Skip Sydney’s typical city zoo for an Australian-animal park where you can touch a koala

Taronga Zoo has amazing views and rare tigers but is otherwise fairly typical

Sydney’s Taronga Zoo is a mainstay attraction for tourists. Situated in the suburb of Mosman, less than 20 minutes from central Sydney, the roughly 69-acre zoo is known for its million-dollar views of the city and its harbor. Carly Rea, the founder of Splendour Tailored Tours, which plans luxury trips to Sydney, said that taking photos of these panoramas is as much of a draw as the wildlife: “The setting is hard to beat.”

On the wildlife side, Taronga is home to more than 4,000 animals from all over the world, including giraffes and gorillas from Africa, elephants from Asia and koalas, kangaroos and frogs from Australia. The three Sumatran tiger cubs born in January are a major draw; there are only 350 of these tigers left in the wild. The zoo also offers family friendly ropes courses; visitors can climb above the zoo and look down at the Australian Walkabout section to see the koalas, emus and kangaroos (for an extra fee).

Yet Taronga is at essence a large commercial city zoo with many of the same animals found at any notable zoo in the world. “You’re in Australia to see wildlife native to the country, and that’s hard to do in Taronga because Australian animals are only a part of what it offers,” Rea said.

Also, the zoo draws about 1.8 million visitors annually and can get crowded with visitors clamoring for that perfect snapshot, whether it’s of the scenery or the wildlife.

Location: Bradleys Head Road, Mosman.

Featherdale Wildlife Park is more intimate and authentically Australian

You’ll find a more intimate and authentic experience at the much-lesser-known Featherdale Wildlife Park in western Sydney. This seven-acre zoo, which only features wildlife native to Australia, is about a 40-minute drive from the heart of the city and attracts just 600,000 visitors a year.

That’s a shame because the park boasts the largest collection of Australian animals in the world. Visitors can see 1,700 creatures from more than 250 different species, including dingoes (Australian dogs), echidnas (similar to porcupines) and Tasmanian devils (the carnivorous marsupials, not the cartoon characters). And there are the icons such as koalas, crocodiles, kangaroos and wombats.

Highlights include the most venomous snake on the planet, the taipan, found in Western Queensland; furry gray animals called biblies, which resemble rabbits; and a 15-foot, half-ton crocodile named Ngukurr from Northern Australia.

The impressive aviary has 180 species of birds. “People love listening to the kookaburras, who are famous for their call that sounds like a laugh,” said Chad Staples, Featherdale’s director of life sciences.

Featherdale prides itself on being interactive and educational: Visitors can touch or feed some of the animals, including snakes, baby crocodiles, koalas, possums and kangaroos. (In some instances, there is an extra fee involved.) The staff enjoys peppering guests with interesting animal facts. Did you know, for example, that marsupials — animals with pouches — are native only to Australia?

“Being at Featherdale is like being in the midst of the Australian wilderness, and you’re not competing with masses of others to view the spectacular wildlife,” Rea said.

Location: 217-219 Kildare Rd., Doonside.

Vora is a writer based in New York. Her website is Find her on Twitter: @shivanivora.

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