Where to meet Australia's cutest animals
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 spot an elusive platypus? It's easy to meet Australia's unique wildlife both in the wild and in wildlife sanctuaries.
Meet Rottnest Island's cute quokkas
Quokkas are small marsupials native to Rottnest Island. Their cheeky smiles have had them dubbed the 'happiest animal on Earth.'
Koalas and kangaroos might be Australia's best-known animals, but Rottnest Island’s adorable quokkas are perhaps the country's most photogenic furry resident. 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 guided walks to try to spot one.
Cuddle a koala
Some Australian states prohibit koala cuddles, but it's permitted in Queensland and South Australia at select wildlife sanctuaries. Visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane or Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast for a Queensland koala experience. Currumbin is home to more than 50 koalas, and the koalas that are comfortable with humans only work for 30 minutes every three days to make sure they stay healthy and happy. After your cuddle, pay a visit to the park's koala hospital, which treats sick and injured koalas with the aim to re-release them into the wild. In South Australia, head to 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.
Play with a platypus and pat an echidna
The platypus is considered one of the oddest animals in the world. This duck-billed mammal was even declared a hoax when it was first discovered in Australia.
Platypuses are notoriously shy, but at Healesville Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley, which is north-east of Melbourne, you can get close enough to tickle this elusive national icon (it's even on the Aussie 20 cent coins). Step into a pair of waders and into the platypus play pool to frolic with one of these freshwater-dwelling creatures. The sanctuary also offers an encounter with the adorable echidna. These spiky little creatures can also be seen at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park on Kangaroo Island and Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
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. If you stay at Tangalooma Island Resort, head to the water's edge to watch wild bottlenose dolphins 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.
Catch a view of a kangaroo
There are plenty of places in Australia that you can see kangaroos in the wild. On North Stradbroke Island – known as Straddie – just off the coast of Brisbane, groups of kangaroos roam the grassy areas and beaches. Kangaroos are also famous beach-goers 210 kilometres (130 miles) south of Sydney at Pretty Beach and Pebbly Beach in Shoalhaven. Lucky Bay, near Esperance in Western Australia, is also home to kangaroos that lounge on the white sand beach. For an outback experience, don't miss The Kangaroo Sanctuary's afternoon tours in Alice Springs.
You'll find a different kind of kangaroo at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium. Here, you have the chance for an up-close encounter with a tree kangaroo, a type of kangaroo with shorter legs perfect for climbing trees.
Wander with wombats
Wombats may be difficult to spot during the day, but seeing these rotund little creatures emerge at dusk is worth the wait. One of the best places to see wombats in the wild is on Tasmania's Maria Island; take the Maria Island Walk for a multi-day experience. At Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, a conservation resort 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 sunset.
Meet a Tasmanian Devil
If you're driving around Tasmania, it's possible to glimpse Tasmanian devils scampering near the roads. But, for a guaranteed encounter, head to Devils @ Cradle, an 80-minute drive from Burnie in the state's north-west. Book a Day Keeper Tour, an After Dark Feeding Tour or a Dine with the Devil experience. Closer to Hobart is the Tasmanian Devil Unzoo, which offers a Devil Tracker Experience – a 4WD tour on which you help track the devils' movements.
Walk among sea lions and swim with seals
Tanya Rosewarne, Seal Bay Conservation Park
"Getting to walk into a colony of one of the rarest species of seal on the planet is unforgettable."
On South Australia's Kangaroo Island visitors can stroll among the Australian sea lions that come to sunbathe on the sands of Seal Bay. A 45-minute guided tour travels from the boardwalk through the sand dunes and down to the beach.
If you're ready to join fur seals in the water, head to Port Lincoln, a seven-hour road trip from Adelaide. Adventure Bay Charters and Calypso Star Charters will bring you by boat out onto the water before you dive in. You can also swim with seals in Narooma, a five-hour drive south of Sydney. Book a tour with Montague Island Tours or Island Charters Narooma.