Wild down under

With Australia Day approaching, when better to plan a bucket list trip to see some of the world’s most memorable wildlife?


From koalas and kangaroos to more weirdly wonderful wildlife, there’s nowhere quite like Australia for nature lovers — not to mention a variety of places to discover its animals as you enjoy beaches and bush walks, explore the country’s outback deserts and pristine rainforests, and venture to islands and reefs.

For now, borders to Australia remain closed to tourism but with international travel hopefully resuming later this year, it’s never too early to start planning. So make sure you have at least a few of these extraordinary experiences on your list.

Swim with sealions on the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

Getting close to wildlife is always unforgettable, and wild sealions diving down to play with you as you swim with them off South Australia’s beautiful Eyre Peninsula — a 45-minute flight from Adelaide — is an unmissable experience.

With only small groups allowed, the animals are always in charge: and it’s meeting them on their terms, in their own habitat which makes the sealion swim so special.

They’re not fed as part of the experience and you join them in natural rock pools surrounding their island home. Combine it with a dolphin swim or bush walking under trees teeming with koalas for a few full days of wildlife.

Snorkel the world’s southernmost reef: Lord Howe Island, New South Wales

A two-hour flight from Sydney, New South Wales’s Lord Howe Island might not be as well-known as the Great Barrier Reef but it is the perfect escape for a marine adventure. Unesco World Heritage-listed and one of National Geographic’s best destinations for 2021, the island has a limit of 400 visitors at a time, so you barely have to share.

The world’s southernmost reef, Lord Howe Island is home to 90 coral species, green and hawksbill turtles and 500 species of fish — go scuba diving or snorkelling, take a dive course or glass-bottom boat tour, or hand-feed fish at Ned’s Beach.

There’s also luxury accommodation at Capella Lodge or Arajilla Retreat, both of which offer world-class dining and day spas.

Sunrise with the wallabies at Cape Hillsborough National Park, Queensland

Casuarina Beach is where Cape Hillsborough National Park meets the coral sea, and as well as catching a spectacular sun rise, there’s the added bonus of spotting dozens of wallabies which come to the beach for breakfast every morning.

For around an hour before and after sunrise, they feast on the washed-up mangrove seed pods on the beach, a 45-minute drive north of Mackay on Queensland’s coast. Before arrival, guests are advised to book a Sunrise Wallaby Tour with one of the parkland’s rangers, who will get you as close as possible to the animals without disturbing their routine.

Nocturnal wildlife by starlight in the Red Centre, Northern Territory

A journey into the outback is quintessential Australia, especially when you can spot red kangaroos bouncing through the Northern Territory. Stop by Alice Springs Desert Park, a short drive or cycle from Alice Springs itself, to get up close with more outback animals and birds in a variety of desert habitats.

The beauty and mystery of Australia’s red centre gets even wilder after the sun sets, with a nocturnal tour. Expert guides lead you on the Mulga Walk, a large predator-proof enclosure in the foothills of the MacDonnell Ranges, to spy endangered animals such as bilby and echidna in their natural habitat by starlight.

Swim with whale sharks, Western Australia

Off the Western Australian coastline, the crystalline water of Ningaloo Marine Park hides the world’s largest fringing reef, a 162-mile coral reef teeming with turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, humpback whales and the elusive whale shark.

Nowhere else on earth do these impressive creatures reliably congregate in such large numbers, and Ningaloo Reef is the only place on the planet where it’s possible to experience the “Big Three” — whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. Between mid-March and mid-July, visitors can also swim with the whale sharks.

Wildlife wonders near The Great Ocean Road, Victoria

If you’re visiting the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne, book the new Wildlife Wonders eco-tourism experience in the stunning Otways, a few miles west of Apollo Bay. Guided by a conservationist who will interpret the sights and sounds of the surrounding bush, you can encounter the animals living wild near the road overlooking the Southern Ocean.

Alongside koalas and kangaroos, you might find more elusive species such as potoroos, tiger quolls and bandicoots, against a backdrop of temperate rainforest and tree fern gullies.

Even better, all profits from the Wildlife Wonders experience support the Conservation Ecology Centre’s vital ecological research and conservation activities to protect the local ecosystem.

Paddle with platypuses in the Derwent Valley, Tasmania

This wonderful Paddle with the Platypus experience is unique to Tasmania’s lush Derwent Valley, which stretches west from capital Hobart.

Run by local guides Liam and Fiona Weaver of Tassie Bound Tours, the three-hour gentle kayak trip on the Upper Derwent River gives you the opportunity to spend a few twilight hours slowing down and spotting platypuses as you paddle, while learning about their very secretive lives.

Suitable for all ages, the trip is a fantastic chance to view up to 12 platypuses thriving in their natural habitat, and can be combined with other Tasmania wildlife experiences.

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Wildlife and wine mountain bike tour, South Australia

You needn’t head miles from the cities to discover Australia’s creatures: see koalas snoozing in trees, wallabies frolicking in gullies and rare birds soaring above waterfalls on a bush walk in Morialta Conservation Park, a 20-minute drive from Adelaide.

Or head south to McLaren Vale to join local expert Ian Fehler on a mountain bike tour visiting Onkaparinga National Park, where you’ll spot kangaroos and koalas, and the organic winery and eco-trail at Gemtree.

Whale watching, across Australia

As whales make their long voyage to and from Antarctica twice a year, it means there’s a good chance of spotting them at different points along the Aussie coastline during their journey. Between May and November, you could see southern right whales off South Australia and Victoria, in some places from cliff-top boardwalks and lookouts as well as on boat tours.

Carry on north to the Great Barrier Reef and the Kimberley region in the north of Western Australia, where there’s a chance to watch humpback whales, while orcas congregate around the state’s southern tip.

Conservation Connection tour on Kangaroo Island, South Australia

If you’ve ever visited a zoo and wished you could step inside the enclosures, Kangaroo Island comes pretty close. A short ride from the South Australian mainland, or a 30-minute flight from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is known as a zoo without fences as it’s teeming with wildlife.

To be part of this unforgettable island life (at least temporarily), you can take a three-day Conservation Connection tour with award-winning ecotourism company Exceptional Kangaroo Island, including time with the world’s leading expert on echidnas, learning about endangered birds and swimming with wild dolphins; Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures also help with a citizen science dolphin watch programme.

The private tour isn’t cheap but it’s hard to beat for a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience.


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