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The top 7 Australian animal encounters in Queensland

Ask most first-time visitors to Australia what they come away with from a holiday Down Under, and chances are it’s not a camera roll full of Vegemite toast. It’s likely to be hundreds of animal photos – and the unforgettable memories of these Australian animal encounters – given just how famous and unique our creatures are.

It’s not just us who think our animals are special. The scientists are on our side – so much of our wildlife is endemic to Australia thanks to our island isolation.

We’re talking monotremes (mammals who can lay eggs), animals with pouches, and reptiles who survived from the prehistoric era when dinosaurs didn’t. Crazy, we know.

If you visit us in Queensland, clear the storage in your phone to make way for photos of your new little friends with this guide for where to encounter Australian animals.

Where to see koalas

Koala-Magnetic-Island

Image by Eliza Detrez

Did you even come to Queensland if you didn’t get a photo with a koala? Cute, sleepy and cuddly, these balls of fur are top of most visitor’s must-see lists for good reason.

Queensland is one of a few Australian states where visitors are actually allowed to cuddle a koala, so it makes perfect sense to ensure sure your ‘koality’ good times are on our soil.

Spotting a koala in the wild is tricky business (unless you find yourself on Magnetic Island). So if you definitely want a picture with one, make a beeline for Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Their koalas are no strangers to cuddles – in fact, they’ve cuddled famous faces like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Roger Federer.

You’ll walk away from the Lone Pine Koala Experience with a professional photo of you and Australia’s most famous marsupial.

When Lone Pine’s koala cuddlers aren’t posing for photos, they’re research champions, helping researchers across Australia better understand koalas which only recently have been classed ‘functionally extinct’.

To help fund their research, you’ll find a good portion of your entry ticket and proceeds from the koala experience donated to native animal welfare and research so you can rest assured, you’re cuddling with a conscience.

Want to know where else to cuddle a koala? Wander your mouse over here.

Where to take a ‘roo selfie

Second only to a koala selfie is a kangaroo one, and good news: you can get your Skippy-snap at wildlife parks all over Queensland.

If you’re after an up-close-and-personal kangaroo experience, we’d suggest Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast for maximum macropod action.

You’ll find mobs of kangaroos and wallabies lazing and grazing throughout Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, from red kangaroos (the big guys) to small rock-dwelling brush-tailed rock-wallabies.

The various species have freedom to roam across the sanctuary, so you’re guaranteed to see their famous hopping in action.

This wildlife sanctuary wears its conservation heart on its sleeve, actively involved with 16 conservation projects to help save several native species (including brush-tailed rock-wallabies) from extinction.

Tip: Pick yourself up a bag of feed and lure a friendly roo over with snacks. Remember, if they are resting or look disinterested, don’t stretch the friendship for a picture together.

Where to feed dolphins

dolphin feeding Tangalooma | Australian animal encounters

Reported to be the second smartest animals on the planet, an encounter with a dolphin is more like a friendly and intelligent chat.

For an almost guaranteed experience, we recommend hand-feeding wild bottlenose dolphins on Moreton Island.

Each evening, the shallow waters around Tangalooma Island Resort draw a dolphin crowd for dinner, and Tangalooma guests have the opportunity to serve herring to one of the cutest mammals of the marine world.

Before anyone panics, over-feeding is not an option here. The Tangalooma staff limit the herring consumption to less than 10% of a dolphin’s daily diet to ensure they remain hunters when they aren’t at this fish-buffet.

There’s no such thing as a free dinner for these dolphins. Their meal is in return for participation in the island’s research centre, with the resort staff researching their guests, charting their movements and checking for injuries and impediments (like tangled fishing line) to their swimming.

Looking for a dolphin experience on the mainland? Make tracks to Tin Can Bay to meet the the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins who pop into Barnacles Dolphin Centre for a feed.

Where to spot Humpback Whales

When you’ve got 6,374km of coastline across Queensland, it makes sense that so many animal encounters occur offshore.

Queensland’s largest member of the Great Eight, the humpback whale, really makes a splash when it migrates north between July and November.

Sure, you can catch them from the shoreline (if you’re staying anywhere from the Gold Coast to Cairns) – but nothing beats seeing the fin- and tail-slapping up close in the home of humpback whales, Hervey Bay (for a complete whale watching guide, jump over here).

Choosing which whale watching tour is for you can be overwhelming, but we’d recommend a half day encounter with Tasman Venture for a true up-close and personal experience.

On board its 20-metre catamaran, you’ll have three different levels to get the perfect vantage point for Hervey Bay’s whale acrobatics.

Between the ooohs and ahhhs of spy-hops, breaches and tail slaps, you’ll learn more about these marine giants with expert commentary. If these words mean nothing to you at the moment, we’ve got a crash course in how to speak whale over here.

Want to swim with the whales? You read this correctly. Australia is one of only a handful of countries that let you go swimming with the marine giants. Hervey Bay Dive Centre runs the Fraser Coast’s only dedicated swim experience that puts you in the water with these majestic mammals. If you’re tempted, we have a whole other post about why you should zip up a wet suit to swim with the humpback whales.

How to have some turtle time

Baby turtle overcomes rock obstacle to make its way down to the water

Image by @laurenepbath

When it comes to motivational success stories, nothing is better than the one told at Mon Repos Turtle Centre.

Did you know turtles venture countless kilometres through open ocean only to lay their eggs on the same beach they hatched on decades earlier?

For thousands of turtles, this remarkable journey starts on the beaches of the Southern Great Barrier Reef at Mon Repos, where female turtles drag themselves up the sand to lay around 150 eggs before returning to the ocean.

Six weeks later when the sand temperature is just right, a new journey starts for masses of tiny turtles, who emerge from their shells and scurry down the beach to water.

Clawing their way out of a deep sand nest using flippers no bigger than a fingernail is only where their battle begins. The babies then face the elements – hot sun, swooping birds, turtle-eating reptiles – to cross what amounts to marathon-proportions of sand compared to their tiny flippers to find the water where even bigger predators wait.

If you’re keen to witness nature’s obstetrics unit, head north to Bundaberg and pay a visit to Mon Repos whose sand is home to the largest population of nesting marine loggerhead turtles in the South Pacific.

If it’s been a while between visits, make turtle-tracks back to Mon Repos, because it’s had a facelift with a new multi-million dollar  information, conservation and research centre – Mon Repos Sea Turtle Centre.

Tip: Mother Nature has two showings. You can book a guided evening tour from November and January for nesting, and January to March for hatching. If you’re keen to learn what else you can do to help turtles outside of turtle season, we’ve got eight ways you can help change their endangered listing with your visit.

Where to go croc-spotting

Australian animal encounters

Photo by @australiazoo

Ever since Mick Dundee took to the screens in Crocodile Dundee, visitors have had good reason to spot a croc in Queensland.

For guaranteed croc-sightings, it pays to go to the home of them with a visit to Crocoseum at Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast.

Home of the late Crocodile Hunter himself, Steve Irwin, Australia Zoo runs a croc show daily that has crocodiles leaping from the water for their food.

While the crocs are chewing, you’ll be entertained with croc-facts, learning about this reptile who outlived the dinosaur, all tied together with a strong conservation message.

Looking to croc-spot in the wild? Head north to spot some crocs in the wild with Daintree River Wildlife Cruise.

Where to cuddle a wombat

There’s no end of people who have cuddled a koala, but very few can say they’ve cuddled a wombat.

Spotting one in the wild is near impossible, let alone getting close enough for a photo: this Australian mammal spends more time underground than above it and happens to be nocturnal.

Skew your odds with a visit to Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville, whose residents are part of a daily photo sitting with a handful of lucky guests.

You’ll have no choice but to smile with Reuben on your lap – the stocky, barrel-built wombat who tips the scales at about 30 kilos.

With an Advanced Ecotourism certification, you can rest assured the animals of Billabong Sanctuary are in the best of care.

Want more Australian animal encounters that are guaranteed to make you smile? Check out this post.