Australia is known for its cute and cuddly wildlife, but did you know you can also get up close and personal to these underwater superstars?
Nearly every traveller to Australia is looking forward to having an incredible wildlife experience and, truth be told, it’s pretty easy to accomplish. Of course you can hand-feed a kangaroo and snuggle a koala - but did you know Australia is also famous for some interesting underwater wildlife encounters? From jumping into the water with sea lions to watching saltwater crocodiles devour their dinner; whatever you pick, it’s guaranteed to earn you true bragging rights.
Swim with whale sharks in Ningaloo Reef
Every year, large numbers of enormous whale sharks congregate in the coastal waters of Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef. It’s the only place on the planet where they are known to reliably visit so close to land. The world’s largest species of fish, growing up to 18 metres (59 feet) long, these gentle giants are breathtaking to behold – swimming alongside them really is an incredible experience. Join a marine tour from Exmouth or Coral Bay from April to July and snorkel alongside these harmless vegetarians. Western Australia's whale sharks share the warm waters with tropical fish, manta rays, turtles, dolphins and whales, and from July to October, you can also swim with migrating humpback whales off Ningaloo Reef.
Dive into the water with great white sharks
This one is for the thrill seekers. Great white sharks are perhaps the total opposite of cute and cuddly. They can grow up to seven metres (23 feet) and weigh more than 3000 kilograms – and Port Lincoln in South Australia is the only place you can cage dive with them in Australia. Calypso Star Charters, Adventure Bay Charters and Rodney Fox Expeditions will put you right in the face of these giant marine animals – but don’t worry, you’ll be protected in a cage purpose-built for diver safety. If you don’t feel like jumping into the water, you can also watch from the safety of the boat or in a glass aqua-sub. For extra scare factor, go at twilight.– the clear waters in this area afford incredible views of these enormous creatures.
Smile at a crocodile
Few animals fascinate visitors as much as these prehistoric creatures. Both freshwater and saltwater crocodiles can be found in Australia, but it is the larger species, the saltwater crocodile, that captures the imagination. With their sheer size – they grow up to seven metres (23 feet) long – "salties" resemble dinosaurs more than any other modern-day animal. There are several places to see crocs in Darwin, including a crocodile swimming experience in which you are lowered into the crocodiles' water in a perspex enclosure. If you’re near Cairns, head to Port Douglas for a day at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. You'll see crocodiles leap out of the water to feed, take a wetlands lagoon cruise and visit the crocodile farm where they live in their hundreds.
Swim with sea lions
While cuddling a fuzzy koala will make your heart swell, heading underwater for an afternoon of antics with playful sea lions will have you laughing until your cheeks are sore. Sea lions are naturally friendly and will quite possibly swim right up to you before putting on an aquarobics show – they’re so well known for their antics they’ve earned the nickname, “puppies of the sea”. One of the best places to go swimming with these playful critters is in the clear waters of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Here, they’ll duck, dive and frolic about, even posing for photos before slipping off on their next playdate. Book your tour and be sure to pack an underwater camera.
Head out for a day of whale watching
If getting into the water isn’t necessarily your thing, there are other ways to have an incredible wildlife experience in Australia. Between May and November, you can spot whales from many scenic spots along Australia’s east and west coastlines. Southern right whales journey to the temperate breeding waters off Southern Australia and Victoria, while energetic humpback whales continue north to the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley, to mate and calve. Coming in summer? You won’t miss out. From February to April you can head down to Bremer Bay in Western Australia to see the gathering of the largest pod of orcas in the Southern Hemisphere.
Witness turtle hatching
Getting up close and personal with a sea turtle is at the top of every snorkeller’s and diver’s list, and nowhere on Earth provides more opportunity than Queensland. In fact, six of the seven marine turtle species of the world make their home in Queensland. But if you thought you could meet these turtles only in the deep sea, you couldn’t be any more wrong! Turtle hatching is one of the star attractions of Queensland. Every year, from January to March, a handful of beaches in Queensland see baby turtles burrowing out of sand-covered holes where their mothers laid eggs a couple of months earlier (November to January). Once they reach the surface, the tiny turtles scamper towards the ocean to begin a life of swimming and adventure. See the youngsters in action at Mon Repos Beach, Lady Elliot Island, Heron Island, Green Island & Fitzroy Island.
Meet the rare dwarf minke whales
They might be called “dwarf” minke whales, but there’s nothing small about these creatures. With personalities to match their large size – they grow up to eight metres (26 feet) long – these whales are not only comfortable around humans but are also known to spend hours swimming back and forth around divers, making eye contact and even bringing their calves for a look. And guess what, they are only found in the Great Barrier Reef! The minke whales visit the northern Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Tropical North Queensland between June-July each year, forming the only known predictable aggregation in the world!
Spot seals from Phillip Island
Phillip Island’s resident fur seals are some of the most entertaining animals in Victoria. Onlookers can watch as the seals frolic and play before diving into the cool water. During breeding season (October to December), see the population grow as young seals are welcomed into the colony. Encounter the seals lounging on rocks from a wildlife cruise. You might even come face-to-face with the playful seals when they approach the boat to say hello. If you’d like to join the seals in the water, join a licensed tour for an unforgettable animal experience.
Encounter a platypus
Few Australian animals are as elusive or unique as the platypus. At Healesville Sanctuary, embrace a once-in-a-lifetime experience with these cute creatures found only in Australia. Listen to a presentation by an experienced keeper before beginning your up-close encounter. Climb into the platypus’ pool and become one of the few people who have been one-on-one with this amazing Australian animal. After wading into the shallow water, you’ll have the opportunity to feed, touch, and play with one of the resident platypus. Soon, you’ll discover how playful and affectionate the platypus can be.
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