From world-class sanctuaries to truly wild encounters, Australia’s unique wildlife experiences are sure to provide incredible memories.
By Allie Metz
What to expect
- Dramatic coastlines and lush rainforests
- Memorable encounters with Australian animals
- Incredible food and luxurious accommodation
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 5,423 kilometres (3,370 miles)
- Transport: car and plane
- Nearest major city: Melbourne
- Price: $$$$
Whether you plunge into the waters for a swim with colourful tropical fish or have a close encounter with a kangaroo, koala or Tasmanian devil in one of the country’s wildlife parks, there are some incredible ways to interact with Australian animals.
This trip will take you on a wildlife focused adventure that will introduce you to the diversity of Australia's friendly locals. If you have more time, spend a few extra days exploring the cities or heading out to visit one of the World Heritage-listed sites or stunning national parks that surround urban centres.
Day 1: Melbourne
Begin your journey in Melbourne, with its famed laneways, world renowned restaurants and inspiring art scene. Spend the morning getting lost in the city streets and head to Lune to fuel up on their sweet and savoury croissants (have a classic croissant for breakfast and take a ham and gruyere for the road), cruffins and coffee.
Fully energised, jump in the car for the quick drive (about one hour) North East of Melbourne, to Healesville. Spend the afternoon exploring Healesville Sanctuary which has more than 200 species of Australian wildlife. Highlights include strolling amongst kangaroos, birds of prey feedings, reptile shows, aviary visits and the most comprehensive platypus exhibit in the world, where you can enjoy a hands-on experience in the shallow water of the platypus play pool.
Day 2: Phillip Island
Drive 90 minutes south of Melbourne to Phillip Island, famous for its abundance of wildlife. Spend your morning strolling through bushland to see koalas in their native environment at the Koala Conservation Centre.
Next take a trip with Wildlife Coast Cruises to Seal Rocks to see one of the largest colonies of Australian fur seals. Alternatively visit Nobbies Centre, where you can see Australian fur seals from the land for free. Afterwards stroll the boardwalks with terrific views of Phillip Island’s rugged south coast and blowhole.
In the evening visit the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, one of Victoria’s most popular attractions, to see wild little penguins emerge from the sea and waddle across the beach to their dune burrows. The little penguin is the world’s smallest penguin species and Phillip Island is home to one of the largest little penguin colonies in the world.
Stay the night on Phillip Island or head back to Melbourne for a bit of nightlife and dinner at one of the city's top restaurants. You'll fly from Melbourne to Launceston in the morning.
Day 3: Explore Cradle Mountain
Pick up a rental car when you land in Launceston and head west about two hours to reach Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Check in to your accommodation at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge and venture out on one of the well-maintained walking trails to spot wildlife.
You're likely to see many animals unique to the island state, including eastern quolls, pademelons and possibly even Tasmanian devils. You're also likely to spot wallabies and wombats munching on the grass at dusk.
Be sure to book in for dinner at the Highland Restaurant, located within the lodge, or arrange for a picnic hamper to enjoy delicious wine and local produce in front of the fireplace in your room.
Day 4: Cradle Mountain to Hobart
If you weren't lucky enough to spot a Tasmanian devil in the wild, you're guaranteed to meet a few when you visit Devils @ Cradle. Head here after breakfast for a guided tour that will educate you and offer a unique opportunity to see devils close up (and possibly even touch one).
After your morning tour, drive four hours south-east to Hobart. If you've got a spare day, stay an extra night and spend an afternoon exploring Hobart's renowned MONA (Museum of Old and New Art).
If not, don't miss an incredible dinner at Franklin before tucking yourself in for a good night's sleep.
Day 5: Bruny Island
Drive 30 minutes south of Hobart to Kettering where you'll catch the 20 minute ferry to Bruny Island. Hop on a wilderness cruise with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys to discover the incredibly wild coastline of the island, as well as Australian fur seals, dolphins, migrating whales and sea birds.
After such an eventful day you'll want nothing more than to enjoy a chilled out evening. Book in at Hundred Acre Hideaway and take advantage of your cottage's deck, positioned to overlook 100 acres of bush, rainforest and meadows. Watch the wildlife come out at dusk as you sample delicious Bruny Island wine and cheeses from the comfort of your private hot tub.
Day 6: Kangaroo Island
Fly from Hobart to Adelaide today and make your way either by car and ferry or another short flight to Kangaroo Island.
Head to Seal Bay Conservation Park on the Island's south coast to walk among endangered Australian sea lions. Stroll along the 900 metre (2950 foot) wooden boardwalk on a Boardwalk Tour and see the animals surfing the waves or sunning themselves on the shore. You can also take a guided 45 minute Seal Bay Experience tour onto the beach itself. You might see giant bulls fighting each other, or baby sea lions playing just a few metres away from you.
If you get in late, you can still squeeze in the Twilight Beach Tour. This is an attractive option as it's longer (about two hours) and it runs with a maximum of 12 people (as opposed to 25). As the sun drops low into the golden sea, even more sea lions come onto the beach.
Spend the evening discovering the culinary delights of Kangaroo Island. If you're visiting in summer, opt for something memorable and romantic with dinner under a giant fig tree in a pop-up eatery called the Enchanted Fig Tree, near Stokes Bay.
There are also four wineries, a craft brewery and a distillery to discover. Head to Dudley Wines, near Penneshaw, and Bay of Shoals Wines, near Kingscote. Taste craft beer at Kangaroo Island Brewery or find handcrafted, small batch gin, vodka and liquors at Kangaroo Island Spirits.
Day 7: Kangaroo Island
Today you'll head over to the western side of the island to explore Flinders Chase National Park. In addition to being a large natural sanctuary for many species of native Australian animals, it's also home to Remarkable Rocks. These large boulders are covered in orange lichen and have been carved into strange shapes by millions of years of wind, rain and waves.
You'll want to stop for photos at Admirals Arch, a distinctive stalactite-covered eroded rock bridge. You might spot New Zealand fur seals snoozing on the surrounding rocks as well as other wildlife such as birds, large goannas, tammar wallabies, a unique subspecies of echidna, and the Kangaroo Island kangaroo (a shorter version of the western grey kangaroo found on the mainland).
The park offers several walking trails of varying levels of difficulty, weaving through low woodland, open forest and along the coastline. One of the best is the 3 1/2 hour Ravine des Casoars Hike, which goes through a wooded valley, along a river and to a remote sandy beach. The two hour Platypus Waterholes Walk will give you the best chance at spotting these elusive creatures. There are four secluded campgrounds within the park and you can also stay in heritage lighthouse keeper’s quarters at Cape du Couedic Lighthouse if you'd like to spend more time here.
Day 8: Cairns and the Daintree Rainforest
Say farewell to Kangaroo Island and make your way to Adelaide for the three hour flight to Cairns. It's here that you will begin your discovery of what is arguable Australia's greatest natural landmark. The Great Barrier Reef is a sprawling ecosystem, and an incredible bucket list achievement for every traveller. While you can visit it from many jumping off points along the East Coast, Cairns provides a unique location from which to dive in thanks to its close proximity to the Daintree Rainforest, a World Heritage-listed rainforest filled with exciting opportunities to interact with wildlife.
The tropical rainforest is home to the most diverse range of plants and animals on Earth, including the rare tree kangaroo and the endangered cassowary. Head to the Daintree Discovery Centre where you can walk along the 125 metre (410 foot) long Aerial Walkway through the mid-level rainforest or take a self-guided rainforest tour. Join a gentle cruise down the Daintree River to spot wildlife in its natural habitat, including saltwater crocodiles.
However you decide to discover the Daintree, it's certainly a special place that deserves at least a day of exploration and discovery.
Day 9: Great Barrier Reef
Jump on board with Tusa Dive (departing from A Finger, Marlin Wharf in Cairns) for a full day of exploring the outer reef. If you're a novice, the guided snorkelling tours are great. You'll cruise through the water as your guide helps you spot and identify the unique animals in the reef. If you're a certified diver you'll get a chance to do up to three dives on the day.
While out in the water you're likely to find yourself swimming alongside scores of colourful fish, sea turtles, white tipped reef sharks, moray eels and more. There's so much to see, so be sure to bring an underwater camera to catch some of the action.
After so much excitement, you'll want to satisfy your appetite with a well-earned meal at Bellocale Italian and Seafood. The gourmet dishes on this menu are a beautiful pairing of fresh seafood and tasty pasta which have given this spot a great reputation for a fantastic meal.
Day 10: Cairns from above
Before you finish your trip, be sure to spend half a day checking out the artsy mountain village of Kuranda. There are boutique shops and galleries lining the streets as well as local markets to explore daily. You will find no shortage of souvenir options here, with a range of handmade jewellery, Aboriginal art and leather goods.
Head to Rainforestation Nature Park for a range of educational experiences and wildlife encounters. Head out on a rainforest tour, a bush tucka walk, or get your photo taken while cuddling a koala or baby crocodile.
The journey to and from Kuranda is an experience in itself, and for many a highlight of the trip. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway will take you above the rainforest canopy before it descends deep into its heart. It takes about 90 minutes, and allows time at tow rainforest stations where you can admire the flora of the lush rainforest. Take the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway on your return trip to Cairns. It's a two hour journey that winds past rugged mountains, waterfalls and the stunning Barron Gorge.
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