Australia is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife and surprisingly it is a lot more accessible that you might think. Each state has something to offer so no matter where you end up in the vast country there is always something exciting to see, beautiful to photograph and ultimately make everyone at home green with envy! Here are a few choice picks around the country to add to the wild encounters wish list.
1. Whalesharking in Exmouth, WA
Whalesharks are the largest fish in the ocean, occasionally reaching the grand length of around 18m, but generally about 12m in Exmouth, they are literally huge. Every year at Ningaloo reef from around mid-March up until potentially early September, although more reliably April – July, Exmouth is filled with people all signing up to go out swimming with these gentle giants. At anywhere from $300-$400 per person it’s not a cheap day out, but it is one of the best days out, ever, in the world, full stop. The first time you see it appear out of the blue towards you is incredible, I dare you not to shriek through your snorkel. Plus if you time it right there’s a high possibility you’ll also see manta rays, whales, or the odd dugong. Turtles and reef sharks are ever present and there’s a high possibility you’ll spot some of these too. Without question of a doubt this is one of the best wild experiences Australia has to offer.
2. White Pointers in Port Lincoln, SA
Continuing on with the shark theme, down in South Australia on the Eyre peninsular is the busy fishing town of Port Lincoln, the Great White capital of Australia. In fact the whole section of coast from there right up along the Nullarbour is pretty much stuffed with sharks but in Port Lincoln you too can take your life in your hands and go face to face with a big bad Pointer of the sea. The format is simple but the day is anything but. You go out in your boat, burly for sharks and as soon as they appear jump into the cage and view them swimming around in front of your (often dramatically widened) eyes. Regardless of whatever you’ve heard or think you know about Great White sharks you will fall a little bit in love with them, they are so graceful and beautiful under the water, in fact it’s highly tempting to want to reach out and give it a stroke, honest! Whilst you’re watching from the boat it seems they whip past in seconds, streamlining their way through the water, however from down below in their world the seconds seem to stretch out into minutes as they calmly and serenely glide past you. I mean it might make your life flash before your eyes at first but it’s truly a momentous experience. A great tip is to book your trip through the YHA hostel in Port Lincoln, you get a free night’s accommodation with them by doing so and it’s got to be one of the best hostels in the whole country. Check out their shark cage inside – it’s begging you to take a picture!
3. Turtles at Mon Repos, Bundaberg, QLD
A good day’s drive north of Brisbane is the famous town of Bundaberg. If you don’t know it yet you’ve clearly not spent more than 10 minutes in an Australian pub. Bundaberg rum is an institution in Australia, however there’s more to the area than just rum. A short drive outside of town is the turtle sanctuary at Mon Repos. Between December and March hundreds of exhausted lady turtles heave themselves out of the water to lay their eggs and you can come along and watch. The best time of year is January as you’ll possibly be able to see both laying and hatching. The tour is pretty cheap but very popular. It’s highly recommended that you book in advance. The hatching turtles are adorable and you can’t help but want to slip one in your pocket. The turtle centre is brilliantly set up and if you’re there at hatching time – January onwards – you’ll be able to even stroke a baby hatchling and help it on it’s way to the ocean. Insider tip, take a torch, that way you get to be part of the ‘dash to the ocean’ and there’s a high possibility one will run over your naked foot. It goes without saying that’s a total highlight!
4. Dingos on Fraser Island, QLD
If you’re going to Fraser Island chances are you’ll encounter a dingo. If you’re going on a day trip it’s not a given, however it’s highly likely, especially if you’re spending any time camping there. Dingos have a bit of a bad rep given past historical events, however they are essentially wild animals that unfortunately look like some people’s pets. It’s hardly fair to compare a wild dingo with good old Fido at home. There are dingos interspersed throughout Australia but the ones on Fraser Island are reportedly the last pure breeds around due to their isolation. Sadly some people feed them, encouraging adverse and unnatural interaction and behaviour, however that being said you’ll still get a thrill when you’re on the beach and you see one padding along the high tide mark or dipping it’s paws in the water.
5. Jumping Crocs, Darwin, NT
The title here is a little misleading. Darwin is not full of crocodiles jumping around. Sorry about that! However from Darwin you can take a day trip out to the Adelaide river where you board a boat and cruise about, witnessing the spectacle of a fully grown adult crocodile violently propel itself out of the water like some kind of reptilian torpedo and essentially stand on it’s tail. There is debate as to whether or not this is truly ‘wild’ but it’s definitely the safest, closest and most impressive way to see crocodiles in the wild. It is also a great indicator of how dangerous they are, how easily concealed they are and of course a fantastic illustrator of why you don’t go swimming in any old waterhole!
6. Dolphins at Bunbury, WA
Bunbury, just south of Perth is home to many hundreds of dolphins. In the bay to the side of town the dolphin discovery center charges a very reasonable $10 per person for a ticket valid for three separate occasions. Unlike its Monkey Mia counterpart they don’t feed the dolphins, they just watch them from the beach and the dolphins come and go as they please, basically showing off to their captive audience. If you want to pay extra there’s the option to go out swimming with them from a boat, however you get remarkably close to them on the beach. The best time to go is early in the morning but as the ticket is valid on three visits if you miss them the first time you can always come back. Plus the octopus feeding in the aquarium room is always good for a laugh.
7. Seal kayaking along The Great Ocean Road, Vic
The Great Ocean Road is stuffed full of wildlife. You can feed parrots, watch koalas or look out for goannas and kangaroos along the roadside. In short it’s a nature lovers dream. However what wasn’t such common knowledge to us was that you can sea kayak with seals. From Apollo bay you head out of a morning in your double man kayak and paddle right up to a colony of fur seals. These adorable puppies of the sea are playful, inquisitive and natural born show offs. This particular trip was one of the least well subscribed that we took and it meant that the group was much more intimate and you got really close to the seals – mainly because at one point they wouldn’t leave us alone! Once you’ve had your fill of seals you then get the joy of surfing the waves back onto shore, again another brilliant experience, but just make sure you don’t have an energetic activity planned for the afternoon, you’ll be worn out from paddling and the adrenalin high soon leaves you once you’re back on terra firma!
8. Whale watching, the coast!
Depending on where you are in the country it seems that there’s only a few months of the year that whales aren’t making their way up or down the east and west coast line, not to mention lurking about the south coast or hanging around the north edge in the Kimberley. Whilst I can’t comment on all whale watching trips as clearly I haven’t done them all, they all follow a pretty much standard outline and all seem to deposit very happy passengers at the end of the day. A good tip for whale watching trips, surprisingly, is Groupon. During the season – we went in July from the Gold Coast – Groupon was full of daily deals for whale watching tours at half the price of booking direct. Being as how whales are of course wild they don’t often play by the rules. They don’t know that a boat has to be so many meters away from them and if they feel like surfacing right next to the boat and essentially covering excited tourists with whale snot (aka coming to the surface and breathing!) well then they’re going to go right ahead, rules and regulations be damned!