Which is why we asked his opinion on Australia’s top 10 animal experiences…
Sure, Australia can boast world-beating beaches, spell-binding Outback and a mystical indigenous culture that dates back longer than any other on the planet, but another thing that really sets the land of Oz apart is its selection of weird and wonderful creatures. Especially when you consider that most of them can’t be found anywhere else, and many can kill you with a half-hearted sneer.
The chances to interact with Australia’s bizarre and varied creatures, on their own terms, is seemingly endless at times, which is good, because exploring new worlds and sharing moments with some of its inhabitants really does give you lifelong memories (and awesome photos). There’s no shortage of the weird and wonderful Down Under, like weedy sea dragons off Sydney’s beaches, or thorny devils in the Outback dust (don’t miss the very cool Alice Springs Reptile Centre), or echidnas and wombats hanging out in the bush. However, a list has been demanded so a list you shall have. In no particular order, here’s the big-hitters – my top 10favourite animal experiences Down Under.
In a nutshell: Dive with sharks
Tell me more: Sharks can be big and scary, but not all of them want to eat you. You’ve got a fair chance of meeting the (generally) harmless varieties, like nurse sharks or reef sharks, when diving in numerous places around Oz. However, real animal-lovin’ thrill-seekers should head to Port Lincoln in South Australia. That’s where you can go cage diving with great white sharks in the very place where much of Jaws was filmed. There truly is nothing comparable to sharing the water with these ruthless but incredible predators and looking them in the eye.
WHALE OF A TIME
In a nutshell: Swim with the world’s biggest fish
Tell me more: Okay, technically this should be part of the first one, but swimming specifically with whale sharks has to be one of the ultimate experiences Down Under. These gentle giants, commonly 4-12m long, spend a few months each year (April-July) along Western Australia’sNingaloo Reef. Snorkelling alongside them is exciting, humbling and unforgettable.
In a nutshell: Hold a snake
Tell me more: With something like 12 of the world’s 10 most deadly snakes calling Australiahome, it’s no surprise that visitors enjoy a little morbid fascination in the slippery fellas. Pretty much anyway in northern Oz, there’s plenty of opportunities to wrap one of the more harmless varieties around you. You’ll be amazed at just how smooth they feel.
In a nutshell: Find a man-killing bird
Tell me more: You may not have heard of cassowaries before arriving Down Under, but they’re well worth a look. Why? Well, they’re listed as the most dangerous bird on Earth in the Guinness Book of Records, perhaps because they’ve killed two humans. They’re massive (up to 5ft), multi-coloured and have some serious claws on ‘em. Your best bet for spotting one in the wild is Mission Beach. Just don’t wear blue. They like blue.
In a nutshell: Cuddle a koala
Tell me more: Other than the kangaroo, there really isn’t an animal more Aussie than the koala. With their stoned-looking eyes, ridiculous balancing positions and all-round unbearable cuteness, the koala cuddling photo is guaranteed to become your mum’s new fave picture. Another good thing is that, unlike with most Aussie animals, there’s no chance koalas will kill or eat you. Well, unless it’s got the munchies real bad. A TNT fave for a cuddle is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.
WHAT A CROC
In a nutshell: Swim with a dinosaur
Tell me more: The world’s biggest reptile, and probably Australia’s most dangerous animal, the saltwater croc, can be found all across northern Oz, so careful where you swim. Watching a feeding show somewhere like Australia Zoo is good fun, but you can’t beat seeing them in the wild. Best are places like Kakadu, Cape Tribulation and the Kimberley. For the biggest thrill, jump in a plastic box at Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin and they’ll chuck you in the same tank as them! Watching them jump for food, on the Adelaide River near Darwin, is perhaps the most consistently exciting (and reasonably priced) way to see just how powerful these giants are.
In a nutshell: Feed a kangaroo
Tell me more: Okay, so this might not be the most exciting on the list, and after a few months in Oz you’ll suddenly realise just how many roos are about, but there’s no denying that the first time you spot Skippy is a very cool moment. At most zoos you can buy a bag of feed for a buck or two and handfeed them..
INTO THE BLUE
In a nutshell: Swim with dolphins
Tell me more: Luckily, not everything in the Aussie waters wants to eat or sting you. Friendly, squeaky dolphins can be found all around the coast. Swimming with them really is a magical experience and one that seems to make peeps back home most jealous. The best spots are Port Stephens (NSW), Glenelg (Adelaide) and Rockingham (south of Perth). You can also see them being fed at Monkey Mia (WA). Another one to try, with many people saying it’s more fun and interactive than dolphin swimming, is seal swimming. Head to SA’s Eyre Peninsula.
FIND SOME SYMPATHY
In a nutshell: Watch some cartoons
Tell me more: Right, so maybe great whites are the scariest creatures in Oz and kangaroos might be the funniest, koalas are definitely the cutest, but you can’t deny that Tassie devils are the coolest. However, the world’s largest carniverous marsupial (which is about the size of a small dog) is actually very shy and endangered, making it hard to spot. Unsurprisingly, they’re only found in Tassie, but you may have to settle for watching one screeching around a zoo.
CHECK OUT THE CUTE BIRDS
In a nutshell: Witness the penguin parade
Tell me more: Sorry, did I say koalas are definitely the cutest Aussie animals? ‘Cos these little guys are serious contenders. Phillip Island, not far from Melbourne, is the place to go to catch the penguin parade, as every day at dusk hundreds of the world’s smallest penguins waddle across the sand for a sunset beach party. Bicheno, on Tasmania’s east coast, is also a really good place to see penguins, while if you’re lucky you might even spot some at Manly in Sydney.