Live out your own sequel to Finding Nemo in the warm waters of Tropical North Queensland. Airlie Beach is a great base to snorkel around the white-sand beaches of the Whitsunday Islands, while Cairns is a popular gateway for tours of the Great Barrier Reef – both brimming with a colourful array of marine life. Keep an eye out and you might even find Nemo – there are plenty of clownfish swimming around!
Imagine how many likes you’ll get on Instagram from your friends back home when you post a selfie of you cuddling a koala! You can hold Australia’s cutest native animal at Bungalow Bay Koala Village YHA on Magnetic Island, which is the only resort in Australia with its own wildlife park on-site. YHA offers breakfast with the koalas on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, which also includes the chance to hold a blue-tongue lizard and feed the rock wallabies that hop all over this tropical island paradise.
The Daintree is an ancient rainforest located between Cape Tribulation and Port Douglas north of Cairns, and the river that runs through it is crawling with wild crocodiles. Book a river cruise down the Daintree River to get close (but not too close!) to these ferocious predators, which can grow up to five metres in length.
The ‘Home of the Crocodile Hunter’, Steve Irwin, is more famous for crocs than the other native Aussie animals it keeps – but Australia Zoo is one of the best places in Queensland to feed a kangaroo. You can feed the roos as they roam around their open-range enclosure at Australia Zoo, just an hour north of Brisbane. It doesn’t get any more Australian than that!
Hervey Bay – three hours’ drive north of Brisbane – is Australia’s No.1 whale-watching hotspots, with huge numbers of humpbacks using water sheltered by Fraser Island to raise their calves. Each Australian winter, tens of thousands of whales travel the ‘Humpback Highway’ up the East Coast of Australia to escape chilly Antarctic waters for warmer conditions in Queensland, hanging out in Hervey Bay between July and November to rest and frolic before the long journey back.
Fraser Island is a natural wonder in its own right – the world’s largest sand island is covered with dense rainforest and spectacular freshwater lakes – and it’s also home to a population of 200 dingos, believed to be a genetically pure strain that’s avoided breeding with dogs on the mainland. The golden-coloured dingos might look cute but don’t get too close, don’t leave rubbish lying around, and stay within fenced areas for your own safety.
You can swim with sea turtles around Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef all year round, but head to Mon Repos Beach in Bundaberg for the awe-inspiring turtle hatching season. Mon Repos is the largest turtle rookery in the South Pacific – mother turtles come ashore between January and November to nest and lay their eggs, before tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and take their first tentative flips towards the water from January to late March.
The Gold Coast isn’t only bars and beaches – there’s also miles of pristine hinterland to explore away from the coast, including the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. This heritage-listed sanctuary is famous for its flocks of lorikeets and houses dozens of species of native animals, but one of the most unique experiences visitors can enjoy is an encounter with an echidna. These spiky little suckers might even use their long beak and sticky tongue to grab a feed out of your hand!
There are only a few thousand cassowaries anywhere on earth, but there are enough around Mission Beach that they named the surrounding Cassowary Coast after this endangered flightless bird. They are notoriously tough to spot in the wild but they’re mighty impressive if you are lucky enough to spy one – imagine a 60-kilo emu with a big horny casque on its head, a brilliant blue neck and two bright red wattles around its neck like an oversized turkey. Drivers, take care – cassowary-specific signs warn cars to slow down on winding roads at dawn and dusk.
This duck-billed semi-aquatic mammal is another Aussie animal that’s very difficult to find in the wild, but there is a thriving platypus population in Carnarvon Gorge, about 600km west of Brisbane. The undisturbed ecosystem of the Carnarvon National Park has allowed these timid animals to reproduce in healthy numbers in breeding burrows along the creek, thrilling visitors to this remote gorge in Central Queensland.