Queensland is the only state in Australia where you can actually hug a koala. True, you might not agree that this is ethical, but the experience is nevertheless quite magical. Stand like a tree and an experienced wildlife warden will place a koala in your arms, and you can place a hand under his furry little behind and snuggle up close. Try the Champagne Bush Tucker Breakfast at Bungalow Bay Koala Village on Magnetic Island, where you’ll get to meet koalas and all sorts of other inhabitants of the small wildlife sanctuary.
The Daintree River is not just a majestic river winding its way through the ancient rainforest; it is also riddled with saltwater crocodiles. At the Daintree River Ferry crossing, hop onto the Crocodile Express and see some of these grumpy old reptiles up close.
You will see kangaroos pretty much everywhere as soon as you leave the city lights behind you. In the Blue Mountains they come out in the afternoon and tend to sit by the side of the road, watching the tourist buses go by. By the Undara Lava Tubes, a mob lives by the swimming pool, and wallabies and kangaroos are all around, even coming close to your cabin.
Driving off the Bruce Highway toward Mission Beach, you will go through cassowary country. Winding roads have speed humps that ask you to slow down and look out for these rather large and elusive birds. The rare and unusual flightless birds tend to cross the road when you least expect it, so keep your eyes peeled. And if you see a large bird with a chick in tow, you’ll know it is a father and child; they are temperamental parents, so do not approach them.
For a reportedly “guaranteed” sighting of this shy and utterly unique creature, head straight for Eungella National Park. Be sure to be there really early in the morning (have breakfast later, but bring a coffee) or late in the afternoon. They are there—you just have to be patient and time it right.
It might sound pretentious of Australia, but you have a good chance to see a turtle when diving alongside most of the Great Barrier Reef. They are luckily still quite abundant along the coast. For watching little turtles hatch, try Lady Elliot Island, Heron Island, and the excellent Mon Repos Conservation Park.
Even if you are not heading to the reef, you can go on whale-watching cruises from Sydney, and during the season you’re pretty much guaranteed a sighting. If you’d like to swim with minke whales, between June and July special trips leave daily from Cairns and allow you to observe these friendly dwarf whales.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.