What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Australia? If a koala or kangaroo popped into your mind, you’re not alone. When planning a family vacation to Australia, the to-do list isn’t finished until it highlights Australia’s wild side.
Fact is, there are so many critters that call Tropical North Queensland home, you could spend your entire Australia holiday meeting and learning about them all. Here are a few of my favorite experiences and Australia animal photos.
Great Barrier Reef
It doesn’t matter how old or young your kids are, a trip to the Great Barrier Reef is a must. Come face to face with a turtle snoozing among the coral surrounding Low Isles or catch a glimpse of a shark cruising around on the outer reef.
If you’re hoping for animal encounters that typically mean staying dry, you won’t have to travel far. Though Port Douglas and Cairns may be best known as the launching point for the Great Barrier Reef, the area is also a home to some of Australia’s iconic critters.
Breakfast with the Birds
Even on vacation, getting the family up and out the door in the morning can be the hardest part of the day. Everyone will move faster if breakfast involves animals. Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is a wildlife park that encourages amazing animal encounters, starting with Breakfast with the Birds.
The buffet breakfast is family-friendly with many options, including the Australian favorite Vegemite on toast. But when it comes down to it, it’s not about the food, it’s about the company. Within minutes of sitting down, a bird, or two or more will stop by your table to say hello hoping you’re in a sharing mood. The birds fly and roam freely and apparently know breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
“He drank my brother’s orange juice,” said 7 year-old Ella from Zurich, Switzerland. The same sneaky bird also stole her mom’s Vegemite toast.
So know you may have to guard your food, but you’ll have a fabulous time doing it.
When you’re finished eating, start exploring. Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is divided into three separate areas; the Wetlands Habitat, Rainforest Habitat and Grasslands Habitat. The park setting, with lagoons, lakes, waterfalls and a large range of flora and fauna, succeeds in making you forget you’re in Port Douglas. The koalas are a popular stop, but take your time and wander all the habitat pathways. Many animals roam freely and you never know when they’ll want to say hello. A kangaroo hopped up while I was adjusting my camera lens, then took my breath away when I realized he had come close enough to touch. Plan on at least a few hours to meet and greet the many social residents.
Some of Australia’s critters aren’t the cuddly type, but they still get your attention. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures doesn’t have anything against cute and cuddly, but here crocodiles are king. 25 minutes south of Port Douglas and 40 minutes north of Cairns, come early and plan on staying at least half the day. When you arrive grab a copy of the planned activities for the day. There are a few must-dos on your list.
Crocodile sightings are guaranteed during the boat cruise on Hartley’s Lagoon. This manmade lagoon covers five acres and is home to 19 crocodiles including Big Ted. At close to 1800 pounds, he’s the largest crocodile at Hartley’s. Keep your camera at hand during the cruise, because whether it’s Big Ted or one of his closest friends, when your guide demonstrates how they pole feed crocodiles, you’ll want to be ready to get the shot. You’ll never be ready for the sound a crocodile makes when it slams it jaws shut. Guaranteed shivers.
“If you could bench press a car, maybe you could open a crocodile’s jaws,” said Rick Lingard, Wildlife Keeper.
Crocodile Farm Tour
Hartley’s is also a working crocodile farm that can hold up to 5-thousand animals. Estuarine Crocodiles are raised primarily for their skins and meat, but nothing goes to waste. It’s one thing to see crocodiles in a wild-like setting, but seeing crocodiles of all shapes and sizes in a breeding pen is just as intriguing – it just doesn’t fit the farm image most parents and kids have in their minds.
The information you gain on the farm tour just might give you the courage to taste crocodile meat. I had salt & pepper crocodile at the on-site restaurant Lilies and would order it again. Not that I’m suggesting it, but parents probably could convince a less-than-adventurous child it was chicken. The fact that it’s served on crispy French fries doesn’t hurt either.
Though the emphasis is on crocodiles, you can see an array of wildlife including birds, turtles, cassowaries and those cuddly wallabies and koalas. And if you opt for a private guided tour, you can add cuddling with a koala to your list of favorite vacation moments. Meeting and holding Byron was no doubt one of the many highlights of my trip to Australia. I can’t wait to introduce him to my daughters.
Editorial Note: Dana’s trip to Australia was hosted by Tourism Queensland, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann