Wild about... Australia
Isolated from the rest of the Earth for millions of years, Australia raised a unique and magnificent collection of flora and fauna. Travel writer Alexa Hargreaves takes a state-wide wildlife tour of Australia’s finest.
Western Australia: Whale sharksThe world's biggest fish is a gentle giant. It can stretch up to 18 metres alongside you in the water and weigh as much as 19,000kg, but it isn't interested in eating humans with its 3,000 teeth – plankton is on its food wishlist. That's why you'll find them on Western Australia's 300km-long Ningaloo reef come March and April, when the coral spawns and the water is alive with tasty microbes. You can snorkel with them in the waters of the East Indian Ocean, where you'll also be able to spot dolphins, dugongs, turtles, spectacular coral reef, and, if you're really lucky, blue whales.
A whale shark
South Australia: KoalasCould there be anything more Australian than a koala? Or more adorable! These charismatic marsupials are related to the (nearly as cute) wombat, and found in coastal parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Eucalyptus trees are where they live and what they eat, though 'gum' leaves have so few calories koalas preserve their energy by sleeping – up to 20 hours a day. Koalas from Victoria are twice the size of their tropical counterparts in Queensland. Blending into the foliage, koalas are notoriously difficult to spot, and those big fluffy ears mean they will hear you long before you spot the tell-tell claw marks in the tree trunks.
Northern Territory: Saltwater crocodilesAustralia is home to more than 200,000 saltwater crocs, the world's largest reptile. The species was once hunted for its skin and 68 teeth, despite being up to seven metres long and weighing over a thousand kilos. The highest concentration in the Northern Territory's Top End is around Darwin and the Mary River wetlands. You can take a crocodile spotting cruise on the Mary River to see them lazing in the shallows, and also spot fantastic birdlife, including jacanas, pygmy geese, brolgas and ibises, plus water strewn with pink lotus lillies. Look out for freshwater crocs, too – you'll spot them by their longer, thinner snouts.
A saltwater crocodile, Mary River Wetlands
New South Wales: KangaroosYou'll see kangaroos all over Australia – the country is home to 55 species and is the only place in the world where the animal can be found. They are the Earth's largest marsupial and travel by hopping, using their muscular tail to balance. One of the best places to see mobs of kangaroos (that's groups to you and me) up close is at Pebbly Beach in the Murramarang National Park. Here, the eastern grey species grazes on grass behind the beach. You can also see swamp and red-necked wallabies, dolphins in the surf and lyrebirds, gannets and oyster catchers.
Kangaroos on a beach
Victoria: Fairy penguinsSee the smallest species of penguins in Australia: fairy penguins grow to just 33cm tall and weigh just one kilo. They have blue feathers on their back, a white underbelly and black-grey beaks, and burrow close to shore, leaving before sunrise to avoid predators and swimming up to 100km per day, before returning at dusk. There are 4,000 burrows around Summerland beach on Phillip Island. Watch them bob around in the water until it's dark enough, then waddle up the shore to their homes. As you wait, wallabies bound around the hills above the boardwalk. You can also see seals, and koalas during the day.
Tasmania: PlatypusOne of the most fascinating and secretive creatures on Earth is native to Australia. The platypus is an egg-laying mammal with webbed feet, broad tail, duck bill and glossy brown fur on top, with a golden belly. It's semi aquatic, so you'll find it in creeks and rivers in north Queensland and Tasmania. The Tasmanian ones are bigger than elsewhere – up to 60cm long and weighing up to three kilos. Spot them at Warrawee Forest Reserve on the banks of the Mersey river. Here you can go on nature walks in the late afternoon and at first light to see them coming up for air, or waddling to their nests. Hopefully you might spot rare orchids, echidnas, pademelons and wallabies, too.
A swimming platypus
Queensland: Manta raysWith a wingspan of up to seven metres, manta rays are the world's largest rays. They are extremely inquisitive animals so you can get up close to them; they eat plankton and their short tails don't have any stinging barbs. In May and June large groups come to the southern Great Barrier Reef, especially in the warm waters around Lady Elliot Island, where the species you'll find is the Manta alfredi. At this time, water visibility is at its best and you can swim with them. On the island itself you can also see three types of nesting turtles: hawksbill, green and loggerheads.
A manta ray from below
Cox & Kings recommends an itinerary starting in Adelaide, South Australia. Fly to Kangaroo Island for 4 nights at Southern Ocean Lodge, then to Darwin in the Northern Territory, followed by a scenic flight to Bamarru Plains for 3 nights of wild bush luxury. 15 days & 12 nights from £5,995 including international & internal flights, accommodation & transfers. Alternatively, find out more about Cox & Kings' Australia holidays here or speak to one of our experts for more information.Share: