Australia is renowned far and wide for its jaw-dropping beauty. But amid its crashing seas and rocky bluffs, its primeval forests and indigo lakes, and snow-capped mountains and vast desert lurks a plethora of unique animals, some of them fringing on the bizarre—if not rare or endangered.
From koala (that aren’t so cuddly as you may think, by the way) to mischievous tiger quoll to the cuddly koala, critters in this part of the world are truly extraordinary, many found nowhere else in the world. Some are easy to spot (hello, Mr. Kangaroo and your entire mob standing on the expanse of grass along the roadside) while some are more elusive (why do we have to get up so early to spy a duck-billed platypus?). All are exciting to catch a glimpse of in the purest of natural settings. Here are some of the most fascinating, with hints on where to find them.
These playful, spotted marsupials are the size of a house cat. They’re endangered, with the Great Otways being their last stronghold. See several at the Conservation Ecology Centre, where a captive breeding program is helping to ensure their survival.
They’re not bears, they’re marsupials (they carry their babies in pouches). And they’re not as nice and cuddly as you think—best keep your distance (just check out their long claws). They hang in droves from the gum trees near the small town of Kennett River, chomping on leaves and nestling in the crooks of tree limbs.
In Australia, locals consider kangaroos as common as deer—but it’s still exciting to see your first one. See them where open grasslands and bush meet along the Great Ocean Road, or generally covering the mainland, avoiding the more fertile areas in the south and east coast. Red kangaroos are capable of surviving in an arid environment, and they are still hunted by the Anangu Aboriginal group in remote areas of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The kangaroos are most active at dawn and nightfall.
Wallabies are cousins of the kangaroo, which makes for an adorable family tree. Find the Red-shouldered Wallaby where open grasslands meet the bush. Farther inland, or Northern Territory? Back from the endangered list, the black-flanked rock-wallaby is slowly being reintroduced into its natural environment.
Bright red parrots with a bell-like call can be seen flitting around the Anglesea heath.
The spiny, long-nosed monotreme (egg-laying mammal) digs for ants in the heathlands. They’re solitary critters, best seen at Port Campbell National Park.
This badger-like, furry, stocky marsupial spends its time burrowing underground tunnels—and then sleeping in them. They’re nocturnal, so sightings are rare. Try Tower Hill State Game Reserve.
These large, flightless birds hang out in families. Head to Tower Hill to see them.
This tiny possum has flaps of skin down its sides to enable it to parachute from tree to tree. They live in groups of up to 12 and have a puppy-like bark. You’re almost sure to see them in the Grey River Picnic Area in Kennett River.
Sunrise or sunset are the best times to spy a duck-billed platypus, the primeval, egg-laying, house-cat-size mammal that roams the dark lakes and streams of eastern Australia. You’ll know them by their rubbery, duck-like beak, paddle tail, and webbed feet. A guided tour is the best way to assure a sighting; Otway Eco Tours is recommended.
You can’t leave cute little penguins off the list. Every day, a colony of penguins at the Twelve Apostles rush out to sea to spend the day and return at dusk to feed their young with all the fishy treasures they’ve collected.