Australia - Where the wild things are

EGG-LAYING MAMMALS, MARSUPIALS WITH A KICK AND BIRDS IN ABUNDANCE: HERE’S WHY IN AUSTRALASIA, THE WILDLIFE TRULY IS IN A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN.

A NATURAL SELECTION

Australia’s rich array of (often weird and wonderful) wildlife makes it one of the most fascinating places you can ever hope to visit if you have a soft spot for nature. Is it any wonder that exploring these unique landscapes was a catalyst for Darwin’s theory of evolution via natural selection? Kangaroos and koalas are, of course, the wildlife A-list here. But there are countless other animals in Oz that deserve attention, too. Here, we put the spotlight on a few of our favourite places to see Australian nature in all its unique glory.

ROO’S COMPANY

Gorgeous Kangaroo Island, a few hours from Adelaide, is the third-largest island in Australia – and a whopping one-third of its area is given over to nature reserves. That means you can meet a wealth of creatures great and small here.

Of course, the island’s namesake is one of the major attractions. You can spot the local subspecies of kangaroos hopping around Flinders Chase National Park, but these bouncing beasts are far from the only stars worth chasing here.

Stay patient and you might be rewarded with glimpses of spiky echidnas or bizarre duck-billed platypuses – two of the island’s shyer residents, and both unusual in being egg-laying mammals. Easier to spot are your friendly neighbourhood koalas, which number in the tens of thousands. More of a bird person? The pelicans and little penguins in Kingscote are waiting for you.

However, our favourite Kangaroo Island wildlife adventure – and it’s up against some stiff competition – has to be hanging out with sea lions in Seal Bay. With the guidance of a ranger you can walk right through the midst of the colony. We enthusiastically give our seal of approval!

MARINE MAGNIFICENCE

Hop on a ferry in eastern Brisbane and you can be on North Stradbroke Island – or Straddie, as the locals call it – in just over an hour and a half. And why would you want to get there? Well, discovering the fascinating culture of the Quandamooka people, indigenous to the island, is one good reason.

Hitting the miles of stunning beach is another. Or you might want to take advantage of the outstanding opportunities for bush walks and wildlife-watching trips.

On Straddie, you’ve got a high chance of seeing kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, tortoises and kookaburras, as well as a rainbow of other bird species. And the action isn’t contained to the island - what’s going on in the water is every bit as exciting. Point Lookout offers the perfect place for watching humpback whales, which migrate through these eastern waters between May and early November. And to the west, in Moreton Bay, you can see rare dugong, as well as green, leatherback and hawksbill turtles.

Are you a dolphin lover? You needn’t step off dry land to see your favourite animals up close, as they gather near to Amity Point’s jetties in the evenings. However, if you do like underwater adventures, the island is full of great scuba instructors who’ll be happy to introduce you to the local manta rays.

PARTY WITH PENGUINS

Phillip Island’s penguin parade is one of the best-loved day trips (or rather, night trips) from Melbourne. The aptly named little penguin is the world’s smallest penguin species. As the sun begins to set each evening, these adorable guys and gals begin their nightly journey up the sand on Phillip Island’s Summerland Beach.

The vast crowds of penguins and their comical way of moving combine to make this seem one of the oddest spectacles in nature. But in fact, the penguins are just making their way home from work. After a day spent fishing at sea, there’s only one way to get back to their burrow inland: waddle. You’ll get a wonderful view of this incredibly cute parade from the seating area on the beach.

NEW ZEALAND MEANS NATURE

While we’re on the subject of Southern Hemisphere nature, it would be remiss of us not to mention New Zealand. Though much more compact than its gigantic neighbour, this country manages to pack in more than its fair share of wildlife wonders too. You can find chubby, flightless kiwi birds in the wild in many different wooded areas here, such as stunning Rainbow Springs Nature Park in Roturua. In addition to kiwis, the country is home to many other charismatic species, many of them only found here.

Being dazzled by the magical light of glow worms in atmospheric limestone caves in locations like Dunedin is a quintessential NZ experience. And jaw-droppingly huge gatherings of animals can be found in the open air, too. A vast royal albatross colony, also in Dunedin, gives you a rare chance to see these unique birds on land – they spend most of their lives at sea. Want to befriend a bottlenose dolphin or come face-to-face with a fur seal? Well, in the Bay of Islands – as famous for its amazing wildlife as for its dreamlike beauty – you can see these creatures and many more in their natural habitat. In short, if you don’t leave New Zealand harbouring secret dreams of landing a job as a zoologist, you didn’t do it right.