How To See Quokkas, Koalas, Kangaroos, and Cassowaries
As I packed up my desk and revelled in the last few moments of employed life by chatting with my soon to be ex-colleagues, my head was full of sunny beaches, cocktails, and perfect bronze tans.
Until my manager opened his big mouth. ‘Good luck in Australia,’ he said. ‘Everything there is out to kill you.’
I waved off his comment. The stories of spiders hiding in every toilet and crawling out of car air conditioning units had to just be rumours, right? Instead I would go in search of the cuddly animals that wouldn’t kill me, and it turns out Australia has a lot of them. Here’s a guide to finding them for yourself.
Rottnest, Western Australia
Animals spotted: Quokkas and dolphins.
Rottnest is an island just off the coast of western Australia. You can catch a ferry over from Fremantle or Perth every morning. The island has some beautiful beaches, great look out points and during the summer there are some good snorkelling spots.
Rottnest was named after its most famous inhabitants, only the people who named it thought the inhabitants were rats, not quokkas.
These friendly fur balls live happily on the island, where they have no predators. Quokkas are very inquisitive, no doubt due to people feeding them. We watched a little one try to take a bite out of someone's phone. Many of them are found in the island's main settlement , next to the ferry port. We didn't realise this at the start of visit, and we spent a couple of hours cycling around without seeing any trace of them. Just as we were starting to give up hope, we pedalled over a hill and saw that the couple in front of us had stopped in the middle of the road and abandoned their bikes. Our hopes were raised and we pedalled like mad, almost jumping off our bikes and forgetting to remove our helmets before we whipped out our cameras and performed a job that the paparazzi would be jealous of. Further on around the island, when we reached the most Western point, Cape Vlamingh, we spotted about 5 dolphins playing out on the surf. It was the perfect ending to our day on this beautiful island.
Animals spotted: Crocodiles (at a farm), cassowaries, turtles and sharks.
Whilst the city itself is not the most exciting, Cairns and its neighbouring areas have some great opportunities to meet some interesting creatures, both on land and in the sea. Cairns is one of the main gateways to the Great Barrier Reef, offering opportunities for living aboard a boat for a few days and diving all over the reef, to glass bottom boats for those who want to stay dry. If you get lucky you'll see heaps of colourful fish, turtles and reef sharks.
Further up the coast from Cairns is the Daintree National Park. This is one of the only places that you have a chance of seeing a cassowary in the wild. These funny looking birds, who have a turkey like neck and appear to be wearing a miniature helmet, also make one of the strangest calls I've ever heard. The low frequency call has been described as a boom and it sort of feels like it is vibrating straight through you. If you don't get to see them in the wild there are a number of wildlife parks in the area that offer up that opportunity.
Many of the rivers in the area advise against swimming in them because of crocodiles. Not wanting to confirm my former manager's premonition, I decided to heed the warnings, but still wanted to see some. So instead we headed to a crocodile farm just north of the city. Here we got to see some of the massive beasts. One was over 100 years old and it’s age didn’t make it any less menacing.
Exmouth, Western Australia
Animals spotted: Kangaroos, emus, humpback whales, rays.
Exmouth is a bit of an outpost on the western coast of Australia, but a journey here will provide you with lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting, including the enormous termite hills that surround the area.
The town itself has a fair few rambling emus; they wander around in search of any scraps of food left out. Emus can provide up close and personal viewings, especially if they try and break into your tent and you emerge almost face to face with one. Safe to say that gave us a bit of a fright, although we weren't as scared as the dog who was chased around the local park by an over protective mother! We visited in September, and there were lots of fluffy emu chicks around at the time.
Just around the coast from Exmouth is the Cape Range National Park. The park offers up both land and sea options for wildlife spotting. There are so many kangaroos on the roads that we really tested the brakes of our mini Nissan rental and quickly understood why the speed limit was quite so slow. Kangaroos really don't bother with the Highway Code.
The park has many great beaches for snorkelling, offering up the chance to spot small stingrays and plenty of fish. If you go a bit further offshore you'll reach the Ningaloo reef, a fantastic spot for diving, and if you visit between April and July then you can even snorkel with whale sharks as they migrate past. During our dives we spotted some reef sharks, a massive cow tailed ray and the weird looking but fantastically named wobbegong shark. If you do get lucky you can spot manta rays at some of the feeding stations. During the dives we had heard the calls of some Humpback whales, and after we surfaced we spotted a calf and a mother.
Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Animals spotted: Koalas, echidnas
The Great Ocean Road is home to not only some amazing scenery and stunning beaches, but also to some of the cutest creatures that call Australia home.
Koalas may be slow moving, but I found it pretty difficult to spot them in the wild, probably because we were always whizzing past the eucalyptus trees at high speed. Kennet River was the exception: here the tourist buses come in their droves, all because of the resident koalas. We avoided the crowds by visiting in the afternoon and got to watch two very sleepy koalas munching on some leaves.
Whilst koalas are super cute and furry the other animal we spotted on the GOR is less huggable. Echidnas aren't the most well known of the native animals but these long nosed spiky creatures are very cute, and we got enormously lucky in spotting one snuffling along the side of the road.
If you're not lucky enough to spot a koala in the wild then a lot of the wildlife parks will let you cuddle one. Just make sure you're not wearing something you love, as our koala left us a little poop present as a reminder of the hug.
The Dangerous Stuff
I’m happy to report that I survived six weeks in Australia with nothing worse than a few mosquito bites. During my visit I only spotted one spider that made me want to run, and I was able to cycle quickly away before it could choose to snack on me.
Australia might be home to a number of fearsome creatures, but pretty much all my wildlife encounters were of the small and furry variety. If only it was possible to smuggle a quokka out of the country as a pet.
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