Australia’s wildlife is truly unique so where are the best places to see wildlife in Australia in the wild?
Australia is geographically isolated from the rest of the world and as such, is home to many unique animals only found down under. We personally love visiting zoos, sanctuaries, and conservation parks, but there is something truly special about patiently waiting to spot an animal in their natural habitat. From cassowaries, to dingoes, platypus, quokkas and wombats, here are our recommendations on the best places to witness these magnificent creatures in nature.
Did You Know?
- 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.
- Quokkas are small marsupials native to Rottnest Island. Their cheeky smiles have had them dubbed the ‘happiest animal on Earth.’
- According to the Guinness Book of Records, Cassowaries are the most dangerous birds in the world.
- A baby echidna is called a puggle.
- A female Red Kangaroo has the unique ability to pause a pregnancy and delay the birth of a joey until environmental conditions become more favourable. This is known as embryonic diapause.
“The message is simple: love and conserve our wildlife.”– Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter –
The Best Places to See Wildlife in Australia
Baby Loggerhead Turtles
A special natural phenomenon occurs between November to March each year at Mon Repos Beach on Queensland’s coast. This is egg laying and hatching season, and being a part of it is an unforgettable experience. Mon Repos, a short drive from Bundaberg, supports the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region.
Mon Repos Beach, Bundaberg, Queensland – Bundaberg is just 4.5 hours’ drive north of Brisbane, or a 50 minute flight.
Time of Year to Visit: November to March
Top Tip: Time your visit for when the mother turtles slowly haul themselves up the beach to find a safe place to build a nest and lay their clutches of eggs (November – January). Or, be there six to eight weeks later (January – March) to watch the tiny hatchlings emerge from their sandy nests and make their mad dash down the beach and into the sea.
As the third largest bird in the world with a height up to two metres and weighing up to 60kg, you would think the Cassowary would be easy to see, but these elusive creatures are rarely seen in the wild. They are a big, strong bird, known as being shy but extremely fast and territorial (if you are lucky enough to spot one, keep your distance. Unfortunately, it is estimated there are only 4000 cassowaries left in the world, making it an extraordinary occasion to lay eyes on one in person in the wild.
Mission Beach, Queensland – Mission Beach is two hours south of Cairns on the legendary Cassowary Coast.
Top Tip: Early in the morning is the best time to spot a cassowary in the wild, so find a quiet spot next to a water source in one of these seven locations; The Dreaming Trail, Mission Beach access roads, Mitre 10 on the corner of Dewer Street, South Mission Beach Transfer Station, BIG4 Beachcomber Coconut Holiday Park, Garner’s Beach, and Etty Bay.
Crocodiles are known to be one of the oldest remaining prehistoric creatures, dating back to the dinosaur age. These ferocious and wild animals can be found in various freshwater and saltwater water and river systems in Australia.
Crocodiles are extremely dangerous and can be found in almost any water system, and certainly not just where there are warning signs. Large crocodiles have been found a long way from the sea, and in many smaller rivers and streams. So, you must be crocodile aware everywhere you go in areas known as being crocodile territory.
Daintree Rainforest, Queensland – Head approximately 2 hours north from Cairns and you’ll reach one of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world. The Daintree’s vast expanse of wetlands and lowland forest crawls with different animals, but the twelve kilometre stretch of the Daintree River is well-known for sighting the saltwater or ‘estuarine’ crocodile.
Mary River (near Kakadu National Park), Northern Territory – An hour’s drive east of Darwin, Mar River is famous for its Saltwater Crocodiles, particularly around the Shady Camp Billabong, where you are guaranteed to spot these prehistoric creatures waiting in anticipation of an easy feed (swimming is 100 per cent forbidden).
Time of Year to Visit: End of the dry season (August – November)
Top Tip: Not only are organised cruises, wildlife safaris, and riverside bushwalks the best way to get up-close(ish) with the huge saltwater crocodiles, but they’re also your safest bet.
Australia’s most famous wild dog, the dingo, can be found throughout Australia (with the exception of Tasmania), but one of the best places to see them is on Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, and here, the dingoes wander freely along the beaches.
Due to their relative isolation and the fact they are protected by law, the dingoes on Fraser Island are believed to be the genetically purest strain of dingo in Australia, given that they have not cross-bred with feral dogs as much as most mainland populations.
Be aware that while dingoes may appear timid, they are wild predatory animals and can act unpredictably. They have been known to behave aggressively towards humans, so make sure you watch them from a safe distance and don’t make any loud noises.
Fraser Island, Queensland – Fraser Island is a ferry or barge ride from Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach which are both approximately a 4 hour drive north of Brisbane.
Top Tip: Their behaviour is unpredictable, and you should always keep a safe distance and avoid approaching them.
While there are many places along Australia’s coastline that offer a good chance of seeing dolphins in the wild, Monkey Mia in Western Australia is one of your best bets. A friendly pod of wild bottlenose dolphins regularly swim into knee-deep water to engage with people, popping in up to three times a day. At Monkey Mia you can touch and hand-feed the dolphins (under the supervision of park rangers).
Monkey Mia, Western Australia – Monkey Mia is 850 kilometres (530 miles) north of Perth which will take approximately 10 hours by car, or one hour and 45 minutes on a plane.
Time of Year to Visit: Anytime of the year as they visit daily, not seasonally.
Top Tip: The dolphins visit close to shore up to three times a day, but mornings are your best chance to experience a feeding.
The echidna is one of the most intriguing Australian animals renowned for its adorable waddle, spiky exterior, and shy disposition. Echidnas evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago and are a species of monotremes (a unique, egg-laying mammal) which is one of 3 in the world. Amazingly, the platypus is the other!
Echidnas are found all over Australia, however, it is difficult to narrow down particular areas where they reliably congregate and can be spotted in the wild. To spot them, you’ll require a fair dose of patience and luck.
Murramarang National Park, Batemans Bay, New South Wales – 2 hours’ drive from Canberra and a four hour drive from Sydney. N.B. Can be a hotspot in October and November.
Phillip Island, Victoria – A comfortable 2 hour drive from Melbourne.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia – Comfortable 45 minutes by ferry or a short 30 minute flight from Adelaide Airport.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania – Drive time is approx. 2.5 hours from Launceston, 1.5 hours from Burnie, 1 hour 15 minutes from Devonport, 4.5 hours from Hobart.
Mount Field National Park, Tasmania – 75 kilometres or just over an hour’s drive from Hobart.
Top Tip: In temperate climates, echidnas are most often seen during early morning and in the late afternoon, as they tend to avoid temperature extremes. Similarly, in arid regions echidnas may forage during the night, and in the hotter part of the day shelter in rock crevices or caves.
On the Australian Coat of Arms alongside the kangaroo stands the emu, a large flightless bird which can run as fast as 50kph! Emus are the second largest bird in the world, after Ostriches, standing up to 190cm tall and weighing 55kg.
Emus can only be found in Australia. They’re highly nomadic and their range covers most of the mainland. An Emu’s preferred habitat includes open plains but they’re also found in snowfields, forests and savannah woodlands. One of the few places to reliably see Emus in the wild is Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve west of Warrnambool.
Tower Hill, Victoria – Tower Hill Reserve is located 18 km west of Warrnambool which is approximately a 1.5 hour drive from Melbourne.
Top Tip: The further you venture west to more remote areas from the East Coast, the more chance you will have of spotting them in wide open grasslands.
Phillip Island is a wildlife haven, and one of the biggest drawcards is its population of over 32,000 fairy penguins. The Penguin Parade is a nightly 50-minute procession where hundreds of native little penguins return to their sand dune burrows at dusk after a day of fishing. The best way to catch a glimpse of this amazing sight is to head to Summerland Beach for a 180-degree viewing of the parade on their tiered seating. There are also several VIP and guided tours on offer for up-close viewing and ranger commentary.
Phillip Island, Victoria – A comfortable 2 hour drive from Melbourne.
Top Tip: Don’t forget to take warm clothes it does get cold.
Montague Island Nature Reserve is best known for its plentiful and playful fur seal population. Fur seals are the smallest species of seal, and despite the name, are actually closely related to sea lions. You will see two varieties of fur seals at Montague Island. The Australian Fur Seals tend to hang out in tightly-packed groups on the rocks, and the less common New Zealand Fur Seal who has personal space issues and is likely to bite any seal that gets too close.
Montague Island, New South Wales – Montague Island is just 10 kilometres off New South Wales southern coastline and is only accessible by boat from the seaside town of Narooma (5 hour drive from Sydney or 3 hours’ drive from Canberra).
Time of Year to Visit: More than 1,000 of the creatures can generally be found on the island from August to December.
Top Tip: If you don’t fancy plunging into the deep to snorkel with seals, book one of the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service’s year-round eco tours which include whale watching, visiting the seal colony on the island’s northern end, and watching the evening penguin parade (season depending).
Great White Sharks
Scuba diving with sharks is one of the must do dives for most divers and Australia offers plenty of opportunity to tick this experience off your bucket list. There are Whale Sharks in Ningaloo, Grey Nurse Sharks in Northern Beaches, and of course, the Great White Sharks in Port Lincoln. However, Port Lincoln is the only place in Australia where you can dive with Great Whites.
Adventure Bay Charters off an amazing cage-dive experience and they are the only shark cage diving operator in the world to use music to attract Great White Sharks, instead of bait and blood. By not using blood and bait, they do not alter the natural feeding behaviours of the White Sharks.
Port Lincoln, South Australia – Port Lincoln is approximately 7.5 hours’ drive from Adelaide, or a 50 minute flight.
Time of Year to Visit: April to June is the best time of year to view white sharks because at this time the seal pups that were born in the summer months start leaving the safety of the shore and therefore make an easy food supply for the sharks. Also, November through to the end of January has always been another great time to dive with the sharks as this is their annual breeding season.
Top Tip: You do not need to be dive certified to do this cage-dive experience. All dives on the White Shark Tour are surface dives using “hookah” (surface air supply) which means that limitations that normally occur with scuba diving don’t apply. During your dive you will only be 2-4 feet below the surface, and you are free to surface at any time
You can see kangaroos in most parts of Australia, especially when exploring the country’s regional areas. They are plentiful everywhere from open fields, national parks, sanctuaries and zoos, to beaches and golf courses.
Cape Hillsborough National Park, Queensland – Cape Hillsborough, approximately 50 kilometres north of Mackay, offers the unique opportunity to take photos of kangaroos against spectacular sunrise on the beach.
Coffs Harbour, New South Wales – One of the best viewing spots for eastern grey kangaroos and swamp and red-necked wallabies is Look At Me Now Headland at Emerald Beach, about 15 minutes’ drive from Coffs Harbour which is under a 6 hour drive north of Sydney, or 4 hours south of Brisbane.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia – Located a comfortable 45 minutes by ferry or a short 30 minute flight from Adelaide Airport, the best places to come across these beautiful creatures on Kangaroo Island are Lathami Conservation Park, Flinders Chase National Park, and Kelly Hill Conservation Park.
Top Tip: The best time to see kangaroos is at dawn and dusk when they come out to graze. Kangaroos tend to avoid exposed areas in the heat of the day.
Though koalas are present throughout Australia, it is a common myth that koalas can be seen everywhere across Australia. Koalas are solitary creatures that spend up to 19 hours of the day sleeping in the heights of eucalyptus trees. As such, this can make them very hard to spot. However, you can be guaranteed to see a koala on Magnetic Island in Queensland, the Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road, and Raymond Island in the Gippsland region.
Magnetic Island, Queensland – Magnetic Island is just a 20 minute ferry ride from Townsville and sightings are almost guaranteed as the island has the highest population of wild koalas in Australia, home to around 800 of them.
Kennett River, Victoria – Kennett River (2.5 hour drive from Melbourne) on the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay is home to numerous Koala colonies. Grey River Road and the area around Kafe Koala are hotspots.
Raymond Island, Victoria – Raymond Island, in the Gippsland region, can be reached by a short 20 minute ferry ride from Paynesville (3.5 hours from Melbourne). The current population of 300 koalas makes koala spotting extremely easy.
Top Tip: They are most active in the early morning or late afternoon.
Stretching for 2,300 kilometres along the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef encompasses 2,900 reef systems, 600 islands, and 300 coral cays. Not only is this World Heritage-listed site the most bio-diverse coral reef ecosystem on the planet, but it’s even visible from outer space.
The animals that call the Great Barrier Reef home include more than 1,800 fish species, sharks, stingrays, turtles, sea snakes, and over 30 species of marine mammal. There’s also a vast expanse of hard and soft corals.
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland – The Great Barrier Reef is just a 30 minute to 1.5 hour boat trip from Cairns.
Top Tip: There are an enormous selection of organised activities and attractions available here i.e. boat tours with diving and snorkelling, semi-submersibles, comfortable underwater observatories for non-swimmers (or simply for anyone who doesn’t fancy getting wet).
Platypuses are notoriously shy and quite rare to spot in the wild. Watch the water surface for ripples or a trail of bubbles, look for a notable V-shaped bow wave produced by the animal’s front feet paddling, and look for visible burrows in the riverbank just along the water’s edge. If you can spot one, you have a good chance of some consistent platypus action
Yungaburra, Queensland – Yungaburra is just 70 kilometres or 90 minutes’ drive south-west of Cairns. (Read more about platypus spotting in Yungaburra here.)
Eungella National Park, Queensland – Eungella National Park is 85 kilometres or 90 minutes’ drive west of Mackay. The best place to spot platypus is near the bridge at Broken River.
Nymboida River, New South Wales – Home to a large platypus and the likeliest place to catch a glimpse is between Pollacks Bridge and the Nymboida Coaching Station Inn. Nymbodia River is just 1 hour drive inland of Grafton, or just under 4 hours from the Gold Coast.
Warrawee Reserve, Latrobe, Tasmania – Warrawee Reserve is just 10 kilometres south of Devonport and calls itself the ‘Platypus Capital of the World’, but make sure you visit in the warmer months when platypuses are more visible.
Top Tip: Dawn and dusk present the best opportunities to see platypuses.
Situated off the coast of Perth in Western Australia, Rottnest Island (otherwise known as Rotto) is a protected nature reserve that’s home to the quokka. Between 10,000 and 12,000 quokkas live on the island, so you have an excellent chance of seeing them.
This small, wallaby-like nocturnal marsupial is perhaps the country’s most photogenic furry resident. Quokkas are anything but camera shy and often pose with tourists for selfies. Appearing to smile into the camera, quokkas have been dubbed “the happiest animal on earth.” Do not touch the quokkas while trying to get the perfect picture. Take photos responsibly.
The Rottnest Voluntary Guides Association runs the Quokka Walk, a free 45-minute guided tour departing daily at 2:15pm from the Meeting Post located outside the Salt Store in the Main Settlement. Led by an island volunteer, you’ll have ample opportunity to learn fascinating facts about Rottnest’s famous inhabitants who tend to spend most of their time eating leaves and grasses, snoozing in the shade, and shamelessly posing for selfies.
Rottnest Island, Western Australia – Only a 25-minute ferry ride from Fremantle near Perth.
Time of Day to Visit: Mid-to-late afternoon.
Top Tip: Visit in early spring and you may get the opportunity to see joeys.
Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island is a safe haven for a colony of Australian sea lions unique to South and Western Australia. They have lived on this stretch of coastline for thousands and thousands of years. There are around 15,000 sea lions left in this part of the country, making it the third largest colony of Australian sea lions.
The Seal Bay Conservation Park has no enclosures or cages. Instead, the animals are free to do as they please giving you the opportunity to see them up close. You can walk among endangered Australian sea lions by taking the 900-metre-long Boardwalk Tour or the guided 45 minute Seal Bay Experience tour. Experienced guides are on hand to tell visitors about their unique behaviour and learn more about the history of the sea lions, and insights into the endangered species’ feeding habits and lifestyle.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia – Located a comfortable 45 minutes by ferry or a short 30 minute flight from Adelaide Airport.
Top Tip: Book your tickets in advance if you are on a tight schedule or travelling during a busy period such as school holidays.
Where better to see the infamous Tasmanian Devil than its namesake island state? The Tasmanian Devil is one of the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials weighing up to 12kg and is famous for its blood-curdling screams. This nocturnal scavenger is unfortunately difficult to find in the wild as they are very shy and have been classified as an endangered species due to a rare cancer which affects this species.
If you’re driving around Tasmania, it’s possible to glimpse Tasmanian Devils in the wild, but as mentioned above, they are elusive and difficult to spot. For a guaranteed encounter, there are multiple wildlife sanctuaries, zoos and enclosures to get up close and personal to these wildly adorable little critters.
The Devils@Cradle in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is the place to go for a guaranteed encounter. You can book guided tours such as a Day Keeper Tour, an After Dark Feeding Tour or a Dine with the Devil experience.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania – Cradle Mountain is just 1.5 hours’ drive from Devonport and 2.5 hours’ drive from Launcestion via Shefield.
Top Tip: Allow 45 minutes to 1 hour to visit the sanctuary throughout the day, and night tours are 1 hour 15 minutes in duration.
The coastline of Australia provides many opportunities to observe different whale species on their annual migration. Spectators on both the east and west coasts have the chance to spot a whale twice a year as the mammals travel to and from Antarctica for what should be known as ‘the world’s longest lunch’, feasting on all types of fish, krill, and plankton.
Towards the end of Summer, they begin the long journey north to warmer waters for their breeding and birthing season, as young calves don’t yet have enough blubber on them to withstand the Winter temperatures. Between May and November you can spot southern right whales journeying to the temperate breeding waters off South Australia and Victoria, while humpback whales continue north along the New South Wales and Queensland coasts to the Great Barrier Reef.
Byron Bay in New South Wales is Australia’s most eastern point, so head to Byron Lighthouse or Captain Cook Lookout for the best chance of seeing the whales off the coast. Hervey Bay in Queensland is also well-known for sightings of humpback whales, and they have their calves in the warm waters surrounding the Queensland coast.
Byron Bay, New South Wales – Byron Bay is approximately 180 kilometres south of Brisbane, or 35 kilometres north of Ballina.
Hervey Bay, Queensland – Hervey Bay is just 4 hour drive north of Brisbane, or a 45 minute flight.
Time of Year to Visit: May to late November
Top Tip: Whales travel at different speeds, some also not going the whole distance. This means that you got pretty good chances of seeing them everywhere along the eastern coast from June to November.
Ningaloo Reef is off the Coast of Western Australia and 1,200 kilometre north of the state’s capital, Perth. This incredible UNESCO World Heritage Area is a unique underwater world that stretches on for 260 kilometres and is home to incredible marine life including whale sharks, humpback whales, dugongs and manta rays, depending on the season.
Each year, more than 400 whale sharks come to this area in search of plankton and krill. Growing to 12 meters long and weighing a massive 20 tonnes, these magnificent creatures are completely harmless and swimming alongside them is an unforgettable experience.
Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth, Western Australia – Exmouth is an approximate 15 hour drive (1,200 kilometres) north of Perth, or there are daily 5 hour flights from Perth.
Time of Year to Visit: March to June
Top Tip: The best way to see Ningaloo Reef and take fantastic photos is by taking a scenic low altitude flight.
Wombats are largely cold climate creatures so are very difficult to spot during the day. You’ll often spot them after dark (they are nocturnal) as they come out from their burrows and graze on grass. Make sure to be as quiet as possible and keep your distance so as not to frighten them.
Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains, New South Wales – Jenolan Caves is located about 3 hours from Sydney.
Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria – Wilsons Promontory (“The Prom”) is located 2.5 hours’ drive east of Melbourne.
Maria Island, Tasmania – Maria Island is located off the east coast of Tasmania and is a 2 hour drive north-east of Hobart.
Time of Day to Visit: At dusk or dawn
Top Tip: A tell-tale indicator that wombats are close? They leave behind cube-shaped poop!
Best Places to See Wildlife in Australia – Zoo Encounters
There are lots of zoos and wildlife parks and sanctuaries where you can get up close to Australia’s animals. Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast in Australia provides the opportunity for many animal encounters, everything from cuddling koalas, to waddling with wombats, feeding kangaroos. A visit to Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast is definitely worth it to see how Steve Irwin’s (The Crocodile Hunter) vision on animal conservation has come to fruition.
Taronga Zoo: Sydney
Taronga Zoo in Sydney, one of Australia’s oldest and certainly most well-known zoos, is also one of the world’s most scenic, with sweeping views of Sydney Harbour. It has a range of wildlife encounters including getting up close to a koala, elephants, giraffes, meerkats and penguins.
Australian Reptile Park: New South Wales
Only an hour’s drive north of Sydney, the Australian Reptile Park has a great selection of hands-on experiences, and not just with reptiles. There are wombats, wallabies, dingoes and Tasmanian Devils.
Planning Your Holiday to Australia: FAQ’s
Where Is Australia?
Australia is a country, an island, and a continent. It is one of the Oceania countries and is located between the Indian Ocean to the west and the South Pacific Ocean to the east. It is the sixth largest country in the world.
Map of Australia
How to Get There?
The most common way to get to Australia is by flying into one of the numerous international airports. These include:
Cairns International Airport
- Brisbane International Airport
- Gold Coast International Airport
- Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport
- Melbourne International Airport
- Adelaide International Airport
- Perth International Airport
- Darwin International Airport
There are many budget airlines to choose from for competitive prices such as China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Air China and Air India. Some of the more popular airlines with competitive rates and great service include Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
When Should I Visit Australia?
Australia is such an enormous country so there is no such thing as a bad time to visit Australia. Depending on your location within the country, climate and temperatures can differ immensely.
In general, the north and northeast of the country tend to have a more tropical, humid climate due to its proximity to the equator, while the southeast and southwest corners of Australia have a mild, oceanic climate, making them a pleasant addition to your Australia itinerary. Central Australia and the western areas of the country have a hot desert climate.
The country has four clearly defined seasons across most of the country:
- Summer (December – February)
- Autumn (March – May)
- Winter (June – August)
- Spring (September – November)
In the north of the country, they also experience a wet and dry season. Tropical North Queensland i.e. Cairns, the Whitsundays, the Daintree experience their wet season from November to April. Also, the Top End (Darwin, Katherine, Kakadu National Park, Arnhem Land), and Broome and the Kimberley experience a wet season during the same months.
- Best Time to Visit: September- November (Spring) and March- May (Autumn)
- High Season: December – February (Summer)
- Low Season: June – August (Winter)
When planning your trip to Australia, ensure you schedule your visit according to the places you want to see and the activities you want to enjoy.
In Summary – Best Places to See Wildlife in Australia
Australia is blessed with a unique richness of wildlife, including creatures found nowhere else in the world, and the best thing is it is everywhere! Many of Australia’s wildlife species can be found across the country, however others are more elusive so take a little more planning and patience. No matter where you are, you don’t have to delve too far into the wild to see some of these totally individual creatures.
Have you seen any of the Australian wildlife listed above in the wild? Where did you go to see them? Can you add to our list of the best places to see wildlife in Australia? Let us know in the comments section below.
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