Where to see Aussie animals in the wild
Kangaroo Island, SA
Image: Exceptional Kangaroo Island
Hoping to see Australia’s most iconic marsupials in the wild? Not surprisingly, Kangaroo Island is one of the best places to spot its namesake mammal, along with a host of other native species including tammar wallabies, echidnas, possums, and an incredible diversity of birds in their natural habitat.
A good guided tour should take you through Flinders Chase National Park – a great place to see kangaroos, as well as thousands of New Zealand fur seals beneath the arch at Cape du Couedic – while another must-see is Seal Bay Conservation Park, where you can watch Australian sea lions frolicking on the beach.
Where to stay: YHA Adelaide Central
Cairns region, QLD
Sitting between two of Australia’s richest ecosystems, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, Cairns is a great base to explore Tropical North Queensland and its diverse ecology.
The Great Barrier Reef is the pinnacle of underwater wildlife viewing. Book a diving, snorkeling or glass-bottom boat experience to see thousands of weird and wonderful species – from manta rays and Maori wrasse to green sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs.
Trek along the Daintree trails to spot rare rainforest species. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the shy southern cassowary, the world’s third tallest bird. Planning a Queensland road trip? You can also look for cassowaries at the side of the main road into Mission Beach, just two hours south of Cairns, and along the Dreaming Trail in Djiru National Park.
Where to stay: YHA Cairns Central
Port Lincoln, SA
Image: Tourism Australia
If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Port Lincoln for an exhilarating wildlife adventure beneath the waves. Here, you might come face to face with playful sea lions while snorkelling in these clear southern waters. Since you're snorkelling, you won't need a diving certification, and if you're lucky enough to encounter these cheeky aquatic mammals, it'll quickly be apparent why they're known as the 'puppy dogs of the sea'.
Nearby, Port Lincoln and Coffin Bay National Parks are known for their dazzling array of birdlife, from raptors to wrens and rainbow lorikeets. Land critters are also abundant. Keep an eye out for kangaroos, koalas, goannas, emus, and more.
North Stradbroke Island, QLD
Image: Nigel Marsh/Tourism and Events Queensland
North Stradbroke Island (‘Straddie’), not far from Brisbane, is a gorgeous natural playground offering excellent wildlife viewing on land and in the sea. Dive trips to Manta Bommie, one of the country’s premier dive sites, offer the chance to see manta rays, leopard sharks, eagle rays, wobbegongs, and sea turtles all up close on the rocky reef. Not a certified diver? No worries. You can still see marine life snorkelling around these subtropical waters.
You’ll also see plenty of Aussie wildlife on land at Stradbroke, from kangaroos and wallabies to koalas and echidnas.
Where to stay: YHA Stradbroke Island
Kakadu National Park, NT
Home to one-third of Australian bird species and over 50 different species of mammals, Kakadu is a prime location to witness Australia’s staggering biodiversity. Among the many fantastic animals to spot are rock wallabies, flying foxes and the rare northern quoll.
Kakadu’s wetlands are also a wonderland for wildlife. The rivers and vast floodplains are home to a dazzling variety of birds and both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, which you can see safely from a distance from viewing platforms and commercial cruises along Yellow Water (Ngurrungurrudjba).
A multi-day tour with a reputable operator is a great way to experience the best the vast National Park has to offer.
Cradle Mountain - Lake St. Clair National Park, TAS
Image: Tourism Australia
Cradle Mountain’s dramatic, glacially formed landscapes are ideal for observing Tasmania’s unique wildlife. Among the many Aussie animals to look out for here are Tasmanian devils, quolls, echidnas and wombats.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the wilderness, try tackling the Overland Track, a six-day alpine trek with excellent opportunities to see wildlife. The track comes to an end at the edge of Lake St. Clair, Australia’s deepest freshwater lake, where you can also spot pademelons and platypi. Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park also offers plenty of shorter and less-demanding walking trails, so exploring the park’s wildlife should fit any itinerary.
Where to stay: YHA Hobart Central
Hervey Bay, QLD
Image: Tourism and Events Queensland
Ever wanted to swim with whales? Head to Hervey Bay, the world’s first official Whale Heritage Site. It’s one of the best locations in the world to see humpback whales and these magnificent mammals use the bay as a nursery during their migration from late July through early November. Book a cruise to get up close and watch them perform spectacular out-of-water acrobatics – if your timing is right, you can even take a dip with these gentle giants.
Nearby K’gari (Fraser Island) is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, including dingos, swamp wallabies, brushtail possums, sand monitors and sugar gliders – be sure not to skip it!
Where to stay: YHA Hervey Bay
Phillip Island, VIC
Image: Phillip Island Nature Park
Phillip Island’s rugged coastline is home to an array of incredible wildlife, including the largest little penguin (fairy penguin) colony in the world. You can see these pint-sized birds waddling up the beach any night after sunset during their famous Penguin Parade – viewable with a ranger or as a self-guided boardwalk tour.
Phillip Island also hosts Australia’s largest fur seal colony – see these charismatic creatures in their natural habitat on a wildlife cruise, and keep your eyes peeled for other native animals while in the area too, including swamp wallabies, bandicoots and Cape Barren geese.
Where to stay: YHA Phillip Island
Exmouth and Cape Range National Park, WA
Image: Tourism Australia
If you thought wildlife in WA was just about the quokkas at Rottnest Island or the kangaroos on the beach at Lucky Bay, think again. Exmouth has two wildlife-rich ecosystems to explore: Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range National Park.
Along the Ningaloo Coast, you can enjoy one of the world’s best wildlife adventures: snorkelling with whale sharks. From March to July, ethical cruises let you swim alongside these graceful giants, while from July to October, humpback whales take their place as main snorkelling attraction. You may even be lucky enough to spot a sea turtle or dugong on your trip.
Meanwhile, on land, hike through Cape Range National Park to spot emus, dingoes, and red kangaroos – a distinctly Western Australian blend of fauna.
Where to stay: Excape Backpackers (YHA Exmouth)
Port Stephens, NSW
Image: Tourism Australia
Located just a 2.5-hour drive from Sydney, Port Stephens is an idyllic coastal haven for wildlife. Bottlenose dolphins and migrating whales are among the many marine animals that swim these clear, blue waters, and booking a cruise with one of the local companies is the best way to see them up close. You might also be able to spot pods of whales from land — pack your binoculars and take the Tomaree Head Summit walk for the best views.
Koala lovers take note: The nine-hectare Tilligerry Habitat in Port Stephens is one of the best places in New South Wales to see koalas in the wild. Stop by the visitor centre for koala-spotting tips before you wander the walking tracks, and keep an eye out for some of the 100-plus species of native birds. Admission is free.
If you don't have any luck spotting Australia’s cutest marsupials here, head to the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary. The sanctuary’s dedicated staff rehabilitates sick, injured and orphaned koalas with the hope of returning them to the wild. Stroll along an elevated treetop canopy boardwalk to see these cuddly critters in the natural bushland, or book a guided tour to learn more about protecting this endangered species.
Where to stay: Samurai Beach Bungalows (Port Stephens YHA)
Looking for somewhere not far from a major city? In Sydney, you're rarely more than an hour's drive from the tranquility of Pittwater – a bushland haven home to a wide variety of native creatures.
If you're visiting rural Victoria, Grampians National Park and Apollo Bay are both fantastic places to see kangaroos and koalas respectively. Furthermore, Victoria more generally is one of the best states for encountering koalas in the wild.
Words: K. Hastings
Keen to spot some koalas? Brush up on your koala facts!
Sign up to YHA Australia
Get monthly inspiration for your next adventure in Australia.
Book direct and save
By booking direct with MyYHA you'll receive our exclusive discounted rates. Sign up or login to get 10% off at select properties.