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Where to see wildlife along the Great Ocean Road

Australia is home to some of the most unique animals in the world - from its famous marsupials like kangaroos, koalas and wombats to the bonkers duckbilled platypus, giant flightless emu and the spiny echidna. You can find all of these plus magical glow worms, adorable penguins and migrating whales along one of the world's most famous road trips: the Great Ocean Road.

Stretching along the stunning south coast of Victoria between Warrnambool and Torquay, the Great Ocean Road is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering encounters with iconic Australian creatures in their natural habitats. Here are some of the top places to see wildlife that you can enjoy on this bucket list drive:

  • Spot koalas snoozing in the eucalyptus trees: For an almost guaranteed chance of seeing Australia's most famous resident head to Kafe Koala at Kennett River, about half an hour's drive from Apollo Bay. If you get there for opening time at 8:30am, not only will you miss the Melbourne tour bus rush, but you can also grab one of the café's amazing meat pies and coffee for breakfast. To find koalas at Kennett River, walk up Grey River road to the left of the café and keep scanning the gum trees on both sides for a grey fuzzy ball in the fork where branches meet. You'll most likely see plenty of kookaburras and sulphur crested cockatoos a well! The Eucalyptus trees on the road to Cape Otway lighthouse used to be another easy place to see koalas on the Great Ocean Road, but when we drove that way on our day in Great Otway National Park, the trees were dead, bare and bleached with no leaves and definitely no koalas. What a shame, we wonder what happened!

  • Observe kangaroos grazing on grasslands and the golf course: Head to Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve near Warrnambool for a chance to see these iconic Australian animals roaming free in the crater of an extinct volcano. Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is also a great place to see the other half of the Australian coat of arms, the emu! One of our favourite places to see kangaroos was on a guided tour at Anglesea Golf Club - take a ride on a golf cart around the golf course where around 300 Eastern Grey kangaroos have lived for the last 70 years. Your driver will tell you all about these animals as they relax and graze around the fairways, and if you're lucky, you might even see some baby joeys peeking out of their mums' pouches!

Eastern Grey Kangaroo, anglesey golf club

  • Spot echidna in the heathlands: Look for these spiny critters in the undergrowth of Port Campbell National Park, Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve and Great Otway National Park. We saw one shuffling through scrub as we walked back from Thunder Cave to where we had parked at Loch Ard Gorge - just listen out for rustling!

Echidna, Great Ocean Road

  • Seek out the elusive platypus at dawn or dusk: Possibly the trickiest animal to tick off this list - for your best chance to see a duck billed platypus, join a guided canoe tour on Lake Elizabeth for a glimpse of this unique mammal.

  • Venture out after dark to see enchanting Glow worms: For a magical end to a day exploring Great Otway National Park, or something to do after watching the sunset at the 12 Apostles, follow the Great Ocean Road inland towards Lavers Hill and park at the Melba Gully trailhead. Once it's dark, follow the path clockwise towards Anne's Cascades and a your eyes become accustomed to the dark you'll see thousands of iridescent blue pin pricks covering the banks and vegetation - the glow worms!

Glow worms

You'll need a torch, ideally a headtorch with a red light setting so you don't ruin your night vision, and keep it pointed downwards to watch your step - don't shine your torch on the surrounding banks and trees as this will cause the glow worms to stop glowing! Be careful driving after dark in the Lavers Hill area, the roads are winding and you don't want to risk hitting any nocturnal wildlife.

  • Witness the penguins coming ashore at dusk: Did you know that Australia has penguins? Every night at sunset, you can see a colony of Little Penguins (also known as Fairy Penguins) surf in on the waves and run up the beach from the sea to their burrows beneath the cliffs at London Bridge and the 12 Apostles. Take up your spot on the viewing platforms at either of these iconic Great Ocean Road rock formations and keep your eyes on the shoreline. Just as the sun dips below the horizon, as each wave washes in, little rafts of penguins ride the water ashore and huddle beside the ocean. Once they've gathered enough numbers to feel safe, they scurry up the beach and disappear into their burrows.

Penguins, 12 apostles, Great Ocean Road

Bring your binoculars; as you're looking down at the penguins from a height these aren't the close up views you get at Melbourne's Philip Island's Penguin Parade, but it feels more authentically wild and less like a tourist attraction. You'll also want to wear a jacket - the temperature drops dramatically once the sun is down.

  • Embark on a boat tour to see fur seals basking on offshore rocks: Slightly cheating here as you'll need to come off of the Great Ocean Road, but if you drive west from Warrnambool to Port Fairy, you can take a boat trip round Lady Julia Percy Island to see the largest colony of Australian fur seals in the southern hemisphere. One hour further still brings you to Cape Bridgewater where you can hike (1 hour each way) out to a viewing platform above a fur seal colony, or for a closer look take a boat tour. If you're not driving the full length of the Great Ocean Road to Warrnambool or fancy something more adventurous, you can take a guided sea kayak tour from Apollo Bay out to Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary to see the resident fur seal colony.

  • Go whale watching during the (Australian) winter months: Spot Humpback and Southern Right whales migrating past the coast between May and September from vantage points like Logans Beach near Warrnambool and Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Woman with binoculars scanning the sea at Logans Beach, Great Ocean Road
Whale watching at Logans Beach

Remember to observe responsible wildlife watching practices: maintain a safe distance, avoid disturbing their habitat, and never feed wild animals. While kangaroos and emus seem placid, they can turn aggressive if they feel threatened or crowded and both can deliver a powerful kick! With a little planning and respect, you're sure to have unforgettable wildlife encounters on the Great Ocean Road!

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