Go on safari at Australian zoos

The sprawling plains of Zimbabwe and Botswana might seem like a far-away dream at the moment.

But perhaps surprisingly, you can support the "Holiday at Home" campaign and still take a safari.

And you can see the famous Big 5.

The animals on every safari bucket list are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. These majestic creatures were revered by big-game hunters as the most difficult animals to hunt on foot.

But luckily, in Australia, they are well protected and zoos are dedicated to their breeding and education programs. They are also now providing exciting experiences for zoo game-watchers.

So grab that pith helmet and camera, and let's safari.

Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Taronga is Australia's most iconic zoo. In 100 years, it has grown from being a great place for a day out to an internationally recognised conservation and education hub.

Taronga cares for over 4000 animals in over 350 species, many of which are threatened.

Of the big five, Taronga has lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos. In the past year, the zoo has welcomed Sumatran tiger cubs and a baby gorilla.

There are over 20 shows and keeper talks daily and it's all included for free with your zoo entry. You can get up close to tigers, take a ride in the cable car or watch a cinematic adventure.

The Twilight at Taronga concert series entertains night zoo-goers or you can go on a private behind-the-scenes tour, led by the elephant keepers who will bring you eye-to-eye with Taronga's Asian elephant herd.

Where can you stay? Roar and Snore at Taronga Zoo Sydney is an unforgettable overnight experience featuring intimate animal encounters, fascinating keeper talks, meals and safari-style accommodation with spectacular views of Sydney Harbour.

It's open Tuesday to Sunday and every night during school holidays.

Children must be at least five years old.

Take me there: Taronga Zoo Sydney is on Bradleys Head Road in Mosman, right on Sydney Harbour, and is easily accessible from the Sydney CBD via ferry, bus or train. Parking is available at an all-day rate of $19. Buy your zoo tickets online before you visit - you'll save up to 20 per cent off the gate price. A Zoo Friends pass is $99 and two kids go free for the year with every adult.

Explore more: taronga.org.au

Altina Wildlife Park, Wagga Wagga

This might be one of the most surprising places in Australia to see some of the Big 5 animals - the Altina Wildlife Park.

This family-owned business is one of the most unique and successful zoos in Australia and it has a focus on helping endangered species.

The park is set on a 207-hectare bush property on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River at Darlington Point.

You'll meet the animals up close as you travel in a horse-drawn or motorised cart. All visitors must tour the park with a guide and the schedule coincides with seeing the animals during their daily feed times.

The tour takes two and a half hours and is the only way to see Altina's animals.

For something a little more exciting, try one of the Behind The Scenes Wild Encounters where you feed your chosen animal.

Two of the Big 5 animals are available at Altina. There's the endangered Asian water buffalo, native to parts of Asia, and you can also see African lions, naturally found south of the Sahara in Western, Eastern and Southern Africa. While not endangered, these lions are vulnerable.

Altina has a special program where you can meet white rhinos or a pride of lions face to face. The encounter takes 30 minutes and is $70 per person, with a maximum of only four people.

Where can you stay? Altina plans to launch a new glamping stay experience later this year, complete with 4.5-metre bell tents and private ensuites. The zoo stay will include meal and drinks packages. There are accommodation options in nearby Leeton, a 30-minute drive away, including the Leeton Heritage Motor Inn.

Take me there: Located on the Sturt Highway, Darlington Point. A train or bus trip from Sydney takes just over nine hours. Or for a faster trip, Regional Express flights from Sydney are $130 each way. Entry prices are $38 for adults and $18 for children. Open daily from 8am to 7pm.

Explore more:altinawildlife.com

Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

The sister zoo to Taronga Sydney, Taronga Western Plains Zoo is hugely popular for its overnight accommodation that allows you to sleep with the animals. This zoo boasts lions and elephants along with extremely rare Sumatran tigers.

The zoo has special features such as the Lion Pride Lands experience and the zoo also focuses its conservation efforts on elephants. Referred to as one of the smartest mammals on earth, these majestic animals are becoming highly endangered due to poaching. Taronga has a successful breeding program for Asian elephants, that is driven by its experts and partner zoos.

With as few as 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, Taronga has developed a special program for the critically endangered animals which includes breeding, research and fundraising.

Where can you stay? Guests can stay overnight in a very unique safari at Zoofari Lodge, a retreat located inside the zoo. Ten Animal View Lodges are nestled where giraffes, zebras and rhinos roam, and five Bushland Lodges are located in nearby native bush. This wild escape is inclusive of meals, accommodation, exclusive tours, two-day zoo entry and bike hire. Children are welcome. Prices start from $668 per room, per night.

Take me there: The Zoo Friends pass is valid at both Taronga Zoo Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo. There is 20 per cent off family one-day tickets when you buy online; they are priced at $121.60 for two adults and two children. Dubbo is located in the central west of NSW, 396 kilometres north-west of Sydney. The Dubbo XPT train runs daily from Sydney to Dubbo. NSW TrainLink also runs daily services to Lithgow with connecting coaches to Dubbo.

Explore more:taronga.org.au

Sydney Zoo, Western Sydney

Sydney Zoo is the newest zoo to open its doors in Australia, launching in December 2019. It holds four lion brothers from the Taronga Conservation Society, three orangutans, two cheetahs, three zebras, 11 chimpanzees and 13 baboons.

Three hyenas were sourced from Singapore Zoo, becoming the only hyenas to call Sydney home.

There are more than 2000 animals at this special place.

Of the Big 5, Sydney Zoo is justly proud of its African lions. And a big part of the zoo is that it supports local and international conservation efforts, and educates visitors on the importance of conservation.

The zoo is home to a number of endangered species from all over the world and the zoo keepers aim to protect these animals by giving them sanctuary and participating in breeding programs.

Sydney Zoo is a member of the peak zoological body, the Zoo and Aquarium Association, and is an active participant in breeding programs for endangered animals.

Where can you stay? While the zoo doesn't offer accommodation, the Novotel Sydney West is less than five kilometres away and rates start at $182 per night.

Take me there: Get a family pass for $100 or buy a family membership from $99. The zoo is at 700 Great Western Highway, Bungarribee. Travel by car or public transport. On-site parking is available.

Explore more:sydneyzoo.com

National Zoo and Aquarium, Canberra

The zoo is just 10 minutes' drive from the centre of Canberra and is Australia's only combined zoo and aquarium. You'll enjoy seeing native and exotic animals, as well as fish and reptiles.

Meet and feed some rare white lions with one of the experienced keepers. Be taken to either a glass wall or into the den - where you will meet and feed these magnificent members of the Big 5. The 15-minute tour for four people costs $55 Monday to Friday and $70 on weekends.

You can become a "Zoo Keeper for a Day" with the ultimate all-day wildlife experience. With a Zooventure tour you can hand feed a tiger and pat a rhino.

Where can you stay? If you want to continue your animal experience, the Jamala Wildlife Lodge is an overnight safari based at the zoo - and Canberra's first luxury lodge experience. There are three accommodation options: Ushaka Lodge, Giraffe Tree Houses and Jungle Bungalows each with their own unique wildlife experience. The room rate includes your overnight accommodation, all food and dinner beverages, and exclusive tours. All suites feature bespoke African fixtures. Prices start from $1575 per night for a Jungle Treehouse, sleeping up to four people.

Take me there: A family pass for two adults and up to three children is $130. Located next to Scrivener Dam, the National Zoo and Aquarium is a 15-minute drive from the airport and free parking is available. Buses also operate daily from the city.

Explore more: nationalzoo.com.au

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