Do your kids love seeing animals? Here are some places in the Newcastle area that gives families the opportunities to see Australian natives and exotic creatures up close.

Blackbutt Reserve: Blackbutt Reserve is a 182 hectare reserve in the middle of Newcastle’s suburbs which features walking trails, children’s playgrounds and tranquil picnic areas with free electric barbeques. However, its wildlife exhibits are the main attraction as it is home to koalas, emus, wallabies, wombats and peacocks. A series of boardwalks make it easy to push a stroller and let young ones view the creatures up close in the enclosures.There’s also reptile shows in the Wildlife Arena in which visitors can meet, learn about and interact with different creatures. (These are on weekends and during school holidays). Time your visit to coincide with feeding times for the koalas and wombats. It’s free to visit Blackbutt Reserve but there’s payment for parking. For entry times, visit the Blackbutt Reserve website.

Hunter Wetlands: There’s lots of opportunities to see different animals at Hunter Wetlands Centre in Shortland. Visit the  Visit the Freckled Duck enclosure to see one the world’s rarest ducks or climb the Egret Tower for a birds eye view of the egrets that call this home. Don’t miss the large tanks containing snakes, lizards, turtles and fish at the main entrance of the Centre. One of the friendly staff members brought the lizard out of the tank so the kids could touch it. There’s Magpie Geese feeding daily a as well as reptile talks which are usually held on weekends during the school term and daily during school holidays. For entry times and admission costs, visit the Hunter Wetlands Centre website.

Hunter Valley Zoo: Located just out of Cessnock, Hunter Valley Zoo features a range of Australian and exotic species .These include monkeys, alligators, dingoes, tasmanian devils, wombats, koalas, kangaroos, reptiles, birds, lions and more. There’s interactive walk-through yards as well as shows and Keeper Talks. For entry times and admission costs, visit the Hunter Valley Zoo website.

Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters: Irukandji is a unique interactive aquarium that allows visitors to experience ocean life and interact with the sharks and stingrays. Have a close encounter in the water with up to 190 Sharks and Rays. Along with meeting them, you’ll also get to interact with them in their world by feeding them with special feeding sticks, patting them softly on their backs and you will even get tickled by them. For entry times and admission costs, visit the Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters website.

Oakvale Farm & Fauna World: Set on 25 acres at Salt Ash, Oakvale Farm & Fauna World is home to Australian natives, domestic farm and exotic animals such as koalas, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, goats, sheep, rabbits, alligators and ostriches. Kids can feed free-ranging animals such as kangaroos and goats, bottle-feed baby farm animals and go for a tractor trailer ride around the farm. Schedule your day around the daily talks about  koalas, Tasmanian devil and cassowary as well as a reptile show. For entry times and admission costs, visit the Oakvale Farm & Fauna World website.

Tilligerry Habitat: This foreshore reserve in Port Stephens is a favourite feeding and resting spot for local koalas. The Tilligerry Habitat is a community based Ecotourism Information Centre which organises guided walks including koala spotting and a range of other eco activities. For entry times and admission costs, visit the Tilligerry Habitat Reserve website.

Australian Reptile Park: The park is a hands-on zoo located in a natural bush setting on the Central Coast (60 minutes from Newcastle). It’s home to exotic reptiles from around the world and a wide variety of Australian native animals.  Enjoy live shows, themed exhibits and behind the scenes tours. For entry times and admission costs, visit the Australian Reptile Park website

Where’s your favorite place to get close to animals in the Newcastle and Hunter area?