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By Australia specialist Christopher

Fluffy-eared koalas and bouncing kangaroos are the best-known animals in Australia, but there’s so much more captivating wildlife for you to discover.

Australia’s wild islands, lush rain forests, and wetlands all brim with unusual species endemic to this geographically isolated nation. From surprisingly swift wombats to blue-feathered penguins, and playfully splashing (but venomous) platypus, here are my top picks for experiences that will put you up close and personal with the country’s singular wildlife in their natural habitats.

Charismatic quokkas on Rottnest Island

Quokka, Rottnest Island, Western Australia
Quokka, Rottnest Island, Western Australia

A ferry ride will whisk you from Fremantle in Western Australia to the island of Rottnest — one of just two places in the world to spot quokkas. (There’s also a small colony on the mainland.) Largely undeveloped, Rottnest Island unfurls in shores of white sand and scraggly scrub brush. It’s in the hazel-tinged brush that you should look for the tiny marsupials. I happened to see them in Stark Bay when I visited, but part of the adventure is seeking them out on your own.

The best way to find the quokkas is to rent a bike when you arrive on the island and pedal away from the crowds so you can encounter them unfettered in their natural environment. As you glide along, keep an eye on the water as well — you might spot sharks, dolphins, or even humpback and southern right whales during their migratory period from August to November. Try to head out in the morning at first light or at the end of the day when the quokkas are likely to be scavenging.

Quokkas are renowned for photos that seem to show them posing for the camera, but in truth, they are being tempted by visitors feeding them. They’re natural performers with big personalities, so they’re just as entertaining to view from afar, no luring required.

Get me there: To meet the quokkas on Rottnest Island this tour across Southwest Australia takes in the region’s beaches, wine, and wildlife.

Leap over to Kangaroo Island

Western grey kangaroo, Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Western grey kangaroo, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Set off the shores of the South Australia city of Adelaide in the Great Australian Bight, the place to see kangaroos in the wild is on the eponymously named Kangaroo Island. I suggest making your home at the quaint farmhouse of the Stranraer Homestead for a few days, to allow ample time to see the wildlife. You can also soak up the views of granite boulders that line the shores and the raging Antarctic Ocean that lies beyond.

From the kangaroos themselves to the seals and sea lions that reside on wild beaches, the wildlife here lives as nature intended. The kangaroos won’t come hopping up to you waiting to be fed as you might find in other places in Australia. The best way to experience the local wildlife is a tour of Kangaroo Island that starts at the subtly glowing light of early dawn or as the day slowly fades into dusk.

Get me there: To meet the quokkas on Rottnest Island this tour across Southwest Australia takes in the region’s beaches, wine, and wildlife.

Wild wombats in Tasmania

Wombat, Tasmania
Wombat, Tasmania

The screeching Tasmanian devils might be Tasmania’s main attraction, but don’t overlook the other animals that you can find in abundance here, such as the petite but powerful wallabies and the deceptively adorable wombats. The little wombats’ fluffy fur and round bellies belie their sometimes aggressive nature and startling speed — they can sprint almost as fast as Usain Bolt.

The best place to catch a glimpse of these swift creatures is at the foothills of the jagged-peaked Cradle Mountain, where wombats, wallabies, and Tasmanian devils descend across the golden heathlands as the sun starts its descent below the horizon. Like most nocturnal animals, they’re easiest to spot at dusk or dawn, but tours taking place in the black of night are also available.

Sometimes the best way to view them is without a plan at all. Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge is a lodge nestled in an alpine setting, far from people. It’s wild enough that when you head down to breakfast, you might see sleepy wombats wandering the trails after their active nights out.

Get me there: Discover Tasmania’s wild wildlife during this self-drive tour of classic Tasmania.

Platypus in the Atherton Tablelands

Platypus, Atherton Tablelands, Queensland
Platypus, Atherton Tablelands, Queensland

I fell in love with the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland when I first visited 20 years ago. Here, tall-treed rainforest blends seamlessly into verdant wetlands full of birds and wildlife, while open savanna lands stretch out in the distance.

To feel entirely immersed in nature, you can choose to stay in treehouses set high up in the canopy at Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat. Birdwatchers can look to the sky to spot the more than 160 bird species that live here. However, to find a platypus — a mammal you can only see in Australia — look down into the rainforest creeks.

There’s something comical about their big beaks, beady eyes, and flat tails, but the venom these creatures produce is no laughing matter. Hunting and habitat loss have combined to make them a rare sight, so the best way to spot them is with an expert guide who know exactly where to find a paddle of platypuses — the name for a group of platypuses, which comes from its paddle-like tails.

They’re likely to lead you to a spot by the water that looks dirty, scruffy, and remote. Sit quietly and pay close attention or you might miss them when they flip their bills and flick their trademark flat tails, creating ripples over the dark water. I suggest planning a trip in October, when the weather is fine and you’re more likely to catch sight of the evasive monotremes.

Get me there: Our tour to Sydney, Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef will take you to the wilderness of the Atherton Tablelands.

Visit Phillip Island to see the little penguins

Little penguins, Phillip Island, Victoria
Little penguins, Phillip Island, Victoria

Linked by a road to mainland Victoria, Phillip Island is easy to reach from the buzzing city of Melbourne. Despite this proximity, the island is a haven of nature and quiet solitude, except for the squawks of the more than 40,000 penguins who call the island home. The short and squat species is known as little penguins, an apt moniker for the smallest penguins in the world.

Their icy-blue plumage, which seems especially distinct when their feathers are damp after a splash in the sea, has earned them the fitting nickname of ‘little blue penguins,’ and they are also known by the Māori name of kororā. Whatever you call them, I love watching them waddle out of the sea at nightfall.

Crowds gather at the beachfront Penguin Parade viewing platform nightly, but I can arrange an experience that lets you see them with a smaller group in a much more natural, peaceful environment. They emerge from the water and make landfall on the beach every day of the year, but the best time to visit is between November through March when the weather is warmer.

During the daytime on Phillip Island, you can also spot Australian fur seals warming themselves in the sun on the island’s rocky shores and visit the Koala Conservation Reservation where you can see koalas in the wild as you traipse through the earthy woodlands. After getting your fill of wildlife, you can also sample the sweet treats at the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory — I can arrange for you to make your own signature chocolates to take home.

Get me there: This itinerary through Southeast Australia affords time at leisure in Melbourne for you to visit Phillip Island.

Croc spotting in Kakadu National Park

Saltwater crocodile, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
Saltwater crocodile, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

In the far reaches of Australia’s Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park sprawls across the landscape with rugged red cliffs, towering waterfalls, and mirror-like rivers that merge with flourishing wetlands. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, visiting this park is like stepping back in time. You can scrabble up craggy trails to see ancient rock paintings or head out on the water to spot prehistoric-looking crocodiles.

There are more than 10,000 crocs here, including both narrow-nosed freshwater ones and the broad-snout saltwater variety, and there are a variety of ways to see these massive reptiles. However, I think the best one is a boat tour along the Yellow Water Billabong, part of the South Alligator River floodplain.

The best time to see the animals is first light, when the sun crests above the paperbark forests and makes the water glow in an otherworldly light. It’s an early day, but I think it’s entirely worth it to catch a glimpse of these reptiles as they lurk on the muddy banks or glide through the water.

If you prefer to stay on terra firma, I suggest taking a stroll along the boardwalks that cut through freshwater mangroves. When the water levels recede during dry season (April to October), the crocodiles are easier to spot as their territory shrinks away. You can walk across the floodplain to a viewing platform on Home Billabong, listening out for the cry of the plumed whistling ducks.

Get me there: Take a cruise through the Yellow Water of Kakadu with this tour from Darwin to Adelaide.

Read more about wildlife trips to Australia

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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