March 22, 2011
Although the stereotype of kangaroos bounding down the street isn’t quite true, there are plenty of places in Australia where it’s possible to encounter weird and wonderful wildlife. David Whitley discovers the top animal-spotting destinations in the land of marsupials and monotremes…
The popular holiday island off the coast of Perth was so named by Dutch explorers because they thought it was full of rats. They were mistaken, as the rats were actually quokkas.
The cat-sized marsupials roam around Rottnest with impunity, and can be audacious when it comes to rummaging around in bags for snacks. Visitors can be fined for touching the quokkas, but there are enough of them hopping around to provide plenty of entertainment. Just keep an eye on your sandwiches.
If Rottnest Island’s quokkas aren’t exactly shy, then the emus at Tower Hill are downright impudent. They show no fear whatsoever and will come bounding up to visitors in the picnic area.
It’s well worth going for a walk around the reserve, an old volcanic crater near Warrnambool in Victoria, as it’s also one of the best places in the country to spot echidnas, which look rather like porcupines but are related to the platypus.
Pretty much everyone wants to see a kangaroo in the wild, and it isn’t difficult once you head out of the cities. Golf courses in country areas are often sure-fire bets and a famous example is the Anglesea Golf Club just off Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. Local legend has it that a golfer once landed his tee shot in a kangaroo’s pouch.
Australia’s other great reef can be found on the west coast, and between April and July the world’s biggest fish – whale sharks – call it home. Cruises head out from Exmouth, taking tourists eager to swim with creatures which can weigh over 20 tonnes. The whale sharks are the main focus but turtles, rays and dolphins are often spotted as well.
You definitely won’t want to swim with the wildlife during a cruise on Yellow Water in Kakadu National Park, which heads along a billabong and through a spectacular flooded forest.
Part of the emphasis is on spotting the Northern Territory’s varied birdlife, but most passengers have their eyes firmly on the banks. Sitting on them, catching the sun, are enormous saltwater crocodiles; just occasionally, one will slide into the water and swim in front of the boat.
This isolated spot on the west coast has become famous for its population of friendly bottlenose dolphins, which come up to the beach two or three times a day for food.
Tourists are allowed to hand-feed them, but the first feeding of the day can be a bit of a scrum as it’s when all the tour buses arrive. Turn out for the second and third feedings, however, and you’ve got an excellent chance of being picked from the crowd to give a fish to Flipper.
Even though they sleep for most of the day and can do some serious damage with their claws, koalas are usually thought of as the cutest things in the world.
Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville in northern Queensland, is home to plenty of the sleepy furballs. The best place to spot them is in the gum trees on the Forts Walk, which heads up to a World War II defence complex with postcard views of the island.
The best place for a guaranteed koala sighting, however, is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane: it’s the biggest koala sanctuary in the world and features over 100 of them.
What’s more, it’s one of the few places where you’re allowed to “˜cuddle’ a koala while you pose for the ultimate cheesy photo. But Lone Pine isn’t all about the koalas. It’s also possible to hand-feed kangaroos and watch wombats – the greatest and most amusingly clumsy creatures on earth – in action.
This zoo with a harbour view is among the best in the world anyway, but the Wild Australia experience is truly superb. It involves a keeper taking you behind the scenes, into the enclosures that ordinary visitors can’t enter. You also get a look at the animal kitchens, feed the wildlife, get up close to echidnas and meet some of the zoo’s special hand-raised inhabitants.
If you prefer your creatures naughty rather than nice, then this small collection of nasties in Kuranda near Cairns is a winner. Among the snakes, spiders and scorpions is the most venomous land snake in the world – the Inland Taipan. On a less deadly note, visitors are also given the chance to have an enormous python draped around their neck.
For the best fares to Sydney, log on to www.virginatlantic.com.