6 up-close wildlife encounters on the South Coast
From spotting whale calves to hand-feeding meerkats, the South Coast offers unforgettable animal encounters where you can get up close and personal to the region’s incredible wildlife.
Celebrate the whale
The humpback whale is one of the great conservation success stories: in the 1960s, there were as few as 300 migrating up and down the Australian east coast; today there’s an estimated 40,000. Eden, once a whaling capital, is now a prime destination from which to admire their beauty as they embark on their southern migration into Twofold Bay. Head out on a whale-watching cruise between August and November with Cat Balou Cruises and you might also encounter minke, southern right, blue, Bryde’s or orca whales, as well as seals, turtles, flying fish and more. You might even see calves close to port, minutes from Eden wharf, as they come into feed.
Look out for lyrebirds
Rainforests are incredibly diverse ecosystems, and in the magical Minnamurra Rainforest, just west of the village of Jamberoo, in Budderoo National Park, you might see everything from platypuses to swamp wallabies and water dragons. The park’s lush canopy is also home to a huge variety of birdlife, including bowerbirds, king-parrots and tiny superb fairy-wrens. You might even spot one of nature’s most famous mimics, the superb lyrebird on the rainforest’s eponymous Lyrebird Loop walk; during the winter mating season the males love to show off their impressive tails. Grab maps (and advice) at the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre, then immerse yourself in the cool surrounds of the forest on rambling walks. On a crisp winter day, you might have the elevated walkways all to yourselves.
Snorkel with seals
Strap on your snorkel, jump into the clear waters of Montague Island off the coast of Narooma and enter the kingdom of the seals. Playful and inquisitive, the Australian and long-nosed fur seals that live here will come and check you out face-to-face – underwater encounters don’t get much more memorable, or adorable. On a Montague Island Discovery Tours, your amiable and very knowledgeable guide Wazza (Warren Stubbs) will whisk you across to the island, where you can also scuba dive with the seals (no experience necessary) and might see everything from groupers to turtles. In spring, thousands of sea birds flock to Montague island to nest, including Little Penguins – witness them waddling home to their burrows late in the day on a Penguin Sunset Tour.
Cruise with dolphins
More than 100 bottlenose dolphins make their home in the idyllic waters of Jervis Bay Marine Park, and you can get to know them on a dolphin tour with Jervis Bay Wild. If they’re feeding, you might see them emerge with a squid or an octopus in their mouth, which they bring to the surface of the water before eating. Or, if they’ve got full bellies, they might ride the bow or stern wave as you’re drifting along. Winter and spring is also prime whale watching time; join a cruise to see the whales come into the sheltered bay during this time with their calves to nurse. In Jervis Bay, you can even swim alongside the magnificent creatures (as well as seals) with a guide if you’re feeling adventurous.
Wave to whale calves and fur seals
Humpback whales love to loiter around sheltered spots off Bass Point, near Shellharbour, on their annual migration along Australia’s east coast. Head out on a whale-watching cruise with Shellharbour Wild between May and November, and you might see not only divinely graceful adult whales but their calves, too, acting just like the young kids they are – breaching, splashing their tails and waving their pectoral fins as they frolic in the South Coast’s pristine waters. As well as whale-watching tours, Shellharbour Wild also offers two-hour eco scenic cruises from Shellharbour Marina exploring Bushrangers Bay. Keep your eyes peeled for fur seals waving through the waves and sunbathing on the rocks.
Mingle with meerkats
It’s hard not to adore meerkats. And what better way to stoke your love affair than a one-on-one encounter? You can hand-feed these famously alert (and enchanting) creatures on a behind-the-scenes experience at Symbio Wildlife Park in Helensburgh, just an hour south of Sydney. There are plenty of other opportunities to engage with the zoo’s vast menagerie, too – from exotic wildlife like red pandas and lemurs to pat-friendly farm animals and Australian favourites such as koalas and eastern grey kangaroos.