Discover 6 of the Best Places to see Australia’s Native Wildlife

Australia has some of the weirdest, most fascinating and rarest animals in the entire world. But the reasons why our unique fauna exist don’t begin with the animals themselves.

The real story behind why Australia is home to so many animals not found anywhere else on earth comes back to an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana.

Ever heard of it? Probably not, but your excused. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and unless your partners a geologist or a gun at Trivial Pursuit, you’re not going to hear about it in everyday conversation. So, let’s break it down for you.

About 200 million years ago, Australia was connected to South America, Africa, India and the Antarctic. This giant mass was the supercontinent Gondwana.

Then about 140 million years ago we began to break away from these continents and form our own. The exact mechanisms behind Gondwana's split are still unknown, with some saying spots where magma is very close to the surface caused a rift, while others maintain it split into two tectonic plates, which then broke apart.

Either way, Australia checked out of Casa de Gondwana and went about finding its own patch of ocean to settle in.

As we drifted further and further away though, we became isolated from the effects of global climate change. This led to unique fauna such as the marsupials, surviving, adapting and evolving within the confines of our island continent.

This is why you’ll never see a kangaroo grazing in front of the Taj Mahal or koalas hanging from trees beneath Cape Town’s Cable Mountain – unless it’s Kev of course.

These days, roughly 83% of mammals, 89% of reptiles, 90% of fish and insects and 93% of amphibians that inhabit the country are endemic to it, which is to say they’re defined to a particular geographic area or continent in this case.

Now, we know what you’re thinking.

Sure, some of these animals can be seen in zoos all around the world. But if you want to observe them living happily in the wild, well you’ll just have to visit Australia for that.

With that in mind we’ve put together a list of the 6 best places to see Australia’s native wildlife in action, beginning with our favourite!

Koalas at Kennett River, Victoria

Koala bears are one of Australia’s most easy to identify indigenous animals. But did you know that they’re not even bears? Yep! You heard correctly. Koalas are actually marsupials, which means they carry their young in a pouch instead of in the womb like a ‘proper’ bear (sorry Kev, but you ain’t no grizzly).

Koalas also live entirely on eucalypt leaves and can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. This tendency to nap the hours away and the fact there are only roughly 45,000 to 100,000 koalas left in the wild means they’re not all that easy to spot.

So, if you want to see one up close and personal without having to pay a zoo entry fee, one place with a high concentration of koalas is on the Kennett River Koala Walk in Kennett River, Victoria, nearly 200 km west of Melbourne.

The walk is actually a simple road that’s flanked by gum trees and home to a large population of koalas. Exact numbers are hard to confirm, but people have reported seeing up to 20 koalas for every hour they’ve spent on their stroll, so in comparison to other areas of Australia it’s a straight up koala party zone.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably never see them do anything too strenuous, but given the fact there aren’t many left in the wild, just witnessing them chilling out in their natural environment is still pretty cool.

Tasmanian Devils on Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Contrary to popular belief, the Tasmanian Devil doesn’t drool everywhere and spin around like a blurry tornado when he needs to get from A to B. If this is the image you have in mind, then you’ve probably been watching too many cartoons and not enough National Geographic.

The real Tasmanian Devil actually looks and behaves much differently. With a thick-set build, relatively large head and a short, thick tail. They have fur that’s mostly or wholly black with white markings, rather than being brown as Looney Tunes would have you believe.

Their body size also varies greatly depending on their diet and habitat. Large males, however, can weigh up to 12 kg and stand 30 cm high at the shoulder. This makes Tasmanian Devils the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial.

Physical characteristics aside, Tasmanian Devils also have a cool story behind how they were named. This tale dates back to the times of early European settlers, who upon hearing unearthly screams in the bush, went out and found a dog-like animal with red ears, wide jaws and pointed teeth – hence the ‘Devil’ reference.

If that’s not enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, Tasmanian Devils are well worth a visit the next time you find yourself on Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, where they gather in large concentrations and still frighten the heck out of unaware hikers with their shrieking to this very day.

Quokkas on Rottnest Island, Western Australia

For the unacquainted, quokkas are a stocky little marsupial with a long tail and a body that can be up to 54 cm long.

The quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal, just like other grass-eating marsupials such as the kangaroo and the wallaby. Unlike roos and wallabies though, quokkas are only found in small colonies in Western Australia, in particular Bald Island near Albany and in scrubby coastal zones between Perth and Albany.

Since Quokkas are considered vulnerable to extinction though, they are mostly encountered on Rottnest Island just off Perth, which was first explored by a Dutchman named William Dampier.

At the time of his discovery he thought quokkas were just rats the size of cats. He therefore named the island Rattennest, which means rat’s nest in English.

Later on, it was changed to Rottnest and it’s here that quokkas have flourished due to a lack of predators and an abundance of food. This makes it the perfect place to visit if you want to watch an adorable, fuzzy little quokka go about his or her business.

Just remember that feeding these furry residents is strictly prohibited and rangers aren’t shy about handing out fines… although their cuteness can make it hard to resist.

Kangaroos in Murramarang National Park, New South Wales

Kangaroos are up there with koala bears when it comes to their fame. With the vast majority of people associating them with Australia, they are well represented in films, television, books, toys and souvenirs around the world. But did you know that kangaroos can’t walk backwards? Or that a group of kangaroos is called a ‘mob’? They’re also the largest marsupial in the world, with adult males growing as tall as 2 m and weighing in at 90 kg.

Other than giving the average Australian bloke a run for his money with their size, Kangaroos also have a unique legend attached to their name, much like the Tasmanian Devil. This legend dates back to the days when Australia was first being charted by Captain Cook, who was exploring an area about 350 km north of Brisbane. Upon seeing the animal for the first time, Cook asked a local what they were called. The local was then said to respond “Kangaroo”, supposedly meaning “I don’t understand you”. Cook then took this to be the name of the animal.

Although this legend has since been debunked, Kangaroos are no less thrilling to see in the wild. The fact that estimates put their numbers at over 25 million, however, does make seeing one a little less exceptional when compared to their much shier tree dwelling friends, koalas. Something Kev the Koala no doubt takes pride in.

Still, witnessing a kangaroo at full speed whipping through the undergrowth or bounding across grassland is a thing of beauty. And the best place to see them in all their leaping glory is at Pebbly Beach in Murramarang National Park, roughly 4 hours’ drive south of Sydney.

Here you can watch them graze and socialise until your hearts content. Just make sure you keep your distance though, since kangaroos can kick and have been known to take an open bag as an invitation to investigate.

Dingoes on Fraser Island, Queensland

Dingoes have existed in Australia for over 4,000 years thanks to their variable natural diet and ability to live in a wide range of habitats. Their preference, however, is woodland and grassland areas on the edge of forests. An icon of Australia, the dingo is generally gregarious, athletic and surprisingly playful.

Contrary to popular belief, they are not aggressive by nature and won’t attack people for no reason. They are also unlike dogs in that they howl in order to ward off threats or to communicate with other dingoes. In fact, dingoes are most commonly linked to species of wolves, such as the south Asian variety of grey wolf.

Like wolves, spotting a dingo in the wild can be tricky given they hunt at night and only remain active in short bursts before retreating for cover. If you’re on the lookout though, the colour of a standard dingo’s fur is usually ginger with white patches on the paws, while dingoes that live in the forest have darker fur and those in arid areas have lighter fur.

If you can’t seem to spot one on mainland Australia, your best chances of seeing a dingo in the flesh is on the largest sand island in the world – Fraser Island. Located about 250 km from Brisbane, Fraser Island is home to 25 to 30 stable dingo packs, with each pack containing between 3 and 12 individuals.

This makes it one of the best places to observe a dingo in the wild… just don’t ask Kev the koala to join you.

Platypuses in Eungella National Park, Queensland

There’s an old joke in Australia that says a platypus is a duck designed by a committee. A classic jest that pokes fun at the effectiveness of people’s decision making when grouped together and given an edict to create something.

If you don’t get this zinger right away though, it’s ok. That just means you’ve never really had a good look at a platypus (or been exposed to any terrible Aussie humour). With their duck-like bill, webbed feet, beaver-like body and venomous spurs. You can sympathise with people’s disbelief such an animal could exist when they were first seen during colonial times. Even their name has been a mismatch of sorts, with explorers calling them a “watermole", "duckbill" and "duckmole” before settling on the platypus.

And yes, you did read that correctly. These fuzzy little semiaquatic egg-laying mammals can actually do some serious harm* if they prick you, thanks to the venomous spurs located on their ankles.

Not so cute now, hey?

In any case, Platypuses (not platypi or platypodes as they’re wrongly called) are a curious looking creature that offers more than just meets the eye.

Unfortunately for sightseers, platypuses are also some of Australia’s hardest animals to see in the wild. To put their elusiveness in perspective, people who study them for a living say that seeing one still evokes a sense of wonder - they’re just that rare.

For the best chance of spotting one though head to Eungella National Park in Queensland where they’ve got a designated platypus viewing area.

Whatever you do though, don’t get too close, since nobody back home will ever believe one of these harmless looking critters took you down.

* Don’t fret. By serious harm we don’t suggest you will die. Although it’s worth considering that the pain is said to be so excruciating that you’ll most likely be incapacitated, which isn’t as bad as death, right… right?