Where to get close to Aussie Wildlife
When Noah filled his ark with two of every animal, he must’ve made a beeline to Australia to drop off all the good ones.
From koala cuddles to croc cages, whale watching to penguin parades, cute kangaroos to friendly dolphins, this is where you can get up close and personal with Aussie wildlife.
Thanks to our friends at YHA Australia for sharing this epic list with us!
At the furrier and friendlier end of the Animal Kingdom hops the quokka, a tiny West Australian marsupial that looks like a cat-sized kangaroo with a grin permanently etched across its face. And forget the Kardashian clan, that trademark grin has made the quokka one of the hottest Instagram stars on the planet – just check out the hashtag #quokkaselfie to see what we’re on about.
Often dubbed the world’s happiest animal, and famously comfortable with approaching admirers, the quokka crew chill on Rottnest Island - a haven of turquoise water and white sand beaches best explored by bike and just 45 minutes on the ferry from historic hippy town Fremantle. Make sure your phone is charged for all those future selfies.
Sun-deprived residents of Australia’s southern states aren’t the only group that migrates north each winter, with thousands of whales making their annual 10,000 kilometre (6213 mile) journey from Antarctica to the warm waters of Queensland to mate, give birth, and raise their calves.
YHA has more than a dozen hostels dotted along the east coast’s ‘Humpback Highway’, which ends at Hervey Bay, where whales rest up before the long trip home. Whale Watching Sydney’s custom-built vessels, the ocean views of the Port Elliot YHA balcony, the headlands of Albany on WA’s south coast, and up close and personal with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef are other great vantage points. Or jump right in with these massive mammals in Noosa with Sunreef Mooloolaba (also very fun to say).
If a selfie of you snuggling a koala doesn’t rake in bulk likes, you may as well delete your Instagram account. FYI, before we begin, you might want to take note of the fact that some states won’t allow you to cuddle a koala - such as New South Wales, Victoria and Northern Territory. So if you want more than just a humble pat, you’d better hit up the sanctuaries in Queensland and South Australia.
You can side up to the most adorable Aussie faces since the Hemsworth brothers at Magnetic Island YHA, the only resort in Australia with its own on-site wildlife park, offering champagne breakfasts with the koalas as well as photo ops with some slightly less furry native wildlife such as blue-tongue lizards, baby crocs, and pythons. Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital, which is just over an hour drive south from Sydney, is free to visit – is a compulsory stop on any east coast road trip.
Aficionados of B-grade 1990s cinema might remember the film Flipper, where a young Elijah Wood befriends a dolphin during his summer vacation with his uncle Paul Hogan, before *spoiler alert* the title character and his pod of pals save the teenage hobbit from a shark attack. (If you haven’t seen this flick, you well and truly need to.) We can’t promise anything that exciting will happen when you meet dolphins in Monkey Mia, a serene resort town 900 kilometres (559 miles) north of Perth, but we can promise the opportunity to get up close and personal with your very own bottlenose buddies. Head on down to feed them under close park ranger supervision in shallow water on the beach. You can also frolic with Flipper on a day trip from Perth (September to May), or check out the pod of 130 bottlenose dolphins that call Port Stephens in New South Wales home for 12 months of the year.
With the exception of Looney Tunes cartoons, Tasmania is one of the only places on earth you can find these cute, carnivorous little critters.
If you have ever dreamed of getting to spend some quality nose-to-nose time with a tassie devil, then go check out the world’s first ‘unzoo’. This is a home to wildlife with wildlife adventures, a Tasmanian native garden and original art. Plus, the chance to come face to face with these unique marsupials in the ‘Devil Den’, an underground see-through dome that pops out of the ground for a devil’s eye perspective of the world.
The glittering emerald that is Eyre Peninsula offers more than just a sexy beach in South Australia. It is home to one of the cutest creatures Down Under: the sea lion.
Take a cruise from Port Lincoln to Hopkins or Langdon Island to discover exactly why these mammals – unique to South Australia and Western Australia – are nicknamed the “puppies of the sea”. We’ll give you a hint: they’re adorable, friendly, playful… and they have whiskers.
The cutest flash mob you’ll ever see is to be found on an evening on the sands of Victoria’s Phillip Island as hundreds of Little Penguins waddle their way home after a long day’s fishing.
The 300-seat viewing platform at Summerland Beach gives admirers the perfect perspective of the famous Penguin Parade – either a bird’s eye view from elevated viewing platforms or an underground viewing experience that gets you right up close with the stars of the show, as they return to their sand dune burrows at sunset.
You’d expect a place called Kangaroo Island to have a few roos hopping around, and you’d be right. Australia’s third largest island is crawling with its own subspecies of kangaroo as well as thriving populations of wallabies, koalas, echidnas, possums, fur seals, sea lions, dolphins, bandicoots, goannas, bats, frogs, and an array of birdlife.
Back on the mainland there are more kangaroos than people, meaning you’ll bump into our national symbol everywhere – the National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, the wild roos exploring the vineyards at Hunter Valley YHA, and the coast around Coffs Harbour, like the Look At Me Now Headland at Emerald Beach, are particularly great places to catch a glimpse. If you’re based on the West Coast, suss out Cape Le Grand National Park, which is a 45 minute drive from Esperance. Expect to see pygmy possums, vibrant wildflowers and, of course, a bunch of cute AF western grey kangaroos.
There’s a song us Aussies teach the kids that has the line, ‘Never smile at a crocodile…’ and any wonder. Not for the faint of heart, Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin offers a splash with a saltie in their ominously-named ‘Cage of Death’, a clear Perspex cylinder that’s dipped into the croc enclosure. Steel your nerves for the only crocodile dive in the country, which provides 360-degree underwater views of more than 200 crocodiles, some of the most powerful predators on the planet. It’s (hopefully) the most convenient brush with your own mortality you’ll ever have – Crocosaurus Cove is located right next door to Darwin YHA – Melaleuca on Mitchell.
If the Cage of Death didn’t give you enough heeby-jeebies, saddle up for round two in Port Lincoln, where you can face your fears (sharks) within the safe confines of a metal cage. The day cruiseoff the Eyre Peninsula includes 45 minutes in said cage with seven other people, so there’s even safety in solidarity. If flirting with a few great whites doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, settle for a selfie with the replica shark and cage at Port Lincoln YHA.
Dwarf minke whales
They came for the tropical water; you came for the tropical water - it’s like a match made in tropical heaven. Make your migration to Queensland between June and August to splash around with the friendly and curious dwarf minke whales. Scientists didn’t even know they were a thing until the 1980s, which is fun. They’re super curious and playful, so don’t be surprised if they come check you out. There are a few operators permitted to take tours out to the reef where minkes hang, so jump on board with Mike Ball Expeditions, Eye to Eye Marine Encounters, Deep Sea Divers Den, and Spirit of Freedom.