- Michelle Sole
Tracking wildlife on Mainland Australia’s East Coast
Australia is well known for it's weird and wonderful wildlife. As a wildlife fanatic I found myself paging through travel guides and internet sites searching for the best possible places to see some of Australia's iconic wildlife. I get a thrill from finding and photographing animals in their natural environment . Of course, finding animals in the wild is often easier said than done and requires above all else patience. Australia is massive and with time and budget constraints we chose to stick to the Eastern coast. We gave ourselves a month to drive from Sydney to Cairns and back again. The animals discussed here can be found in various places in Australia, I have only mentioned my favourite spots or where I personally saw them.
Our first mission was to find a kangaroo and a wallaby. A highlight of my time in Australia was at Cape Hillsborough. This is one of the few places known that kangaroos and wallabies actually come onto the beach. The reason they do this is to eat mangrove seeds that are brought in with the changing tides. It's best to get onto the beach at dawn before first light. As the sun slowly begins to rise you can make out the silhouettes of the wallabies and kangaroos as they forage through the sand. Take a blanket to sit on and make yourself comfortable. These animals are used to being photographed. Do not ruin the experience by chasing them. They are very inquisitive and if you are lucky they may come to investigate - I had an Eastern Grey kangaroo come and smell my feet!
Next up was a Koala. Koalas are difficult to find as they spend most of the day resting in the trees. Unless you are really looking for them you will drive straight past them. Noosa Heads National Park is a good place to start looking. The information centre has a board with recent sightings and you can walk through the national park scanning the trees as you go. Koalas often like to perch in the fork of the tree and curl themselves up. Look in Eucalyptus trees as this leaves from this tree makes up their diet. We were fortunate to see one koala at Noosa Heads National Park and also saw two in a eucalyptus tree as we were driving down a major highway
The platypus has long been an animal that fascinates me. It has hair, lays eggs and suckles it's young! I thought the chances of seeing a platypus in the wild were extremely slim and that if I did see one it would be a glimpse and near impossible to photograph. I was wrong. Eungella National Park is where it's at. Like kangaroos and wallabies, they are crepuscular so you really need to be looking for them early morning and late afternoon. However, if it is an overcast day you might be fortunate to find them at other times. Be patient and silent. Scan the still water for bubbles as this is often an indicator of where they are foraging for small creatures below. The platypus has to come up to breath and to chew their prey and this is your opportunity for a photograph.
Estuarine crocodiles are found along the northern part of the East Coast. There are several outfitters in the Daintree National Park that specialise in boat trips along the river where you stand a good chance of spotting one of these prehistoric apex predators. Choose a decent outfitter that does not bait the crocodiles as this causes the crocodiles to associate food with the boats which will cause trouble in times to come. Estuarine crocodiles are found in the ocean in this area so as tempting as it may look, do not go for a swim!
Wombats are amazingly cute bundles of fluff. We were fortunate to see lots of these at Bendeela Picnic site, Kangaroo Valley. They come out to graze at dusk and dawn and are very relaxed. If you sit quietly they will ignore you and most likely walk within feet of you.
I haven't mentioned dingoes as unfortunately we weren't lucky enough to see one in the wild. They are found on the coast of the Daintree National Park and further inland. Despite our best efforts we also couldn't find a tree kangaroo or a cassowary. Tree kangaroos are found around Malanda and active throughout the day. The information center in town has a recent wildlife sightings board for the local area. Cassowaries are found in the rain forests of the Daintree and there are good sightings around Mission Beach. These birds can be very aggressive and are known to kick so if you are fortunate enough to find one keep your distance!
Doing short hikes through the bush are also rewarding. You can explore well marked trails at night with a decent torch. On a number of these walks we saw pademelons, wallabies, cane toads, flying foxes, bandicoot and possums.
My focus was on mainland Australian's Eastern coast but if you don't have time and money constraints I am told that Fraser Island and Magnetic Island are wildlife hubs that will not disappoint. Finding wild animals is often a challenge and you are not always lucky. Please don't feed wild animals in an attempt to see them better. This is not fair on the animal and defeats the point of viewing them in the wild. If you are not fortunate or want a backup plan there are some very good and ethical wildlife parks in Australia such as the David Fleay, West Burleigh. Here you can see all of these creatures in large enclosures. This is an especially good place to see some of the nocturnal animals that can be near impossible to spot in the wild. Be aware of petting zoos where you can hold a koala and have a photo for $20, these are commercial enterprises and usually not conservation orientated.
There is a lot of wildlife to be found in Australia so make sure to give yourself enough time. I have only mentioned here the animals that you can see from the land - Australia's ocean is a whole other story!
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