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Safaris in Australia

Australia's most iconic wildlife encounters

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13 December 2022 by David Ward

Alongside their reputation for fine wines and glorious scenery, South Australia and Western Australia are home to some of the country’s most iconic wildlife encounters. Below, we pick out the best of them, showcased across two different safaris, taking in some of Australia’s wildest regions.

The wildlife of Western Australia

From the deserts of the far north to the woodlands and wildflowers of the south, wildlife is everywhere in Western Australia. Home to an incredible 70 per cent of Australia’s mammals, with 25 species endemic to the state, you’ve just got to know where to look.

Perth & surrounds

According to the World Wildlife Fund, Perth might just be the wildlife capital of the world. A strange notion, perhaps, for a modern and vibrant beachside city, but not when you consider that, within its verdant limits, you’ll find 2,100 plant species, 15 amphibian species and 156 native birds, with seasonal influxes from visiting seabirds and migrating shorebirds as well. Then, along the city’s Swan River, you might spot everything from island-dwelling kangaroos to black swans and wild dolphins. And, from mid-August to November there’s prime whale-watching to be enjoyed off the city’s 19 beaches, while to the south, the likes of Rockingham offer more close-up encounters. Think Seal Island kayaking trips, penguin cruises and even the chance to swim with dolphins.

Rottnest Island

Just a short ferry ride from Perth, the picture-perfect island of Rottnest is something of a natural paradise. With only car-free roads to navigate, and bikes as the main form of transport, myriad species have made their home among its quiet coves and sandy bays. Spend a day exploring its coastlines and you’re likely to see colonies of long-nose fur seals, catch glimpses of playful dolphins, spot shoals of tropical fish darting between coral reefs and come face-to-face with the island’s star turn – the quokka. These inquisitive marsupials, found only in WA, are delightfully cute, lighting up the island with their friendly demeanour and ever-so-cheeky smiles.

Quokkas on Rottnest Island

Ningaloo Reef

Some 1,200 kilometres to the north of Perth lies Ningaloo Reef. And, while it’s easily accessible via a short flight to Exmouth, this spectacular region is like entering another world. On the coast, great sweeps of pristine white sand slope gently down to an impossibly clear sea, which in turn gives way to the world’s largest fringing coral reef. Spanning more than 160 miles, this unique ecosystem supports a dazzling array of wildlife, from oceanic rays to humpbacks and whale sharks – the fabled ‘Big Three’. Indeed, visitors here have the chance to swim alongside the latter of these giants of the sea, while safaris inland offer close-up encounters with emus, rock wallabies and kangaroos which inhabit the great sandstone gorges and hidden watering holes of Cape Range National Park – a Kimberley in miniature.

Whale shark, Ningaloo Reef

The wildlife of South Australia

Just a short flight to the east, South Australia has much in common with its neighbouring state, with an astonishing 24 national parks, over 1,500 species of plants and a wide variety of native wildlife. From the ocean to the outback, the region is showcased in its celebrated wine production and thriving food scene.

Adelaide & surrounds

As one of only two National Park cities in the world, Adelaide offers wildlife encounters in abundance. Close to the city centre, a network of hiking and mountain biking trails carve through the pristine landscapes of the Adelaide Hills, a region home to some of Australia’s best-loved species. Even in the city itself, you’ll find bird-watching reserves, while on the coast in Glenelg, pods of dolphins welcome swimmers in for a play in the surf.

Kangaroo Island

This is Australia at its wild best. Just a 30-minute flight from Adelaide, or a 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis, Kangaroo Island offers unparalleled opportunities to encounter unique Australian wildlife in its natural habitat. Often referred to as Australia’s Galápagos, the biodiversity here is staggering. There are kangaroos, of course (60,000 compared to the island’s 5,000 full-time human inhabitants), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From rare sealions, seals and koalas to the prehistoric echidna – a sort of spiny anteater – your days will be packed full of astonishing discoveries, with expert guides and rangers on hand throughout your stay.

Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island

Eyre Peninsula

Close to the border with Western Australia, this off-the-beaten-track gem is well worth making time for. Where the ocean meets the outback, there’s the chance to swim with dolphins and sealions on one day, and seek out emus, kangaroos and koalas the next. Join a cycling tour or safari to take in the best of it, joining some of the best guides in the business who’ll bring it all to life.

Flinders Ranges

A five-hour drive north of Adelaide, via the Clare Valley wine region, the remote Flinders Ranges is a rugged home to the likes of grey-fronted honeyeaters, Lake Eyre dragons, wedge-tailed eagles and the rare yellow-footed rock wallaby, now making its comeback following a concerted re-wilding programme. It’s also a region hugely rich in First Life fossils, putting today’s encounters into the wider evolutionary context. Lastly, don’t miss out on experiencing the local Adnyamathanha culture – the chance to explore nature through indigenous eyes will elevate your stay far beyond a normal wildlife holiday.

Yellow-footed rock wallaby

Related offers

Whale Shark, Ningaloo Reef, Coral Coast, Australia

Australian Wildlife Safari

16-day tailor-made journey from £6,410 pp incl. flights

Get up close to Australia’s famed wildlife, showcased across a range of included tours and excursions alongside stays in everything from beachside hideaways to luxury lodges.

Kangaroo in the vines of South Australia

Australia’s Wine, Outback & Wildlife Wonders

17-day tailor-made journey from £3,920 pp incl. flights

With stays on historic cattle stations and in cutting-edge urban hotels, all paired with a range of included excursions, this is the ideal introduction to the myriad delights of two contrasting Australian states.

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