11 Dec Australia’s Best Holidays For Animal-Loving Families
Connect your kids to nature with these top animal experiences around Australia.
Kids of any age can snorkel amongst colourful fish in the shallow waters of Port Phillip Heads Marine Park, swim with fur seals and swim with dolphins all in one half-day cruise with Sea All Dolphin Swims in Port Phillip Bay, departing from Queenscliff, 90 minutes south-west of Melbourne. A$140, C$120. Kids under five not swimming are free.
Ride into the set of The Man from Snowy River with your kids on a two to four night horse riding adventure in the heart-stopping Victorian Alps. Hidden Trails takes families with kids 10+ (younger if they’re experienced riders) to Craig’s Hut and other locations in the movie, staying in tents and old cattlemen’s huts, and feasting on cheffed-up cuisine under the stars, about $260pp daily.
Is your child a vet in the making? Let them hone their skills in animal handling and pet first aid, and have fun with animal-related games and craft at Future Vet Kids Camp. Older kids can try their hand at blood draws and diagnosis in real life case studies, learn about anatomy, diseases and conservation, plus tour a vet hospital to work out what kind of vet they want to be. Run by vets and animal trainers, the camps run in January and July in Sydney. For kids nine to 16+, $595 for a week.
Stroll amongst hundreds of live butterflies including the Ulysses Blue in a rainforest setting as they sip nectar and land on you at the Butterfly House just outside Coffs Harbour. See the lifecycle unfold as they turn from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly, sometimes right before your eyes. $50 for a family pass.
Remember those performing ‘porpoise pools’ where the audience could get up close to the dolphins? That tradition’s alive at Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour. The dolphins are rescued from injury in the wild or born in captivity, and the centre rehabilitates hundreds of injured animals to the wild. Get a free kiss from a dolphin and a seal before every show, and for a fee ($195-$420), kids as young as six can get in the water to hug, pat and feed the dolphins.
Seeing loggerhead turtles lumbering ashore to lay eggs, or watching the babies hatch and scramble down to the sea on this beach just outside Bundaberg is something your child will never forget. In January, you might be lucky enough to see both events in one night. $27.80 for a family pass, evenings from November to late March, Mon Repos Turtle Sanctuary.
Sea lions come somersaulting up to meet you at Port Lincoln on this half-day swim tour in the wild. These playful ‘puppy dogs of the sea’ love swimming with you as much as you do with them.
Sunflowers Animal Farm in Margaret River is like a petting zoo, where you can stay overnight in self-contained cottages. Feed and cuddle 350 animals including llamas, rabbits, horses, piglets, goats and more, or go on pony rides. Entry is $12.50 plus $3 for a bucket of feed. There’s lots of wildlife in Margaret River – whales, seals, lizards, ‘roos and birds, and lots for grownups like wineries, beaches, tall forests, loads of walking trails, caves and snorkeling. Kids can hand feed wild stingrays in the shallows at Hamelin Bay.
Holiday with furries without leaving home at RSPCA school holiday programs in NSW (kids eight to 17, $25-80) and Vic (kids five to 20, $75-$109). Kids might like to learn dog-training techniques, how to manoeuvre a camera to find a cat trapped in a wall (toy cat!), or how to prepare guinea pig hutches.
Going to the Zoo
One of the top-rated zoos in Australia on TripAdvisor, Mogo Zoo in the historic town of Mogo near Batemans Bay, is especially great if you have older children – get climbed on by meerkats (10 year olds+), Bolivian squirrel monkeys (15+) or pygmy marmosets (12+), hand feed tigers and white lions (16+), or hand feed lemurs on an island cruise amongst spider monkeys and playful siamangs (12+). These encounters don’t cost peanuts, but your tweens and teens may be transported by the experience.
Zoo sleepovers can be for the whole family. A number of zoos have itineraries that typically include dinner or nibbles often under the stars, and after hours zoo tours at twilight or early morning. Wake up to a Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge view from luxury safari tents with Taronga Zoo’s Roar and Snore itinerary; kids must be 5+. Giraffes come almost to the door of your safari lodge at Taronga’s Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo, which also has camping and self-contained cabins.
Werribee Open Range Zoo lets you go glamping in tented lodges overlooking the rhinos, zebras and other African savannah animals. A family tour for kids 4+ goes up close and behind the scenes to feed a sunbear and a deer, and touch a snake, $85pp, at Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium. Feed giraffes from your treehouse balcony at the zoo’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge, or stay in uShaka Lodge with a shark tank in your lounge room and monkeys on your terrace, or even share your Jungle Bungalow living room and bathtub with lions, tigers and bears – what’s a wall of glass between friends!
YOLO! Animal Getaways Overseas
At Laughing Waters Ranch in Montana, kids four to eight dress like a Native American and learn Cheyenne language, sleep in a teepee and fish in streams, and kids nine to 14 learn marksmanship as they protect a real ‘fort’ while adults horse-ride the mountain trails.
Kids 6+ can go on safari at Virgin Limited Edition’s Ulusaba safari lodge perched on a high outcrop above the South African veldt, and can track animals in a mini-rangers course.
- Café Bones in Leichhardt, Sydney serves the world’s first Pupaccino for dogs, plus cappuccinos for their pet humans.
- Doggie treats like Gruffles, peanut butter truffles for dogs, are on the menu at Pet Lovers Café in Maylands, Perth. Kids sit in the human cafe out front; kids 12+ can take dogs into the dog cafe section out back.
- Cat Café Melbourne is home to 14 cats for kids 8+ to pat, cuddle and play with.
- Cuddle and if you like, adopt one of about 15 rescue cats at Cat Cuddle Café in Red Hill, Brisbane, kids 7+, $13.50/hr.
- To find a holiday house Australia-wide that likes dogs, go to Holidaying With Dogs
- To set up a holiday dogsitter-swap in your neighbourhood.
Words by Natalie Ritchie / Photography by; Andrew Branch