Australia's top 10 wildlife experiences

When it comes to wildlife, the Northern Territory and South Australia are hard to beat for weird and wonderful experiences. There's no escaping the best of Mother Nature.

Published 1 Apr 2017, 09:00 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 14:08 BST
Great white shark

Great white shark.

Photograph by Gettty

1. Sharks, Neptune Islands

The honking seals on the Neptune Islands, at the mouth of the Spencer Gulf, sure look tasty to the great white sharks circling in the waters around them. There are a lot of teeth beneath the surface, and stepping into the cage on Calypso Star Charters' boat lets you see them up close. You'll be left in no doubt about who the apex predator of the Southern Ocean is. The Neptune Islands are a six-hour round-trip from Port Lincoln on the tip of the Eyre Peninsula. As part of a deliberate effort to not impact the sharks' natural behaviour, this is the only spot in Australia where cage diving with Great Whites is allowed. Sorry seals, they're still coming for you, not us.

2. Koalas, Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is arguably Australia's greatest wildlife all-rounder. The roos are a regular sight, sea lions can be found on the coast, echidnas scuttle along the edge of the woods and 260 bird species can be spotted. But it's a fine place for koalas too, with the Flinders Chase National Park a popular hangout. Koalas aren't actually native to the island — 18 of them were introduced as a conservation measure in 1920 and there are now 27,000 of them here, all expending as little energy as possible.

3. Kangaroos, Alice Springs & Kangaroo Island

At The Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs, Chris 'Brolga' Barns's mission to rescue orphaned kangaroos has seen him become the star of BBC Two's Kangaroo Dundee. The aim is to release as many as possible back into the wild, but those who won't make it can roam free in his fenced-off property. Further south, the aptly-named Kangaroo Island is home to a sub-species of the Western Grey Kangaroo, smaller and darker than its mainland cousin and the much larger red kangaroo. The island is home to over 60,000 marsupials, with both kangaroos and wallabies in abundance.

4. Saltwater crocodiles, Kakadu National Park

It all seems so peaceful on the Yellow Water Billabong in Kakadu National Park: birds flit, lily pads bob on the water and the silvery trunks of the paperbark trees are reflected on the glassy surface. But then you notice the big boys on the banks. The crocs are happy to sit, wait and watch, learning the behaviour patterns of their next potential meal. They'll soak up the sun, sometimes with mouth wide open, then silently sink into the water. Powerful swishing tails propel these prehistoric predators, with every other creature in the ecosystem trying to steer well clear. They've ruled Australia's Top End for thousands of years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

5. Camels, Uluru

The introduction of the railway spelled the end of an era for the camels who for decades had valiantly acted as the main form of transport across the Australian deserts. There are now hundreds of thousands of camels roaming the Outback. See them plodding in strict order from their home near Uluru, crossing the red earth towards the giant monolith as the sun sinks in the colourful sky.

6. Flatback sea turtles, Bare Sand Island

Turtles head to this Northern Territory island between April and September to lay their eggs before heading back to sea. Towards the end of the season, there's the chance to see some action: hatchlings burst from their eggs, scramble across the sand and make for the water.

7. Birds, The Coorong & Kakadu

The Coorong, a network of saltwater lagoons south-east of Adelaide, is a prime breeding habitat for all manner of bird species, including the Australian pelican, Cape Barren goose, egret and sandpiper. Meanwhile, Kakadu National Park is home to a third of Australia's bird species, with at least 60 species found in the wetlands alone.

8. Southern right whales, Victor Harbor

Once almost hunted to extinction, southern right whales are now tracked down with cameras rather than harpoon guns and are flourishing in the Southern Ocean — the prime place being from the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. The prime time for spotting them off the South Australian coast is between May and October, which is when Big Duck Boat Tours heads out from Victor Harbor.

9. Dolphins, Adelaide

The resident bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Adelaide seem to find humans a comical curiosity. Slide into the water off the back of Temptation Sailing's boat, then grab the ropes as the boat pootles along at dolphin pace. The result? Flipper and friends swim alongside the vessel as cooing, snorkel-clad watchers are slowly pulled along. Keep it calm, without any splashing around, and the dolphins are likely to stay for longer.

10. Thorny devils, Alice Springs

It can be the less iconic Aussie creatures that stick in the memory, such as these bizarre spiky lizards that roam the Alice Springs Desert Park. It's also a good spot for charming little creatures such as bilbies and cockatoos, and there's much discussion on how they've managed to survive in such inhospitable surroundings. The indigenous-guided and after-dark tours let you view the region in a new light.

For more Australian travel advice from David Whitley, visit his website

Published in the Australia 2017 guide, distributed with the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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