Arrive in Adelaide, the state capital of South Australia. Wedged between the Mount Lofty Ranges and Gulf St. Vincent, this is the historic homeland of the Indigenous Kaurna people. Adelaide, established by British settlers in 1836 as a convict-free colony, has become an urban gateway for Australia’s burgeoning wine country. Dotted with historic buildings and lush parks, the “City of Churches” is recognizable for its multitude of spires that rise from downtown, representing diverse faiths within a city founded on a commitment to religious freedom and civil liberties. This evening, gather with our Expedition Leaders for a welcome dinner and introduction to our route through Kangaroo Island, Tasmania and Australia's most southerly coast.
Day 2: Adelaide / Private Flight to Kangaroo Island
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for our short chartered flight to Kangaroo Island. With more than 300 miles of coastline surrounded by turquoise waters, Australia’s third-largest island is famous for its pristine beaches, local wines and abundant wildlife that the island's isolation has naturally protected. “KI,” as it's known by locals, lies less than 10 miles off the mainland, but its offshore status helps sustain considerable numbers of native Australian species, including kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, New Zealand fur seals, Australian sea lions and one of Australia’s largest koala populations.
On arrival, we head to Duck Lagoon where we’ll do some birdwatching, seek out koalas and have an orientation to the island over a cup of tea. Then it’s off to Seal Bay Conservation Park for a private tour among Australian sea lions sprawled along a sandy beach— an endangered species nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Today, about 800 of them thrive here, one of Australia’s largest sea lion colonies. We swatch pups nursing or playing in the surf, see old bulls scarred by territorial disputes, and learn about their unique breeding biology.
After a seafood barbecue lunch, continue to Stokes Bay to explore a range of varied habitats from scrub to woodland to rocky shoreline and sandy beach. Within these varied environments, we may encounter tammar wallabies, koalas, glossy-black cockatoos, Australian pelicans, hooded plovers, and a unique subspecies of kangaroo found only on the island. Along the way, we observe the way native plants have adapted to bushfires. Exploring the Bay of Shoals and Reeves Point, look for more birds, including black swans, cormorants, crested and Caspian terns, and a suite of bush birds like superb fairy-wrens, crescent honeyeaters, rainbow and purple-crowned lorikeets.
Day 3: Kangaroo Island—Pelican Lagoon / Baudin Conservation Park / Wine Tasting
Begin the day with a bush breakfast on Pelican Lagoon, one one of the oldest marine conservation reserves in Australia. This is kangaroo terrain, and we’re sure to be distracted from our eggs and bacon by the ‘roos hopping around! At nearby Pennington Bay, look for hooded plovers and other shorebirds on the beach, and climb the steps to the top of Prospect Hill for a vantage over the narrowest section of Kangaroo Island. We then take a walk with a researcher who is a world expert on the short-beaked echidna—an ancient egg-laying mammal that once roamed with dinosaurs—as we delve into the ecology of the island.
After a picnic lunch on Eastern Cove, visit Baudin Conservation Park to learn about the elusive glossy-black cockatoo. The park was a family farm from 1861 to 2002, comprised of she-oak woodland rolling hills with sweeping views across Backstairs Passage to the Fleurieu Peninsula. We may also see tammar wallabies, Kangaroo Island kangaroos, wedge-tailed eagles and small penguins that nest along the shoreline, and look offshore for dolphins and southern right whales. At Cape Willoughby, explore the exposed granite shoreline near the lighthouse, scouting for coastal raptors and oceanic seabirds from the exposed promontory. Late this afternoon we stop for a tasting at False Cape Wines before returning to our hotel. After dinner, our Expedition Leader offers an optional walk in search of nocturnal species around our lodgings.
Day 4: Kangaroo Island—Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary / Flinders Chase National Park
The remote western reaches of Kangaroo Island offer a true sense of wilderness and solitude, with abundant birdlife and dozing koalas in the eucalyptus trees. Our first stop is Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where we walk among koalas and learn about fire ecology, hearing how the landscape and local animals were affected by the 2020 bushfires and observing native flora species that only flower following a burn. In Flinders Chase National Park, view the massive shapes of the Remarkable Rocks, formed by 500 million years of wind, waves and rain that have left them impossibly perched on top a granite dome plunging into the ocean. Break for lunch with a gourmet bush picnic, then continue to Admirals Arch, a rock bridge and coastal grotto that provides a haul-out for a large colony of long-nosed fur seals. Seabirds flourish here, too, and we may see a range of terns, Australasian gannets, shearwaters, Pacific gulls, and potentially some southern emu-wrens.
Our day ends at Cygnet Park Sanctuary, a haven for native island vegetation where we find significant populations of nationally threatened plant species. On a tour of the property, we’ll get an overview of the park’s revegetation program and glossy-black cockatoo recovery project. A highlight is dinner in the field, surrounded by the sights and sounds of wildlife. Once twilight descends, we have a chance to walk in search of nocturnal animals, which could include the brush-tailed possum, southern stone curlew, micro-bats, eastern barn owl and southern boobook owl, as well as other species we also see during daylight hours.
Day 5: Private Flight to Warrnambool / Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve / Great Ocean Road
Fly from Kangaroo Island to Warrnambool on a private chartered flight this morning and continue by road to Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. Formed by volcanic eruptions 30,000 years ago, Tower Hill is part of an Aboriginal Cultural Landscape and is home to some of Australia's best-loved wildlife living inside the large crater of this dormant volcano near the Great Ocean Road. On a guided hike, we learn about the geologic history and ancient lava flows, wetlands, bushland, birdlife and Aboriginal heritage of the area. As we walk, we’ll look for koalas, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, turtles, possums, swans and blue wrens, as they are plentiful here.
After a morning of exploration at Tower Hill, we start our journey down the Great Ocean Road, stopping at geological features such as the Grotto, London Bridge and Bay of Martyrs. Driving southwest through coastal rain forest and eucalyptus woodlands, past secluded beaches and ancient volcanic plains, we admire giant tree ferns and freshwater streams. We stop to explore an upland waterfall and scout the gum trees for abundant koalas. This lush, diverse region is also home to kangaroos and emus. By late afternoon we reach our hotel, which claims a spectacular perch atop the bay. Dinner at sunset overlooking the water is a special highlight.
Day 6: Twelve Apostles / Port Campbell National Park / Great Otway National Park
Today we explore a stunning stretch of coast that includes both a national park and a national marine reserve. In the golden light of morning, take in the drama of the Twelve Apostles, rugged limestone stacks that rise from the Southern Ocean off Port Campbell National Park. Eroded from mainland cliffs in a process that began 10–20 million years ago, these structures were originally caves, then arches that collapsed to become isolated 150-foot-high rock towers rising straight up from the sea. The marine park below harbors colorful sponge gardens, reef fish, soft corals and kelp forests. Surveying the rock formations from the mainland, we witness a dynamic landscape constantly sculpted by wind and water. Australian fur seals are often seen bobbing offshore or hauled out in a large colony on the rocks.
Continue to Loch Ard Gorge, hear the vivid history of the many shipwrecks along this stretch of coast. Ultimately, we reach Cape Otway at the southern tip of Victoria, near where the Southern Ocean meets the deep blue Bass Strait. This is the historic homeland of the Gadubanud people—an area now known as Great Otway National Park. Spend the afternoon exploring the park and visit the oldest lighthouse in mainland Australia, built in 1848. On a walk in the rain forest, learn about the coastal ecosystems that surround the Great Ocean Road. At dusk, we visit a wildlife sanctuary established by the Conservation Ecology Center in Cape Otway to learn about species in the region. On a walk through lush tree fern gulleys and eucalypt woodland, look for bandicoots, potoroos, swamp wallabies and other local fauna.
Day 7: Great Ocean Road / Private Flight to Tasmania—Cradle Mountain / Tasmanian Devil Encounter
Rise early to drive the final scenic stretch of the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, where we board our chartered flight to the island state of Tasmania, 150 miles south across the Bass Strait. Landing in Launceston, continue to the interior of this island that covers more than 26,000 square miles, 42% of which is protected in national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A legacy of wilderness appreciation is intrinsic to Tasmania, the birthplace of the world’s first environmental political party. The island was occupied by Tasmanian Aboriginals for 30,000 years before the British Empire arrived in the form of a penal colony in 1803.
Continue to our lodge on the edge of Cradle Mountain National Park where we settle in before an evening outing to see Tasmanian devils. A nearby conservation sanctuary is working to protect and sustain these mysterious animals, and our visit offers a rare opportunity to see and learn about these hard-to-find nocturnal species that are endangered in the wild. The sanctuary is involved with breeding, release and re-introduction of Tasmanian devils, in addition to field monitoring of wild populations and orphan rehabilitation. It also houses the closely related spotted-tail and Eastern quolls, offering a trifecta of Tasmania’s three largest carnivorous marsupials. If our timing is right, we may even witness a feeding. Later tonight, keep an eye out for wallabies, echidna, pademelons and wombats as they come out around dusk and are often spotted in the vicinity of our lodge.
Day 8: Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park
The day launches early as we enter Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. This UNESCO-protected realm covers 3.7 million acres, one-fifth of Tasmania’s landmass. The park’s imposing peaks, lakes and glacier-sculpted valleys comprise some of Australia’s most stunning landscapes. 5,069-foot Cradle Mountain is surrounded by diverse habitats of grassland, temperate rain forest and ancient plants that date to the supercontinent of Gondwana, including the King Billy pine, deciduous beech and pandani, the world’s tallest heath plant. We take a hike around Dove Lake, gleaming sapphire-blue beneath Cradle Mountain’s jagged profile, and stop at some waterfalls, too. Wildlife abounds in the park, and we seek it out on walks at dawn and dusk. Wombats, a cuddly cousin to the koala, is prevalent here, although no koalas exist in the wild in Tasmania. On a night walk, keep an eye out for wallabies, pademelon, possum and echidna. And while we’re extremely unlikely to see one, Tasmanian devils and quolls also inhabit the forest.
Day 9: Marakoopa Cave / Central Plateau Conservation Area / Derwent Valley—Paddling with Platypus
After a dawn wildlife walk, we have breakfast, then continue to Marakoopa Cave in Mole Creek Karst National Park for a private tour of this dramatic limestone cavern. This immense structure boasts two underground streams, large vaulted chambers, expanses of glittering flowstone and dramatic stalagmites, plus a sparkling display of bioluminescent glowworms. From here, it's a half day’s drive to southern Tasmania. En route, we stop at the Central Plateau Conservation Area, a wild place of subalpine moorlands and countless tarns. In the isolated heart of Tasmania away from major roads, the region is known for its wilderness hiking and world-class trout fishing. We stop to admire the view of Great Lake and look for yellow-tailed black cockatoos and Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles, among other birdlife.
Continue to Truffle Lodge, a luxury camping outpost in a remote part of the Derwent Valley that is our private accommodation for the next two nights. This afternoon we have a private kayaking tour on the Derwent River, paddling in search of wild platypus that are often spotted just below our tents perched on the bank. This 100-million-year-old semi-aquatic mammal has a duck-like bill, webbed feet and fur, and along with the echidna, it is one of just two egg-laying mammal species on Earth. Once dusk falls, look for echidna, wallabies and pademelon, then enjoy dinner and stargazing from camp, if the skies are clear.
Day 10: Mount Field National Park
Wake early and wander the environs of our private camp looking for wildlife. After breakfast, we head to Mount Field National Park, Tasmania’s oldest, along with Freycinet, established in 1916. Yet the park has been a nature reserve since 1885, when early white settlers were awestruck by its waterfalls and natural beauty. The region had already been occupied for millennia, however, as the homelands of the Big River nation of Tasmanian Aborigines. They knew this place when it was buried in glacial ice, and later as rain forests and eucalypt forests flourished. Cave sites, ochre mines, hand-stencil art, rock engravings and stone tool quarries provide a glimpse of their extraordinary lives here. We spend the day walking in their ancient footsteps among the tallest flowering trees in the world, and exploring the coastal rain forest. In summer, the high country can be a blaze of color with blooming waratahs, boronias and heath. Weather will determine our activities in the park, but we’re sure to end the day with a sense of wonder at the many treasures it holds. Back at camp, more wildlife watching awaits this evening, as well as time around the fire under the stars.
Day 11: Mount Field National Park / Hobart
Spend a last day in search of wildlife and exploring more of Mount Field National Park before departing this afternoon for Hobart, Tasmania’s capital at the mouth of the Derwent River and one of Australia's oldest cities. We check in to Corinda, an elegant Victorian mansion built in the 1870s, with one of the finest private gardens in Tasmania. Though its layout follows the lines of Victorian precision, a noted travel writer described it as “a joyfully insouciant mix of topiary, exotic trees and textured shrubs, as well as a flourishing kitchen garden.” This hilltop hideaway is one of many period homes in this tranquil suburb, with panoramic views over the city, mountains and harbor. Relax and make yourself at home, as the entire house is ours, with a drawing room, conservatory, wrought-iron-trimmed veranda, and six lavish bedrooms decorated in period style. Gather this evening to toast your traveling companions with a glass of Tasmanian wine, followed by a farewell dinner of acclaimed local cuisine featuring vegetables and herbs grown on the estate.
Day 12: Hobart / Depart
Our southern Australia nature safari comes to a close in Hobart this morning. A transfer to the airport is included for flights to the mainland and beyond, including the option to extend your time down under by joining Nat Hab’s Australia North expedition or our New Zealand Nature Explorer (select departures match up; check dates for details).