Native Australian Wildlife At Its Best in South Australia
South Australia, with its vast tracts of pristine landscape, boasts a wide variety of natural history and wildlife based experiences in unspoilt surroundings ranging from cuddling koalas, whale watching and swimming with sea lions and dolphins, to exploring mysterious underground caves and taking 4WD vehicles along deserted, sandy beaches.
Australia is home to a huge range of plants and animals and South Australia has a greater diversity than any other part of the continent. And, with more than 300 national parks located throughout the State, visitors could be forgiven for not knowing where to begin their quest for a wildlife holiday packed with flora and fauna.
This release is intended to provide a snapshot of what South Australia has to offer visitors interested in natural history and wildlife, and includes suggestions for activities across the seasons:
See South Australia's 'wildlife calendar" here
Head of Bight, 78kms west of Yalata on the Eyre Peninsula, is considered to be Australia’s best land-based vantage point from which to view spectacular southern right whales at play. Part of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, Australia’s second largest marine park after the Great Barrier Reef, this is where the white sand dunes and beaches meet the Bunda cliffs of the Nullarbor.
The most reliable time of year to view these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat is in July and August. Having left the icy Antarctic waters in May for the warmer coastal comfort of their South Australian breeding grounds, up to 100 whales, including calves, can be seen in the waters adjacent to the Bunda Cliffs until early October. Adults, who can viewed from an excellent viewing platform, range from 16 to 18 metres and calves from five to seven metres in length.
SEA LIONS and DOLPHINS
While whales appear for a few months of the year, colonies of sea lions have made South Australia their permanent home. At Baird Bay on the Eyre Peninsula visitors can participate in four-hour excursions that include swimming with sea lions and dolphins. Alan and Trish Payne of Baird Bay Charters also offer accommodation at their Baird Bay Ocean Eco Apartments. www.bairdbay.com
On Kangaroo Island, a guided tour of Seal Bay reveals a beach packed with hundreds of sea-lions who spend their days fishing in deep, pristine waters, returning to sun themselves on the sand and nurture their young. Because of its isolation from native and introduced predators, the island is teeming with wildlife, including a population of about 6,000 New Zealand fur seals, best seen at Cape du Couedic.
Meanwhile, the team at Temptation Sailing has noticed a pod of dolphins from their 58 foot catamaran off the coast at Glenelg near Adelaide harassing puffer fish until they puff themselves up and float to the surface. The dolphins then toss the puffer fish to each other, similar to a game of catch! Usually there were around seven puffer fish and four dolphins involved in the game. www.dolphinboat.com.au
The birdlife in South Australia is prolific especially in the Coorong National Park, an hour’s drive south east of Adelaide on the Limestone Coast. Considered by many to be one of the most important water bird habitats in Australia, The Coorong acts as a magnet to huge numbers of birds with its shallow lagoons protected from the Southern Ocean by a line of sand dunes.
The 230 bird species found in the Coorong include cormorants, albatrosses, pie-eyed oyster catchers, crested and fairy terns, grebes, gulls and the world’s largest breeding colony of Australian pelicans. The wetlands and lagoons of the Murray River also teem with birdlife, with black swans, egrets and many species of ducks thriving in the shallow waters and river reeds.
Australia's largest bird of prey is the wedge-tailed eagle. With a wingspan of nearly three metres (almost nine feet), it can often be seen soaring above the jutting ridges of the Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound. The Flinders Ranges is also the place to see multi-coloured parrots, galahs, corellas and honeyeaters.
GREAT WHITE SHARKS
Port Lincoln, located on the Spencer Gulf that empties into the Southern Ocean, is home to many spectacular and rare sea creatures including the blue whale, giant squid and sea lions. However, there is another, namely the great white shark. It is possible to get close and personal with these giants of the deep by diving in a metal safety cage as organised by MV Calypso Star Charter, a luxurious and comfortable vessel able to accommodate up to eight passengers on four and one-day tours. www.sharkcagediving.com.au
Near the pretty coastal town of Penneshaw on Kangaroo island and on Granite Island off Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsula, it is possible to see hundreds of little penguins making their way home as night falls after a hard day's fishing. They are sometimes referred to as blue, little blue and fairy penguins, and can be seen in these locations all year round, where their burrows are located in the rock faces.
LEAFY SEA DRAGONS
The South Australian state marine emblem is the delicate leafy sea dragon which inhabits the waters off the southern coast of Kangaroo Island and Fleurieu Peninsula and can be spotted there all year round. With a body shaped like a sea horse covered with leaf-like membranes, this rare creature reaches maturity at two years of age, when the males care for the young in a pouch.
Kangaroos are common throughout South Australia especially in the Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges. Kangaroo Island has its own unique kangaroo, a smaller, long-haired, darker coloured sub-species of the western grey kangaroo that can be found on the mainland.
Koalas can be seen frequently in the wild on Kangaroo Island and in the National Parks of the Adelaide Hills, usually perched high in the branches of gum trees. They spend most of their day sleeping and wake around dusk to start feeding. Visitors to Cleland National Park in the Adelaide Hills have the opportunity to hold a koala.
Also known as spiny anteaters, echidnas are common on Kangaroo Island. With sharp spiny quills and a sticky tongue, they are more likely to be spotted during the winter months usually searching and digging for ants and termites.
These shy creatures can occasionally be glimpsed on the high rocky outcrops in the Flinders Ranges, particularly in Mount Remarkable National Park, which conserves colonies of the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby. In the early days of European settlement, the beautifully marked wallaby was almost hunted to extinction for its much-valued fur.
The southern hairy-nosed wombat can be found in a number of places, including the Murray River and the Gawler Ranges on the Eyre Peninsula.
Interestingly, in 2010 an anonymous American donor gave US$8 million (£4.8m) to The Wombat Awareness Organisation (WAO), the only body specialising in the rescue of southern hairy nosed wombats. Based in Mannum, this non profit organisation specialises in large-scale rescue and rehabilitation of wombats. With drought, sarcoptic mange, vehicular incidents and culling attempts just some of the hazards threatening the survival of the wombat, the need for the WAO’s services is great.
This donation is set to help with the purchase of a 17,000 acre portion of land on Portee Station on the Murray River. www.wombatawareness.com
The emu, an Australian icon to equal the kangaroo, can be sighted frequently roaming the grasslands of the Flinders and Gawler Ranges.
SAMPLE NATURE RESERVES
Gluepot Reserve, located near Waikerie in the semi-arid South Australian mallee, is considered by many to be one of Australia’s most impressive reserves located in the Riverland Biosphere. One of only 12 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Australia, the 50,000-hectare area of virgin mallee scrub contains no less than six nationally endangered bird species and a unique flora and fauna adapted to the harsh conditions. The Gluepot Reserve Environmental Education Centre is run entirely by volunteers and presents regular courses in its converted shearing shed, including ‘Painting Nature’, ‘An Introduction to Birds and Bird Watching’ and ‘Discovering the Vegetation & Habitat The Mallee Provides’. www.riverland.net.au/gluepot
Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, an award winning environmental, education facility in the Adelaide Hills, offers visitors a choice of year round guided walks (9am-4pm), self guided walks (10am -4pm) and guided nocturnal walks in order to learn about some of Australia’s rare and endangered species like bettongs, potoroos and platypus. The sanctuary also concentrates on broader issues like conservation and management of Australian native animals, water, energy and natural resources. www.warrawong.com
And finally, floodwaters have created ‘woken’ normally dormant Lake Eyre, with water filling the dry salt lake creating a remarkable natural phenomenon. At 15 metres below sea level and Australia’s lowest point, Lake Eyre has only filled to the brim three times in the last 150 years. This year’s heavy rains in Queensland and New South Wales coupled with good summer rains in the South Australian Outback have created a surprisingly verdant and green Outback.
One result of this extraordinary event is prolific birdlife returning to the vast inland sea, making it a veritable birding paradise. With a lot of water laying on the ground it is not uncommon to see red-necked avocets, grey teals and black-tailed native hens. Other birds taking advantage of the conditions in varying habitats are the brown songlarks, inland dotterels (with chicks), orange and crimson chats and red-backed kingfishers, which are all being seen readily within the area, more so than this time last year.
More info on South Australia visit:www.southaustralia.com