When it comes to jaw-droppingly beautiful nature and diverse wildlife, the wide brown country down under is the place to go! With its beaches, rainforests and outback, Australia is home to a wide range of animals. Many people mainly associate Australia with kangaroos and koalas but actually the country has more than 370 mammal species, 820 bird species and more than 4000 fish species. Although Australia is the smallest continent in the world, it is the 6th largest country and the landscape, climate and wildlife greatly diversify.
Brisbane & Central Queensland
Whales: Hervey Bay, approx. 3,5 hours from Brisbane
Each year a large number of whales migrate north along the eastern coast of Australia. During this period of time it is possible to go on whale watching trips from several different locations along the coast. One of the more popular places to do so is the town of Hervey Bay. During the season several whale watching boats depart from Hervey Bay marina each day. The size of the boats and what is included in the price varies from company to company. Blue Dolphin Marine Tours is the company for you if you are interested in a more intimate experience on a smaller boat.
Dingoes: Fraser Island, approx. 4 hours from Brisbane
The large sand island, Fraser Island, is home to one of Australia’s most iconic animals; the dingo. The dingo is a predator and there has been some unfortunate dingo attacks on Fraser within the last couple of years. Therefore, the campsites and resorts on Fraser are fenced-in and it is a good idea to explore the island in the company of a professional guide. Sunset Safaris – and several other companies – do 2-day Fraser Island 4WD Tours from Brisbane with transportation, accommodation and meals included.
Turtles: Bundaberg, approx. 4 hours from Brisbane
At the beach close to Bundaberg’s Visitor’s Centre, Mon Repos, a large concentration of turtles come to nest every year. From November to January visitors can see the large loggerhead turtles crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. From January to March the eggs are hatching and thousands of turtle babies leave their nest to find their way to the ocean. The admission fees for an entire evening at the turtle centre are very reasonable. A good tip is to book your tickets in advance. In that way, you will have a better chance at getting a spot on one of the first tours of the evening.
Tree kangaroos: Atherton Tablelands, approx. 1,5 hours from Cairns
The green inland area of Atherton Tablelands is part of the Wet Tropics. Asides from seeing lots of breathtaking waterfalls, you might be fortunate enough to meet one of the area’s rare tree kangaroos. They live in the rainforest and – as the name indicates – they spend most of their time in the top of the trees. The area around the Malanda Falls Visitor Centre is a good starting point. If you do not have any luck in this area, the friendly staff at the visitor centre will happily share suggestions on where to look next.
Cassowaries: Mission Beach & Etty Bay, approx. 2 hours from Cairns
When making a turn onto El Arish Mission Beach Road from Bruce Highway, the cassowary caution-signs start to pop up at the side of the road. The giant dinosaur like bird lives in the rainforest in the Mission Beach area and is often spotted by drivers on their way to the cosy little beach town. According to many locals in the area, the campsite in Etty Bay – 48kms north of Mission Beach – is the absolute best place to see the bird. 2-3 cassowaries live in the area close to the campsite and they often come by for a visit. Some days you can even see them strolling along the beach just next to the campsite.
Platypuses: Eungella National Park, approx. 1 hour from Mackay
The platypus is a unique and unlikely animal that is not often seen in the wild. It is one of only two species of egg-laying mammals in the world and with its beak and strange looking tail, it looks like a weird (but awfully cute!) mix between a duck and a beaver. Platypuses live in rivers and are mainly seen during dusk and dawn and on cloudy days. A good tip is first of all to keep an eye out for bubbles in the surface. Because the shy platypuses are so rarely seen in the wild, many people choose to go platypus spotting with a professional guide who knows exactly where to look. Reeforest Adventure Tours offer guided daytrips to Broken River in Eungella National Park.
Fish & marine wildlife in general: Great Barrier Reef
The largest living organism on earth, The Great Barrier Reef, is the ultimate place to explore Australia’s underwater wildlife. Whether you prefer snorkelling or scuba diving, there is a good chance to experience close encounters with some of the marine park’s many colourful residents. The Great Barrier Reef is huge. A daytrip will take you out to the inner reef while a 2 or 3 days trip will give you a chance explore the picturesque outer reef as well. A number of different companies do trips out on the reef. Boats depart daily from Airlie Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas among others and there is indeed a trip for everyone – whether you are on a budget, looking for a luxury cruise, just want to snorkel or are a keen scuba diver.
Melbourne & the South Coast
Penguins: St Kilda Pier, Melbourne
Australia is a country with extravagant nature and a wide diversity of wildlife. What amazes a lot of tourists is that you do not even have to get out of the city to get up close with wild animals. Melbourne’s famous beach, St. Kilda, is home to one of the smallest penguin species in the world. After sunset you can meet the little penguin colony as they come up to rest between the rocks close to the jetty. This unique experience is perfectly free. Although, it is important to remember to observe the wild penguins from a distance and not take flash photographs. In that way, they will keep coming back for many more tourists to see in the future.
Koalas: Great Ocean Road, approx. 2,5 hours from Melbourne
Koalas are to be seen in many parts of Australia. A special thing about the koalas near The Great Ocean Road is that they are larger than the ones in the more northern parts of Australia. The reason to this is the temperate climate in the South, which has resulted in larger body size and longer fur. In fact the Great Ocean Road koalas can weigh up to 14 kilos. A particularly great place to spot these big, fluffy balls of fur is on the koala walk at Kennett River. On most days it is possible to see wild koalas resting in the top of the gum trees.
Great white sharks: Port Lincoln, approx. 7 hours from Adelaide
Has diving with sharks always been on top of your bucket list? If so, Port Lincoln is the only place in Australia from where you get in a shark cage and be just centimetres away from a great white. Adventure Bay Charters do daytrips from Port Lincoln to Neptune Island where great white sharks are spotted daily. For those not interested in actually getting in the water with the sharks, it is now also possible to see the sharks from an underwater viewing area. Furthermore, another cool thing about this exact company is that they focus on protecting the sharks’ natural environment; they use sound vibrations instead of berley to attract the sharks.
Perth & the Southwest
Quokkas: Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth
A curious thing about Australia’s west coast is that there are no koalas in the wild. Although, that does not mean that you cannot see cute animals in Western Australia. On Rottnest Island, just off the coast of Perth, you can meet the local quokkas that – judging from the many awesome pictures on Instagram – always seem to be ready for a happy selfie. From Perth you can do day trips to Rottnest Island to see the quokkas and relax on the postcard perfect beaches. It is very popular to explore the small island by bicycle.
Whales: Flinders Bay, approx. 3,5 hours from Perth
In Western Australia the whale season is even longer than on the east coast as it reaches from May to September. Asides from the humpbacks and southern right whales, the occasional rare blue whale also pays the west coast a visit every now and then. Along the coast there are several different lookouts from where it is possible to spot whales. The most popular place to do so is south of Perth in Flinders Bay, Augusta.
The Northwest Coast
Whale sharks: Exmouth
From April to July you can meet another marine giant outside the coast of Western Australia. Even though the name indicates the opposite, the whale shark is harmless and only feeds on plankton – which means that it is possible and perfectly safe to snorkel alongside these gentle giants. The whale sharks of Western Australia are mainly to be seen along the Ningaloo Reef. Day tours depart daily from Exmouth and with Ningaloo Blue Dive you are guaranteed a fun day out on sea with everything included.
Dolphins: Monkey Mia
Dolphins can be seen in most areas of Australia. The thing that makes Monkey Mia so special is that the dolphins visit the same place every day, all year round, and swim very close to the beach. Each morning it is possible to handfeed the friendly and curious bottlenose dolphins at the Monkey Mia Resort in Shark Bay.
Darwin & Northern Territory
Crocodiles: Adelaide River, Darwin
If you want to see wild crocodiles the size of the ones in the Crocodile Dundee movies, Northern Territory is the place to go! The crocodiles can be seen in many places; in the rivers, on the beach and sometimes even in a swimming pool in the city. As it goes with all wild animals it is all about being in the right place at the right time. Jumping Crocodile Cruises do wildlife cruises up the Adelaide River and are known for getting the massive crocodiles to jump up just next to the boat.
Fishing: Kakadu National Park, approx. 2 hours from Darwin
Asides from crocodiles, Northern Territory is known for its world class fishing. Kakadu National Park is gigantic and if you want to find the very best fishing spots right away, it is a good idea to go on a tour with a local guide. If you choose Yellow Water Fishing Cruise, the guide will take you up the Yellow Water Billabong. Chances are that you might even catch the famed fish all Aussies are talking about; the barramundi.
Birds: Alice Springs
Australia’s red centre is indeed the very heart of the outback. The red sand and giant rock formations make a unique type of landscape you will not find anywhere else in the world. Central Australia is the host of a wide range of birdlife. Around 180 species of bird live in the Alice Springs area and on a walk in the desert landscape, it is possible to see anything from the large, majestic emu to the mysterious owl. For those wanting to go on an outback adventure on their own, a list of bird species can be downloaded at travelnt.com. And for those wanting to go with a group and an experienced guide, wildlife guide Mark Carter from Birding & Wildlife does day trips and 3 day trips departing from Alice Springs.