DES­TI­NA­TION AUS­TRALIA

Ken­dall Hill presents his choice of the na­tion’s best up-close an­i­mal en­coun­ters

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

KOALAS

For sheer con­cen­tra­tion of koalas you can’t beat South Aus­tralia’s Kan­ga­roo Is­land and Vic­to­ria’s French Is­land, with pop­u­la­tions of about 25,000 and 3000 re­spec­tively. But few vis­i­tors are con­tent to sim­ply stare at koalas in trees; they want to hold them, cud­dle them, have their photo taken. For happy snaps with Aus­tralia’s favourite mar­su­pial, head to Queens­land where count­less op­er­a­tors pro­vide the chance to hug a koala.

At Bris­bane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanc­tu­ary vis­i­tors queue to pay $15 for a few min­utes of furry bond­ing time. For a more nat­u­ral en­counter, try the Bun­ga­low Bay Koala Vil­lage on Queens­land’s Mag­netic Is­land, off Townsville, where rangers es­cort guests to the koala park three times daily (10am, noon and 2.30pm) for a mee­tand-greet with the is­land’s res­i­dent an­i­mals.

As well as cradling a koala you can han­dle baby salt­wa­ter crocs, pythons and lizards and learn about the lo­cal habi­tat and his­tory. If you can’t bear to leave, there’s a three-week paid vol­un­teer pro­gram avail­able. In­terns live on site and work along­side rangers help­ing to feed and care for an­i­mals, among more me­nial du­ties. Park en­try is $19 adults or $10 chil­dren; ex­tra $14 to hold a koala (pro­ceeds go to wildlife care on the is­land). More: 1800 285 577; www.bun­ga­lowbay.com.au.

PLATY­PUS

PEN­GUINS

The duck-billed platy­pus has a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing shy, elu­sive and ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to spot in the wild. Ex­cept, that is, in the Tas­ma­nian town of La­trobe, just south of Devon­port, where the lo­cal platy­puses tend to pop up all over town. ‘‘ They come up through the grids in the streets; peo­ple find them in all sorts of un­usual places,’’ says Noelene Hed­ditch of La­trobe’s Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre.

Hed­ditch has clocked up 10 years of guided platy­pus walks through the town’s War­rawee For­est Re­serve and claims vis­i­tors have a ‘‘ 99.9 per cent chance’’ of see­ing th­ese ex­otic crea­tures (tour charge is waived if there are no sight­ings). Ex­pect not just flashes of fur or a quick glimpse of duck­bill but platy­puses scratch­ing them­selves on rocks be­side the Mersey River, frol­ick­ing in the wa­ter or sur­fac­ing right at on­look­ers’ feet. She says there has only been one oc­ca­sion — ‘‘ a windy, hor­ri­ble night’’ — when none ap­peared.

The crea­tures are ac­tive year-round; the best time to spot them is early morn­ing or dusk. Guided tours are led by lo­cal Land­care mem­bers for a $10 do­na­tion (free for chil­dren). More: (03) 6426 1774; www.la­trobe.tas.gov.au.

In Vic­to­ria’s Ot­way Ranges, guided ca­noe tours of Lake El­iz­a­beth al­low vis­i­tors to see a platy­pus eye-to-eye. The three to four-hour tours cost $85 adults or $50 chil­dren. More: www.ot­wayeco­tours.com. The Phillip Is­land pa­rade in Vic­to­ria is the ob­vi­ous spot to see lit­tle pen­guins strut their stuff on the sand. The is­land is home to 60,000 lit­tle fel­las, about 10,000 of whom live in the neigh­bour­hood of the nightly pen­guin pa­rade. Board­walks and en­closed view­ing ar­eas shield an­i­mal from hu­man and the grand­stand view­ing can seem rather busi­nesslike.

For a less reg­i­mented evening, the so-called Ul­ti­mate Tour takes small groups to a se­cluded beach that pen­guins march past en route to their sand bur­rows. Gen­eral ad­mis­sion, $20.60 adults or $10.30 chil­dren; ul­ti­mate tour $72. More: www.pen­guins.org.au.

More in­ti­mate en­coun­ters are guar­an­teed at Bicheno on Tas­ma­nia’s east coast, where groups of up to 20 vis­i­tors can visit the rook­ery homes of lit­tle pen­guins. There are no bar­ri­ers; dozens of pen­guins min­gle freely with tourists, who are warned to wear closed shoes be­cause the birds tend to nip hu­man toes. The tour costs $20, in­clud­ing ho­tel trans­fers. More: (03) 6375 1333; www.bichenopen­guin­tours.com.au. WHALES Brian and Jill Perry de­vel­oped Aus­tralia’s com­mer­cial whale-watch­ing in­dus­try 23 years ago in Queens­land’s US­TRALIA is a big sa­fari park brim­ming with un­for­get­table an­i­mal ad­ven­tures on land, coast and sea. Ev­ery land­scape, no mat­ter how harsh or un­pleas­ant, re­deems it­self with amaz­ing fauna. Few coun­tries can boast a nat­u­ral his­tory as rich and won­der­ful as ours.

But when it comes to man­aged an­i­mal en­coun­ters, there are great op­er­a­tors and some not so great ones. So if you like your crea­tures wild, not mild, where do you go to see unique an­i­mals without feel­ing as if you are the caged ones?

Tall tail: A whale at play in Her­vey Bay, Queens­land

Crea­ture of the night: Tas­ma­nian devil

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