Hunting Australia's Big Five: Kangaroos, Koalas, Platypus, Echidnas, and Wombats

Having constantly seen the following question on travel forums....

“Where can I see kangaroos and koalas in the wild?”

....I thought I should give a few tips on where and how!!

Koala at Kennett River

Koala at Kennett River

In reality the big five should probably be at least the big ten or fifteen and include the few other favorites  plus one or two that are hard to see in the wild any more – I will post another article focusing on some of the other iconic creatures of Australia (emus, possums, kookaburras, goannas, quokkas, dingos, penguins, dugongs and crocodiles) soon - watch this space!

If you are reading this, then most likely, like me you are not a fan of zoos or even so-called ‘wildlife centers’ and you want to see the real thing. I will warn you that some of the places I mention have become rather well known you may not be the only one there spotting the animals! However, the animals are not tamed or fed – they simply range in a known locale.

So where to see these animals in the wild? Based on near every tourist going to Australia hitting Sydney, and for many Melbourne, at some point I will have a bit of a bias to the lower half of the country and the two everyone wants to see – kangaroos and koalas! It is actually quite easy to see these.

But first things first.

WILDLIFE LOVERS TIP!!

Wombat in Cradle Mountain National Park

Wombat in Cradle Mountain National Park

One of the best places to easily see a lot of the Australian wildlife is to simply go to the (generally missed off the schedule) animal-rich island of Tasmania and hire a car for a few days. (Even on a budget there will most likely be others at the hostel that will be keen to share costs.) That way you can drive through a national park or two and basically be guaranteed to see plenty! Taking the back roads can be fantastic. I had the girls squealing in the back one evening as we drove to Narawntapu National Park via a back road as it was really difficult to drive without hitting a possum or pademelon (like a small kangaroo) unless I drove at 10kms hour – which is what we ended up doing and very worth it despite having to tent up in the dark! Narawntapu itself is known for the wildlife and we were incredibly lucky to see a Tasmanian Devil there – but you cannot expect this; it is a major bonus if you do. Animal spotting here is good any time of year and there would be something wrong if you didn’t see at least kangaroos and pademelons.

Echidna - TasmanIA

Echidna - TasmanIA

For echidnas it depends on the time of year, but if you drive around in the summer months you are very likely to simply see them on the side of the road – especially around the Cradle Mountain area. Cradle Mountain National Park is also a great place for spotting wombats, particularly in the later part of the day.

Finally the platypus – there are a few known hangouts for platypus in Tasmania but I never managed to see more than their water circles and bubbles in the water in these spots – not even in the Warrawee Forest Reserve near Latrobe which is purported to be the platypus capital of the world. However, we were lucky enough to catch them purely by chance in a river where we had set up camp one night. Spotting them is going to be try your luck at the known spots and cross your fingers. Other known spots are Fern Glade near Burnie, Deloraine, or Geeveston.

You won’t see koalas in the wild in Tasmania but if you add on a daytrip from Melbourne then you are likely to have managed the big five in only a few days. From Melbourne drive for about 21/2 hours down to Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road. Koalas – tick!

Better is to spend the night at the Holiday Park there – camping or in a cabin and be around at dusk when the local koalas are more likely to be moving around. Whatever you decide, there are always some in the area and usually some in the Holiday Park itself. Added bonuses if you stay the night are wallabies visiting on occasion, plus after dark glow-worms at the nearby Grey River Road Picnic Area. During the day you will also be very unlucky not to see King Parrots, Kookaburras and Rosellas. Finally, combine Kennett River with a visit to see the resident population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos at the Anglesea Golf Club en route and you have ticked of the first  two on anyone’s list in a day!

Now for the mainland. The following lists give you a few good spots to see each of the big five! 

Koalas

  • Kennett River – Victoria (guaranteed)
  • Grey River Road, Great Ocean Road area – Victoria (guaranteed)
  • Raymond Island - ferry trip from Paynesville – Victoria (guaranteed)
  • Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve near Warrnambool – Victoria (almost guaranteed)
  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, ACT (almost guaranteeed)
  • You Yangs Regional Park – Victoria (good chance)
  • Hawkes Nest (and Tea Gardens – NSW (good chance)

 

Kangaroos

Anglesea Golf Course

Anglesea Golf Course

  • Anglesea  Golf Course – Victoria (guaranteed)
  • Murramarang National Park – NSW (guaranteed)
  • Namadgi National Park – ACT (guaranteed)
  • Kangaroo Island - South Australia (almost guaranteed)
  • Canberra Nature Park,  Mount Ainslie – ACT (almost guaranteed)
  • Euroka Clearing - Glenbrook, Blue Mountains – NSW (almost guaranteed)
  • Swamp Wallalbies - the Basin in Pittwater, Sydney – NSW (almost guaranteed in evening)
  • Government House, Canberra – ACT (high chance)
  • Drive a few days anywhere in the country and you will be unlucky not to see them

Playtypus

You need to be looking early morning or dusk for the following to apply

  • Eungella National Park – Queensland (almost guaranteed)
  • Platypus Reserve Bombala – NSW (almost guaranteed)
  • Platypus Flat – Nymboi-Binderay National Park – NSW (almost guaranteed)
  • Running River Bridge (Paluma Range National Park) – Queensland (very likely)
  • Lake Elizabeth – Victoria (very likely on a guided tour)
  • Toorourrong Park - near Whittlesea, Melbourne (good chance)

 Echidnas

The one I cant give guaranteed spots for as its simply luck of the draw almost anywhere (with the best bet being Tasmania and Tidbinbilla ). People see them on occasion all over - including in their backyard. However, a few places I, or friends, have seen them are:

  • Grampians, Victoria
  • Wilson's Promontory, Victoria
  • North Head, Sydney NSW
  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, ACT 
  • Royal National Park, near Sydney NSW 

Wombats

  • Bendeela Campground – Kangaroo Valley,NSW (good chance)
  • Blue Mountains National Park, NSW (possible) 
  • Wilsons Promontory, Victoria (good chance)
  • Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, ACT (good chance)
  • Brookfield Conservation Park, South Australia (good chance)
  • Luck of the draw almost anywhere – read about Tasmania earlier