With vibrant coral reefs, lush tropical rainforests and its quintessential red sand desert, Australia offers an incredible array of nature experiences to include on your next visit.
By Allie Metz
From the beauty of the remote Kimberley to snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of ways to see Australia's unique wildlife and diverse landscapes. Every corner of this beautiful country will impress you with its range of opportunities to connect with nature, interact with native animals and discover the benefits of getting out of the city and off the beaten track.
Here's our list of Australia's top nature experiences.
The Kimberley, Western Australia
The stunning wilderness of the Kimberley spans the entire north-western corner of Australia. It’s remote, but with so much to stop and see along the way, it’s an ideal place to experience the Australian Outback by 4WD. Throughout its rugged landscape you’ll be treated to ancient rock formations, expansive canyons, secluded freshwater swimming holes, and an incredible horizontal waterfall. You’ll be spoiled for choice with activities, but be sure to experience the incredible Bungle Bungle Ranges with a scenic flight from Kununurra.
Despite its remoteness, the Kimberley is home to accommodation and dining options that are as unique as they are luxurious. The Berkeley River Lodge sits on the edge of a clifftop and is only accessible by seaplane or helicopter. Other unique accommodation options include Home Valley Station, Kimberley Coastal Camp, Faraway Bay and Eco Beach Resort.
Tasmanian wilderness adventures
Pull yourself away from Tasmania’s cultural hub of Hobart and immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of the island state’s wilderness. Head to the west coast to get your adrenalin pumping with a few days white-water rafting the Franklin River, or enjoy a relaxing cruise through the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area with Gordon River cruises.
Arguably one of Australia’s most beautiful natural wonders, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is a wilderness experience you will never forget. You can take it easy and spend a few days in Cradle Mountain meeting the local wildlife (wallabies, wombats and pademelons are easy to spot) and sleeping in luxury, or you can delve deep into this natural playground with the full six day Overland Track hike.
If you like to treat yourself after a day of hard work, book in for the Bruny Island Long Weekend where you’ll spend three days hiking the stunning coastline of the island. Your effort is rewarded each night with luxurious off-the-grid accommodation and delicious meals made from locally sourced produce and Tasmanian wine.
Tasmania is also one of the top spots for fishing in Australia. Spend a few nights at Thousand Lakes Lodge, recently named Lonely Planet's third best place to stay in the world. With more than 1000 lakes to choose from, you can spend your days in pursuit of Tassie's wild brown trout – a cunning fish that will challenge even the most experienced fisherman. Alternatively, you can walk or cycle the trails in search of wombats, quolls and other native animals.
Swim with whale sharks, Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Ningaloo Marine Park is home to the world’s largest fringing coral reefs. This means that you can snorkel above colourful coral, turtles and playful tropical fish just steps from the beach. One of the most unique and exciting experiences that can be found at Ningaloo Reef is the chance to swim with gentle whale sharks. These giant but harmless fish visit in large numbers from April to July and many tour boats use spotter planes for the best chance of finding them. Stop in at Exmouth’s Visitor Centre for all the tour options available.
If you’re heading to Western Australia between July and October, you won’t miss out on the action. At this time of year thousands of humpback whales are migrating up and down the coastline along what’s known as the humpback highway. You can jump in and swim with them when you book with a licensed tour operator.
There are plenty of adventurous things to do at Ningaloo Reef, but be sure to treat yourself to some luxury in this unique destination with a stay at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef. It’s a beachside safari camp that is inclusive of meals as well as numerous guided tours.
Top End wetland safari, Kakadu, Northern Territory
Set in the heart of World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park are dramatic wetlands, rich in native wildlife. The Yellow Water billabong is considered one of the best places to spot saltwater crocodiles, sea eagles, whistling ducks and buffalo. Take a Yellow Water Cruise and have your camera ready as the canopied boats guide you through the area. Book well in advance for the sunrise or sunset cruise to be rewarded with a spectacular colour show across the wetlands.
The park also offers incredible displays of ancient Aboriginal rock art as well as gorges and crystal clear waterholes you can explore. Make the most of your time there by following the scenic Nature’s Way.
Hike some of Australia's most stunning landscapes
Soak up the vast flood plains and rocky outcrops of the Australian Outback on the Larapinta Trail. This vast chain of day walks follows the spine of South Australia’s West MacDonnell Range and each section varies in distance and difficulty. Cover the whole stretch in 12 days, marvelling at incredible gorges and stunning outlooks. Along the way you’ll visit sacred Aboriginal sites, swim in refreshing waterholes and camp beneath an incredible display of stars.
Lorde Howe Island's Seven Peaks Walk is a five-day/six-night (covering 27 miles) series of guided walks that showcase the island's rugged natural beauty. Each day includes a range of adventures, from heading up to the summit of Mt Gower, to snorkelling in the outer reef. Each night you'll return to Pinetrees Lodge luxury accommodation. A good level of fitness and a steady head for heights are highly recommended for the Seven Peaks Walk, but it also offers a great balance of physical exercise, mental stimulation and luxury.
The Murray River Walk, starts in Renmark (three hours from Adelaide) and explores the beautiful Murray River in the internationally recognised Riverland Ramsar Wetland. The easy to moderate, 40 kilometre (25 mile), four-day/three-night walk showcases the bush trails, ancient red gum forests, wetlands and red ochre cliffs lining the banks of Australia's most famous river. Each night you stay in private ensuite accommodation on a modern 10-berth houseboat with a deck spa overlooking the river.
Discover the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2300 kilometres (1400 miles), offering countless opportunities to experience this unique ecosystem and the incredible wildlife that call it home. Every visitor should make their way to Whitehaven Beach to experience its soft white sand. Stay in Airlie Beach and do a day trip that includes snorkelling where you can spot colourful fish, bright corals and possibly turtles and manta rays. If you’re visiting between February to April head to Lady Elliot Island to see baby turtles hatch and make their way out to sea.
Luxury abounds along the Great Barrier Reef. Stay at qualia on Hamilton Island, take a helicopter ride to Vlasoff Cay for a private picnic, or sail on a private yacht and spend a few days soaking it all in. Off the coast of Cairns you’ll find Lizard and Bedarra Islands, which offer exclusive, luxury resorts that will be hard to tear yourself away from. With so many unique experiences to have on the reef, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Wildlife Adventures on Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Kangaroo Island is a nature lover’s paradise and is often referred to as a “natural zoo”. It is the only place in the world where you can walk among endangered Australian sea lions. Visit Seal Bay Conservation Park on a guided tour and spot them lazing on the sand and surfing the waves. You can also jump in with KI Marine Adventures to swim with dolphins, or just watch the playful creatures from the boat.
The island also has some incredible food and wine experiences. Stop in at Dudley Wines to sip some of the island’s best drops while taking in the incredible view from their clifftop cellar door, or head to KI Spirits to sample their award-winning gin. For a truly special experience, dine on local produce under a giant fig tree near Stokes Bay. This memorable pop-up eatery is called the Enchanted Fig Tree and operates between December and April for lunch.
Kangaroo Island is also home to Southern Ocean Lodge, one of Australia’s premier luxury hotels. With dramatic views over the Southern Ocean and an incredible South Australian wine collection, you will find it difficult to leave.
Discover the Daintree Rainforest, Queensland
Daintree National Park may only be a two hour drive north of Cairns, but its ancient ferns and lush canopy will make you feel like you’ve entered another world. In fact, this unique World Heritage-listed rainforest was the inspiration for the movie Avatar.
Start your visit with a cruise on the Daintree River in search of wildlife. You might spot crocodiles, cassowaries and other birds as you explore the rainforest from this unique vantage point. If you’d rather see things from above, take a guided zip-line tour with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours. From here you’ll get views over the treetops and out to the Great Barrier Reef.
A trip to the village of Cape Tribulation is a must for any nature enthusiast. This is the only spot in the world where two natural World Heritage sites meet – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll find stunning beaches and lots of activities to keep you busy, all while ticking off two major Australian bucket list destinations.
Snap a smiling quokka, Rottnest Island, Western Australia
Not only are quokkas cute, friendly and photogenic, but they also happen to live on one of the most peaceful and idyllic islands in Australia. Rottnest Island is surrounded by white sand beaches (63 to be exact) where you’re likely to find more wildlife than humans sharing your space. Jump in the crystal blue water for a snorkel or head to the West End Boardwalk to catch sight of the whales on their annual migration (between August and November you’ll get the best chance to see mothers and their calves passing by).
With almost no vehicles on the island, you’ll enjoy a break from the noise and traffic of your everyday life. There is a Discovery Bus Tour that does a loop with commentary on the history and flora and fauna of the island. Or DIY by jumping on a bicycle. Rent one when you jump off the ferry and set off on an adventure at your own pace.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to spend some time with the island’s own welcoming committee – the quokka. Apart from a small colony on the mainland, quokkas are only found on Rottnest Island. The quokka selfie has become an internet sensation, so make sure you get a pic with one of the friendly locals. They are not afraid of humans, so don’t be surprised if they come right up to you ready to smile for the camera. Just remember to keep a respectful distance and avoid touching and feeding them.
Spot wild koalas along the Great Ocean Road, Victoria
By car, helicopter or on foot, there is no wrong way to do the Great Ocean Road. It spans 243 kilometres (150 miles) from the town of Torquay to the small town of Allansford. Along the way you can stop at quaint seaside villages for a surf, head into Great Otway National Park to see thundering waterfalls, or spot whales, dolphins and seals in the water and koalas and kangaroos on shore.
One of the biggest highlights on the route is the 12 Apostles; a set of towering limestone pillars rising out of the Southern Ocean. View them from up high with a scenic helicopter tour, but be sure to head down the 86 stairs of Gibson Steps to the beach where you can walk along the shore to see the enormous stones from a different angle.
If seeing a koala in the wild is high on your wish list, this is your chance. Head to the township of Kennett River where a large number of koalas make their home in the blue gums that line the main road. Keep your eyes peeled and you’re also likely to spot echidnas and many unique bird species.
See Australia's tiny penguins
Little penguins are the smallest species of penguin and they can only be found in southern Australia and New Zealand. There are a few colonies scattered around the coastline near Perth, Sydney, Tasmania and, most famously, on Phillip Island (just south of Melbourne).
Phillip Island is also home to an extremely popular (and cute) event, the Penguin Parade. It allows visitors to watch the colony return to their burrows after a day of fishing out at sea. Just make your way to Summerland Beach for the 180-degree viewing of the parade on tiered seating. You can also book VIP and guided tours to get an even closer view along with ranger commentary.
If you're near Perth, take the 45 minute drive south to Rockingham and jump on the five minute ferry to Penguin Island. You can wander the boardwalks in search of burrows, or watch the penguin feeding at the island's Discovery Centre. For a bit more animal spotting, take the 45 minute cruise through the Shoalwater Bay Wildlife Sanctuary area to see the local sea lions and playful dolphins that also live in the area.
Go stargazing in the outback
When the sun begins to set in outback Australia, the skies come to life. This far from the city lights, the spectacle is big, so take an evening to sit back and appreciate the incredible show the universe puts on. Try your hand at locating the Southern Cross – a famous constellation visible from Australia.
If you're into a more organised and educational experience, you can take a star gazing tour at Uluru with Ayers Rock Resort's resident astronomer. You'll discover the Milky Way and take a trip through the history of the universe with the aid of telescopes, binoculars and iPads.
In Kakadu you can take a night tour of Yellow Water billabong, where your guide will interpret the skies through Dreamtime Aboriginal stories. While on the Algohgarrng Experience you'll also get the chance to spot crocodile eyes in the dark and see other nocturnal animals you would never spot in the day.
Explore Uluru and Kata Tjuta
Located in the heart of Australia's Red Centre, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park offers visitors some truly incredible experiences that highlight the unique natural features of this arid region. Sunrise and sunset tours will give you a chance to see the changing colours of the landscape while you learn about the region, its history and the Aboriginal tribes native to the area.
There are, of course, the well-known rock icons of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to discover. Take a scenic flight to see the massive monolith Uluru as well as the 36 domes of Kata Tjuta from this unique perspective. You can also cruise around on the back of a camel, motorcycle or double decker bus for a memorable way to explore this special place.
Book a traditional bush tucker tour to learn how local tribes lived in this harsh desert climate. You'll see and taste some of the bush seeds they ate, try your hand at throwing a spear and meet some of the reptiles native to the area.
If you're back in Alice Springs, be sure to book a visit to the Kangaroo Sanctuary, the home of "Kangaroo Dundee". This wildlife rescue centre cares for orphaned and injured kangaroos, and guests can take a guided sunset tour where they will learn about Australia's iconic red kangaroo and have a chance to cuddle one of the joeys.
Find kangaroos on the beach
With twice as many kangaroos as people living in Australia, you're all but guaranteed to spot a few during your visit. They love grassy areas, such as golf courses and open fields, but there's something really special about seeing a mob of 'roos hanging out on the beach. There are a few spots around the country where you can witness this, and your best chance will always be early or late in the day.
Just three hours south of Sydney is Jervis Bay, where the beaches hold the record for the world's whitest sand. Down here you'll have the best chance of finding kangaroos hanging out at Pebbly Beach in Murramarang National Park. Many are quite tame and may pose for a photo. Honeymoon Bay, near Currarong, is another great spot to try your luck.
If you're up visiting the Great Barrier Reef, consider making a stop at Cape Hillsborough National Park, which sits about 45 minutes north of Mackay. Cape Hillsborough Beach, also known as Casuarina Beach, is well known for providing incredible photo opportunities of kangaroos on the beach at sunrise. You'll see these cute critters, as well as their smaller cousin the wallaby, having a breakfast of seaweed, coral sand dollars and mangrove seed pods.
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