On weekends and school holidays, it is handy to have a list of fun and family-friendly activities to help keep boredom at bay. In particular, visiting zoos and venues where you can interact with animals is always a popular option - where both kids and parents can learn something new and marvel at the variety of furry, feathery and scaly animals that we have around the city. Most places have an entry fee, however another bonus of living in or visiting Canberra is that it is a rural city - so kangaroos and native wildlife are never too far away. Following is a list of where to go for "up close and personal" animal encounters in Canberra.
A Giraffe Encounter at the National Zoo and Aquarium will get you this close:
The National Zoo and Aquarium is a popular option for all aged children to meet a variety of Australian and exotic animals from all over the world. To get up and close to the animals, why not book an animal encounter, meet a cheetah, join a Zooventure Tour or if your kids want to do a school holiday program on their own, there is the Zoocation Program to book into. For a night of zoo luxury, perhaps book into the Jamala Wildlife Lodge for a close up view of the animals from your hotel room. This brand new facility has people from all over the world coming to enjoy this unique experience, with animals having a snooze by the windows of your hotel room.
The National Zoo and Aquarium is 7 hectares to explore by foot - see here for a map of the park. If you would like to take your own food there is a picnic area with BBQs so you can stay longer and make a day of it. There are new exhibits opening all throughout the year and the Aquarium in particular is enjoyable for kids to spot Nemo and Dory. The National Zoo and Aquarium may not be as large or modern in comparison to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo or Taronga Zoo (yet), however it is an enjoyable way to spend the day, following the map around the park and discovering new animals. See all the details for the National Zoo and Aquarium here.
Ringtail Lemurs cuddling up for winter. Source: National Zoo and Aquarium Facebook
This small zoo is located at the popular Gold Creek Village, which is a centre of family entertainment with Cockington Green Gardens, National Dinosaur Museum and the Canberra Walk-In Aviary also in the same location. Situated 20 minutes north of the city, this zoo may be small but it makes up for it in interaction - with staff members walking around with snakes, dragons and lizards for kids to touch and stroke. This is an ideal rainy day option as the exhibits are all inside and the kids will enjoy marvelling at the range of reptiles, with over 50 on display. See all the details for the Canberra Reptile Zoo here. For an article on Canberra Reptile Zoo, see here.
Also located at Gold Creek Village is the Canberra Walk In Aviary - where you really do get up close and personal with the birds. When you pay your entry fee you are given a plate of bird food to take in with you and then wait for the birds to come. Feel free to hold the plate and have them sit on your hand (or head!) or if the kids are a little scared, you can put the plate on a bench and just watch the birds fly in. There are over approximately 500 birds representing 55 species (parrots, finches, doves and quail) from Australia and around the world. When the sprinklers get turned on and startle them, prepare yourself for a spectacular flyover. See all the details for the Canberra Walk In Aviary here.
One section of the aviary. Source: Canberra Walk In Aviary Facebook
Tidbinbilla is located west of the city, 45 minutes from the CBD. This National Park has a large variety of walks, aboriginal sites, a popular playground and various BBQ areas. If you are looking for animal interaction, drive slowly around the park and look for wild kangaroos jumping along. Also visit The Sanctuary, a 2.1km easy boardwalk loop where you can spot platypus and birdlife in the wetlands. With platypus seen at this location almost every day of the year, you are (almost!) guaranteed to see one in the wild. After the Sanctuary, drive further around to the Eucalyptus Forest Koala Sanctuary to see mothers waiting to give birth and take a walk around the trail to look up and spot them in the wild. Please be aware that snakes will be present in the warmer months.
When you first arrive at the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre, have a walk around the centre and check out the frogs and reptiles on display. There is an entry fee per car to get into the Reserve ($11.50 for a standard car). See here for an online brochure with map and see all the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve details here.
Spot Koalas in the Eucalyptus Forest Koala Sanctuary
Weston Park is a 40 hectare park located in Yarralumla, only minutes from the city centre on Lake Burley Griffin. Although there is no zoo or animal park here, it is the ideal place to spot wild kangaroos so close to the city. There are numerous mobs that make this park their home, so drive along slowly and spot them lazing about in the sun or jumping along together. Whilst at Weston Park, Yarralumla Play Station is another popular place to visit for families, as well as utilising the many cycling tracks and new BBQs - with kangaroos lazing nearby. See all the details for Weston Park here .
Canberra has a huge variety of family friendly activities, museum and zoos to enjoy around the city and region. If you love animals in particular, these venues are sure to delight kids of all ages and have them talking about it for weeks to come. As well as having fun, kids are learning about Australian and overseas animals, their unique differences, how to look after them and also why some are endangered. With so many animal encounters to experience, we are fortunate that we can get so near to these beautiful animals and appreciate their beauty close up.
One thing is for sure - they are watching us as closely as we are watching them.
Who are you? Gippsland Water Dragon at The Sanctuary