Forget zoos and wildlife parks, these 21 animal encounters in Australia are about seeing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat.
The majority of these experiences are free and just require you to keep your eyes peeled. And to be a little patient. In a lot of these places, you are guaranteed to see Australian wildlife, but as we can’t control their movements you may be unlucky.
Over 80% of these experiences on this list, I have been fortunate to do. I highly recommend adding them to your Australian itinerary as they are amazing opportunities to get up close to these national Australian animals.
Australia is full of amazing animals, from the poisonous to the fluffy. There are so many weird and wonderful creatures, some of which you will only ever encounter in this widely diverse country.
A polite reminder to not touch these animals as they are wild and do not feed them human food like crisps as this can cause them to become ill.
For ease, I have broken this animal encounter guide into Australian states.
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Queensland Animal Encounters
1. See Koalas on the Forts walk
Where: Magnetic Island
The Forts Walk is a really easy to do hike on Magnetic island. The hike is 4km long and takes about an hour and a half. The walk can also be extended by going to one of the many bays.
Along the trail you will see many World War landmarks and lots of koalas.
These Koalas are chilling up in the trees and can be spotted on many parts of the walk.
Sometimes, park rangers will mark the floor with chalk and put an arrow to where the koala is.
I encourage you to ask other hikers along the way. This made it easier to find what points of the walk they are on. You will also get a good indication if there is a Koala,when you see people standing with their phones out.
Magnetic Island was probably the place I saw the most wildlife.
2. Seeing and feeding Rock Wallabies
Where: Magnetic Island
Best time to see them: Sunset, but they are also about in the day
The best place to see rock wallabies is at Geoffrey Bay on Magnetic Island.
These little balls of fluff are quite well camouflaged, so keep an eye out. I have visited this bay in the middle of the day and at sunset and been fortunate to see them on several occasions.
There is a little shop on the corner of the bay that sells wallaby food for $2.
You do not need food to see these rock wallabies as they are usually hanging about above the rocks.
Another spot I really enjoyed seeing them at was in front of the Ocean Front Apartments next to the ferry terminal. It is a great spot for you to sit and watch the sunset whilst these little creatures hop around and watch you watching them.
This was one of my favourite animal encounters in Australia.
3: Lorikeet feeding
Where: Magnetic Island
When: 4/4.30pm everyday
Bungalow Bay Koala Village is a hostel located on the east side of Magnetic Island.
Each day between 4/4.30pm it has a lorikeet feeding session. You are able to go into the hostel free of charge to see this happen. You also might be lucky enough to hold out your hand with the feed and see if these tropical birds will take it from you.
I used to work as a wildlife volunteer at this hostel with thanks to Worldpackers. So I can tell you that the feed consisted of: grated apple, carrots, sweet potato, lorikeet nectar, water, oats, and a bit of watermelon.
Disclaimer: These birds are wild and sometimes do not come for feeding.
4. Seeing Kangaroos at Sunrise
Where: Cape Hillsborough National Park
Best time to see them: Sunrise
Situated 50km (31 miles) above Mackay and 127km (79 miles) below Airlie Beach is Cape Hillsborough National Park.
This National Park is the best place to see kangaroos at sunrise. Each morning, the kangaroos congregate on the beach as the sun comes up.
There is only one beach in Cape Hillsborough National Park and it is best to arrive there early. Be careful if you are driving towards the beach as the kangaroos are active.
So why do the kangaroos go down to the beach each morning for sunrise?
The reason the kangaroos go down to the Cape Hillsborough beach each morning is because the ocean washes seed pods onto the shoreline and the kangaroos and wallabies feed on them before going about their day.
Cape Hillsborough National park is free to visit.
If you have a vehicle, the best option is to stay overnight at one of two campgrounds:
- Cape Hillsborough Nature Touristic Park
- Smalleys beach campground
Or you can join one of the early morning tours from Mackay like:
5: Dingoes on Fraser Island
Where: Fraser Island:
The best chance to see dingoes in the wild is on Fraser island.
They look like cute dogs but they are aggressive. If you are doing a Fraser Island tour, you will probably see them along the 75 mile beach stretch from the safety of your car.
If you are ever walking alone or in the dark on Fraser Island, make sure you carry a stick to ward them off if they attack. You will find this hard to believe when you see them and think they look like scruffy shiba inus.
6. Seeing Lemon Sharks, StingRays and Turtles
Where: Airlie Beach
If you are planning a day trip or an overnight trip to the Whitsundays, chances are you will be heading to Whitehaven Beach.
This white and tropical beach has an array of marine life very close to its shores.
You only have to go a couple of inches deep to see lemon sharks and stingrays cruising along.
If you plan on visiting between November and May, you will need to have a stinger suit to go into the water. This is because it is Irukandji jellyfish season. These micro jellyfish are the size of your thumbnail and if they sting near the heart it can be fatal.
Around the White Haven beach there are lots of sea grass patches that turtles love. Which means you will probably see them swimming around before docking the boat.
On our overnight tour we also parked in this “shark tunnel”, which meant there were loads of them swimming around us at night, which was quite scary, but it stopped people from night swimming!
7. Snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef
A bucket list item that is on most people’s Australian bucket list is snorkeling/diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
This experience gives you a great chance to see turtles, sharks, rays and tropical fish.
I went with a company called Down Under Cruise and Dive and I highly recommend them.
8. See Crocodiles in Cairns
Would you believe me? If I told you there were signs all over Cairns saying “Danger, Crocodiles inhabit this area. Do not swim”
The Cairns community put in an outdoor free pool area to keep people from going into the ocean.
Fun Fact: According to Steve Irwin and the Crocodile fact board at Australia Zoo. Freshwater crocodiles are considered harmless and you can even swim with them, as long as there are no salt water crocodiles in the area.
Personally, I do not want to try my luck with either!!
I recommend trying to spot a croc in a much more controlled environment.
Up in the Daintree there are a number of Crocodile cruises that you can go on to spot these beady eyed creatures.
I also highly recommend a multi day tour with Uncle Brians. Where you get to explore The Cape Tribulation and Atherton Tablelands. Included in this 2 day experience is a Crocodile tour and platypus spotting (April to October). They will also show you a variety of other native Australian animals.
The Uncle Brians best of both worlds tour also includes Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls, Milla Milla Waterfall, Lake Eacham & Granite Gorge Nature Park.
9. Seeing a Cassowary
According to the Queensland Government website, you are most likely to see a Cassowary in one of these locations:
- Around Mission Beach
- Wallaman Falls Section of Girringun National Park
- Cape Tribulation Section of Daintree National Park
- The Palmerston Section of Wooroonooran National Park
- Around Kuranda.
These birds are now endangered in Australia, making them harder to come across, but you will know if you see one from their distinctive blue heads.
Victoria Animal Encounters
10. Seeing a Penguins Parade on Phillip Island
Where: Phillip Island
I know what you are thinking, surely it is too hot for penguins in Australia. But, alas, Phillip island is home to the largest colony of little penguins in the world! There are 40,000 breeding penguins on this peninsula.
According to some new research, they now believe penguins originated from Australia and New Zealand. And that the ancestors of the emperor and king penguins split off and moved to the colder waters for food supply.
The little penguins on Phillip island are the smallest in the penguin family, weighing only 1kg. You can also tell them apart from other penguins by their blue and white feathers.
This penguin parade is probably one of the cutest experiences. You all go down to the beach and watch from seating platforms as the little penguins waddle up the beach from the ocean to their burrows. Then there are boardwalks where you can see them all going into their little “houses”.
We were late for this experience and, honestly, I am glad we were! Although we missed them waddling from the ocean, we were the only ones on the boardwalk as they came up into their burrows, meaning we had these magical moments to ourselves.
We also took some photos and videos of them which we later found out they don’t let you do. They want you to purchase a professional photographer’s images. So it was good we got some footage before the staff came around telling people off.
Tickets are $30 per person, which is a little extortionate, but it was a lovely experience.
11. Visit a Koala island
Where: Raymond Island, Gipsland
Raymond Island is just off the coast of a town called Paynesville. Park your car next to the ferry terminal and walk or bike onto the boat for free. You will then embark on a 150m ride to the island.
This island is very small but packed full of wildlife. Back in the 1920s, the Koala population in Victoria was nearly wiped out and so conservationists moved 16 male and 26 female koalas onto this island. Over the years, they have thrived on Raymond island and the population has been growing ever since.
Follow the 1.2km Koala walk and watch the trees for signs of movement. You will be surprised at how many you will spot along this trail.
You might also see echidnas, kookaburras, kangaroos and loads of different native birds.
12. Prom Wildlife Walk
Where: Wilsons Promontory
In Wilsons Promontory National Park they have a walk that is dedicated to the wildlife of Australia. On this walk you might see all kinds of animals, like wombats, emus, wallabies and kangaroos.
The Prom Wildlife walk is a 2.3km loop and is easy and flat. Depending on how much wildlife you see, I would allocate at least 45 minutes.
If you decide to camp in the national park, you will also have more of an opportunity to see the nocturnal creatures too.
Western Australia Animal Encounters
13. Quokkas on Rottnest Island
Where: Rottnest Island
Known as one of the happiest creatures on the planet and only located on one island off the coast of Western Australia, is the Quokka.
This smiley, cute creature has no predators and goes about its day roaming around the beautiful Rottnest Island.
The Quokka became famous when celebs like Chris Hemsworth, Shawn Mendes and Roger Federer took iconic smiley selfies with them.
These sweet, small marsupials are really friendly, curious creatures and will approach you if you are patient.
We had one come into our tent, which was quite a funny experience.
Remember not to touch them or feed them. However, saying that I had one, put its tiny paw on my leg and rubbed its little body on me and IT WAS THE SOFTEST!! They also liked the smell of my hair.
This was one of my bucket list animal encounters in Australia and the happiness I got from ticking it off was unreal.
14. Dolphins at Monkey Mia
Where: Monkey Mia National Park
Monkey Mia is known for its dolphin visitors that frequent the shorelines. This conservation park is a must visit on a WA road trip from Perth to Exmouth.
Getting to see wild dolphins so close to the shoreline is a real treat.
The entrance to Monkey Mia is $15 per person.
The conservationists do 3 feedings a day between 7.45am to 12pm. There you are allowed to put your feet in the water and watch the dolphins come in. They have a guide answering all your questions about the different pods and their behaviours.
They do ask you not to swim with the dolphins or go into the water as the fish are at the shoreline and a dolphin could accidently knock you over when hunting for its lunch.
The guide also reassured us that the 3 feeds are less than a quarter of what they need to consume every day, meaning that the dolphins don’t depend on the feeds but enjoy coming over and interacting.
15. Swim with Whale Sharks
If this animal encounter isn’t on your bucket list, it needs to be!
These gentle giants of the sea can grow up to 39 feet long (12 metres). That is still 17 feet (5 metres) longer than the average school bus.
Despite the name, they aren’t whales, they are part of the Shark family and are the 3rd largest creature in the ocean.
They are slow swimmers and usually stay close to the surface, making them perfect for snorkeling.
The best place to have this experience is on the Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth. I recommend booking a tour as the companies have spotter planes looking for Whale sharks so you are almost guaranteed to see and swim with one.
This bucket list interaction is not cheap, with tours costing around $500. However, like I said earlier, it is absolutely worth doing.
The snorkel guides get you in a line with no more than 10 people and the whale shark then swims past you. And once it has passed you, then you get the opportunity to swim alongside it. The guides are brilliant with the animals’ welfare and will not let you swim in front, over or under them. You also must keep a certain distance at all times.
I went with Exmouth Dive and Whale Sharks Ningaloo and can not sing their praises enough.
Emma, one of the snorkeling spotters, was unbelievable. I have pure gratitude for her! She went above and beyond to make my experience.
I am not a strong swimmer and have had a bad experience with snorkeling which has given me anxiety in the water. So I was super apprehensive about the whole experience. But Emma made sure I was able to see the whale shark and swim alongside it.
We were also lucky enough to see dolphins, donongs, a sting ray, a turtle and a pelican on this trip!
This is by far one of the best animal encounters in Australia!
16. Kangaroos at Lucky Bay
Where: Lucky Bay
Two very Aussie things combined; kangaroos and beaches!
Did you know, Lucky Bay holds the title of the whitest sand beach in Australia.
The best time to see kangaroos is at dusk. Look for piles of seaweed as more than likely there will be a Lucky Bay Kangaroo face deep in it. Or they may be napping in the bushland around the beach.
As Lucky Bay is in the Cape Le Grand National Park, there is an entrance fee of $15 per vehicle.
17. Swim with Sea Lions
Where: Jurien Bay
Getting to swim with the puppies of the sea is a bucket list item! The Australian sea lion is one of the rarest of their species with only 8,000 to 10,000 still alive today.
There are a couple of tour operators in the Jurien Bay area that run this excursion. The price point for this is $145 for 3 hours. Click here to see the backpacker deal. With summer departures 7.00am – 9am and 7.30am – 9.30am. There are also rental Go Pros available for $50 to hire.
If you know someone with a boat, you can go to Carnac island and swim with them for free. I was lucky enough to know someone and we did visit, but only 2 sea lions came into the water with us.
18. Shark Nurseries
When: September to March
Seeing baby sharks in a little water nursery is an Australian wildlife experience you do not want to miss.
A couple of places to see these nurseries are:
Skeleton Beach in Coral Bay
Monkey Mia (to the right of the boardwalk)
Francois Peron National Park (Can hire a kayak from monkey mia)
19. Camels in Broome
While I am not promoting riding the camels. I do recommend you head to Cable Beach in Broome and watch the camels walk along the beach at Sunset.
20. Maria Island to see Wombats
Where: Maria Island
Maria Island is a national park known for its large population of wombats. But it is also home to kangaroos, wallabies, Tasmanian devils and geese!
A day trip to Maria Island needs to be on your Tasmanian Itinerary. These cute and fluffy wombats are easy to spot and happy to have their pictures taken.
Please remember they are wild and shouldn’t be touched or fed.
To protect these little furballs, the local community gets visitors to take a pledge. Lines in this pledge include:
‘I take this pledge to respect and protect the furred and feathered residents of Maria’.
‘Wombats, when you trundle past me I pledge I will not chase you with my selfie stick or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you or try and pick you up.’.
21. See a Tasmanian Devil in Tassie
Unfortunately, Tasmanian Devils are endangered animals. A large part of their population was wiped out by a contagious facial tumour disease.
This has led to them being extremely rare to see in the wild.
To try and build up the numbers, there are several wildlife parks that have breeding programmes dedicated to helping these devils.
Some of the best places to see Tasmanian Devils are:
Some other animals you might come across
An Echidna –
These are a mixture of a hedgehog and an anteater. That is how I would describe them. I am not sure that would be David Attenborough’s definition of them.
These cute little creatures can be found all over Australia. I have been lucky to see 3 in the wild in 3 different states, WA, QLD and VIC and I took care of 1 in a sanctuary.
Possums are considered pests in Australia and some states actually let you kill the animals due to them reproducing fast. However, I think they are really sweet. They are Australia’s version of a racoon where they will go through your bins trying to find food.
I walked out of our hostel room once and saw one eating a burrito.
Cane Toads –
Cane toads are actually a pest in Australia and, sadly, people take it into their own hands to kill them. The cane toad’s skin has a toxin that, if eaten by a predator, will cause death. This has led to a decline/extinction of some native Australian predators.
It is also said if you lick a cane toad’s back you will have a trip like magic mushrooms. Although I strongly recommend you don’t try it.
Also known as the laughing Kookaburra for its call, which sounds like laughter. These happy little birds are all over Australia.
There is a lovely aboriginal story about the Kookaburra. Legend has it, that when the sun rose for the first time, the god Bayame told the Kookaburra to make its call that sounds like laughter and wake up mankind so they would not miss a beautiful sunrise.
The Bilbies, also known as the Rabbit Bandicoot, is a desert-dwelling endangered marsupial. There are less than 10,000 in Australia. Unfortunately, this means you will probably not encounter one in the wild.
Water Dragons –
When you are out hiking it is likely you will see a water dragon. They are large lizards that are very docile to humans and go about their days exploring the forests.
Some animals you don’t want to come across
Australia is known for its large population of snakes. Some big, some small, some deadly, some harmless. And do not be alarmed if you see them in popular places. I saw a giant python eating a bat outside my Byron Bay hostel.
If you want to avoid snakes, get an anklet with bells on. As the snakes will pick up on the vibrations and slither away. Also, be very heavy footed during your hikes.
Great White Sharks –
There are cage diving experiences you can do in Port Lincoln to see these epic creatures of the sea. But personally, I do not want to encounter those teeth! Some beaches actually have helicopters flying over them to watch for sharks.
Huntsman Spider –
This is not something I would personally go out searching for. But they are good room mates and spiders to have around. Huntsman’s eat all the poisonous spiders, making it a safer environment when they are around.
In summary, these are the best animal encounters in Australia that you can do without going to zoos. I have been fortunate to do the majority of them and can not get over how special each experience was. I highly recommend adding these to your Australian Itineraries.
As Always, Happy Exploring!