Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia © Maxime Coquard
Where to meet Australia’s weirdest animals
Hang out with some of the strangest – and rarest – animals on the planet in their natural Australian habitat.
By Lee Atkinson & Sophia Watson
Australia is home to spectacular creatures you won’t find anywhere else on the planet and nothing compares to that feeling of pure joy you get when you spot one in the wild. What’s even better is knowing your experience is helping to protect animal populations. From the duck-billed otter – which is how the platypus was described when it was first seen by Europeans in the 18th century – to giant hopping dogs (aka the kangaroo), meet our weird and wonderful creatures with these unforgettable experiences.
The Frilled-Neck Lizard
Where: Australian Reptile Park, one-hour drive north of Sydney
Known affectionately as ‘frillys’, frilled-neck lizards spend most of their time in the trees in Kakadu. They are very safe there and use the height to scan the ground for prey – which is mostly insects. Frilled-necks are very agile and will jump straight onto the ground to catch insects, it’s quite a sight to behold! Because these animals can scare easily and therefore may cause injury to themselves if they feel threatened, it’s best to visit these collared creatures in the safe and caring confines of a wildlife park. The Australian Reptile Park in Sydney is known for their incredible reptile and lizard residents.
How to experience it: Get a personal behind the scenes animal encounter at the Australian Reptile Park. You’ll get a 20-minute hands-on animal experience – either behind the scenes or within an enclosure, hosted by an experienced keeper.
The Spotted-tailed quoll
Where: Danbulla National Park, Far North Queensland, 1.5-hour drive south of Cairns
The last Tasmanian tiger (thylacine) died more than 80 years ago, but this unique creature’s lesser-known cousin, the spotted-tailed quoll – the largest marsupial carnivore on mainland Australia – still survives in small numbers in Queensland’s rainforests. Also known as tiger quolls, these nocturnal creatures that hunt for possums and small wallabies under the cover of darkness are one of Australia’s most endangered animals. Join FNQ Nature Tours in secret rainforest locations where you can join researchers who document sightings and study quoll behaviour. It’s a rare chance to not only get to know these extraordinary creatures, but to also help save them from extinction.
How to experience it: Spot quolls alongside researchers on a two-day behind-the-scenes tour.
Where: Healesville Sanctuary, a one-hour and 10-minute drive from Melbourne
The platypus is perhaps the most wonderfully weird animal that nature has to offer – so you won’t want to miss a chance to experience these illusive little water babies. Just over an hours’ drive from the Melbourne (through the stunning Yarra Valley wine region), you can play with a platypus during this exclusive close-up encounter at the Victoria Zoos’ Healesville Sanctuary.
How to experience it: Try your hand at being the animal’s keeper in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. After a quick video presentation and briefing from the Healesville Sanctuary keepers, you’ll wade in the animal’s ‘play pool’ and have the opportunity to tickle, feed and see these unique little creatures swimming through the water. This experience is extremely popular, so booking ahead of time is a must.
Where: Australia Zoo, just over an hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast
Also known as ‘spiny anteaters’, these prickly, slow-moving critters are one of Australia’s most loved unusual native animals. The echidna has spines like a porcupine, a beak like a bird, a pouch like a kangaroo and lays eggs like a reptile. They're small, solitary mammals so spotting them in the wild can be a bit tough. Luckily, you can encounter the echidna, getting up close and personal, at one of Australia’s most respected wildlife parks, Australia Zoo (the famed home of the Irwin family).
How to experience it: Take part in an interactive, educational experience with one of Australia’s native icons at Australia Zoo. This sticky-beaked creature is one of the most interesting animals around, and you’ll never forget this up close encounter. They may even sit on your lap so you can hand feed them. Crikey!