“You’ve Gotta See This” is author and photographer J.M. Hoffman‘s occasional column about unusually enticing destinations. Connect with him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, or stop by his photography website for more exotic photos.
Until you’ve flown to Australia from New York you can’t appreciate just how huge the world really is. Or how wondrous, because Australia has it all: exotic wildlife (and not just kangaroos and koalas), welcoming communities, delicious food, and breath-taking vistas, to say nothing of the upside-down moon and stars. There’s a reason so many people want to see Australia.
Just getting there is an adventure. It’s so far away that you can’t fly direct from the East Coast of the U.S., and no matter what you do, it will take a long time. I opted to fly through China for my trip, as I’ll describe another time, but there are other good options — and if you plan ahead, they’re almost free.
Here in this first installment of “You’ve Gotta See This” I show you an easy way to see some of Australia’s uniquely stunning wildlife.
Australia is of course the only place you can see kangaroos and koalas in their original native habitat, so it’s worth flying over just for that. But the country boasts much more.
For instance, there’s the unbelievable “Bird Made out of Wood” (my name), or “Tawny Frogmouth” (everyone else’s name):
At the opposite end of the camouflage spectrum are dazzling parrots and cockatoos:
Still on the topic of birds, Australia is home to the emu, which doesn’t fly:
And they’ve got huge bats there, which do fly, but aren’t birds:
That’s all in addition to cute koalas…
…and the iconic kangaroo, which can be peaceful…
(I feel like the two smaller ‘roos on the sides in that last shot are guarding a fight scene mafia-style: “Nothing to see here. Move along!”)
And there are mini-kangaroos (again, my name), properly called wallabies:
(I’ve got hi-res versions of these, and more, on my photography website.)
Because my trip was in winter, I didn’t see any of Australia’s famous snakes or lizards. Next time.
You can see most of these creatures, and more, in zoos and other artificial settings in Australia (or elsewhere, for that matter), but there’s really nothing like observing them in the wild, and here you’re in luck. The nature conservation company Echidna Walkabout operates out of the major city of Melbourne and offers a wide range of outings into the Australian wild — everything from day tours to month-long trips.
Melbourne is an ideal starting point for exploring Australia’s wonders, because it’s a large yet navigable city that’s right next to incredibly diverse nature: an hour west of the city is the You Yangs Regional Park, with its dry climate and dry, open eucalyptus woodlands where koalas and kangaroos live; and east of the city are the Dandenong Ranges with their wet climate and wet eucalyptus forests where stunning birds flock. And you’re right next to the Yarra Bend Park, which you have to see: It’s inhabited by tens of thousands of huge “flying fox” bats.
You really want to explore all three spots, preferably for more than one day each. But if you’re short on time, start with the You Yangs.
You can visit all of these places — and many others — on your own, of course, though some parts of the You Yangs are closed to the general public. Even without a guide, you can’t miss the bats in Yarra Bend Park, and some of the birds in the Dandenongs are pretty conspicuous. You might even stumble across kangaroos and wallabies in the You Yangs without guidance.
But to find a koala you really have to know what you’re looking for, and you could stare right at a Tawny Frogmouth and still miss it, which is why a naturalist is for sure the way to go. So give Echidna Walkabout a call (and tell them I sent you). You won’t regret it.
If you want good photographs, you’ll want a wide-angle lens for the landscapes and a quality telephoto for the animals.
I brought the Canon 7D mark II with Canon’s suburb 100-400mm mark II “L” lens for close-ups, and the Fuji X-T1 with the equally suburb 18-135mm lens for more general shots. On the Nikon side, you can’t do better than the D500 coupled with the 200-500mm lens. An all-in-one superzoom like the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 is another good way to go.
No matter which camera you bring, you’ll end up with some fantastic shots. Be sure to tag me on Instagram when you post them!
Good To Know
Most people, including holders of U.S. passports, need a visa to enter Australia. Usually the on-line Electronic Travel Authority is sufficient.
I found Australia to be generally clean, safe, easy to navigate, and without major health risks.
ATMs are plentiful and credit cards are widely accepted.
Electrical wall outlets in Australia use their own plug type, which is different from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and the U.K. If you want to plug anything in while you’re there you’ll need the appropriate “type I” converter.
A local SIM for your phone (always a good idea) is easy to obtain at major airports, electronics stores, and other outlets, but getting it will take you longer than in many other countries, and you have to do it in-country, because Australian law requires that you verify your identity to get a SIM.
Australians drive on the left side of the road, something you might want to think about before you rent a car.
Australia’s summers (starting in January) are generally hot and humid, with occasionally brutal temperatures. Winters are usually mild, though temperatures can drop below freezing. Both seasons are good for wildlife viewing.
Have a great trip, and, again, tag me on Instagram with your photos.