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Top 3 Things To Do In Australia - Watch Wildlife

Updated on March 25, 2010

The Australian continent is crammed with extraordinary plants and animals of every kind, many of them found nowhere else on Earth. This combination of diversity and uniqueness presents significant challenges, even to experienced wildlife watchers. Zoologists divide Australia into three regions: the arid interior (or outback), the tropical north, and the mainly temperate eucalypt forests and woodlands of the southeast and far southwest. The wildlife of each region is distinct, although there are exceptions.

The outback, or Eyrian region, as it is known to zoologists, encompasses all of Australia's deserts and almost none of its people or infrastructure. For an overseas visitor interested in wildlife, it's undeniably the most daunting of the three regions and also perhaps the most quintessentially Australian. During the heat of the day, check patches of vegetation for shade-seekers of any kind, goannas, small birds, and kangaroos.

If traveling by car, don't drive too fast, many reptiles including snakes, frilled lizards, and shinglebacks are most likely to be seen crossing roads. And if you see only one tree between you and the horizon, then there's a fair chance an ol' man red kangaroo will be taking his ease in the shade beneath it. Thoroughly survey any water holes you come across, finches and small honey-eaters in particular visit such places all day long.

Almost everywhere you travel in Australia, you will be struck by the abundance of birds. True, there are mammals, frogs, and reptiles aplenty, but they are undeniably less obvious and harder to find: most Australian mammals, for example, are active only at night. But birds are obvious everywhere.

The ubiquity of birds is just as true in tropical Australia, the Torresian region, as elsewhere. Kakadu's wetlands, for example, shelter vast numbers of magpie geese and other wildfowl, and even the remote badlands of the Kimberley are noted for their endemic birds. But the bewildering diversity of tropical bird life, and wildlife generally, reaches its peak in the highland rain forests of northeastern Queensland. The Atherton Tableland near Cairns alone has nine species of endemic birds and seven mammals, plus numerous frogs, skinks, geckoes, freshwater fish, and insects found nowhere else.

Though kangaroos and Australian landlubbers ten to top the wish list of most visitors, the country's marine life is so diverse it demands attention.

All around the coastline, opportunities abound for getting close to sea creatures of every kind. In winter, you can view wandering albatrosses off Wollongong in New South Wales; in spring, you can follow the migration of humpback whales at several points along the east and west coasts. Summer travelers can watch southern right whale mothers nurse their calves from cliff-tops almost anywhere along the Great Australian Bight and witness the evening parades of fairy penguins returning to their nests on Philip Island in Victoria or Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

And all this without a mention of the Great Barrier Reef. By far the largest organic object on earth, the Reef sprawls for 1,430 miles along the coast of Queensland. Almost anyone who can swim can don a snorkel and flippers and explore the reefs that fringe numerous islands to experience this underwater wonderworld.

Continued In: Top 3 Things To Do In Australia - Watch Wildlife, Part 2

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