Come and meet the cute creatures that call Australia home.
By Katrina Lobley
Want to grab a selfie with a koala, kangaroo, Tasmanian devil or quokka? Have you always wanted to swim with an elusive platypus? It's easy to meet these animals plus more when you are travelling through Australia, both in the wild and in the many wildlife sanctuaries.
Come face to face with Australia's wildlife
Head west to meet a quokka
Koalas and kangaroos might be a little more famous, but many people think Rottnest Island’s adorable quokkas are the real superstars of the furry animal kingdom Down Under. Quokkas can best be described as miniature wallabies, and can grow to about the size of a domestic cat. Visitors love to take photos with the friendly marsupials, as they often look like they are smiling. Even celebrities like Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie have posted quokka selfies on Instagram. The island is just a 90-minute ferry ride from Perth, making it a great day trip destination. The best time of day to see these nocturnal marsupials is mid-to-late afternoon – take one of the free daily quokka guided walks.
Cuddle a koala
Some Australian states prohibit koala cuddles, but it's permitted in Queensland and South Australia at wildlife sanctuaries. Visit Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast or Cleland Wildlife Park near Adelaide. The 20-minute sessions in the koala enclosure allow time for visitors to take photos and have a cuddle with a koala. Currumbin is also home to a koala hospital that treats sick and injured koalas with the aim to re-release them into the wild. You can pay a visit to the hospital to see the important work the team are doing to protect Australian wildlife.
Tickle a platypus or pat an echidna
Platypuses are notoriously shy, but at Healesville Zoo, in the Yarra Valley, north-east of Melbourne, you can get close enough to tickle this elusive national icon (it's even on our 20 cent coins). Step into a pair of waders and into the platypus play pool to frolic with one of these freshwater-dwelling creatures. This special animal experience, which debuted in 2013, is a world first and available to limited numbers. The sanctuary also offers an encounter with the adorable echidna – the spiky little animal that stars on Australia's 5 cent coins.
Meet Australia's friendliest dolphins
As an island nation, Australia offers an abundance of dolphin experiences. One of the most accessible is found on Moreton Island off Brisbane. Out the front of Tangalooma Island Resort wild bottlenose dolphins will glide right up into the shallows to receive a fish from your hands. At Monkey Mia, 850 kilometres (530 miles) north of Perth, bottlenose dolphins swim into knee-deep water, where visitors can hand feed them under supervision.
Come across a grazing kangaroo
There are plenty of places that you can see kangaroos in the wild. On North Stradbroke Island – known as Straddie – just off Brisbane, groups of kangaroos roam the grassy areas and beaches. At Point Lookout, grazing kangaroos are a common sight in the ocean-facing parks. Feel free to take snaps as they nibble their way across the grass. Kangaroos are also commonplace 210 kilometres (130 miles) south of Sydney, at Pretty Beach and Pebbly Beach, as well as on the white sand beaches of Lucky Bay, near Esperance in Western Australia.
Encounter a tree kangaroo
You won’t be the first to think the name ‘tree kangaroo’ is some form of Australian practical joke. But seeing is believing at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium, where you’ll meet one for yourself. Book in for the Tree Kangaroo Encounter, and you'll get to gently stroke the coarse, red fur and get a photo with this remarkable animal while the keepers distract him with tree kangaroo staples such as fruit, leaves and eggs.
Wander with wombats
At Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, a conservation resort tucked into a remote fold beyond the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, wombats freely wander around the 2,800-hectare (7,000-acre) property, nibbling at the grass. Grab a bicycle and explore the grounds, which are especially stunning early in the morning and at dusk.
Come face to face with a devil
If you're driving around Tasmania it's possible to glimpse Tasmanian devils scampering near the roads (they feed on roadkill). But, for a guaranteed encounter, head to Devils @ Cradle, an 80-minute drive from Burnie in the state's north-west. Take a Day Keeper Tour, an After Dark Feeding Tour or Dine with the Devil. Closer to Hobart is Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, which offers a Devil Tracker Experience – a 4WD tour on which you help track the devils' movements.
Walk among sea lions
On South Australia's Kangaroo Island visitors can stroll among the Australian sea lions that come to sunbathe on the sands of Seal Bay on the island's southern coastline. A 45-minute guided tour travels from the boardwalk through the sand dunes down to the beach. The Twilight Beach Tour allows a small group of participants to roam for up to two hours among the creatures.