From iconic kangaroos to koalas, cassowaries to penguins and whale sharks to humpback whales, Australia is one of the world’s top destinations for a range of amazing wildlife.
Wildlife Watching in Australia
Given that it’s so safe and easy to travel around, with friendly people, great food and comfortable accommodation, it’s the ideal place for a relaxed, yet event-filled, wildlife tour. Whether you’re a keen birder or just want to see a good range of incredible – and often unique – creatures then this is the destination for you.
Each of the Australian states and territories have their own distinctive character, as do the major cities, which are often a great starting point for a bird or wildlife holiday. From these bases you can explore the surrounding areas, from the spectacular coastlines of the south to the wetlands of the north, and the Great Barrier Reef to the heart of the Outback. Check out the local wildlife specialist for each region, who’ll be able to offer trips to suit everyone’s time and resources.
Australia is home to more than 800 different species of birds, many found here and nowhere else in the world. Over time these have evolved into a huge variety of different families, shaped by the need to survive in this harsh and unforgiving land. There are even more endemic mammals – including a whole range of marsupials – as well as unique species of reptiles, amphibians, spiders and snakes.
Covering more than 1.8 million square kilometres, Queensland is a pretty large state but much of the state’s wildlife is concentrated in easy-to-reach sites near the coast, such as Tropical North Queensland (TNQ), around the city of Cairns. or South-east Queensland. From rainforest to reef, this is a great place to see birds and other exotic wildlife.
TNQ, as the locals call it, is home to a dozen endemic birds found nowhere else in the world, including the ground-dwelling Chowchilla, Fernwren, Atherton Scrubwren, Mountain Thornbill, Bridled and McLeay’s Honeyeaters, Grey-headed Robin, Bower’s Shrike-thrush, Pied Monarch, Tooth-billed and Golden Bowerbirds and Australia’s very own bird-of-paradise, Victoria’s Riflebird.
After trekking around the rainforest, why not take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, with its colonies of seabirds including thousands of Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns, as well as boobies and frigatebirds.
The interior from the coast is home to a huge range of birds, mammals and other wildlife, including Southern Cassowary and several different species of possums, gliders and bandicoots, all best looked for after dark.
South-east Queensland is also a very wildlife-rich area, with plenty of bird species in a wide range of habitats, from coastal beaches and eucalypt woodland to dense rainforests.
Photo credit: Whiptail Wallaby, Araucaria Ecotours,
Noosa National Park extends over 4,000 hectares. It’s home to one of Australia’s best-loved mammals, the Koala, along with several other rare and endangered wildlife species. Boiling Pot lookout is a great place to get spectacular views from Noosa North Shore to Tea Tree Bay. It is also a great place to scan for passing dolphins and whales.
Best areas/sites: Cairns, Great Barrier Reef – especially Michaelmas Cay, Cattana Wetlands, Newell Beach, Hervey Bay (the whale-watching capital of Australia), Noosa National Park, Mission Beach, Daintree River and Forest, Mount Lewis (for bird endemics), Mareeba Wetlands, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat and Lamington National Park, Cape York, Lady Elliot Island (for sea turtles).
Timing: the best time to visit is from May to November before the summer heat takes hold.
New South Wales
New South Wales is a really excellent place to watch birds and the country’s other unique wildlife. Even its largest city, Sydney, is packed with great birding opportunities, such as the Royal Botanical Garden, home to colourful flocks of rainbow lorikeets, sulphur-crested cockatoos and the usually skulking buff-banded rail, along with a large colony of grey-headed flying foxes – often known as fruit bats.
Nearby, the Sydney Olympic Park is great for waterbirds, such as purple swamphen, dusky moorhen and black-winged stilt, along with a variety of ducks.
A short drive west of Sydney, the Capertee Valley and the Blue Mountains are packed with sought-after birds, including superb lyrebird, and the state’s only endemic, the rockwarbler. Inland, there are sites for another highly endangered species, the regent honeyeater, as well as barking and powerful owls, logrunner and regent bowerbird.
Throughout the state you can see Australia’s iconic species such as wombats, koalas and several species of wallaby and kangaroo – night trips are often best for mammals, including a range of marsupial possums.
In the outback, to the northwest of the state, Menindee Lakes is home to huge gatherings of birds including vast flocks of budgerigars; while in the centre of the state, Fivebough and Tuckerbil Wetlands, near Leeton, are home to the Australasian bittern and many other waterbirds.
Australia’s seas are home to over half the world’s cetacean species – porpoises, dolphins and whales – including humpback and southern right whales, both of which are often seen off the coast of New South Wales. You can spot these mighty mammals from various coastal headlands, or take a; pelagic trip out into the ocean from Port Stephens, north of Sydney. To the south, visit Jervis Bay for a range of coastal and marine wildlife, including migrating whales from May through to November.
Montague Island (also known as Barunguba) is another great place for wildlife-watching, located to the southeast of Canberra. Thousands of seals gather here, while humpback whales may also be seen, along with little blue penguins.
Lord Howe Island is situated in the Tasman Sea, east of Port Macquarie. This is a unique birding destination, with hundreds of thousands of seabirds of more than a dozen species gathering here to breed.
Best areas/sites: Blue Mountains, Capertee Valley, Leeton, Lord Howe Island, Menindee Lakes, Montague Island, Sydney
Timing: as with the other southeastern states, spring (mid-August to late November) is the best time for birds and the region’s other wildlife.
Local Wildlife Specialists: Pending
Victoria is home to 30% of Australia’s native species in just 3% of Australia’s landmass. Victoria’s compact nature lends itself to close encounters with Australian wildlife everywhere, much of it within easy reach of the capital Melbourne. The state’s national parks and reserves offer more than a serene environment, home to a vibrant ecosystem of native wildlife including koalas, wallabies, emus, kangaroos, wombats, the elusive platypus and home to almost 500 different bird species.
Port Phillip bay is the place to see pods of dolphins and seal colonies, which visitors can interact with on guided snorkelling tours. Victoria’s coastline is home to South Right Whale nurseries, where calves are reared as near as 100 meters from the shoreline until strong enough to make open water. For the more adventurous birder, a pelagic trip out of Port Fairy is a must: the seas offshore are home to a wide range of seabirds, including albatrosses, shearwaters, prions and petrels.
Within a couple of hours drive from the city, Ferntree Gully National Park and Toolangi State Forest are home to pink robin and superb lyrebird. For waterbird enthusiasts, a visit to Werribee Sewage Treatment Plant is essential: home to thousands of waders including great knot, red-necked stint and sharp-tailed sandpiper, and local specialities such as the Cape Barren goose.
From whale watching and swimming with dolphins to spotting koalas and the elusive platypus, there is a variety of wildlife encounters along the Great Ocean Road. The coastal bushland between Lorne and Apollo Bay is home to a large population of koalas and a short drive up Grey River Road at Kennett River is usually rewarded with at least one sighting. During cooler months whales are often spotted offshore, as they migrate from Antarctica or use the sheltered beaches in the region to deliver and nurse calves. Known as the Jewel of the Otways, glow worms at Melba Gully put on a spectacular light show at night which can be viewed from the walking tracks. Just off the coast of Port Campbell National Park at Mutton Bird Island, viewing platforms provide an opportunity to see 12,000 Mutton Birds returning to roost between September and April.
Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, echidnas and a myriad of bird species can be seen in their natural habitats in the Grampians region. Kangaroos and wallabies wander the main streets of towns such as Halls Gap and Wartook Valley, and graze in paddocks and bush land, unconcerned about passers-by. Dunkeld’s Mount Abrupt is home to endangered species including Wedge-Tailed Eagles, Nankeen Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons. The Grampians Golf Club, just a short drive from Dunkeld, is a great place to spot rare Gang-gang cockatoos, Grass Parrots and Superb Blue Wrens. Emus and kangaroos are often seen here in the late afternoon.
Gippsland’s unspoiled landscape provides a habitat for many species of wildlife as well as plenty of viewing opportunities. At Wilsons Promontory National Park, wildlife including koalas, wombats, emus, kangaroos and rosellas are often spotted. Watch out for wombats ambling through the park around dusk or dawn.
Raymond Island in Paynesville has one of the largest population of koalas and they are almost impossible to miss on the 1.2-kilometre ‘koala walk’. Visitors can spot sea life at Lakes Entrance, where dolphins and seals often swim beside boats. Cruising at Metung in the Gippsland Lakes will showcase the area’s birdlife, while kangaroos can be seen grazing by the water.
Phillip Island Nature Park is home to the state’s most popular wildlife encounter – the Penguin Parade and home to a colony of over 32,000 little penguins. Every sunset, visitors come to witness around 2,000 birds as they waddle back up the beach to their sand dune burrows. Just off the coast of the Island, Seal Rocks is a breeding ground and nursery for over 20,000 Australian Fur Seals. Back on dry land, the Koala Conservation Centre allows visitors to come face to face with koalas in their natural habitat as well as discovering wallabies, echidnas and bats that call the woodland home.
Photo credit: Visit Victoria, Penguin Parade Phillip Island
Finally, the Mallee in northwest Victoria is home to some real specialities, such as striated grasswren red-lored whistler, regent parrot and the classic bird of this habitat, the malleefowl.
Timing: Spring to Autumn are the best times to visit (September – May)
Best areas/sites: Ferntree Gully National Park, Grampians, Great Ocean Road, Mallee, Melbourne, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Phillip Island, Port Fairy, Raymond Island, Toolangi State Forest
Local Wildlife Specialists: pending
South Australia is renowned for its diverse range of nature and wildlife experiences. From the ocean to the outback, there are a number of key destinations ideal for birdwatching. Of the 450+ species found in the state, more than 250 can be seen within an hour-and-a-half’s drive of the capital Adelaide, with the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary being only a 30-minute drive away. The Bird Sanctuary sits at the southern end of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) and is one of the key sites for migratory birds who use the flyway each year. Whilst being one of Adelaide’s longest continuous conservation areas, the Bird Sanctuary is home to 263 unique fauna and flora species.
One of the best destinations for wildlife and birdlife is Kangaroo Island – nicknamed ‘the zoo without fences’ – home to tens of thousands of koalas, rare Australian sea lions, echidna, wallabies, its own species of kangaroo and over 260 bird species. As well as the endangered glossy black cockatoo and a host of seabirds, which feed on the food-rich waters offshore, the island is home to superb natural scenic features including Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch.
Photo credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island
Visit Gluepot Reserve (near the River Murray) for some sought-after birds, including striated grasswren, Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, the black-eared miner, and the outside chance of a malleefowl.
For more adventurous birders, a visit to the Flinders Ranges – an easy four to five hours’ drive from Adelaide – is a must. This semi-arid area of the Outback is packed with fauna and flora, with kangaroos, emus, Grey-fronted Honeyeaters and Australia’s largest bird-of-prey, the mighty Wedge-tailed Eagle, soaring overhead as it searches for food on wings almost three metres long.
In summer, many wild creatures congregate at lakes and rivers, where you can see spectacular gatherings of birds including Rainbow Bee-eaters and woodswallows.
Best areas/sites: Adelaide, Flinders Ranges, Gluepot Reserve, Kangaroo Island
Timing: birding can be good at any time of year, but the spring (September to November) and summer (December to February) will provide the largest range of species in pleasantly warm temperatures.
Local Wildlife Specialists: Exceptional Kangaroo Island
Australia’s smallest and only island state is brimming with natural beauty and stunning landscapes – almost 50% of Tasmania is tied up in national parks, World Heritage-listed wilderness area and reserves. Due to the lack of introduced predators and vast areas of wilderness Tasmania offers an extensive and diverse range of protected habitat and an abundant population of mammals, birds, frogs and reptiles, including 34 marsupials and 2 monotreme species.
With over 200 bird species, including 12 that occur nowhere else in the world, Tasmania has a lot to offer the bird enthusiast. All endemic birds can be viewed on Bruny Island, plus the wedge-tailed and white-bellied eagles, masked owl and the rare white morph of the grey goshawk. Other bird species across the island include the elusive forty-spotted pardalote and swift parrot while more widespread species include the green rosella, dusky robin and Tasmanian native-hen.
The orange-bellied parrot is on the brink of extinction and is a migratory bird, which breeds only in coastal south-west Tasmania. To have a chance of seeing this beautiful parrot, you need to take a small aircraft from Hobart to its breeding place at Mount Melalecua, where a special hide enables visitors to have a good chance of observing the birds between mid-October and late March.
The Tasmanian devil, once native to mainland Australia, is now only found in the wild in Tasmania, and best seen with a local wildlife specialist. Its cousins the eastern quoll and spotted-tail quoll are also a must see. Visitors to Tasmania will have a good chance to see the duck-billed platypus – one of only two mammals (the other being the echidna, also widely found throughout the state) that lays eggs – they are more correctly known as monotremes.
Tasmania has several fairy penguin rookeries along the coast where they can be easily observed. Penguin viewing tours run at various spots around Tasmania and these are often the best way to see the birds.
Both Mt William National Park in the north-east and Narawntapu National Park in the north host over 100 bird species. Both Parks feature Forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies, pademelons, wombats, eastern quoll, echidnas and a range of reptiles. Cradle Mountain is the wombat capital of Tasmania where you can see them grazing from the Ronny Creek boardwalk or at Waldheim Lodge.
Photo credit: Eastern Quoll, Pepper Bush Adventures,
If cruising is more your style, Tasmania offers the opportunity of seeing dolphins, fur seals, southern right and killer whales, and a wide range of pelagic seabirds including albatrosses on one of departing ocean cruises.
There are many opportunities to see the duck-billed platypus in Tasmania if you know where to look. They occupy many of Tasmania’s waterways but for public viewing try Bell’s Parade and Warrawee Forest Reserve at Latrobe or Northeast Park at Scottsdale.
Best Areas/Sites – Bruny Island, Cradle Mountain, Central Highlands, Maria Island, Mt William National Park, Mount Melalecua, Narawntapu National Parks
Timing: spring (August to November) is the best season to visit, as many bird species fly south from the mainland to breed in Tasmania. Mammals all year
Local Wildlife Specialists: Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, Pepper Bush Adventures
Australia’s largest geographical state, Western Australia, at more than 2.5 million square kilometres may seem a daunting prospect. But this vast area is one of the country’s greatest bird areas, with marine wildlife along the coasts to match.
Perth, Australia’s sunniest capital city, effortlessly blends urban cool with raw natural beauty. The city is home to Kings Park – one of the world’s largest inner city parks as well as a plethora of wild life experiences, including meeting the friendly quokkas (a tiny marsupial) on Rottnest Island; swimming with wild dolphins, watching penguins and sealions at the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park to the south; and visit Caversham Wildlife Park to see wombats, koalas and kangaroos.
From late March to early July the world’s largest fish – the gentle Whale Sharks – gather at Ningaloo Marine Park. These huge beasts are harmless, so visitors can swim alongside them without fear of harm. The Coral Coast is excellent for dolphins and a range of sea turtle species, which lay their eggs on the shore from December to February. Whale watching trips are also available off most of the coast – the quarry is up to 30,000 Humpback Whales.
Birders will head for the northwest region of Kimberley, and in particular the coastal area around the town of Broome. Broome plays host each spring and autumn to a huge passage of over 300,000 waders heading along the Asian-Pacific Flyway, to and from their northern hemisphere breeding grounds. These include Red-necked Stints, Great Knots and Eastern Curlews.
Best areas/sites: Broome, Kimberley, Ningaloo Marine Park, Perth, Rottnest Island
Timing: spring (August to October) and autumn (March to May) are the best times to visit.
Local Wildlife Specialists: pending
The Northern Territory’s ‘Top End’ is one of the most spectacular of all the country’s diverse regions. Vast wetlands such as Kakadu are home to countless birds, huge saltwater crocodiles, dingoes and a host of other spectacular – and often unique – wildlife.
‘NT’, as it is often known, is home to more than 400 different bird species, 300 reptiles and 150 mammals, which often gather in huge numbers. Displaying Brolgas and Sarus Crane (Australia’s only two crane species) to vast flocks of Magpie Geese, as well as colourful flocks of budgerigars and parrots, make this a birder’s paradise.
Don’t be in a rush to leave the capital of the NT, Darwin, as many elusive and sought-after bird species, are easy to see in and around the city: these include the Chestnut Rail, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Rainbow Pitta, Green-backed Gerygone and the rarely seen Red-backed Button-quail. The spectacularly coloured Gouldian Finch and Hooded Parrot can also be seen within a three-hour drive of Darwin.
Photo credit: Gouldian Finch, Gecko Canoeing & Trekking
The Top End aside, adventurous birders can head further south towards Alice Springs and Uluru, in the heart of the Outback, this area is known as the Red Centre. Endemic species found in different parts of the state include the White-lined Honeyeater, Hooded Parrot, Chestnut-Quilled Rock Pigeon, Banded Fruit-Dove, Helmeted Friarbird and White-throated Grasswren.
Dual World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park is the NT’s jewel in the crown sitting at almost 8000 sq miles, it is about the same size as Wales! Vast numbers of waterbirds – storks, egrets, cranes and wildfowl – are easy to see, and at night go in search of nocturnal mammals such as possums, bandicoots and gliders.
Best areas/sites: Alice Springs, Darwin, West Kakadu National Park, Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park.
Timing: the best times to visit are during the winter and early spring (April through to October). However, during the buildup and green season, the Top End comes alive with migratory birds flocking over to the Northern Territory’s Top End for the breeding season, a truly wonderful time.
Local Wildlife Specialists: Gecko Canoeing & Trekking
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