Back in the bad old days, going to a zoo or aquarium offered little more than the opportunity to stare at a series of forlorn-looking creatures in their enclosures.
Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Today, zoos, wildlife parks and farms across the country offer a variety of novel experiences, many of them interactive.
We've picked out six of the best.
Go behind the scenes with a zoo keeper:
There's a whole lot more to running a zoo than grabbing a few animals and sticking them behind bars, and the best way to find out just how much is to be taken around by a keeper.
The Wild Australia Experience at Sydney's Taronga Zoo is truly superb. For two hours, visitors are taken behind the scenes of the zoo's Australian wildlife section, hearing stories about the various creatures and finding out how they're looked after.
Highlights include being taken into the enormous industrial-sized kitchens to see how the food is prepared for the animals, and then going into the enclosures to feed them.
Every tour is different, it all depends what needs doing. So sometimes there may be the opportunity to stroke the bilbies and echidnas (and watch the latter run off down the corridor at the back), and on others it may be hand-feeding baby wallabies and Thunderbird the emu.
Do it: The Wild Australia Experience at Taronga (zoo.nsw.gov.au; (02) 9978-4782) costs $115 for adults and $73 for children. It includes a full day's entrance to the zoo, morning or afternoon tea and a furry souvenir to take home.
Swim with seals:
Another spot where visitors can go behind the scenes is Underwater World in Mooloolaba, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
But the most exciting thing is being able to get into the water with the clowns of the sea - the seals - and swim alongside them as part of the deal.
Do it: The seal swim package at Underwater World (www.underwaterworld.com.au, (07) 5458-6226) costs $76 and includes a free photo of the experience. Other interactive experiences also available at the same venue include a shark dive (not with a great white).
Go on safari:
OK, so it's hardly the Serengeti or the Okavango Delta, but the Monarto Zoo offers a passable alternative - a short drive out of Adelaide.
Spread over 1,000 hectares, the open range sanctuary's primary role is in providing breeding programs for endangered species. But it also offers visitors the chance to get a taste of Africa.
The safari bus goes regularly during the day on a tour around the habitats of giraffes, white rhinos, cheetahs and more.
Do it: Entry to the Monarto Zoo (www.adelaidezoo.com.au/monarto-zoo/ 08 8534 4100) costs $26 for adults and $10 for children. Similar safari-style experiences are available at the Western Plains Zoo (www.taronga.org.au/western-plains-zoo/ 02 6882 5888) in Dubbo, NSW. Entrance there costs $39 (adults) and $19 (children).
Hold a baby wombat:
There is plenty of native wildlife on offer at Wildlife Wonderland in Bass, 115km south-east of Melbourne, including sugar gliders, koalas and possums.
But the highlight of a visit is the opportunity to cradle one of the park's baby wombats and pose for the camera. Whilst adult wombats may be slightly comical, the little ones are utterly adorable.
It's also possible to cuddle up to wombats at the Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary near Deloraine, Tasmania, although the owners advise that it may just be a pat at certain times of year.
Do it: Entrance to Wildlife Wonderland (www.wildlifewonderland.com.au, (03) 5678-2222) costs $13.90 for adults and $8.90 for children. At Trowunna (www.trowunna.com.au; (03)6363-6162) it's $16 for adults and $8.50 for children.
Ride a camel:
Australian camels are the most disease-free in the world and, ironically, they are now exported to Saudi Arabia. Although not a native species, they played an important role in opening up the country when Afghan traders set off on them through the dry interior in the 19th century.
It's now possible for Joe Public to go for a ride on a ship of the desert (although, be warned, they're not exactly designed for comfort).
One good spot for this is the Calamunnda Camel Farm (camelfarm.com; (08) 9293-1156) in the Darling Range, near Perth. A range of rides are on offer, starting at a quick flit around the farm ($15) to a full day riding through the forest ($370).
Do it: Another alternative is riding down Broome's stunning Cable Beach. Red Sun Camels (www.redsuncamels.com.au, (08) 9193-7423) offers sunset rides for $60 (adults) and $40 (children).
Cuddle a koala:
Koalas may be rather dull sleepy critters most of the time, but when one puts its little paws on your shoulder and cuddles up, it's easy to forget their complete lack of entertainment value on most occasions.
The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane offers the perfect opportunity for big, burly men to subject themselves to ridiculously cutesy photo opportunities. Of course, everyone else can get a koala hug pic too, but it's much funnier when dad's heart melts.
Aside from the koalas, Lone Pine offers the opportunity to have big snakes draped around your neck, hand-feed kangaroos and handle exotic birds.
Do it: Entry to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (www.koala.net; (07) 3378-1366) costs $25 for adults and $19 for children. Photo packages are available as additional extras.