From gangly kangaroos to sashaying emus, my visit to Australia a few years back transformed me into a die-hard wildlife fan – especially when a wallaby hopped on my cottage balcony while I was in the outdoor hot tub. But while almost every Oz critter is worth writing home about, where are the must-sees?
If you're in Victoria, head for Phillip Island, a Victoria ecotourism destination 140 kilometres from Melbourne. "It's home to some of Australia's largest penguin and fur seal colonies – plus koalas, wallabies and wonderfully colourful native birds," Roland Pick of Phillip Island Nature Park says.
"Just after sunset every day, they emerge from the sea and waddle across to their burrows. Seeing them from the viewing platforms and elevated boardwalks is unforgettable."
Further south – 240 km from the mainland – Tasmania is also a top draw, according to Tonia Cochran of Inala Nature Tours. Based on Bruny Island (off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania), Cochran says the remote isle offers delightful critter encounters.
"You'll have the chance to see all 12 Tasmanian endemic bird species plus special mammals like the long-nosed potoroo and rare white wallabies." Northern Tasmania is also great for platypus and Tasmanian devil viewings while nature reserves near Hobart can deliver eastern barred bandicoots and Tasmanian bettongs.
Cochran adds there's one creature every visitor should aim for: "The eastern quoll is beautiful and underrated. Active and playful, they're like kittens in the way they move and chase each other."
A far larger marsupial features in many South Australia visits, according to Craig Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island. Kangaroo Island is just off the mainland, southwest of Adelaide, and visitors can find everything from tammar wallabies to short-beaked echidnas and superb fairywrens. But the photogenic 'roos remain the "quintessential Australian wildlife encounter."
On South Australia's mainland, Wickham suggests visitors head out to the Flinders Ranges. "It's an arid mountain wilderness with abundant kangaroo varieties and also yellow-footed rock wallabies, which I think are the most striking of all the macropods," he says, adding raptors and cockatoos abound in the area while "emu encounters are almost guaranteed."
Finally, he suggests the region's Eyre Peninsula, where coastal operators offer shark and dolphin encounters and wilderness areas allow travellers to go in search of wombats, huge flocks of budgerigars and reptiles such as bearded dragons.
In the north, Queensland's coastline is home to bucket-list superstar the Great Barrier Reef. And keep in mind, if you want a cute picture with a koala, you've got to visit Queensland (or South Australia) as they are the only two states in the country where the public are allowed to hold the famous marsupial.
The state capital of Brisbane is an enticing touring hub for nature nuts.
"Queensland's mountainous Scenic Rim is full of wildlife icons, including koalas, kangaroos, platypus and lyrebirds," says Ronda Green of Araucaria Ecotours. There are also Komodo dragon-like goannas and fruit bats with metre-wide wingspans.
West of Brisbane, she also recommends the Bowra Station and Currawinya National Park areas for outback bird encounters with emus, brolgas and pink-hued Major Mitchell's cockatoos. "There are no five-star resorts here but you can meet locals at outback pubs and sleep under the stars."
I would also add that if it's the deadly saltwater crocodile you've got to see, fly two hours north to Cairns. Outside town you'll find Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, a large nature park where you can feed one yourself (with a very long pole) and get a look at the infamous flightless, killer casowary birds. To see salties in the wild, drive another two-hours north for an open-boat cruise along the mangrove banks of Daintree River.
Green, who is also the chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia, suggests researching potential trips via the association's website. It's crammed with regional operator listings and intriguing overviews of local creatures.
It's this eye-popping diversity, she adds, that still surprises most visitors. "Species like the koala, wombat, Tasmanian devil, platypus and emu are found nowhere else on the planet. But there are also many other animals here that deserve to be better-known."
OUR READERS WRITE
- Western Australia – we drove from Perth to Exmouth, 1,400 kms, for a once-in-a-lifetime swim with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef. Monkey Mia is also famous for its friendly dolphins, who have been coming to the bay for 40 years. En route, we saw kangaroos, emus, termite mounds and goanna lizards from the car. Wendy Royle
- Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania for wombats; and parts of the Great Ocean Road or Kangaroo Island for koalas. @joymary_joy
- Wilsons Promontory National Park, a two-hour drive southeast from Melbourne: kangaroos, emus, and wombats roaming around the fields and low brush (often together), and a large variety of unusual birds such as cockatoos and crimson rosellas. Beautiful beaches. Great hiking trails. Why go elsewhere? Martin MacLeod
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane was a highlight for me – and a Daintree Rainforest day trip – amazing wildlife @LauraDFoodie
- We had the most amazing day trip from Melbourne. It included a koala sanctuary, wallabies and the little penguins at dusk. We did this tour and it was amazing – which is a feat considering how much I hate typical tours @mseidel1
- I love Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Bonorong Wildlife Santuary in Tassie and Tower Hill State Game Reserve in Victoria. At Tower Hill, I saw a large (and wild) snoozing koala wedged in the crook of a spindly gum tree. I also saw echidnas snarffling in the brush. I loved how a random walk uncovered so much wildlife: emus, kangaroos, skinks, birds – you didn’t have to search @eagranieyuh
- Phillip Island for the penguin parade – no contest. Watching the little penguins emerge from the ocean is incredible! @Globe_Guide
- I’ve seen koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, dingos, emus. But what I’d really like to spot is a duck-billed platypus! @Tours_By_Locals
- I saw thousands of ’roos – also wombats and wallabies – while camping at Wilsons Promontory, outside Melbourne @reidontravel
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