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 are miniature wallabies, and can grow to about the size of a domestic cat. Rottnest can thank the quokka for its name: a Dutch explorer thought the animals were rats, and gave the island, (a 90 minute ferry ride from Perth) a name that means rats’ nest. 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 not at Queensland's Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast. The 20 minute sessions in the koala enclosure allow time for visitors to take photos and have a cuddle with a koala. The sanctuary is home to 54 koalas, as well as a hospital that treats more than 250 sick and injured koalas from the region each year.
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 on the New South Wales South Coast, at Pretty Beach and Pebbly Beach within Murramarang National Park, 210 kilometres (130 miles) south of Sydney.
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 15-year-old Kubu. This ginger tree kangaroo receives visitors at weekends when he’s getting his feed. Book in for the Tree Kangaroo Encounter, and while his keepers distract him with tree kangaroo staples such as fruit, leaves and eggs, you’ll get to gently stroke his coarse, slightly oily fur and get a photo with this most remarkable animal. Kubu’s enclosure has a number of vertical poles and, after he’s done feeding, he’s likely to embrace a pole with his forearms and use his hind legs to literally ‘hop’ to the top.
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 2800 hectare (7000 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 12 participants to roam for up to two hours among the creatures.