Spot seals and go twitching in island paradise
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The 123 picturesque islands off the Geraldton coast are familiar to fishermen and lobster-catchers but few others: the Abrolhos Islands have only been opened up to tourism since 2016 after being made a national park. They are known for their pristine waters teeming in marine life and beautiful yet treacherous coral reefs that have claimed many a ship over the centuries, most notably the Batavia, the subsequent mutiny of which in 1629 did not, shall we say, end well. The islands are one of the world’s most important breeding grounds for more than 90 species of seabird, including the vulnerable lesser noddy and the Pacific reef heron, and the white-sand beaches are the sunning-spot of choice for Australian sea lions. Migrating humpback whales also make the waters of the Abrolhos their home during the July-October migration season. Tourism plans include a campsite and possible floating barge-style accommodation.
Spy koalas in the wild
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It’s rare to see a koala in the wild – the Australian Koala Foundation estimates the population currently numbers less than 100,000 and that figure is ever decreasing, thanks to human destruction of their habitat. The story is much cheerier at Yanchep National Park, north of Perth, where all visitors have to do is walk a 240-metre boardwalk and look up – there they’ll be, snoozing in tree forks, munching on eucalyptus or going about their business in an extremely leisurely fashion.
Chat with the world’s tiniest penguins
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The unambiguously named Penguin Island off Rockingham is home to Western Australia’s largest colony of fairy penguins. The smallest of all the penguins, the fairy penguin weighs about one kilogram and is 30 centimetres tall – but their vociferous vocalising belies their size (expect to hear snorts, screeches, growls and dramatic trumpeting). There are regular ferries taking visitors to the island, which is also home to a colony of 500 pelicans (no word on how they feel about being skipped over in the naming department) and other nesting seabirds.
Swim with whale sharks
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The whale shark – in truth not a whale but a carpet shark, or wobbegong – is the definition of a gentle giant. There’s no possible way to comprehend the majesty of a whale shark at close quarters. In crystal-clear water at Ningaloo Reef, visitors can swim alongside the minibus-size creatures, which weigh about 19,000 kilograms. (The largest ever recorded? It weighed 21,320kg and was 12.65 metres in length.) It’s possible to get close enough to see their intricate mottled patterning and five large sets of gills.
Provide a perch for a bird of prey
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Australia’s largest birds of prey make their home at Margaret River’s Eagles Heritage Wildlife Centre where rehabilitation of injured birds, breeding of endangered species and education are priorities. Eagles, hawks, falcons and owls can be spotted along the one-kilometre Eagles Heritage Walk, and stay to see the daily flight displays. It’s even possible to don a leather glove and have one of the majestic beauties land on your arm.
Commune with native mammals on Dirk Hartog Island
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At 62,000 hectares, Dirk Hartog is Western Australia’s largest island. It became a national park in 2009 and since then the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife has set about returning it to its pre-pastoral state (it once served as a station to 20,000 sheep). A successful eradication of all feral pests was the first step. The second? Reintroducing 10 mammal species, including rufous hare-wallabies, banded hare-wallabies, chuditches (also known as the Western quoll), mulgaras (tiny marsupial carnivores), greater stick-nest rats (also known as the house-building rat), desert mice, Shark Bay mice, heath mice, western barred bandicoots (the smallest species of bandicoot, weighing just 220g), dibblers (pictured – small, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupials) and boodies (which have a number of other names, including the burrowing betong and the short-nosed rat-kangaroo).
Watch the annual whale migration
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It takes time to grow accustomed to the incongruous beauty of desiccated red outback in the same frame as the white sand and clear turquoise water of the ocean at Kalbarri. Once you’ve reconciled this natural spectacle, the next visual hurdle is the slow progress of majestic humpback whales and their calves making their annual migration from their feeding ground in Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Pacific between June and November. Some 22,000 of these stately creatures pass by this way each year and it’s also possible to spot southern right whales, Bryde’s whales and false killer whales.
Take selfies with quokkas and fur seals
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Rottnest Island, located just offshore from Perth, is home to the world’s cutest and most photogenic marsupial, the quokka. It’s the only place you’ll see the so-called “world’s happiest creature”, a title earned courtesy of its perpetual good-natured grin and curious nature. Looking like a cross between a kangaroo and a wombat, except weeny, the quokka is actually a type of wallaby. It can bound and hop but if necessary it can climb trees, too. The little creatures have really come into their own in the age of the selfie: see evidence on Instagram.
Make friends with dolphins
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Joyous wild bottle-nose dolphins have been visiting Monkey Mia’s shores for more than 40 years and these days they’re rewarded with a sizeable audience. A pod of dolphins began turning up at Monkey Mia, 25 kilometres northeast of Denham, in the 1960s and the interaction between human and dolphin proved so pleasing to both species that each has kept on turning up, daily, to this day. The visits are now regulated by rangers, who nominate several lucky dolphin-watchers for hand-feeding duties (the menu: tasty fish).
Watch black swans take flight
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With their lustrous black plumage and bright-red bills, black swans are permanently dressed to the nines. The graceful birds have become an emblem for Western Australians, adorning products and services (dips, beer and taxis to name a few) and lending their name to the Swan River (originally named the Black Swan River, or Swarte Swaene-Revier by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1697), which flows through Perth. The best place to observe the large waterbird is Lake Monger Reserve, five kilometres north of Perth, where wetlands provide a prosperous hunting ground.
Explore whaling history in Albany
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Albany is now a safe port of call for migrating southern right, blue and humpback whales, but whaling was one of Western Australia’s first industries, and the city’s whaling station was a major employer until 1978. Now, the southernmost Western Australian city is a major tourism hub and whale-watching cruises depart regularly from its port, though it’s possible to spot the imposing giants from the shore. Find out more about Albany’s history with whales at the Historic Whaling Station at Discovery Bay, located inside the former whaling station.