Where to see Australia's incredible wildlife

Wildlife in Australia has long inspired both awe and caution. From koalas, quokkas, kangaroos, and platypuses to more dangerous animals that many wouldn’t want to encounter – in Australia, the wildlife can truly get quite wild. You can see many of the continent’s native species in zoos and wildlife parks across the world, but nothing matches seeing them in their natural habitat. Find out about Australia’s natural wonders, the remarkable wildlife the vast continent holds, and the best places to witness it all first-hand on your next trip to the land down under!

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A paradise for all nature lovers, Kangaroo Island is known for its prolific wildlife, dramatic coastal landscape, and abundant farmlands

1. The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since the early 80s, the Great Barrier Reef National Park is one of the most wondrous places in the world. This astonishing coral reef system, which is the largest in the world, includes not just at least 300 types of hard coral but also a dizzying array of marine life that is every bit as colourful. The Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 2000 kilometres along the coastline of Queensland, while its total area is unfathomable – approximately 350,000 square kilometres. There are so many fantastic ways to enjoy and experience this natural wonder. Diving is, of course, one of them. Head to the Ningaloo Reef between March and August, and you can find yourself swimming alongside whale sharks – despite their great size, they are harmless. There are also several types of turtles, manta rays, and whales, not to mention all the smaller inhabitants bringing the immense coral reef to life while showcasing their naturally stunning colours and appearance.

Great Barrier Reef | Photo: Yanguang Lan

Photo: Giorgia Doglioni

2. Kangaroo Island, South Australia

A paradise for all nature lovers, Kangaroo Island is known for its prolific wildlife, dramatic coastal landscape, and abundant farmlands. Located 13 kilometres off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is among the best places where you can get a wonderfully unique wildlife experience –animals like koalas, kangaroos, seals, and sea lions all inhabit this beautiful stretch of land. A destination that will leave you mesmerised, Kangaroo Island is a thriving place in all aspects. For close encounters with the wildlife, head to Seal Bay, and you’ll see the jaw-dropping views of the Australian sea lion colony – an experience all visitors must have. Here the animals live freely without any enclosures. To learn more about this epic colony, you can book a guided tour where experienced guides will tell you all about these remarkable animals. Many operators on the island provide sustainable adventures to protect and nurture this fragile environment while also providing unique encounters in the wild. Make sure to enjoy locally sourced food to get a real taste of the island!

Photo: David Clode

3. Daintree Rainforest, Queensland

When we hear about rainforests, it’s usually about the Amazon Rainforest, but did you know that Australia’s Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest on Earth? It dates back over 180 million years, while the one in Amazon is 65 million years old. Now that’s an unfathomable difference, isn’t it? Now, don’t worry, nobody’s asking you to count the tree rings in this ancient wonderland, but something that will help you grasp the remarkable nature of this place is seeing its flora and fauna tightly packed under the dense tree canopy – many plants and animals only live here, and nowhere else on the planet. The alien-looking cassowaries may be near impossible to spot in the wild, yet this is where these massive rare birds live alongside various marsupials, frogs, and reptiles. There are many options for you to enjoy this awe-inspiring place, located approximately two hours from Cairns. Guided tours with expert guides will help you track the rainforest’s native wildlife, while an exciting mangrove river cruise will let you in on a wholly different perspective. Adventure lovers will jump at the opportunity to try the Jungle Surfing Canopy Tour, which lets you explore the rainforest via various zip lines and eco-friendly tree platforms.

Daintree River, Queensland | Photo: David Clode

4. Rottnest Island, Western Australia

Rottnest Island, just off the coast near Perth in Western Australia, is known for its white sand beaches, beautiful scuba diving spots, and the island’s only land mammal, which is also the main tourist attraction on Rottnest, if you can call it that. You may have seen the adorable quokkas staring at you from your phone screen – this seemingly smiley member of the macropod family has been labelled the happiest animal in the world. And there’s no denying it they are utterly charming and lovable. Just don’t try to feed them under any circumstances! Several thousand quokkas inhabit the island, and visitors can take a free 45-minute Quokka Walk, led by knowledgeable volunteers, to not just learn more about these furry creatures but also see them going about their daily lives munching on grass and leaves, napping in the shade, and, of course, looking adorable in photos.

Rottnest Island, Western Australia | Photo: Natalie Su

Rottnest Island | Photo: Dylan Alcock

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If you want to spot koalas in the wild, your best bet is to head over to Magnetic Island in Queensland

5. Magnetic Island, Queensland

There is no doubt about it that koalas and kangaroos are the iconic animals most people associate with Australia. And if you want to spot koalas in the wild, your best bet is to head over to Magnetic Island in Queensland. This place has the biggest wild koala population anywhere in Australia, but you might be able to see other animals here, too, like the rock wallaby and the brushtail possum, for example. To see the koalas in their natural habitat, make sure you go on an early morning or late afternoon walk called the Forts Walk during which you might see wild koalas napping high up in the eucalyptus trees. And if you want to dip your toes in the water and see the colourful sea life, make sure to go snorkelling or diving in Cockle Bay Reef on the southwestern part of the island.

Photo: Mikaela Egan

6. Fraser Island, Queensland

K’gari, also known as Fraser Island, is a paradise-like island off the Eastern coast of the Australian continent. The traditional land of the Butchulla aboriginal people is a world heritage area of immense beauty. The world’s largest sand island is renowned for being the only place known where a rainforest grows on sand. This, of course, also means that there’s not a lack of native wildlife here. In fact, Australia’s famous dingo dog can be spotted here, and due to being the purest strain of dingoes in Australia, they’re protected on the island by law. Remain outside after the sun dips below the horizon, and you may be lucky enough to see a marsupial or two. For marine wildlife, head over to Indian’s Head – manta rays, sharks, and even whales are known to be spotted there. And then there’s the lace monitor – an epic striped lizard that often takes advantage of touristy picnic areas. Fraser Island offers an abundance of activities for wildlife enthusiasts – go camping or enjoy one of the many walking tracks to get a real feel for the island.

Fraser Island | Photo: Nadia Levenets

7. Montague Island, New South Wales

Montague Island off the coast of New South Wales is the second largest island in this Australian state, and the island’s beauty and unique landscape and ecosystem are astonishing. Enclosed by the clearest blue waters, it is home to a large seals colony, little penguins, and all-over abundant wildlife. The contrasting windswept landscape creates the most beautiful backdrops for photos and memories that’ll last a lifetime. Land-based attractions include the Montague Island lighthouse, but the real draw is the island’s marine life. You’re almost guaranteed to see humpback whales if visiting in the spring, as well as dolphins and fur seals, the latter being on top of the food chain since there are no natural predators on the island, except for very rare instances when killer whales migrate to the waters surrounding the island. You’ll see most fur seals during winter and spring when more than 1000 animals can be spotted here.

8. Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania

Head into the wild – Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain National Park awaits to greet you with awe-inspiring natural beauty and the famous Tasmanian devil. Contrasting and dramatic landscapes define the island in Australia’s southern part. From glacial lakes and alpine peaks to ancient rainforests and epic river gorges, there’s more than meets the eye. Here you’ll have the opportunity to encounter the famous Tasmanian devils, quolls, platypuses, echidnas, wombats, and the curious black currawong. Bring your hiking boots to explore the various trails and tracks that promise to reveal unexpected discoveries. The Overland Track, which is a 65-kilometre six-day adventure through the rainforest and along glacial lakes, is an absolute must for fit travellers, who love exploring on foot – this epic journey will take you to the highest point on the island, Mount Ossa.

Cradle Mountain, Tasmania | Photo: Josh Withers

Photo: Manny Moreno

9. Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

Just when you think that the Australian landscape couldn’t get any more epic, there’s yet another natural wonder around the corner – this time it’s the Kakadu National Park. One of the largest national parks on the continent, this place is known for its biodiversity and beautiful landscape encompassing wetlands, rivers, and sandstone escarpments. A place of history, this Northern Territory reserve features prehistoric aboriginal paintings in places like Nourlangie, Nanguluwur and Ubirr. Its wildlife is as bountiful as anywhere else in Australia, and Kakadu is known for its saltwater crocodiles and flatback turtles, not to mention the immense bird population. In fact, some of the most iconic natural formations here are the work of small creatures that you probably wouldn’t even notice with the naked eye. Huge pointed mounds towering up to six metres are the creations of busy little termites that create these structures from mud and termite saliva. These formations are extremely solid lasting up to sixty years. Inside each mound, there’s a network of tunnels home to millions of these small, hardworking insects. Notably, Kakadu has six seasons defined by subtle changes in weather that affect flora and fauna here.

Photo: Ben Blennerhassett

Photo: David Clode

10. Phillip Island, Victoria

The vacation sweet spot in Victoria, Phillip Island, is the perfect combination between a not-so-far getaway and a real escape to nature. Located not too far from Melbourne, this island is known for its little penguin population and fur seals sunning themselves on Seal Rocks. This 101-square kilometre island has an abundance of things to do and see, whether you go for a luxurious glamping experience under the stars or go on a wild island adventure. To see the fur seals, go on a seal cruise that will take you to Seal Rocks, 2 kilometres off the island’s southwest coast. The cruise will take you within metres of these marine animals, allowing you to see them in their natural environment. The best way to see little penguins is during the famous Penguin Parade – watch these adorable little birds dashing home across the sand at dusk. In addition to wildlife sightings, Phillip Island offers a range of activities – from walks and hikes to cycling paths, surfing and kayaking options, fishing, and amazing local food and drinks options to power you through your adventures.

Photo: Sandro Antonietti

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