Friday, April 19, 2024

The cutest animals in Australia and where to find them

Looking to get a close-up look at the cutest animals in Australia? From quokkas to koalas, the Great Southern Land offers…

By Chan , in Travel , at December 13, 2023

Looking to get a close-up look at the cutest animals in Australia? From quokkas to koalas, the Great Southern Land offers a delightfully diverse range of wildlife encounters beyond its famously scary spiders, sharks, and snakes. Read on for our pick of the best and most unique Australian animal encounters in each Aussie state.

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Gaze at koalas lazing in the eucalyptus trees at Kennett River, Victoria

When people think of adorable Australian animals, koalas inevitably top the list. Around Australia, there are still a few places where you’re allowed to cuddle a koala, but animal welfare experts advise against it for a host of reasons; it’s best to look but not touch.

On a road trip southwest of Melbourne along Victoria’s famed Great Ocean Road, you can stop in on lush tracts of forest behind Australia’s famous southern surf beaches. Here, you’ll find the Kennett River Koala Walk and one of the densest populations of koalas in the country.

An hour’s meander along Grey River Road should deliver several sightings of these tufty-eared marsupials, usually curled in the crook of a gum tree, munching on leaves, or enjoying a 20-hour sleeping session.

Feed kangaroos on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

One half of Australia’s national coat of arms, the kangaroo has been thrilling and confounding new visitors to Australia ever since Captain Cook first encountered one in 1770. It’s unlikely you’ll miss seeing kangaroos somewhere, whether it’s on a bush walk, on a golf course, or bounding across a country road at dusk.

For a more up-close and personal experience with these iconic macropods, get over to South Australia’s Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. Bags of kangaroo-friendly food are sold here for A$3 a pop, making it easy for visitors to ingratiate themselves with the resident ‘roos, a unique subspecies named – funnily enough – the Kangaroo Island kangaroo.

The rest of Kangaroo Island – known as Karta Pintingga to its Indigenous custodians – abounds with other Australian native species, roaming across 4405 sq km (1701 sq miles). Dolphins, sea lions, and seals can be seen off the dramatic coastline. At the same time, goannas, southern brown bandicoots, tammar wallabies, and short-beaked echidnas (another super cute animal you’ll instantly fall in love with) may be spotted on one of the many wildlife expeditions run by local operators.

Snap a selfie with a quokka on Rottnest Island, Western Australia.

With unique features that very much look like they’re smiling, the diminutive Australian marsupial known as the quokka is one of the most endearing of Australia’s many native species. There are many good reasons to visit Rottnest Island, a 30-minute ferry journey from Fremantle, but seeing quokkas in the wild often tops the list. “Rotto” is almost the only place you can see quokkas in their natural habitat, as they were protected from the introduced predators that decimated them on the mainland.

The Rottnest Voluntary Guides Association (RVGA) runs “Meet the Quokkas” walking tours daily at 9:30 am and 2:30 pm. All you’ll need is sun protection, water, decent footwear, and a camera or smartphone to snap a selfie with the sweet little things if you must (Chris Hemsworth famously did!). Naturally, it’s best not to interfere with these mini marsupials in any way that can distress them; ask your guides for the best approach.

Camp with wombats at the Bay of Fires, Tasmania

Wombats can be seen in many places across mainland Australia, but it’s hard to beat Tasmania’s gasp-inducing Bay of Fires for reliable encounters. A 50km (31-mile) sweep of pristine sands, rangy eucalyptus trees, and fire-red granite boulders running from Binalong Bay to Eddystone Point, the Bay offers surfing, swimming, boating, fishing, and many other diversions, but meeting its wombat population is perhaps the most popular activity.

Several wild camping sites are dotted along the 70km (43.5 miles) of tracks that run through this protected area. When out walking, keep your eyes peeled for the distinctive square ‘scat’ (feces) of the local wombats and your ears primed for any rustling in the undergrowth. Needless to say, if you’re lucky enough to encounter one of these robust but adorable marsupials, stay still and quietly watch it shuffle on its way. If you draw attention to yourself, the wombats will crawl away without hesitation.

Spot the elusive platypus in Eungella National Park, Queensland.

Eungella National Park, one of the largest swathes of protected subtropical forest in Australia, is also Queensland’s foremost platypus-spotting site. Special viewing platforms have been subtly integrated into the woods around Broken River, one of this elusive monotreme’s favorite habitats.

Platypuses are notoriously shy, so the best time to spot this unique duck-billed, egg-laying mammal is at sunrise or sunset. Patience is the key – set yourself up quietly and comfortably and look for telltale trails of bubbles on the river surface. Chances are a surfacing platypus will follow the bubbles. However, don’t startle them – they can dive under in the twinkling of an eye and will take refuge in their riverside burrows if they sense danger.

If you fail to spot a platypus, you won’t be alone. This writer has seen one only once, despite decades of hopeful quests along Australia’s eastern rivers. Apart from admiring their representation on Australia’s 20c coin, you can get close to platypuses in enclosures at the Gold Coast’s David Fleay Wildlife Park, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, and Melbourne Zoo to learn more about these slick-furred creatures.

Spot bandicoots by moonlight at Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park, Northern Territory

Looking uncannily like the long-nosed lovechild of a wallaby and a mouse, the bandicoot can be found in several parts of Australia. In the Northern Territory, you can see the northern brown bandicoot at Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs Park, which sits on the traditional lands of the Wagiman people and is home to many sacred sites.

The river and thermal pools attract many wildlife species: Migratory birdlife, bandicoots, and even the elusive quoll — a spotted, carnivorous, and notoriously shy marsupial. Bandicoots are nocturnal, so your best chance of sighting them is to camp overnight and then look out for their gleaming eyes on a night walk.

Cruise by black-footed rock wallabies at Yardie Creek, Western Australia

If you are drawn to West Australia’s Coral Coast by the chance to follow migrating humpback whales, snorkel among colorful corals at Ningaloo Reef, or swim with whale sharks, also take a day out to explore inland. At Yardie Creek, an open-air river cruise winds through red and gold cliffs where the very rare black-footed rock wallaby lives.

These adorable animals are not much bigger than a small dog, averaging around 4kg in weight, and they have long tails, which enable them to move nimbly along the gorge walls. The rock wallabies are virtually invisible, sitting camouflaged in this dry terrain until one of the river cruise guides points them out. If you’re lucky, you may also spot birds such as egrets, ospreys, and Western bowerbirds.

Swim with bottlenose dolphins at Port Stephens, New South Wales.

Dolphins may not be unique to Australia, but Port Stephens (2 1/2 hours north of Sydney) is one spot where you can swim responsibly with these friendly cetaceans. More than 140 bottlenose dolphins live here, greeting visitors with notorious curiosity and playfulness. Although they reside in the harbor, be aware that they are still wild creatures – there are strict rules laid out by NSW Parks & Wildlife on how to interact with the dolphins if you do decide to get in the water.

Eco-certified Dolphin Swim Australia is the only operator in New South Wales that is permitted to let visitors swim with wild dolphins. They’ll provide everything you’ll need for a four-hour open-ocean swimming trip, including a thorough briefing, wetsuits, a mask, and a snorkel. Depending on the time of year, you may also spot migrating humpback whales while you’re here.