There are ones that bite and ones that bounce and a few that just look like someone’s idea of a practical joke. Either way, there are some cracking trips to be had if you’re prepared to go looking for them.
It’s true that the further you travel and the more remote the destination, the more likely you are to spot Australia’s crazy creatures in their natural habitat, but you don’t actually have to go to the ends of the Earth. For example, if you’re over in Perth, it’s no hassle at all to jump on a ferry and get across to Rottnest Island, where the bizarre little quokkas are protected and stroll around like they’re kings of the castle. That’s right, quokkas – it sounds like a ridiculous wind-up invented by Aussies to fool tourists. But these odd little miniature wallabies are real.
If you like your animals with a bit more menace, then head north to the top end, where you’ll encounter plenty of crocodiles. Don’t get too close, though, as crocs are seriously lethal and won’t think twice about taking a chunk out of you. A great way to see them in their element is to take a tour along the Adelaide River – a baited hook gets hung over the side of the boat and the crocs come rushing over before being enticed to jump out of the water for a feed. Their power and sheer predatory guile is something you’ll never forget after you’ve seen them in action.
On your way back to civilisation, you may as well stop through South Australia, where Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island remain among the country’s most spectacular intriguing destinations.
In Port Lincoln, for example, you’ll be able to go cage-diving with the local great white sharks, while Kangaroo Islands has a stack of marine life – no, it’s not just kangaroos.
If you’re really up for a once in a lifetime experience, though, maybe you should start planning a trip to Western Australia where every March to July you have the chance to swim or dive with the majestic whale sharks.
Turn the page for more animalistic bucket list experiences.
On the road through Croajingolong | Victoria
Go big or go home. This coastal wilderness park, named after the Aboriginal people that lived here, stretches out over 100 kilometres and features rainforest, eucalyptus forest and heath land, with camping spots along the coast that are perfect for long walks along the beach, fishing and bird-watching.
Victoria’s parks are home to 4,300 native plants and almost a thousand different species of animals and Mallacoota Inlet, about five hours’ drive east of Melbourne, is the biggest and most accessible area of Croajingalong.
Another spot worth visiting is Thurra, where you’ll find the highest sand dunes on the mainland. You’ll run into plenty of wildlife in the park, such as huge goannas, emus, koalas, kangaroos and wallabies.
Turtle Encounter at Bundaberg | Queensland
On Queensland’s Capricorn Coast, tourists get a unique opportunity to get up close an personal with turtles.
Mon Repos, by Bundaberg, boasts the Southern Hemisphere’s largest nesting population of loggerhead turtles, while Lady Elliot also enjoys an active season, with green and hawksbill turtles in abundance. Plus, the island’s surrounding reef, which you can paddle to straight from the beach, enjoys a large manta ray population, which swells to several hundred during the winter mating season.
Turtle Season runs from November to March each year with the turtles arriving on the beach to lay their eggs. Around six weeks later the eggs hatch and hundreds of tiny little turtles emerge from the sand and scurry down to the ocean. Amazing!
Check out the sharks at Port Lincoln | South Australia
Water fanatics, you don’t want to miss this. Yachting, fishing, scuba diving and shark cage diving with the Great White (remember Jaws?), and all of that in one place.
There are quite some National Parks within driving distance, like Lincoln National Park, Coffin Bay National Park and Kellidie Bay Conservational Park. Lincoln National Park is especially nice for bird-watching, since it is home to 123 different kinds of birds. While chilling along the coast, you might just spot a dolphin or sea lion or two.
Coffin Bay National Park is similar to Lincoln National Park in its variety of birds, but distinguishes itself as a perfect area for diving, fishing and surfing. And it’s also known as the seafood capital of Australia so you won’t be going hungry.
Spot the crazy kiwis in Orana | Christchurch, New Zealand
Orana Wildlife Park is New Zealand’s one and only open-range zoo, snadwiched between the east coast of the South Island and the Waimakariri river.
The park extends over 80 hectares and provides an environment as natural as possible for endangered animals. It uses streams, moats and banks rather than actual fences, which allow, you to get up closer to the animals than you would otherwise.
You can walk through the park, hop on one of the safari shuttles or stroll along in one of the guided walkabout tours. The zoo hosts over 400 animals from 70 different species, mainly from New Zealand, Australia and Africa.
The park has a huge collection of New Zealand native species, like the kiwi, tuatara, different kinds of reptiles and heaps of endangered birds.
Quokkas rock on Rottnest Island | Western Australia
If you’re over in Perth and you’ve got a few days to spare, make sure you take a trip over to Rottnest Island – it’s a funny place where there are no cars, so you’ll be peddling your way around. It’s also one of the few places on earth where you can find quokkas, a curious little marsupial that has survived on Rotto because there are none of the predators who hunted them on the mainland.
Strangely enough, it was the quokka who helped bestow the island’s name – as opposed to its indigenous name, Wadjemup. When Dutch sailors first saw Rottnest in the 1600s, they mistook the quokkas for giant rats and named the island “Rotte nest”, which is, of course, Dutch for “rat nest”. Probably not the best way to sell it these days.
Whale shark migration | Ningaloo Reef
It has long been thought by marine biologists, and scientists in general, that the name whale shark is something of a misnomer. When people think of sharks they immediately conjure up images of razor sharp jaws and of water foaming red with human blood, yet the whale shark couldn’t be more different.
These gentle giants cruise gently through the waters off Western Australia and are no more dangerous to a human being then a cuddly household cat (unless you choose to swim into one of their mouths when feeding.) They are also the largest extant species of fish on the planet and due to their easy going nature you can swim right up alongside them and bask in their undeniable majesty and magnificence with nothing but joy in your heart.
Images via Getty/CC via Hesperian
Jumping crocs on the Adelaide River | Northern Territory
Up close and personal gets a whole different meaning when you hop on board of one of the jumping crocodile cruises on the Adelaide River. Humongous jaws, maybe a metre from your face, close enough to hear the air rushing out as they snap shut.Yes, that’s pretty personal we’d say!
There’s a lot of different kind of tours going around the Adelaide River. You can spend an entire day spotting different kinds of wildlife like buffalos, sea eagles and brogolas. But the jumping crocodile tours are good if you’re on a schedule since they usually only take about an hour.
The Adelaide River starts in Litchfield National Park, which is worth a visit too. Its beautiful waterfalls, creeks and walking tracks attract a quarter of a million visitors each year.
Into the wild on Kangaroo Island | South Australia
Kangaroo Island is much more diverse than its name might suggest. Australia’s third-biggest island offers a protective home for different types of wildlife, like koalas, sea lions and pelicans. It has quite a lot to give. Well, when you’re into white beaches, cliffs, dense forests and sand dunes, that is. And who isn’t?
Over a third of the Island is set aside for conservation or as National Park nowadays and includes five Wilderness Protection Areas. The best way to explore Kangaroo Island and see all its wildlife and beauty is by foot.
Since most animals living on the island are nocturnal, you might want to join one of the guided night tours. The best time to spot animals during the day is in winter-time, so rug up and book your next trip.
Phillip island penguin parade | Victoria
You probably can’t get any cuter than this: Every night hundreds of Little Penguins (yes, they’re officially Little not Fairy anymore) come trooping out of the water and up onto the beach to nest. Located about 90 minutes from Victoria’s bustling capital city of Melbourne, Phillip Island is one of Australia’s great wildlife hot spots, featuring not only the aforementioned delightful Little Penguins but also koalas, numerous other seabirds and one of Australia’s largest colonies of sea lions.
The Island will also play host to this year’s Pyramid Rock festival, attracting thousands of people from around the country over the New Year. But the little Tuxedo wearing chaps are still the island’s biggest draw card (unless you’re one of those people into motorbike and or car racing) and special viewing platforms have been set up along the beaches to best showcase the birds without impacting too severely on their natural behaviours. Their little eyes are perfectly suited to being able to see underwater and are very sensitive to light, so no flash photography!
Aside from being absolutely adorable the penguins make for a fascinating study. Tours run year round but are usually most busy during the warmer summer months, so it’s imperative that you book early.
Between November and February the Penguin Parade usually kicks off around half past seven at night and it is recommended that you arrive on Phillip Island an hour before our feathery little friends. Arriving early will also ensure that you don’t miss a minute of the parade.