Ultimate Great Barrier Reef Wildlife Encounters

Christine Retschlag on August 29th, 2017

Whether you are on land or at sea, there’s plenty of places to go wild with wildlife spotting along the Great Barrier Reef.  

Check out these top spots in which to get up close and personal with birds, turtles, whales, rays, platypus, sharks, fish, crocodiles, koalas and even a kangaroo or two. 


Queensland boasts a proliferation of places along which to view some of the most colourful bird species on the planet. But one of the best known is Heron Island which attracts so many feathered friends that it is closed for one month each year due to the large population. During the other 11 months, enjoy this breeding and nesting sanctuary for Black Noddy Terns and Wedgetail Shearwaters.


For a rare chance to view Australia’s iconic, yet shy, mammal in the wild, head to Eungella National Park in the Mackay Hinterland. There are dedicated viewing platforms here for platypus which like to appear around dusk to show off their superior swimming skills. 

Unique platypus experiences at Finch Hatton Gorge in the Mackay Hinterland

Take a one-of-a-kind scuba dive tour in the clear rainforest waters of Finch Hatton Gorge where platypus live and play. Or you can learn insider secrets to spotting platypus while enjoying a unique dining experience in the rainforest.



Head to Tropical North Queensland between May and August and out with a Cairns or Port Douglas tour with a strict permit for a chance to view Dwarf Minke Whales which migrate there every year. Further south, during winter, Hervey Bay is considered the best place on the planet in which to view humpback whales, with a number of whale watching tour operating between August and November. 


The Southern Great Barrier Reef is synonymous with turtle spotting and Bundaberg’s Mon Repos beach between November and January offers your best chance to witness loggerhead, green, leatherback and flatback turtles laying their eggs. From January to March, experience the wonder as the hatchlings make the precarious journey towards the ocean.

The best way to witness these 'miracles on Mon Repos' is through a guided turtle encounter night tour run by the Mon Repos Turtle Centre.

For a chance to swim with turtles in their natural habitat, the waters around Lady Musgrave, Lady Elliot, Heron and Wilson islands are full of turtles. 


Lady Elliot Island is considered a prime spot in which to swim with Manta Rays who are attracted to this particular part of Queensland’s giant ecosystem. These gentle giants can grow as large as four metres wide and the chance to swim with them is unforgettable. On Daydream Island in the Whitsundays, partake in Stingray Splash, an experience where you can feed the baby stingrays. 


So many fantastic fish, so little time. To swim with the handsome potato cod, head to the Cod Hole on Ribbon Reef on the Outer Great Barrier Reef in Tropical North Queensland. You’ll find plenty of Parrot Fish off of Green Island, in Tropical North Queensland, Maori Wrasse off of Hayman Island and Reefworld in the Whitsundays, and that lovable clown Nemo anywhere along the Great Barrier Reef. 


To dive with sharks, head to Double Island Point’s Wolf Rock off of the Fraser Coast which is home to grey nurses, or head to Neptune's Reef World at Hervey Bay to snorkel with sharks. Further north, join a tour offering shark diving off the northern ribbon reefs in Tropical North Queensland. There’s plenty of harmless reef sharks along the Great Barrier Reef. 

Coral Spawning

Witness thousands of tiny sperm and egg bundles released in the spectacular display that is known as coral spawning. But be quick, as it only happens once a year, for four to six days from the full moon each November. Tours out of Cairns offer night-time snorkel and dive trips during this period. 


Never smile at a crocodile unless, of course, you are in a safe environment. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures in Cairns is arguably one of the best places in which to witness and learn about these incredible reptiles. There are also a number of tours in the Whitsundays and Tropical North Queensland that take croc spotting boats out in the wild. 



If breakfast with a koala bear is your thing, there are two great places in Queensland where you can experience these marvelous marsupials. Head to Bungalow Bay Koala Village on Magnetic Island off of Townsville, or Wild Life Koala Café on Hamilton Island to cuddle these cuties. 

Kangaroos and wallabies

For a truly iconic experience of seeing kangaroos and wallabies in the wild and on an Australian beach, Cape Hillsborough National Park, near Mackay, is the best place to do this. Early morning and late afternoon offer your best chances for this truly breathtaking experience. 


Christine Retschlag

Christine Retschlag

Christine Retschlag is an award-winning Australian journalist who has worked in newspapers, magazines and online for the past 25 years in Australia, Hong Kong, London and Singapore. In 2006, she won the Australian Travel Writer of the Year award for Best Trade Story as well as the Jack Butters Memorial Award for Travel Writing Excellence. In 2007 she won Best Australian Story over 1000 words and in 2014 won Best Food Travel Story. She is also the author and architect of the successful travel blog: The Global Goddess.

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