Getting excited about Finding Dory? Check out these Oz-some Aussie tips on how to see the best animals down under – no fees attached! 

There are places where a group of adults with no kids can feel a little out of place. Bounce houses for one, Chuck E Cheese, playgrounds, and oftentimes — zoos. On our recent trip down under, seeing Australia’s unique animals was right up there with the Sydney Opera House and The Great Barrier Reef for us, but we weren’t sure we wanted to pay the exorbitant admission fees (upward of $80 per person!) to spend just a few hours at the zoo. We had several opportunities to visit a zoo, since there’s one in nearly every major city, in addition to animal encounters and sanctuaries dotted throughout. But after a little bit of research and a little bit of luck, we found you don’t actually need one. Unless you want to see the whole safari, you can actually see Australia’s best wildlife where you should — in the wild.

First things first, you have to decide what you can’t leave without seeing. For us, there were three quintessential Australian animals that you can’t help but think of when you think of Australia: koalas, crocodiles, and of course … kangaroos. If you want to see others (such as Australia’s 14 species of lethal snakes) you may need a zoo, unless you’re exceptionally brave and feel comfortable scouting them out on your own. Being the non-suicidal type of family, we opted to find these animals as safely, cheaply, and naturally as possible.

Our first encounter took place just a five-minute walk from our hotel in Perth. Heirisson Island is a kangaroo reserve, free to the public and in a surprisingly metropolitan location. I feel like we were lucky to stumble upon it, but after a little research, we found that most cities have similar reserves. I was anxious on our first venture, expecting a seven-foot kangaroo to come bounding out of the bushes Jurassic-Park style. After an hour and a half of searching though, we saw nothing but brushy weeds and tall Australian grass full of kamikaze mosquitos. We decided to try again the next day.

It was afternoon on the second day, which is apparently when the kangaroos come out to play. Within 10 minutes, we spotted a group of them — six or so — in the grass. They were much smaller than I imagined, three-feet tall maybe, and adorable, with tall ears and serious faces, their legs springy and agile. For roughly half an hour they watched us, seeing us but not concerned as we inched closer to get pictures of them. The sunset spread across the golden field, illuminating the shine of their fur, casting a glow on the island. A little later, a group of Japanese tourists followed us in and scared them away, but that was okay. We’d spent half an hour with kangaroos in the wild, for FREE!


Koalas were a bit more difficult to track down. It turns out they like their privacy. After locating them I could see why. Koalas sleep for up to 22 hours a day, high in trees that are colored the same as their fur. We drove The Great Ocean Road out of Melbourne two weeks into our trip hoping to spot then, stopping at a turn-off called Koala Cove. We stopped, not expecting to see any based on reviews from fellow tourists, but needed a bathroom break anyway and thought we’d check. Two girls were on the side of the road feeding parrots and offered us their birdseed since they were about to leave.

They walked away, and then one turned, pointing at the trees above us. “Oh, and there’s some koalas up there.” We looked up, and our jaws just dropped. The koalas were right above us, sweet blobs of gray fur, drowsily clinging to the boughs, their white old-man sideburns visible from where we stood. (If you don’t happen to be in that spot, or can’t find them yourself in the wild, there are dozens of koala sanctuaries, though some require admission. We’ve heard good things about Paradise Country on the Gold Coast, and Bungalow Bay Koala Village at Magnetic Island)


Last on my list, but first on my husband’s, was to see a giant Australian crocodile. We opted to do this with the help of professionals (the movie Jumanji scarred both of us at a young age).

We took a crocodile tour in Daintree, choosing the cheapest option ($22 per person). The guide took us through a rainforest thick with trees and logs that all looked like crocodiles to me … until we actually saw one and I realized how wrong I was! You couldn’t miss this 13-foot monster. It was lounging halfway in, halfway out of the water, waiting, according to our guide, for the tide to carry him out. The guide also spotted baby crocs (how he spotted these tiny reptiles I have no idea) and adolescent crocs, as well as a handful of birds.

We spotted other animals as well over the course of our stay without necessarily seeking them out: emus, hundreds of cockatoos, eels, and spiders. Australia is a country rife with wildlife, rare birds, exotic plants, and animals that could be just a short walk away, even in the middle of a city.

If you’re a zoo person, by all means! Support Australia’s amazing zoos — you’ll likely learn more and see more than we did. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to see wild animals in their natural habitat, Australia is one place you can do that … and saving the admission fees doesn’t hurt either.


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About The Author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.