How to get close to Australia’s cuddliest animals
Australia has some of the world’s cutest animals. In New South Wales, you can check out cuddly koalas, adorable kangaroos and wallabies, personality-plus penguins, cute quokkas and more in zoos, wildlife parks and sometimes in the wild.
Whatever cuddly Australian animal or bird stirs your emotions, admire them somewhere in NSW and feel the goosebumps.
From elusive koalas to omnipresent kangaroos and ever-smiling quokkas, Australia’s wildlife runs the gamut from shy to cheeky to outgoing. In NSW, find some firm favourites in zoos and wildlife parks where sometimes there’s an opportunity for an up-close encounter. Keep your eyes peeled while out and about and you might also find these creatures in the wild.
Say hi to a koala
Make a beeline for Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to see the important work it does in helping the region’s sick and injured koalas. Take a self-guided tour of the facility, which includes a treatment room, intensive-care units (just like a human hospital) and multiple recovery yards.
In NSW, cuddling koalas is not permitted at zoos but you can pose for a snap with these cute marsupials at lots of places including WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo at Darling Harbour, Symbio Wildlife Park at Helensburgh (between Sydney and Wollongong), Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park in Calga and Taronga Zoo Sydney.
Want to search for the fluffy icon in the wild? NSW is home to an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 wild koalas. Point yourself towards the eucalypts of Gunnedah and the town of Iluka in the Clarence Valley to see if you can spot one.
Hop to it
Australia is home to twice as many kangaroos (some 50 million) as people, and many zoos have resident kangaroos. See red kangaroos, the world’s largest marsupial, at Wagga Zoo & Aviary, a mini-zoo within the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens in the Riverina region, about 5hrs south-west of Sydney. The zoo is also home to a young swamp wallaby called Kieran and five orphaned eastern grey kangaroos who took up residence in 2021.
Billabong Zoo at Port Macquarie is home to eastern grey kangaroos and other marsupials such as wallaroos and red-necked and swamp wallabies. Despite its name, the Australian Reptile Park on the Central Coast is home to the Kangaroo Island kangaroo, Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, yellow-footed rock-wallaby and the parma wallaby.
Snap a selfie with a quokka
Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park near Blacktown in Western Sydney is home to a large collection of native Australian animals, including those very cute quokkas mainly found on Rottnest Island in Western Australia. Sign up for a quokka encounter (for anyone aged 10 and above) and sit in one of their enclosures, offer them food and try to score one of those coveted selfies with the small animals that look like they’re always smiling.
WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo has a resident quokka called Davey whose favourite food is sweet potatoes, while you’ll find Coco the quokka at Australian Reptile Park and a number of the cute creatures at Oakvale Wildlife Park at Port Stephens.
Watch a wombat waddle
Waddling wombats are among Australia’s most adorable beasties (although it can be hard to spy one even at a zoo as they’re nocturnal). Try your luck at Sydney Zoo in the city’s west or at Altina Wildlife Park near Griffith in the Riverina, where visitors explore the park by horse-drawn or motorised carts.
Ruffle some feathers
Head to Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park at Calga, on the Central Coast, and you might get the feeling someone’s looking over your shoulder. It’s likely to be an emu, one of the native animals that enjoys this predator-free slice of bushland that’s home to about 180 species. If you’re travelling in Outback NSW, there’s a high chance of seeing mobs of emus roaming about, especially if you’re exploring the outskirts of Broken Hill.
Cassowaries are tropical rainforest birds but you can see these tall, blue-necked birds strut their stuff at Port Macquarie’s Billabong Zoo.
At the other end of the scale, cheeky little penguins live at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium in Darling Harbour, Sydney Zoo and Taronga Zoo Sydney. Aquarium-keepers can tell you all about the birds’ personalities, which range from inquisitive to stately and proud. You might also spot little penguins scuttling along some of Sydney’s more secluded beaches and coves when they return to breed between May and February.
See spikes and devils
Echidnas, the animal that features on Australia’s five-cent coins, have one of the most adorable faces – if you can see it under the spines. Take a peek at these little beauties at Oakvale Wildlife ParkTaronga Western Plains Zoo
Cuteness is in the eye of the beholder, right? Tasmanian devils, the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, have powerful jaws, sharp little teeth and big personalities. They’re widespread in Tasmania but in NSW, you can see them at Altina Wildlife Park.