3 Awesome Aussie Animal Encounters

by  Elissa Garay | Apr 1, 2013
Koala / chrissmith731/iStock

Koalas, kangaroos, and wombats, oh my! They're only a few of the names on the long list of Australia's colorful cast of wildlife characters. The unique fauna found here is a curious byproduct of the continent’s longstanding geographical isolation. With a landmass that’s rife with reptiles and crawling with marsupials, a sky teeming with birdlife, and shores overflowing with marine creatures, Australia offers plenty of wildlife encounters to remember. Recently back from a month on the ground down under, I'm here with three great recommendations of places you can walk on Australia’s wild side.

Cuddle a Koala in Brisbane

If you’re craving a cuddle with a koala (and who could blame you – their cute factor is off the charts!), make a beeline for Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Billed as the world’s first and largest Koala sanctuary, the center provides haven for more than 130 of the cuddly critters in a spacious reserve that displays a hearty slice of down under’s native flora and fauna. Snap a pic while snuggling a koala (cuddles are free, but there’s an additional photo fee – proceeds help support the sanctuary), and stick around for special talks that offer further insight into the lazy lives of koalas (they're known to sleep up to 20 hours a day!).

Several additional animal-themed programs are held daily, like the popular Birds of Prey or Sheepdog Shows. Also, be sure to swing by the platypus and Tasmanian devil enclosures; spend some time ogling emus, wombats, crocs, and more; and pick up some kangaroo feed in the shop, and head out to hand-feed the ’roos and wallabies in their five-acre free-range habitat. Entry $34/adults; $23/kids.

Tasmanian Devils / John Garay

Discover Devils in Tasmania

Dance with the devil – or at least ogle it from a safe distance – in Tasmania. The best place to learn more about the legendary Tasmanian devil (so named for its demonic-sounding growl) is at the Devils@Cradle conservation center, set near Cradle Mountain National Park. View the carnivorous marsupials in up-close enclosures (you can also catch quolls on display), and even touch one while they are securely handled – you’ll soon discover that they have very little in common with Looney Tunes’ cartoonish take on the creature. On-site guides lead both daytime and nighttime sanctuary tours (devils are nocturnal and more active in the evening), and also offer commentary on the life cycles and threats facing the devils today – including sobering statistics on their current threat of extinction, from a fast-spreading facial tumor disease. Rates from $17/adults; $11/kids.

See Sea Turtles on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef provides haven for a staggering array of marine wildlife – including more than 1,500 fish species! One of the biggest stars on the scene, however, are the numerous sea turtles that call these waters home – with six of the world’s seven sea turtle species naturally occurring here. While you may be lucky enough to snorkel or dive with them, or to catch their hatchlings making their way to sea during nesting season, you're guaranteed an encounter with these ancient mariners via the newly launched turtle tours at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island, which is a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns. Guided daily tours (on offer by donation) provide insight into the sea turtles that are rehabilitated here and on the center's ongoing effort for turtle conservation and education.

Incurable travel addict, longtime travel scribe, and mindful money-saver Elissa Richard is currently indulging her insatiable wanderlust on an epic 14-month journey around the globe – intent on making it every step of the way without busting her modest budget. Follow her along the way as she reports back with budget-savvy travel tips from the mountains of Transylvania to the wilds of Tasmania, and from the little-trodden temples of Burma to the bustling bars and clubs of Buenos Aires. A vagabond in search of value, just for ShermansTravel!

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