Let's face it – Australian animals have more of a reputation for being deadly and terrifying than cute and cuddly. But outside the outback's prickly veneer, Australia is home to some of the world's most adorable and diverse creatures. Many of Australia's wildlife colonies are located just a short drive outside of the major cities.
If you've got your campervan loaded up, here are nine animals that will let you get up close and personal on your next road trip adventure.
1. Seals – Montague Island, NSW
Image source: http://scienceillustrated.com.au/blog/wp-content/gallery/sea-dogs-of-montague-island/dsc_0153_2.jpg
Montague Island, off Narooma on the Princes Highway in southern NSW, is famous for its incredibly clear waters and stunning collection of wild marine life. The island is inhabited by the State's largest colony of fur seals, which shares the clean waters with penguins, dolphins, migrating humpback whales and the occasional killer whale.
Populations of Australian Fur Seals often swell in late winter/early spring, however it is possible to spot them all-year round on a chartered tour. Island Charters Narooma is one company that also offers scuba diving tours with the playful fur seal pups. The tours last between 3-4 hours and will set you back $95AUD.
2. Wombats – Healesville, VIC
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These cute animals may look pudgy, but they are actually an adorable bundle of muscle. Wombats can run 100m in less than 10 seconds, which puts them on par with Olympic finalists. While they look like small, less terrifying bears, Wombats are completely herbivorous, and live on a healthy diet of grass, shrubs, roots, barks and moss.
There are three main types of Wombat – the Bare Nosed (pictured), Southern Hairy Nosed and Northern Hairy Nosed. Depending on the species, Wombats can be found right across Australia from WA to Tasmania, and it is recommended that you slow down and keep an eye out for the Wombat Crossing signs when on the road.
If you are looking to spot a Wombat in the wild, try camping in the Kangaroo Valley region, near Nowra, NSW, or else take the camper down to Victoria's Yarra Valley and meet a furry wombat at the Healesville Sanctuary from $20AUD. Give them a stroke and pose for a photo – just remember to book ahead.
3. Koalas - Cape Otway, VIC
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This photo depicts a koala eating gum leaves, which along with sleeping comprise the vast majority of its life. Unsurprisingly, Koalas are quite docile creatures in the wild and if you are looking to spot this cuddly creature in the wild your best bet is to head to Victoria and stay at one of the campsites along the Great Ocean Road such as Bimbi Park at Cape Otway.
This site is about an hour from the 12 Apostles rock formation and features a colony of wild koalas as well as an outdoor cinema, laundry and kiosk. Unpowered campsites begin from $20AUD a night for two adults.
4. Dolphins – Monkey Mia, WA
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Flip out over flipper as a child? Then head to Monkey Mia for a chance to live out your dolphin-lover dreams. Located in Shark Bay, Monkey Mia attracts schools of dolphins to its serenely blue shores on a daily basis and is perhaps Australia's best place to have a close encounter with a dolphin.
Entrance to the Monkey Mia reserve starts from $8.50AUD while Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort offers powered camping sites from $54AUD. Catch a Dolphin feeding on the beach between 8am and 12pm – if you get really lucky, you might get to do it yourself.
5. Fairy Penguins – Phillip Island, VIC
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Everybody is eager to head home at the end of a hard day, and fairy penguins are no exception. Escape the daily grind and watch the adorable 30cm tall Fairy Penguins making the nightly trip to their burrows at Phillip Island.
Just a day's drive from Melbourne, the Phillip Island Nature Park has erected viewing platforms and stands so you can get a great view of the parade. Adult tickets begin from $23.80AUD and it is a perfect way to wind down a day.
6. Baby turtles – Bargara, QLD
Image Source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/turtle-power-surfs-up-for-rescued-loggerhead-sea-turtle-babies-at-coffs-harbour/story-fni0cx12-1226919650139
The only thing cuter than turtles are baby turtles (also known as 'hatchlings'). Whether hatchlings are male or female depends on the temperature where they are in the nest, known as the "pivotal temperature." After around 45 to 70 days, the hatchlings break their soft egg casing and being their treacherous march to the surf.
Mon Repos Conservation Park near the beach town of Bargara, is the place to be during hatching season. Visits start from $11.25AUD. Drive the 4.5 hours from Brisbane for the chance to hold a turtle egg (gently!), or help carry the newborns down to the water's edge. Traveller's tip: book way, way in advance, or you may miss all the action.
7. Kangaroos and Joeys – Murramarang, NSW
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These quintessential Australian animals are often seen in national parks, reserves and campsites around the country. Naturally vegetative, they are most active during dawn and dusk. Depot Beach in Murramarang National Park is a hot spot of Kangaroo hopping action if you are travelling down the NSW south coast.
8. Dingo Pup Encounter – Fraser Island, QLD
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If you survived the near lethal cuteness of that photo, you probably want to see these dingo pups in person. Fraser Island just off the Queensland coast is one of Australia's best places to spot a Dingo in the wild. You can camp on Fraser Island, however you will need an e-permit from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service as well as a 4WD. Most of the island is undeveloped and not suitable for ordinary vehicles.
When spotting dingos in the wild, it is important to be 'dingo-safe', particularly during the whelping season between September and October. This is when young dingos begin to venture from their dens looking to hunt. Female dingos are particularly aggressive during this time and it is advised to always walk in groups, never let your children out of sight and keep all food and rubbish locked up and securely stored away in the camper or tent.
9. Baby Dugongs – Stradbroke Island, QLD
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While it's a little hard to see how Dugongs inspired sea tales of mermaids and sirens, Dugongs remain an extraordinary animal to encounter. These large creatures are now extremely rare but if you are looking to see them in the wild your best bet would be at Stradbroke Island and Moreton Bay, just south Brisbane. The wetlands and sandflats of the Moreton Bay Marine Park, a zoned protection area, is home to between 600-800 dugongs and many of the local dolphin cruises include dugong spotting as part of the tour.
As dugongs live in the warm coastal waters right across the top end of Australia, another great place to get up and close to them is Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Recent estimates show that over 14,000 dugongs live off the coast of WA and they usually travel in herds of around 100 at a time. Ningaloo Lighthouse Caravan Park has both powered and unpowered site from $25AUD a day and is a great base to kick off your dugong seeking adventure.