It’s no secret that Australia is a fantastic place to spot wildlife. In fact, some of the world’s most iconic species – everything from mammals, birds and reptiles, to the technicolour coral and marine animals of the Great Barrier Reef – call this vast and colourful continent their home.
The country boasts over 378 mammal species, over 800 bird species, 4000 fish species, 300 varieties of lizards, 140 of snakes, two crocodile species and around 50 different types of marine mammal, so there’s plenty to see. Not only that, but more than 80% of Australia’s wildlife is indigenous to the area. You won’t find it anywhere else on the planet, so you can be certain that the experience of wildlife ‘Down Under’ is totally unique.
Spanning more than 2300 kilometres, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is an ideal place to catch a glimpse of some of Australia’s incredible marine life. With over 900 separate reefs, stretching from Torres Straight in the north to Fraser Island in the south, it’s no surprise that this technicolour ecosystem is something of a pilgrimage destination for divers and wildlife lovers alike. Some of the highlights include clownfish, sea snakes and porpoises, as well as over 30 species of whale.
Scuba diving at Ningaloo Reef - another UNESCO site - is also a must if you’re looking for a chance to spot the elusive whale shark. Of course, there are no guarantees, but if you are fortunate enough to find yourself swimming alongside one, it’ll be one of the most unique and breath-taking things you ever experience. Visit the tranquil Rottnest Island between August and November for the best opportunity to witness the annual whale migration. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of mothers and their calves as they pass by on their journey.
Mammals, marsupials and monotremes
Unlike many of the world’s most popular wildlife hotspots, Australia doesn’t have any large predatory animals. Its largest – usually still no bigger than an average sized dog – is the dingo or ‘wild dog,’ best spotted on Fraser Island. Situated just off the eastern coast of Queensland, this picturesque location is renowned for its coloured sands and clear blue waters, and it’s also the only place in the world where you’ll see rainforests growing out of the dunes.
Another of Australia’s unique mammals is the numbat, a creature native to the western side of the country that is easily recognisable on account of its long, colourful coat and distinctive stripes.
Many people will have heard of the Tasmanian devil (and watched the cartoon), but seeing one in the wild is another experience altogether. As their name suggests, these fascinating – and famously predatory - creatures are only found in Tasmania, including Maria Island on the east coast.
Also in the east – usually the wet forest landscape – are quolls, another native, and now endangered species that is unique to Australia. These small, furry mammals are largely nocturnal, which makes them hard to locate in the wild, but if you find yourself on the east coast, or in certain parts of northern Queensland, you might just catch a glimpse.
Australia is home to over 140 species of marsupials, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and wombats, so whether you’re a budding David Attenborough or not, spotting a kangaroo – or another native marsupial - is sure to be on your priority list during any first time visit.
As synonymous with the country as kangaroos and coral reefs, koalas can be found all along Australia’s eastern coast, but a popular spot is Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve near Canberra. Alternatively, head to Port Stephens, New South Wales, or Phillip Island on the southern coast, and you’ll be sure to come across koalas lounging in the trees. However, as many locals and seasoned visitors will know, spotting them in the wild is another experience entirely.
Situated west of Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road, the small town of Kennett River is renowned for its population of wild koalas. As its name suggests, the Kennett River Koala Walk is by far the best place in the area to witness this iconic species in their natural habitat. Take a stroll down the blue gum-lined road and you’ll most likely see groups of these remarkable creatures munching sleepily on eucalyptus leaves.
Continuing on the theme of cute, fluffy creatures, make your way to Western Australia’s Rottnest Island to get up close and personal with a quokka. Known for their incredibly friendly nature, these playful marsupials have become a bit of an internet sensation over the past few years, as travellers have been snapping their ‘quokka selfies’ and posting them on Instagram. They might be popular, but the number of quokkas on Rottnest is in decline, so if you do pay a visit, be sure to treat the area with respect, leaving everything – and every creature – as you found it.
Birds and reptiles
For unique travel experiences, there really is nowhere quite like Australia’s Northern Territory. When it comes to reptiles, the area is home to more venomous species than any other continent – 21 out of 25 to be exact – and other indigenous creatures include the ngiyari or ‘thorny devil’, a lizard found on the fire-coloured planes of the Red Centre.
Also found in the Northern Territory - specifically Kakadu National Park – are fresh and saltwater crocodiles. Situated 240 kilometres east of Darwin, this area is regarded as a living cultural landscape, and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status back in 1981. Embark on a wetland safari here and you might also spot an endangered sea turtle.
Australia is home to no less than 828 bird varieties - half of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world – so, when it comes to uncovering unique sights and experiences, this vast and inspiring country should be high on your priority list. Currawongs, lyrebirds and flightless emus are among the many unique species that are native to Australia,
Although people sometimes think of them as mammals or amphibians, penguins are actually classified as birds, and, other than Antarctica, Australia is one of the best places to spot them in the wild.
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