Australia has some of the most unique animals on the planet, and luckily, some of the best and most conveniently located sites to check them out also happen to be pretty great areas to explore in their own right. Here’s seven of the best wildlife havens to get you started.
1. The Atherton Tableland, QLD
Sprawled across the highlands above Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands are part of the incredible Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, a land of mist-shrouded ranges, dense rainforest and cascading waterfalls. During the day, look out for the electric blue of stunning Ulysses butterflies, adorable musky rat-kangaroos searching the forest floor for fruit, or one of the many species of birds found throughout the area, from tiny blue-faced parrot-finches up to the raptorial cassowaries that prowl the forest.
At night, though, is when the area truly comes alive. Have a quick spotlight around the edges of the forest and you might find anything from incredible Lumholtz’s tree kangaroos, to some half a dozen possum species, quolls, gliders, bandicoots, flying foxes, frogs, pythons and a whole lot more.
2. Royal National Park, NSW
Little more than a stone’s throw from Sydney, the world’s second oldest national park has everything from stunning beaches and coastal heathland, to littoral rainforest, mangrove marshes and all the spectacular showings of wildlife that come with such varied scenery.
Tackling a little of the 27km Coastal Track should provide your best chances at spotting migrating humpback whales and pods of passing dolphins, as well as local swamp wallabies, echidnas, introduced Javan deer, and a huge wealth of birdlife. Camp out for the night and keep an eye out for brushtail, ringtail and pygmy possums, as well as sugar gliders, long-nosed bandicoots, and the incredible powerful owls that prey on them.
3. Kakakdu National Park, NT
Some 250km from Darwin, Australia’s largest national park is an area of incredible ecological and biological diversity, not to mention near 50,000 years of history and some of the most incredible sights you’ll find in the country. Lush forest and open savannah provide habitats for around three hundred species of bird, including brolgas, rainbow pittas and other species found nowhere else.
Around just about any of the park’s many campgrounds is a good place to search for the tiny Narbarlek, one of Australia’s smallest rock-wallabies, colonies of raucous flying foxes and prowling dingoes, as well as the green tree frogs which will likely have taken up residence within just about every camp toilet.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for most) most of the regions snakes, pythons, and the iconic frill-necked lizard will prove a little tougher to spot. Jump on a cruise at Yellow Waters though, and you’ll get about as close as you’ll likely want to get to both freshwater crocodiles, and their giant saltwater cousins.
4. Dryandra Woodland, WA
Two hours from Perth, on the edge of the state’s vast Wheatbelt region, Dryandra is a remnant of the eucalypt woodland that once covered much of this part of the country. While it might not be the most visually stunning location compared to WA’s many wonders, several walking trails and a couple of nice campsites make for a great weekend away from Perth, especially for wildlife lovers.
The woodlands host a variety of vulnerable species, from western quolls and woylies to the elusive malleefowl, but it’s the numbat that draws most of Dryandra’s visitors. This intrepid little marsupial anteater is the fauna emblem of WA, and while they were once found across most of Australia, Dryandra now holds over half the total population.
Hidden within the woodlands you can also find Barna Mia Sanctuary, a fenced refuge where bilbies, malas and several other threatened or even mainland-extinct species have been re-introduced, and they run great nocturnal tours.
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5. Kangaroo Island, SA
Australia’s third largest island, 110km south of Adelaide, is largely known for it’s beaches, gourmet food, beautiful rock formations and the incredible scenery, but it’s also a great place to see a remarkable variety of wildlife. Many of Australia’s most iconic species live on the island, with echidnas, wombats, koalas and kangaroos all roaming free and relatively easy to spot.
On the coast, huge colonies of seals and sea lions command the rocky shores, while whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are common offshore. Platypuses were also introduced to the island in the early 1900s, and it’s the only place in SA where you can spot them in the wild.
6. Wilsons Promontory, VIC
On the southern-most tip of mainland Australia and readily accessible from Melbourne, Wilsons Promontory National Park is a beautifully rugged peninsula of granite mountains, stunning beaches, dense forest and great wilderness hiking.
Like Kangaroo Island, it’s almost too easy to find a heap of Australian specialities here, with wombats, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, echidnas, possums, potoroos, gliders, and introduced deer thriving. Watch out for mobs of emus throughout the park, and listen for the distinctive creaky calls of gang gangs, one of Australia’s prettiest cockatoos.
7. Tasman Peninsula, TAS
The entirety of Tasmania is pretty much one big wildlife hotspot, but the Tasman Peninsula, an hour from Hobart, is hard to beat. Rugged and wild, there’s dense forest, towering coastal cliffs, incredible rock formations and some fascinating history, as well as a few great campgrounds to check out.
The warrens of eucalypt that swathe Tasman National Park are home to cute but fierce eastern quolls, barred bandicoots, Tasmanian bettongs and the elusive Tasmanian devil, although you’ll need more than a little luck to spot one. Fur seals and humpback whales crowd the oceans, with regular sightings of rarer elephant and leopard seals too. Keep an eye out for the Tasmanian form of echidna, so unbothered by humans they’ll generally go waddling right past you, and at night, listen for the haunting screech of Australian masked owls.