Sure, meeting people on your travels is great. You can keep in touch via Facebook, invite them to visit your home-town, find out what it’s like to grow up in a different culture and learn how to swear in another language. But we reckon some of the most memorable new mates you can encounter are of the animal persuasion.
Here’s some of the best types of Aussies you can meet while travelling (just dont’ invite them to sleep on your couch, they’re generally pretty messy):
1. Penguins at Phillip Island, Victoria
There’s a strict no-photos rule at the Penguin Parade, which is brilliant because you are forced to take in the entire spectacle with no distractions. As the largest commercial venue in the world where you can see penguins in their own environment, it’s a must-see for any visitor to this part of the world. Each night at dusk you can stand along the boardwalk and watch hundreds of little penguins emerge from a day at sea to waddle their way home along the beach. They are ridiculously small and cute, and you’ll feel like a kid again as you make delighted little squeals each time one of them trips over. Phillip Island Nature Park is all about conservation and research, and you can learn all about it from the friendly rangers who are here each night. Around 32,000 penguins live in the waters around Phillip Island, and about 4,0000 of them have made their home in the burrows of Summerland Beach. These guys are the smallest of their species, standing at around 33 centimetres. We know you’re just gonna love ’em.
2. Tasmanian Devils at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary
Ever felt misunderstood? Ever felt like the world is out to get you? Ever wondered where all your mates disappeared to all of a sudden? Then spare a thought for the Tassie Devil. Certain cartoon characters have given us all a wildly inaccurate misconception about these guys, but a visit to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary outside Hobart will set the record straight. You’ll be delighted to see that they don’t spin around creating whirlwinds in their path. They are sweet, shy, fluffy, adorable and sadly… extremely endangered. A horrible disease is spreading around the species like wildfire, killing around 97% of Tassie Devils in the affected areas. Bonorong is committed to saving them from extinction and you can play your part by visiting, perhaps donating and most definitely setting the record straight when you get back home.
3. Dolphins at Monkey Mia, Western Australia
There’s not many sure things in life, but the chance of having wild dolphins swim around your feet at Monkey Mia is one of them. You see, every single day for the past five years (except four measly occasions, which are hardly worth counting) these friendly critters have swum up to the shore to hang out with humans. It’s been happening for 40 years. Sure, there’s plenty of places you can see dolphins in the wild, but Monkey Mia near Perth remains one of the only beaches where they swim up of their own accord. And this amazing spectacle happens around three times a day for almost 365 days of the year. Are you getting how insane this is?! Not only is Monkey Mia an incredible place to see dolphins, but it’s pretty easy on the eye. The white beach is really secluded, with crystal clear water as far as the eye can see. There’s always plenty of rangers from the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) on hand to teach you how to interact with them, and perhaps even give you a fish to feed them.
4. Saltwater crocs in Mary River, Northern Territory
Alright, so you probably won’t be shaking their hand (claw?) or having a cuddle. But we’ll get you close enough to at least say you’ve made their acquaintance. The Mary River wetlands, outside of Darwin in Wulna Country, has the highest concentration of saltwater crocs in the world. There’s estimated to be around 200,000 of them in Australia, and this part of the Northern Territory can average as many as 20 crocs per kilometre. So chances of seeing one in the wild are pretty high. You can cruise the billabongs and get your croc-spotting on, maybe even coming across a whopper like the one that was found here back in 1980. Measuring over 6 metres (20-feet), it’s the largest saltwater crocodile sighted in the Northern Territory. They say never smile at a crocodile, but we think smiling is probably the best thing you can do. Play nice kids.
5. Sea lions at Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Ok, so the name of this place gives us a little clue about some of the main wildlife you can spot here. They are indeed adorable. But one of the more memorable moments of your trip could well be watching Australian sea lions at play in Seal Bay Conservation Park. They’ll head out to sea for around three days of fishing, before coming ashore to the beaches and rocky coves for a rest and a play. If you’re lucky you’ll see plenty of pups learning to swim. Australia sea lions are one of the rarest seals in the world, and this place is home to the world’s third largest breeding colony. The population is estimated at around 14,700 and we’ve got 85% of those living right here in South Australia.