10 Ways to Experience Australia’s Wildlife
There’s nothing like a vacation to Australia. You can experience coastal living and city slicking, all in the same week, enjoy every activity under the sun, from wine tasting to wildlife tours. Australia is one of the few places in the world where you can see whales leaping from the ocean, koalas hanging from trees, and kangaroos greeting you are you drive by. To help you plan your next visit to explore this unique and dynamic destination, we’ve listed ten ways to experience Australia’s wildlife in their natural habitat.
With opportunities galore to snorkel among tropical fish and sea turtles, to see the world’s smallest penguins and admire cuddly looking koalas, you can enjoy wildlife experiences galore in Australia. More than 80% of the country’s mammals and reptiles, and 50% of its bird species are absolutely unique. Some of the following experiences require an element of exertion, but others simply require that you watch, wait, and wonder. This year, venture into the wild and:
10. Check Out the Platypus
Your best chance of spotting a native platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) in the wild is in a freshwater creek in Tasmania or mainland Australia’s eastern states. Dawn and dusk are the best viewing times, and you should initially look for a circular ripple pattern on the water’s surface, which appears as the platypus dives. Consider heading to the Broken River viewing platform in Queensland’s Eungella National Park, if seeing one of these comically-featured critters is on your holiday bucket list.
9. More Than Just Kangaroos
There’s more to Kangaroo Island than just Kangaroos; there you’ll be able to discover sea lions on the beach, koalas, echidnas, wallabies, and exotic birds. There are also rugged rock formations and underground caves to explore, plus some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches and bays to swim, surf, snorkel, dive, and fish in.
8. See Sea Turtles Scramble to Sea
The Ningaloo Coast is one of the major breeding areas for sea turtles in Australia. Between December and March, green and loggerhead turtles make their way up to the beaches to lay their eggs. Night tours offer visitors the opportunity to watch the turtles make their long journey up to the beaches to lay their eggs, and then six weeks later, to see the hatchlings scramble down to the water’s edge.
7. Watch Out for Wombats
The wombat is the world’s largest burrowing mammal, with stubby powerful legs and a pudgy round body. Australia is home to three species of wombat - the endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), the southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons), and the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus). You can view the common wombat in Tasmania, as well as areas of New South Wales, Victoria, and southern Queensland. Just be aware that they are nocturnal!
6. Walk Among Quokkas
There are anywhere from 4,000 to 17,000 quokkas living on Rottnest Island, which supports Australia’s largest population of the little marsupial (Setonix brachyurus). You can spot them on the outskirts of Thomson Bay settlement, or join a free guided quokka walk which departs the Salt store daily at 1pm. The staff at the visitor centre to point you in the right direction if you have trouble finding it. Rottnest Island is located 19km off the coast of Perth. To explore the island and its 63 bays, you may want to consider hiring a bike.
5. Swim with Whale Sharks
If you get the chance to slide into the translucent waters of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and coming face-to-face with whale sharks, it’ll likely be a moment that you’ll cherish forever. When swimming next to these gentle giants, usually the size of a minibus, you’ll be able to get close enough to see their distinctive mottling and mesh-fin gills. You can also stay on a live-aboard catamaran for another great experience; watching humpback whales breaching.
4. Encounter a Cassowary
Driving near the southern cassowary’s (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) territory in north Queensland can be a unique experience. If you notice an almost human-sized, flightless bird, with brilliant blue colouring along its head and neck, with dropping red wattles and long, black feathers, you should continue on your way … slowly! A cassowary’s dagger shaped claws are capable of causing serious injury or worse.
3. Go Koala Spotting
One of the best places to see koalas in their natural habitat is along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, especially between Lorne and Apollo Bay. Head towards the Kennett River and stop at the Koala Cove Café. Just opposite you’ll see a small walkway lined with eucalyptus trees. Stroll along the lane and look up; you should see lots of sleepy koalas. Other great places for koala spotting are Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Magnetic Island in Queensland.
2. Snorkel with Manta Rays
When diving or snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef or Ningaloo Reef, most visitors hope they’ll catch sight of sea turtles, as well as the exquisitely elegant manta ray. With a wing span of up to seven metres, manta rays can be spotted all year round in Coral Bay and in parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Lady Elliot Island is popular location for tourists who want to experience a manta ray glide past, and it’s also great for viewing sea turtles. Some might even return your gaze as they swim past.
1. Welcome Home Fairy Penguins
Fairy penguins (Eudyptula minor) are the world’s smallest species of penguin, standing only 33cm tall. Their breeding range in Australia extends along the southeast coast from Freemantle all the way to Sydney, and includes Tasmania. Most colonies occur on offshore islands, and you can join a tour in some locations. You can welcome home the fairy penguins as they waddle up the beach by joining a tour on Kangaroo Island, Philip Island, Montague Island, or in Bicheno.
If these locations all seem a little too remote, and out of the way, you can visit a wildlife park or animal sanctuary instead. It’s a great way to see Australia’s native animals in their natural habitat, carefully watched over by attentive and well trained staff. While there are plenty of these parks across the country, we recommend visiting Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, which has operated out of Wangetti for over 85 years.
Hartley’s works with local veterinarians and wildlife rescue organisations to assist in the rehabilitation and release of native injured animals, and provides a permanent home to those that cannot be re-released. You can take a stroll through the park and encounter a variety of friendly wallabies, koalas, kangaroos, and crocodiles, plus many other native reptiles and birds. Hartley's Crocodile Adventures is approximately 45 minutes away from Cairns, and 25 minutes south of Port Douglas. The park is open every other day 8.30am to 5.00pm, and adult tickets start at $41.00, with discounted rates for children and families.
Discovering Australia’s animals is one of the highlights for many visitors to the country. The island continent is blessed with a wealth of critters that can’t be found elsewhere. You may not see kangaroos hopping down city streets if you only have time to visit Sydney or Melbourne (although they have been known to do this on the odd occasion), but you won’t have to stop too far into the wild to see some of these unique creatures. Australia’s famous scenery and wildlife are all right there, waiting to be explored.
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