South Australia's Adventures of a Lifetime: Spot Elusive Wildlife
Get tips on the best places to witness wildlife in South Australia.
Spotting animals in the wild is never guaranteed, though national parks are prime wildlife territory. Flinders Ranges National Park is an oasis in the desert and attracts abundant wildlife, especially to its gorges and water holes. In the northern Flinders, try the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.
Kangaroo Island is a major wildlife destination thanks to its wilderness areas, plentiful native wildlife, and sea mammals in the waters around the island. Gawler Ranges National Park is off the main tourist radar, but it is also a wildlife haven for kangaroos, emus, wombats, and other species.
If you don’t get to see animals in the wild, Cleland Conservation Park, Gorge Wildlife Park, and Urimbirra Wildlife Park have plenty of local flora and fauna near Adelaide.
Kangaroos can be found all over the state, except perhaps when you want to see them. They inhabit forest, grassland, scrubland, and more arid regions. The best ‘roo-spotting times are dawn and dusk, although they can be a hazard on country roads at those times. The two main species in South Australia are the red kangaroo, largely found inland, and the western grey, found both inland and in coastal areas. Good places to see kangaroos in the wild are the Flinders Ranges, Gawler Ranges, and Kangaroo Island.
Wallabies are small kangaroos, and two species you might see are the yellow-footed rock wallaby, found in the Flinders Ranges in areas such as Brachina Gorge, and the tammar wallaby, which is found only on Kangaroo Island in South Australia—try Flinders Chase National Park.
Koalas are everyone’s favorite cuddly marsupial, and South Australia has large numbers on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills, like in Morialta Conservation Park. That said, they inhabit only a few species of eucalyptus and are not always easy to spot—keep looking up and you’re bound to see them.
Monotremes—egg-laying mammals—are another Australian oddity. The shy platypus is native to Australia’s east coast but was introduced to Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island. You can try the park’s platypus water holes walk, but sightings are rare. Echidnas—small, spiky, ant-eating monotremes—are found all over Australia; sightings of these animals are also uncommon. Try the Heysen Trail from Cape Jervis to Victor Harbor, or Kangaroo Island.
The southern hairy-nosed wombat, South Australia’s faunal emblem, is found in isolated pockets such as the Gawler Ranges. The nocturnal animals, which live in burrows, do make daytime appearances, so you might get lucky. Possums are common in and around Adelaide, particularly the brushtail possum, but they come out only at night. Native mice, bilbies, and bats are also nocturnal.
Some of the easiest mammals to spot in the wild are sea mammals. Sea lions can be found at Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island, and on the Eyre Peninsula at Point Labatt. Dolphins are found right along the coast, and Adelaide has a dolphin sanctuary. The best places to see southern right whales are the Head of the Bight in the far west of the state, and at Victor Harbor.
You can find more than 450 species of bird in South Australia, including many endangered and unique species. The Gluepot Reserve, northeast of Adelaide near the Murray River, is a major birding destination, with 190 species recorded there. Other good birding areas include the Flinders Ranges, the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks, the Coorong in the southeast, and Kangaroo Island. Good birding can also be found close to Adelaide, especially in the Mount Lofty Ranges.
The world’s smallest species of penguin, the little penguin, nests at sites along the coast, but numbers are low, so you might be better off joining an evening tour to see them in locations like Granite Island at Victor Harbor or Kingscote on Kangaroo Island.
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South Australia has some curious lizards: bearded dragons, whose spiny necks swell to scare predators; the aptly named thorny devil; and large goannas, found everywhere from the outback right through to Kangaroo Island.
The state has various species of snake, almost all of them poisonous, though snakes are shy creatures and will do their best to avoid you, so sightings are rare.
Practical Tips: Dawn, dusk, and binoculars—or DDB—will greatly improve your chances of spotting wildlife. Animals are less active during the daytime heat, so cooler months are better for wildlife sightings. Ask locals for likely spots.
Get the App: The Field Guide SA app from the South Australian Museum, available on Apple and Android devices, is an excellent companion for wildlife spotting.