Underwater havens abundant in sea life, native creatures and cute critters... getting to know Queensland's wildlife is an adventure all year round. Words Tatyana Leonov.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most impressive and diverse underwater expanses in the world – so it’s a no-brainer to snorkel and scuba dive the reef when in Queensland. With more than 1800 species of fish (including the clownfish, better known as Disney’s Nemo) and 350 types of coral, you could spend weeks, months or even years underwater and not see it all. Day trips from one of Queensland’s many coastal centres, including Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville, Airlie Beach and Bundaberg, are a popular option. There are also longer liveaboard dive trips available for underwater enthusiasts. Or head out on a glass-bottom boat to view the depths from above.
Queensland is one of only two states in Australia where visitors can cuddle a koala, and there are plenty of locations to snag a snuggle (turn to page 72 to find out where). The word ‘koala’ is derived from an ancient Aboriginal word meaning ‘no drink’ – because koalas seldom drink (usually only during droughts or when sick) and receive most of their hydration when consuming gum leaves. Native to Australia and famed across the globe, these marsupials are found in various habitats, including the bush and coastal islands.
Australia’s heaviest flightless birds (cassowaries can grow to the same height as a human), distinguished by their coarse feathers and vivid blue necks, are often spotted in the luscious rainforests of North Queensland. If you don’t see one in the wild, there are plenty of places in Queensland where you can see one, including at Daintree Wild Zoo and Birdworld Kuranda. The cassowary is responsible for seed scattering and germination of over 70 plant species. If it became extinct it would severely damage rainforest ecology.
There’s something magnificent about witnessing a majestic humpback whale breach the water and slap its unusually long fins – and in Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast (one of the only places in the world where whales go to rest and play), sightings are surefire from July to November. There are a number of whale-watching tours available. Trips usually include expert commentary as well as specially designated sighting areas, spacious viewing decks and underwater viewing rooms offering the ultimate intimate and unforgettable encounter with these beauties.
Boyd’s Forest Dragons
With jagged scales behind their head, the distinctive Boyd’s forest dragon can only be spotted in the rainforests of North Eastern Queensland, predominantly around Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine, Mossman Gorge and Malanda Falls Environmental Park. Sightings are special because the lizards spend most of their time perched in trees, rarely moving. Because they are of a similar colouring to tree bark, they easily blend into the natural surrounds and are tricky to spot. The best way to sight this rare creature is to walk slowly and scan tree trunks at about head height or lower, or by guided tour such as those led by a Mossman Gorge Indigenous guide.
A full-grown saltwater crocodile is said to be the largest of all living reptiles, so it’s a fair assumption that most people prefer to meet these predators in captivity. In Queensland, there are many places to get up close and personal, minus the danger. Take a Daintree River Cruise or a Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures Cruise in Tropical North Queensland, learn about crocs at the late Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast or, if adventure is more your thing, zoom over the crocs by zipline at the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven sea turtle species, but it’s the southern end of the reef that’s a real hotspot for turtle sightings. Swim, snorkel and play with turtles on Lady Musgrave, Lady Elliot and Heron Islands (waterproof cameras are a must), or head to Bundaberg’s Mon Repos Conservation Park between November and March to witness loggerhead, green, leatherback and flatback turtles lay and hatch their eggs – a truly memorable experience.
This cute, hoppy Australian marsupial is legendary around the world, but the best area to spot these unique creatures is at Cape Hillsborough National Park, located about 20 kilometres north of Mackay. Wake up before sunrise and plant yourself on the beach next to the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park to witness playful wallabies feed on the seedpods that have washed up onto the beach overnight. The national park is also home to a colony of about 200 bats, providing an animal encounter for night owls.
The platypus can be tricky to spot. The shy critters are quiet and are typically spotted during sunrise and sunset. Broken River in Eungella National Park (80 kilometres northwest of Mackay) is recognised as one of the best regions to see the platypus (it’s currently undergoing a $600,000 Platypus Walk project, which will include new walkways and viewing areas). These crafty creatures can also be spotted at Paluma Range National Park, located between Ingham and Townsville in Tropical North Queensland, and Carnarvon Gorge, west of Rockhampton.