Each year we welcome family and friends from all over the world to our home city of Sydney and without fail they ask us to point them in the direction of the best place to see Australian wildlife within town. Featherdale Wildlife Park has been our recommendation for years, so we were a bit shocked to realise that it has been almost three years since our last visit. Learning that the park had opened a new Private Animal Encounters Experience made us quite keen to visit and serendipitously, we received an invitation from the team to try it out. We booked in as soon as we could.
Sunshine and Striker both have a rather marvellous affinity for animals and would love to turn our home into a menagerie of rescued animals if they could. Thankfully places like Featherdale Wildlife Park keep them in check with a good education program around how we should look after our Australian wildlife (the key is to leave them alone unless they actually need our help and then call in the professionals!). I knew that the Animal Encounters Experience would further reinforce this crucial reminder.
We arrived at Featherdale Wildlife Park at 10.00 am which gave us enough time to roam the first few exhibits before making our way to the new Animal Encounter space for our private reptile experience. Whilst Striker was incredibly keen to get inside and get his hand on some reptiles, Sunshine was quite apprehensive. Having spent a lot of time on our family farm where we have always been quick to warn the kids about snakes, the thought of touching one was in direction conflict with everything she learned. Thankfully we had Sindy the animal trainer on hand to explain everything.
There are three new Private Animal Encounters at Featherdale Wildlife Park: Reptiles, Mammals and Birds. Each encounter features three different animals from the group you choose but will vary day to day depending on how the animals are feeling. Sindy explained to us that she uses positive reinforcement with the animals under her charge, so if they don’t want to do something or aren’t comfortable in the encounter room she won’t force them.
We were welcomed into the encounter room by Sindy who started our session off by telling us a little about Australian reptiles before introducing us to Penelope the Olive Python. Not yet fully grown, she was still huge – longer than Sunshine and around 8kg in weight. Next up was a shingle-back lizard followed by a gorgeous Children’s python. The kids were able to ask as many questions as they liked. We learned that all three animals had been pets that were surrendered to Featherdale Wildlife Park by their owners, they were too humanised to be released into the wild.
Sindy’s calming manner, her obvious passion for these cold-blooded creatures and her warm smile eased Sunshine’s fears and when she was asked if she wanted to hold the shingle-back lizard, she was more than happy to oblige. Striker, as predicted, was super excited to hold Penelope. As constrictors, olive pythons love to wrap themselves around your bare skin, so Penelope loved draping herself around Strikers neck. Sunshine saw how placid she was and decided to give it a go too. I think Penelope liked Sunshine the best – maybe because she’s about the same size as her prey would be in the wild 😉
Our session flew by and soon we were saying goodbye to all the animals and heading off to pick up our professional photos of our experience. Each experience includes a souvenir photo pack which compliments the hundreds of images you’re likely to take with your own camera or phone! You even get to choose which ones you prefer.
Souvenir photo pack safely in my bag and we headed off to explore Featherdale Wildlife Park before grabbing lunch. On previous visits, this would have included a trip to the farm yard which on this occasion was largely empty aside from a Wonky Donkey, a turkey, a calf and a pig. I was a little disappointed until Sunshine reminded me that we were here to see Australian animals. Takes a kid to put things into perspective sometimes, right?
Wombats, echidnas, birds, Tasmanian devils, ghost bats, fruit bats, an array of birds from owls to parrots, dingoes, wallabies, emus….the list goes on. We saw them all. We were able to learn where different owl habitats are in Australia; what food emus prefer; how echidnas mate (trains it seems – look that one up) and a whole plethora of other facts. And then we arrived at the wallaby enclosure. Beware – you may not leave.
The Wallaby enclosure is at the back of the park and boasts a whole mob of animals hungry for the cups of lucerne you can buy just behind the Koala enclosure. I think we spent an HOUR here because Sunshine dug her heels in and was keen to stay with her new friends. They’re all quite friendly and ate and ate and ate. They don’t really stop!
Once we were able to gently move Sunshine away from the wallabies, we headed to the Featherdale Wildlife Park cafe for lunch. There’s plenty on the menu to suit all tastes but for some families, a BYO picnic might be preferable especially if you are on a budget. The team have created some great picnic spaces that you can utilize if this is your choice. We opted for a purchased meal and snacked on sausage rolls, buffalo wings and chips – a once in a while treat.
On this visit we were spoilt with a second Private Animal Encounter but this time with mammals. We made our way back to the encounter room where Sindy was waiting for us with four new friends: Theo the red-necked Pademelon; Bubble and Squeak the Sugar Gliders and a gorgeous Ring Tailed Possum whose name escaped me once I discovered Bubble and Squeak. Sindy gave the kids a good introduction to each animal and explained that each one were rescues.
Our ring tailed possum friend had been rescued after a ribbon from a balloon wrapped around his tail. His mother abandoned him and he was brought to Featherdale Wildlife Park where part of his tail needed to be amputated to save his life. Loosing part of his tail means that he can’t be successfully re-released. Theo the red-necked Pademelon was brought in after his mum was hit by a car. Lucky her pouch was checked. And Bubble and Squeak? This brother and sister duo were found on a development site where they had been abandoned by mum and dad as the fled the bulldozers. They then required human intervention to rear them. Us humans can have a devastating impact on our wildlife.
Theo loved being cuddled in his pouch but soon he became quite inquisitive and was out of the pouch. He decided to stay out for the rest of our visit. Our Ring Tailed Possum loved the kids cuddling him. And then Bubble and Squeak were brought out. They’re both super tiny – fitting in my hand. Being Sugar Gliders they also like to …. glide and put this into action, jumping between our shoulders. They are just so adorable. So, so beautiful.
The problem with the Private Animal Encounters is that they’re super hard to pull away from. The animals are amazing and the gorgeous Sindy makes you feel super relaxed while you learn so much about the animals. After grabbing our second lot of souvenir photos, we made our way to the dingoes who have just had puppies. Being so small, they were still in the den, but we did get to see mum and dad before checking out the crocodile and more birds. By now it was late afternoon so we decided to head on home.
Featherdale Wildlife Park currently offers limited sessions of the mammal, reptile and bird private animal encounters each day. Each encounter lasts for 30 minutes and includes a souvenir photo pack, Featherdale souvenir gift bag with bottled water and bookmark. Prices start at $149.00. Head to the Featherdale Experiences for full details and to book.
Visitors can also book into the Koala Encounters, Daily Zookeeper Walkabout, and the Breakfast with a Koala experiences.
Location: 217-229 Kildare Road, Doonside, Sydney NSW 2767 (near Blacktown) Australia
Opening Times: 9.00 am to 5.00 pm every day of the year except Christmas Day.
Current Ticket Price: $85.00 (2a + 2c)
Head to the Featherdale Wildlife Park website for more details.
We were guests of Featherdale Wildlife Park. All thoughts and opinions are our own.