids out for a kayak or boat trip to explore this impressive river.

kids fishing in the Wooli River
Throw a line in the Wooli Wooli River. Credit: My Clarence Valley

If they are keen to get into the water themselves, then a swim with sea turtles just off Tweed Heads at Cook Island is a must. A tiny volcanic outcrop that is home to a permanent population of Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles, the family can swim or snorkel in and around these gentle giants. Don’t forget your underwater camera.

loggerhead turtle
Imagine swimming by one of these beauties on Cook Island! Credit: Destination NSW

Port Stephens

Take a twilight camel ride along the sands of Birubi Beach, with Oakfield Ranch, in Port Stephens or Lighthouse Beach with Port Macquarie Camels. There are 20-minute day trips or hour-long evening experiences so you can take in the stunning coast on board the animals known as the “ships of the desert.”

camel riding on the beach in Port Stephens
For a rolling and rollicking ride, jump on camel back at Oakfield Ranch, Port Stephens. Credit: Destination NSW

If camels aren’t your thing, Port Stephens is also Australia’s dolphin capital. Swim in the open ocean with dolphins with Dolphin Swim Australia. Stay dry instead on one of the many dolphin-watching boat tours.

The Riverina

Spot koalas in their natural habitat at Narrandera Nature Reserve, known to locals as Koala Reserve. This wildlife haven is situated on the shores of the Murrumbidgee River and home to over 200 koalas. With options to bike ride or walk, you can easily lose a day here meeting this cute and cuddly precious creatures. 

cyclists on the Wagirra Trail alongside the Murray River
Pedal the Wagirra Trail alongside the Murray River and keep your eyes peeled. Credit: Destination NSW

Hold on to the bikes and head to the newest edition to the Wagirra trail, the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk near Albury. The sculptures are accompanied by interpretative panels and videos via smartphone which tell the story of Aboriginal history and the cultural significance of the Murray River. Walk or cycle the 2 metre wide path and keep your eyes peeled for plenty of birds and animals in this wetland habitat. 

Snowy Mountains

Go platypus spotting in the pools located at Bombala Platypus Reserve near Bombala in the Snowy Mountains. Known as Platypus Country, this quiet and peaceful spot is the perfect place to while away a day picnicking and spotting the unique mammals who tend to pop up in the early mornings and late afternoons. 

Teens mountain biking in the Snowy Mountains
So much more to do in the Snowys than skiing! Get outside for the chance to spot some wildlife. Credit: Tourism Snowy Mountains

Task the kids with catching dinner! Fishing in the pristine waters of the Snowy Mountains is an unforgettable experience. With Australia’s highest peaks creating a beautiful backdrop, the lakes, rivers and water catchments are great fishing spots for recreational anglers and there are plenty of operators around that offer a range of boat and land fishing experiences. 

Byron Bay

Julian Rocks in Byron Bay is one of the best diving spots in Australia, rivalling the Great Barrier Reef with its underwater experiences. From snorkel tours to scuba diving, a visit out to this underwater sanctuary is a memorable one. You’ll want to spend a week in Byron Bay to enjoy all the natural wonders, great food and community of people. 

The Shoalhaven

The Kangaroo Valley is home to not only its namesake marsupials, but also wallabies at Tallowa Dam. The Bendeela Camping and Picnic Area is also one of the best spots to see wombats in the wild.

Want more? Check out this episode of Families of Australia web series, featuring top NSW animal encounters and activities around Australia!


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