The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs, NT © Tourism NT/Matt Cherubino 2019
Where to meet Australia's cutest animals
Come and meet the cute creatures that call Australia home.
By Katrina Lobley & Amy Fraser
Want to meet a koala, kangaroo, Tasmanian devil or quokka? Have you always wanted to spot an elusive platypus in the wild? Maybe an echidna? From educational encounters to wonderful moments in the wild, it’s easy to say g'day to Australia's unique wildlife.
1. Where can I meet a quokka?
Where: Rottnest Island, a 25-minute ferry ride from Fremantle, near Perth
Koalas and kangaroos might be Australia's best-known animals, but Rottnest Island’s adorable quokkas are perhaps the country's most photogenic furry residents. Visitors love to take photos of the friendly marsupials, as they often look like they are smiling. Just be sure to give quokkas their space, and never hand-feed them.
How to experience it: The best time of day to see these nocturnal marsupials is mid-to-late afternoon – take one of the free guided walks to try to spot one.
2. Where can I spot a koala?
Where: Raymond Island in Gippsland
A close competitor with the quokka when it comes to cuteness, koalas are truly adorable. You can catch them snoozing amid the treetops of many national parks across Australia's east and south, but there’s nowhere quite like Raymond Island, a koala haven just a four-hour drive from Melbourne. This small island, no more than 6.5km (4mi) long, is home to over 250 wild koalas who reside among other native animals including kangaroos, echidnas and wombats.
How to experience it: Jump on the short ferry from Paynesville and take to the island’s 20-minute-long Koala Trail. Meandering through gum trees, you’re guaranteed to spot a handful of snoozing koalas enjoying island life.
3. Where can I watch a platypus?
Where: Lake Elizabeth, Great Otway National Park
Platypuses are notoriously shy and quite rare to spot in the wild. Luckily, there are some well-known spots where a sighting is likely. As a semi-aquatic species, platypuses take to the water, and one of their favourite swimming spots is the Great Otway National Park’s Lake Elizabeth. Take a trip along the Great Ocean Road to reach the park, where 150-year-old ferns tower over wildlife-rich earth. It’s at dawn and dusk when the fun begins.
How to experience it: Paddle across the lake on a canoe on an intimate Paddle with the Platypus tour and you’ll notice platypuses gliding beside you. Happy in their natural habitat – there’s no better way to experience wildlife.
4. Where can I encounter an echidna?
Where: Healesville, Victoria
Much like the platypus, the spikey little echidna is a renowned recluse. You’ll find them across Australia, but to learn about these wonderful egg-laying creatures, head to the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges’ Healesville Sanctuary.
How to experience it: Book an echidna close-up; a unique meet-and-greet where you’ll get to observe these shy creatures. While you watch, learn about their feeding habits and evolution from a park ranger.
5. Where can I feed wild dolphins?
Where: Moreton Island just off the coast of Brisbane, and Monkey Mia, 850km (530mi) north of Perth
As an island nation, Australia offers an abundance of dolphin experiences. If you stay at Tangalooma Island Resort on Queensland's Moreton Island, head to the water's edge to watch wild bottlenose dolphins glide right up into the shallows to receive a fish from your hands. In Monkey Mia, on Australia's west coast, bottlenose dolphins swim into knee-deep water, where visitors can hand-feed them under the supervision of park rangers.
How to experience it: Wild dolphin feeding happens at sunset each night at Tangalooma Island Resort. In Monkey Mia, the dolphins visit close to shore up to three times a day, but mornings are your best chance for a feeding.
6. Where can I hang out with kangaroos?
Where: Various zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around Australia
Our national icon, the kangaroo, is plentiful here in Australia and there’s no shortage of opportunities to spot them in the wild. Just like us, they enjoy many habitats across the country. You’ll find ‘roos’ roaming grasslands, outback plains, vineyards and islands. Western Australia’s kangaroos are even known for their laidback beach sessions! They’re sociable creatures, so don’t be surprised if one hops over to say g’day.
How to experience it: Meet baby roos in the outback at one of The Kangaroo Sanctuary's afternoon tours in Alice Springs. On Queensland's Sunshine Coast, pop into Australia Zoo to stroll the grasslands where kangaroos roam free.
7. Where can I wander with wombats?
Where: Maria Island or Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania, and Wolgan Valley near the Blue Mountains.
Wombats may be difficult to spot during the day, but seeing these rotund little creatures emerge at dusk is worth the wait. To see them in the wild, take a nature hike or grab a bicycle and explore the many native reserves and nature parks, which are especially stunning early morning and at sunset.
How to experience it: Take the Maria Island Walk for a multi-day experience. At Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, wombats freely wander around the 2,800-hectare (7,000-acre) property, nibbling at the grass.
8. Where can I see Tasmanian devils?
Where: Various zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around Australia, mostly throughout Tasmania
Where better to see the infamous Tasmanian devil than it's eponymous island state? If you're driving around Tasmania, it's possible to glimpse Tasmanian devils in the wild, but they are elusive and difficult to spot. For the best chance of seeing these wildly adorable little critters, visit a sanctuary or head off-road with a Tassie devil expert guide.
How to experience it: Head to Devils@Cradle, in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park for one of their unique tours. Closer to Hobart is the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, which offers a Devil Tracker Experience – a 4WD tour on which you help track the devils' movements.
9. Where can I swim with sea lions?
Where: Port Lincoln, a seven-hour road trip from Adelaide; or Narooma, a five-hour drive south of Sydney
These charismatic creatures are as frisky as they are curious, so you can expect to have a few close encounters under the crystal-clear waves. Sea lions will entertain you with somersaults and backflips while blowing bubbles toward your snorkel mask – they’re so playful, they’ve been dubbed the “puppy dogs of the sea”.
How to experience it: Dive into the waters near Port Lincoln with Calypso Star Charters. You can also swim with seals in Narooma. Book a tour with Montague Island Tours or Island Charters Narooma.
10. Where can I see a penguin parade?
Where: Phillip Island, a 90-minute drive south of the Melbourne
Phillip Island is a wildlife haven, and one of the biggest draw cards is its population of over 32,000 little penguins. One of the area’s most popular events, the Penguin Parade allows visitors to catch a glimpse of the island's native little penguins as they come back ashore after a day of fishing. Stroll the elevated timber boardwalks around the island to try to catch a glimpse of the penguins waddling from the ocean back to their burrows.
How to experience it: Head to Summerland Beach for a 180-degree viewing of the parade on their tiered seating. There are also several VIP and guided tours on offer for up-close viewing and ranger commentary.