Australia's top animal Encounters

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

With some of the world’s most instantly recognisable creatures, this guide will look at where to see indigenous wildlife as well as a host of other amazing animals who call Australia’s remote outback, tropical rainforests and sparkling oceans home.

Photograph a pocket-sized penguin

When it comes to getting up close to a penguin, it has to be Phillip Island. Just a short drive from Melbourne, or a ferry ride from the wineries of the Mornington Peninsula, and you’ll find yourself in prime wildlife-spotting territory. From May to October, look out towards the Western Port and Bass Strait to spy migrating whales and, as the sun sinks into the sea, head to the viewing area at Summerland Beach ready for a parade of Little Penguins waddling towards their burrows in the sand dunes.

If Phillip Island has the monopoly on penguins, Queensland’s Fraser Island is all about dingoes – these wild dogs have protected status and roam freely along the wide beaches. As a World Heritage site, the island’s sand dunes and tropical rainforests are best explored from an eco-accredited resort-like Kingfisher Bay.

Penguin Island

Credit: Marco Taliani de Marchio

Going walking in a wombat wonderland

Wombats are shy creatures, but they just love the cold-climate coastal wilderness of Wilsons Promontory Park, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them as you explore the area’s rugged walking trails – especially at dusk when they are at their most active. Top wombat-watching spots also include the Southern Highlands in New South Wales and Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain.

While treading the boards of this national park’s famous Overland Track, you might also see what looks like a large hedgehog but is, in fact, an echidna. Otherwise known as a spiny anteater, they love to shuffle through ferns and under logs while searching out insects with their snouts. Finally, no visit to Tasmania would be complete without seeing a Tasmanian Devil. Several retreats, like Saffire Freycinet on the east coast, run face-to-face experiences with the notoriously hard-to-track-down creature. 

A wombat in Tasmania

Credit: Wildlife Australia

Marvel at magical marsupials

From rural wineries to roadside fields, it’s not unusual to see kangaroos skipping across the landscape wherever you are, but they are particularly easy to spot at the aptly named Kangaroo Island, a short ferry ride away from Adelaide in South Australia. The island’s native bushland is also beloved by koalas, quolls and hundreds of bird species, while the surrounding crystal-clear waters are part of the Seal Bay Conservation Park that’s full of marine animals. Luxury lodges like Southern Ocean ensure that every terrace, bedroom and bathroom offers a sweeping view of the great outdoors.

For an iconic shot, look out for a mob (the collective noun) of kangaroos crossing the outback landscape of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges or snap them soaking up the sun in Western Australia. From Esperance to Cape Le Grand National Park and the sparkling shoreline of Lucky Bay, the kangaroos here just love to feel the sand between their toes. 

Kangaroos in Esperance

Credit: Wildlife Australia

Gaze up at cute koalas

Breath in. If you can smell eucalyptus, then you’re in with a good chance of spotting a koala. Often hiding among the upper branches of towering eucalyptus trees, and eating huge quantities of leaves every day, keep an eye out as you drive through the Otway region of the Great Ocean Road. Also in Victoria, you are almost guaranteed to see koalas as you step off the ferry at Raymond Island.

Meanwhile, over in Queensland, Magnetic Island is easy to reach from Townsville and offers a luscious paradise for hundreds of koalas who take in the turquoise seas from their treetop perches. The island is also the site of an important slice of Australian history – follow the Forts Walk to see WWII fortifications.

Of course, it’s not all about kangaroos and koalas, and Rottnest Island greatly increases the cute stakes with its resident quokka population. A ferry ride from Perth, these friendly little marsupials are surprisingly at ease in front of the camera. 

Koala resting in a tree

Credit: KiltedArab

Make a splash with an underwater adventure

Queensland’s coastal towns – from Cairns to Port Douglas – are hopping off points for scuba and snorkelling expeditions to the Great Barrier Reef, where colourful coral provides an underwater habitat for turtles, thousands of varieties of tropical fish and reef sharks.

But, if you are feeling brave, you can paddle alongside the biggest fish in the world at the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Board a boat at Exmouth and prepare to get up close to whale sharks – swimming with these gentle giants makes for a truly mind-blowing memory.

Learn some underwater acrobatics from the sea lions who call South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula home or, if you prefer to spot marine life from a boat, make for the other side of Adelaide’s St Vincent Gulf and the Fleurieu Peninsula for the chance to see dolphins frolicking in the water around you. 

Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth

Credit: Wildlife Australia

Flap your wings at a real-life big bird

For a picture-perfect view of the Australian outback, look out for emus running alongside the road. Australia’s national bird – the emu appears alongside a kangaroo on the country’s passports – is especially common in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, which is near to the vineyards and cellar doors of Clare Valley. Closer to Adelaide, Cleland Wildlife Park offers the chance to walk around roaming emus and even eat a breakfast picnic hamper while surrounded by wild lorikeets.

Talking of birds, have your binoculars at the ready wherever you go for the chance to see kookaburras – listen out for their trademark ‘laughing’ call – eagles, owls and parrots. Several wildlife centres, like Taronga Zoo on the outskirts Sydney and Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne, give visitors the opportunity to see colourful cockatoos during a free-flight demonstration. 

Wedge Tail Eagle

Credit: Wildlife Australia

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