Australia is a huge continent that is separated from the rest of the world by hundreds of miles of sea. Over millions of years, dozens of species of animals have evolved in Australia that can be found nowhere else on earth. While kangaroos can’t be found hopping down the streets of Sydney and you won’t see a koala munching on gum leaves in Centennial Park, there are still many places left in Australia where you can view indigenous species in their natural habitat. If you are on a family vacation, though, the best way to see them is in the sanctuaries that have been created for them throughout the country.
Billabong Sanctuary, Townsville
Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville, Far North Queensland is set in the midst of 25 acres of natural bushland. Within this relatively small area are 3 distinctively different natural habitats for wildlife consisting of rainforest, eucalypt forest and wetlands. This makes it the perfect place for the over 100 species of fauna that call Billabong Sanctuary home. Among the more popular species you can get “up close and personal” with here from a safe distance is the salt water crocodile. Actually, if you like, you can actually get even more up close and personal and touch a live crocodile, cuddle a koala or have your picture taken with a live python around your shoulders!
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Right in the heart of the Queensland Gold Coast, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to hundreds of species of native Australian animals. Originally a bird sanctuary, it has become Australia’s most popular wildlife sanctuaries. Aside from all that you can see and do during the day, every night of the week you can enjoy dining, an authentic Aboriginal music and dance display and a guided tour that shows you what the birds and animals get up to after dark. During the day, there are even natural thrill rides in Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Called Green Challenges, they include flying foxes, rope challenges, a Tarzan swing and other challenges that make a visit to this sanctuary anything but a casual “walk in the park.”
Karakamia Sanctuary, not far from Perth, Western Australia, is one of the 25 Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) sanctuaries that are scattered throughout Australia. Karakamia Sanctuary covers 680 acres of natural bushland and is home to 18 mammal, 106 bird, 24 reptile and 9 amphibian indigenous species as well as over 250 native species of plants. Included in the list of species are at least 15 endangered species of animals, including the Tammar Wallaby, the Numbat and the Quokka. Originally purchased in 1991 to protect the endangered species in the sanctuary’s Jarrah forest, Karakamia Sanctuary is open to the public. Just an hour and a half’s drive from Perth, one of the most popular activities in this pristinely preserved forest is the guided evening walk. The name “karakamia” is an aboriginal word that refers to the red-tailed black cockatoos, whose evening call, “karak! karak!” fills the air at dusk.
Australian Reptile Park
On the Central Coast of New South Wales, just an hour by train or car from Sydney, is the Australian Reptile Park. Originally a small park in the heart of the city of Gosford, the Australian Reptile Park was moved to a much larger and more natural setting in 1996. For years, the biggest drawcard at the Australian Reptile Park was Eric the Crocodile, an over 15 foot long salt water crocodile that was freighted down to the Central Coast from the Northern Territories. Today, the park includes freshwater and saltwater crocodiles, American alligators, dozens of species of snakes, including Australia’s and the world’s deadliest as well as a host of more user friendly animals. One of the favorite children’s activities in the Australian Reptile Park is hand-feeding the kangaroos that walk freely in many public areas within the park confines.
Healesville Sanctuary is located just an hour’s drive outside of Melbourne. Part of the Victorian zoo system, this sanctuary features over 200 species of animals in a natural setting. Victoria’s cooler climate makes it an ideal habitat for many native species that do not thrive elsewhere in Australia. Included in the list of indigenous species found in Healesville Sanctuary are many of Australia’s most loved, including koalas, kangaroos, wombats, emus, dingoes and platypuses. Healesville Sanctuary offers visitors unique opportunities rarely found elsewhere, such as its “Keep for the Morning” program that allows visitors to learn first hand what it’s like to work with animals and even a “Vet Assistant for a Morning” program that allows you to assist a working veterinarian as he makes his rounds.