Wildlife travel: The best of New Zealand and Australia

New Zealand and Australia hold a remarkable range of species, many found nowhere else in the world. Here is our pick of four top destinations to add to your wishlist. 

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BBC Wildlife Magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

The Aussies tend to use rather literal naming conventions – they call it how they see it. No prizes, then, for guessing how Kangaroo Island came by its name. Yes, there are roos – plenty of them, specifically the endemic subspecies of western greys, seen in such numbers by early 19th-century explorer Matthew Flinders that they inspired his name for Australia’s third-largest island.

But they’re far from alone on this animal ark, less than an hour by ferry from the mainland near Adelaide; the island is free from dingoes, rabbits and foxes, and more than a third is protected as national or conservation parks.

Most of the Australian icons – koala, platypus, wallaby and echidna – are present. There are also thousands of fur seals and a colony of Australian sealions; don a mask and snorkel for the chance of an exhilarating encounter.

Tiny tammar wallabies, Cape Barren geese and vocal little penguins fill out the menagerie, while the aptly named Remarkable Rocks provide a curious backdrop for the wildlife of Flinders Chase National Park.
 

 

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

At 206km, Ningaloo is the world’s longest fringing reef, in places just a few kilometres offshore. It is very accessible and considered pristine thanks to a lack of local development.

Snorkel off the beach at Coral Bay to see richly coloured coral and dazzling marine inhabitants: some 500 fish species live along Ningaloo. But the big draw is the chance to swim with whale sharks, which arrive to gulp plankton between March and May.

Green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles nest in summer while reef sharks and 7m-wide manta rays are present year-round.

This is also a spot where you can watch humpbacks breaching in sight of land.

 

Kaikoura, New Zealand

The word Kaikoura is derived from the Maori for ‘crayfish meal’, which hints at the sea’s natural bounty here.

Close offshore, the continental shelf plunges down thousands of metres, creating upwelling currents that bring nutrient-rich waters to the surface. The result: not just crayfish, but also plankton, the fish that feed
on them, and an entourage of marine megafauna: resident sperm whales, migrating humpbacks, blue and southern right whales, dusky dolphins and killer whales.

New Zealand fur seals make engaging snorkelling companions, pelagic seabirds are abundant – including 13 albatross species – and whale-watching boat trips offer truly staggering viewing.

 

Tasmanian Devils, Tasmania

The sound of a Tasmanian devil feeding has been likened to a washing machine full of rocks on spin cycle. It’s a crunching maelstrom of torn flesh and splintered bone.

Devils have suffered from habitat loss, persecution and Facial Tumour Disease, though a small population relocated to Maria Island in 2012 has grown to about 50 individuals and sightings are now relatively common. But for an encounter that’s almost guaranteed, try Mountain Valley Wilderness Retreats deep in the island’s north-west, where bait lures devils and quolls onto cabin porches.

Look out for wallabies, pademelons and platypus, too.

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