Since Australian native animals are so unique, animal encounters are usually top of the wishlist for most international visitors, and many of them can be seen in the wild in North Queensland.
Most of the cute and furry animals found in Australia are friendly enough that you walk amongst them and feed them in the zoos. So if you’re short on time or visiting with children, a trip to one of the many zoos in the area will enable you to take photos.
However, if you know where to look there’s a pretty good chance of seeing animals in the wild.
Kangaroos are one of the most iconic Australian animals and they are very plentiful right across the country.
If you are on a self-driving road trip you will definitely see them at some point, although take extra care if you’re driving along rural highways at dusk, because they can be a road hazard.
All of the zoo’s have kangaroos so if you go to one of them you will be able to feed them by hand and get your picture taken with one.
A more unusual species of kangaroo that can only be found in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland is the Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo.
Probably the best place to see them in the wild is at the Nerada Tea Estate near Malanda in the Cairns Tablelands.
You are much less likely to find these in the zoo’s because they are only eat particular leaves so they are a bit more difficult to look after. However, they do have one at the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas.
Wallabies are a similar to kangaroos but much smaller. There are several different types but one that you find in NQ is the rock wallaby. They live amongst rocks and rugged terrain and they are amazing to watch as they nimbly hop around steep boulders.
There are two places in NQ where you can get up close and personal with rock wallabies:
- Granite Gorge, near Mareeba on the Cairns Tablelands
- Alma Bay on Magnetic Island.
You can buy kangaroo feed at both of these places to entice them down off the rocks.
The platypus is a lot harder to spot than most native Australian animals but Eungella National Park, near Mackay, is considered to be the best place in Australia to see them.
Other places in North Queensland where you stand a pretty good chance of spotting these elusive creatures are Paluma National Park (north of Townsville) and Petersen’s Creek in Yungaburra in the Cairns Tablelands (at the back of Nick’s restaurant).
The best time of day to see platypus is sunrise and sunset (look for concentric circles on the water’s surface).
If you’re in the Cairns area, a tour company called Wait-a-While Rainforest Tours takes visitors around the Cairns Tablelands to spot wildlife and they have a private viewing area on a farm where you can pretty much guarantee you’ll see platypus. Their tours start later in the day because dusk and night are the best times of day to go wildlife spotting and include a spotlight tour in the rainforest.
Most people who come to North Queensland want to see a saltwater crocodile. They are fascinating creatures but not necessarily something you want to meet face-to-face in the wild.
For this reason, you should approach estuaries, rivers, lakes and even storm drain channels with caution, especially during the wet season. It’s also not unusual for crocs to turn up on beaches occasionally.
One was even caught sauntering down a main street in Cairns a couple of years ago and made it onto primetime news!
Probably the safest way to see them in the wild is by boat. There are boat tour companies in Cairns, the Daintree River, Cape Tribulation and Proserpine near Airlie Beach.
The koala is one of the most iconic Australian native animals but it is under serious threat as towns and suburbs encroach on it’s natural habitat.
Since koalas live off eucalyptus leaves, they are not a rainforest animal so they are not found in the Wet Tropics of FNQ. The only place in North Queensland with a koala colony is on Magnetic Island, just off the coast of Townsville.
More than half of ‘Maggie’ is National Park with lots of bushwalking tracks where you stand a good chance of spotting koalas.
This is home to Australia’s biggest and most northerly Koala colony but if you don’t see any there is plenty of other native wildlife here to spot too.
Cassowaries are extraordinary, prehistoric-looking birds that are entirely unique to North Queensland. You will not find them anywhere else.
They play a vital role in the ecosystem of the rainforests but they are under threat.
Within the Wet Tropics there are estimated to be about 4000 left in the wild, mostly congregated around Girrigun National Park (near Ingham), Mission Beach (Cassowary Coast), Kuranda and the Daintree.
Some of the places where we’ve seen them are in the Daintree, Mossman Gorge, Etty Bay near Innisfail (always a good chance of seeing one here) and Mission Beach. Sometimes they even come out of the forest into suburban areas.
If you are fortunate enough to see a cassowary in the wild, stay well back, they are not known for their hospitality!
If you have limited time in North Queensland your best option of seeing some Australian native animals is to visit one of the many great zoo’s in the region. Most of them are located on wide open properties with many opportunities to get up close and feed the animals.
- Cairns Wildlife Dome (for a very quick visit in the middle of Cairns if you’re pushed for time)
- Rainforestation (Kuranda, near Cairns)
- Kuranda Koala Gardens
- Wildlife Habitat (Port Douglas)
- Hartley’s Crocodile Farm (near Port Douglas)
- Daintree Wild Zoo
- Johnson’s Crocodile Farm (Innisfail)
- Billabong Sanctuary (just south of Townsville)
- Hamilton Island Wildlife Park (Whitsundays)
TRAVEL NQ FAST FACTS
- North Queensland has a rich variety of Australian native wildlife that you may not see in other parts of Australia.
- If you are on a self-drive road trip you are very likely to see wildlife but if not, visit one of the many zoo’s in the region.
- Several accommodation options allow you to experience native wildlife from your balcony. The Canopy Rainforest Treehouses & Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cairns Tablelands is a good example.
Top platypus photo thanks to Tourism & Events Queensland