This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2017. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
What’s the first thing you think of when you visualise Australia?
My guess is that, aside from the freakin’ amazing beaches, it’s the animals that pop into your head. Australia is known for its wildlife, which can range from deathly and dangerous to sweet and adorable.
I usually try to avoid animals in tourism because I just don’t know how they’ve been treated in captivity, but in Australia there are plenty of places where you can see the local animals without going to a zoo.
Of course, the best way is to see them in their natural habitats, but you can also visit one of the country’s many wildlife sanctuaries, many of which rescue injured wildlife and have breeding programs for endangered species. Here’s a video I made of some adorable Aussie animals at sanctuary in Tasmania.
So, if you want to see some of these awesome Australian animals and prefer not to see them in a zoo, here’s the best places for wildlife encounters in Australia! At the end of the post, I’ll list a bunch of wildlife sanctuaries for you to check out.
Let’s start with the one animal that every wants to see in Australia… koalas! I’ve never been lucky enough to see one in the wild, but I know of a few people who have.
I know how much you are absolutely dying to cuddle a koala, but there’s a few things to know about this experience before you try it. First, you can only hold a koala in the state of Queensland (though you are still able to pat them, just not hold them, in other states). Second, the ethics of cuddling a koala is debatable as this is not natural for the animal, though the practice is strictly monitored and each koala is restricted to around 30 minutes of interaction with tourists a day.
Where to see koalas:
To increase your chances of seeing koalas in the wild, plan a trip to Magnetic Island off the coast of Queensland. You should probably stay there a few nights to increase your chances of seeing one (there’s even a hostel on the island for budget travellers).
Port Macquarie, on the New South Wales coast, is another place that you might spot wild koalas as the area is home to one of Australia’s largest koala populations. This destination is also known for the koala hospital which treated injured wildlife after the black summer bushfires in 2019/2020.
If you can’t get to Magnetic Island or Port Macquarie, there are some wildlife sanctuaries that specialise in koalas – try the Phillip Island Koala Conservation Centre south of Melbourne, or Kuranda Koala Gardens near Cairns.
Kangaroos and wallabies
Kangaroos are very common in Australia, and wallabies (kind of a smaller version of a kangaroo) are just as common. I’ve seen a ton of wild kangaroos and wallabies in New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania.
Where to see kangaroos:
You can find kangaroos and wallabies if you head outside of the cities to the countryside or the outback. Kangaroo Island in South Australia has plenty (hence the name!), as does Jervis Bay and the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales.
If you don’t see one in the wild, then go to one of the wildlife sanctuaries and you’ll definitely see one – you can even feed kangaroos by hand at some of them! I did this with some friends at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast and at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania. It’s always a great experience.
Quokkas are suuuuper cute small marsupials and are very friendly towards humans, which is why a lot of tourists fall in love with them. Quokkas have recently become Instagram famous as they are seemingly happy to pose for selfies. The above (very grainy) photo is of a young me feeding a quokka on a family trip back in 1998. You’re welcome.
Where to see quokkas:
Quokkas are primarily found on Rottnest Island, which is accessed by ferry from Fremantle or Perth in Western Australia, and I guarantee that if you head over for a Rottnest Island day trip you will see loads of these adorable creatures hopping about all over the place.
These little Australian animals are super cute and look kind of like an otter crossed with a duck. Apparently, the first scientist who was handed a platypus specimen deemed it to be a fake that had been made from other animal parts sewn together. Ha!
Where to see a platypus:
Platypuses can be found frolicking in rivers along Australia’s east coast from Tasmania to the southern end of Queensland. These shy creatures can be difficult to spot as they spend a lot of time underwater. I have seen two wild platypuses, both in Tasmania – one near Mount Field National Park and the other in the Huon Valley.
There are two types of crocodiles in Australia. Freshwater crocs are found inland in rivers, lagoons, and swamps, and saltwater crocs (the bigger, nastier version) are generally found nearer to the coast.
Getting up close to a crocodile is absolutely possible in Australia, but I highly advise you not to try and find one in the wild. If you happen to come across a ‘Danger Crocodiles: No swimming’ sign, please pay attention–it wouldn’t be the first time that a newspaper headline said something like ‘Ignorant tourist attacked by crocodile’.
Where to see crocodiles:
Northern Territory and northern Queensland are the best places to see crocodiles. You can visit Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures near Cairns, or from Darwin you can do a jumping crocodiles cruise to see them in the wild.
I’ve seen loads of kookaburras in Australia. In fact, I just saw one a few days ago on the Central Coast of NSW. These birds are easily recognisable with their long pointy beak and white/brown markings. The one pictured above is a youngling–their adult counterparts are a little less fluffy.
Where to see kookaburras:
Kookaburras can be found all over Australia. I spotted the one in the photo above while staying in the Tamar Valley near Launceston, Tasmania. I’ve also seen kookaburras in the city at places like the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, though your likelihood of seeing them in cities is lower than in more bushy areas with plenty of gum trees. Go camping or stay somewhere outside of town to increase your chances of seeing a kookaburra in the wild.
With kookaburras, it’s very likely that you’ll hear their distinctive ‘laugh’ before you see them! It might be worth listening to a recording of a kookaburra sound so that you know what to listen out for.
Cockatoos (or Cockies, as we call them) are cheeky Australian birds. They are usually white with pale yellow head feathers, but you might also see black cockatoos. I’ve spotted plenty of wild ones – they usually hang out in large flocks and get very noisy with their screeching call at dusk.
Where to see cockatoos:
You can actually see cockatoos anywhere in Australia. I have spotted cockatoos hanging out in Victoria Park in Sydney as well as around my home at certain times of the year.
If you want to increase your chances of seeing cockatoos, Hamilton Island off the Queensland coast has loads of them. Staying on the island can be pretty pricey, but it’s a great base to see the Great Barrier Reef and the likelihood of you seeing wild cockatoos is very high!
Despite what you might think from the Looney Tunes character, Tassie devils are actually quite small, black in colour, and look sort of like large rats but significantly less ugly. They’re also known for making a rather alarming screaming/snarling noise and are often photographed with their jaw wide open, as above in my photo.
Tassie devils are also endangered. In the mid-1990s, a facial tumour disease spread throughout the wild population and nearly wiped them out. Luckily, there are a few conservation programs that are dedicated to saving these animals.
Where to see Tasmanian devils:
To state the obvious, you’ll see them in Tasmania, though seeing them in the wild is very rare. I lived in TAS for 22 years and never saw one (though I think I may have heard a wild devil once at Cradle Mountain… not sure).
Wombats are fluffy marsupials that live in forests in the southeastern parts of Australia. They may look small (the one above is a baby) but these animals can get rather large when fully grown.
They’re pretty rare to see in the wild as they tend to avoid humans. Also, they might look cute but adult wombats can be rather dangerous and attack if they feel threatened, so it’s not advisable to get too close if you see one in the bush.
Where to see wombats:
You can see wild wombats on a walking with wombats day tour from Sydney or a wildlife spotting after dark tour at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Head to the any of the wildlife sanctuaries to see wombats in captivity. You may even be able to pat a young one if you attend the wildlife talk at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Hobart!
Echidnas are like little anteaters with spikes on their back. They are super cute, but are fairly shy and tend to hide from people which can make them hard to spot. I can count only a handful of occasions when I’ve seen an echidna in the wild!
Where to see echidnas:
Echidnas are fairly elusive. You might be lucky enough to see one if you do some hiking while you’re in the southern states of Australia – I have seen a few in Tasmania at places like Bruny Island, Mt Wellington near Hobart, and the Tamar Valley near Launceston. Head to the wildlife sanctuaries if you don’t manage to spot a wild one.
Wildlife Sanctuaries in Australia:
New South Wales
- Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
- Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
- Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
- Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
- Billabong Sanctuary