Great Ocean Road wildlife

Seeing a wild animal on the Great Ocean Road is simply wonderful and can often be the highlight of the whole trip. However, please don't think that a mob of kangaroos or a wisdom of wombats is going to appear around every bend. Wild animals in Australia, are just that, they're wild, they do their own thing.

If you are lucky enough to see a kangaroo hopping over a grassy coastal heath or a koala clinging to a branch high up in a manna gum tree then, please, be quiet and still. Watch with reverence and enjoy the ambience before unleashing your extended telescopic camera or high-tech phone for a selfie.

Just relax and respect the animal’s right to privacy. You’re in their home. Be polite, don’t point, don’t shout, don’t whistle, don’t feed. Observing an animal’s natural behaviour in its natural habitat is a privilege not a guaranteed vacation highlight.

What to see, and where

Koalas are a fairly common sight if you're following a path through eucalyptus groves. The Kennett River Koala Walk – as you'd hope - provides almost-certain sightings as it winds its way through the blue gums on the Grey River Road. Bring binoculars and look high up in the trees for the best chance of seeing fluffy tufts of fur and a big teddy bear like nose. No flash photography – obviously!

Kangaroos tend to hang out on the grasslands where coastal heath meets hinterland forest. Anglesea Golf Course is an unlikely setting for sure-fire sightings as is the heath close to Cape Otway Lighthouse. Just west of Johanna Beach, and the Gellibrand River flats near Princetown, are also favoured kangaroo hang outs. Further inland, and around the Otways, you're more likely to spot wallabies. They're smaller and darker than 'roos but still an eye catching sight to see in the wild.

Janine Duffy is a wild koala researcher and co-founder and co-owner of our Great Ocean Road tour experts Echidna Walkabout: “Kangaroos have been treated really unfairly in the past and developed this sort of mythical vermin-like status. They eat around 1/3 less than sheep and only compete with farm animals for food during drought seasons. The grass grown on most farmsteads can easily support a large population of kangaroos, no trouble. Visitors from outside of Australia get a real kick from seeing kangaroos in the wild and the farmers are learning to point them out to guests rather than curse them.”
One of the oddest creatures found in the area are echidnas. These spiny, long and short beaked critters look a bit like small porcupines and are known to frequent the sandy coastal heaths, especially at Anglesea – a favoured spot for digging up ants. They are shy and quite well camouflaged, however, so make sure you buy a lottery ticket if you see one for yourself.

The creeks that run inland through the rainforest gullies of the Otways are home to another iconic Aussie animal, the platypus. They're painfully shy and extremely tricky to spot. Give yourself the very best chance by taking a guided canoe tour on Lake Elizabeth, deep in the heart of the national park.

Head along the Gellibrand River estuary and you'll find reeds, providing habitat for numerous species of native birds, for as far as the eye can see. The wetlands around Curdies Inlet, also, are another key area for water birds and feature a gorgeous beach out onto the Southern Ocean.

On the coast, Australian fur seals sun themselves on the reefs close to Apollo Bay, while offshore islands are home to white-bellied sea eagles, oyster catchers and both black and white hooded plovers. The coastline is always awash with terns and gulls and even the occasional albatross.
Janine Duffy from Echidna Walkabout expands on the albatross experience:
“Seeing an albatross in flight is something that everyone needs at least once in their life. It's like a flying piece of Antarctica and just massive with a 3m wing span. You look out to sea and think how can that look so large when it's so far out! You know straight away that it's an albatross by the size of the thing and the way that it flies. I think an albatross is a symbol of just how important the oceans are to us. Every albatross that you see is a good day and a reminder to human beings to stop wrecking the ocean.”

Logan's Beach in Warrnambool might not be too hard to reach but it is one of the best places on the Great Ocean Road to watch southern right whales. Whales swim within 100m of the shore and watching them from the beach viewing platform is the best way to do so without disturbing the pod.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Great Ocean Road or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

How to watch wildlife on the Great Ocean Road

Extended stays

Although there are plenty of day trips from Melbourne these don't do the environment any good whatsoever. It's far more beneficial for self drive or small groups to stay in the area for multiple days. This not only gives back to the local economy and allows more interaction with local folk but you'll also get to see more wildlife that short stays always miss.

For instance, there are little penguins nesting in beachside burrows below the Twelve Apostles. You won’t see them unless you’re able to arrive very early in the morning or stay until after dark.

The wetlands around Curdies Inlet are just down the road from the Twelve Apostles but no one ever bothers to see it as they're in far too much of a rush to return home. Those who stick around might be treated to the sight of hundreds of black swans taking to the air at sunset. You just can’t legislate for this sort of wild experience on a one day coach tour.

Local wildlife guides

Joining an experienced wildlife guide on a tailor made or small group tour is the best way to observe animals, the right way. Guides know how important native species of flora and fauna are to conserving the area’s fragile ecosystem and will explain more about the balance between watching wildlife and leaving it well alone.

Guides will also tell you about regional conservation issues as well as the environmental impact that tourism has on Australia, as a whole. You’ll also learn how wildlife watching can help to boost rural economies by providing employment to local people as well as turning farmers’ attention to protecting wild animals - like kangaroos – rather than cursing them.

It’s this sort of two-way exchange that ensures local people see travelers in a positive light, as well as encouraging animals and the environment to be left alone rather than being destroyed for profit.

When to go

The indigenous animals that live in and around the area can be seen all year round. Koalas, kangaroos, emus, wallabies, echidnas, for example, can all be found, if you know where to look. Other animals are migratory and only come here at certain times of the year.

The Latham's Snipe, for instance, is a summer visitor and spends the other half of the year in Japan. Southern right whales visit Victoria's coast during the winter from May to October.

Common and bottlenose dolphins and seals can also be seen during the winter and the offshore islands are havens for birds such as short-tailed shearwaters, Australian gannets and orange-bellied parrots, as well as the ever-popular little (or fairy) penguins.

Don’t plan your trip around what wildlife you hope to see, just try to remember that the experience, as a whole, is worth its weight in gold.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Josh Griffiths / Visit Victoria] [Intro: Garry Moore / Visit Victoria] [Koala: Ross Holmberg / Phillip Island Nature Parks / Visit Victoria] [Echidna: patrickkavanagh] [Albatross: JJ Harrison] [Penguins: National Geographic / Visit Victoria]