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How to see Western Australia's Big Five

Western Australia’s most extraordinary wildlife encounters in the outback and the ocean

Reading time: 5 minutes

With a shorter flight time than Sydney, and some of the best beaches in the world, Western Australia is a jewel of a destination stretching from Perth to Fremantle. It is also one of the best places to see the Aussie Big Five, but you’ve got to know where, and when to look.

Did you know, Western Australia is home to 70 per cent of Australia’s mammals? A total of 25 species are only found in this coastal state - known for its endless blue skies and spectacular pink lakes - which include the star line-up of quokkas, whale sharks, humpback whales, orcas and kangaroos.

You are almost guaranteed to see these animals if you snorkel the pristine waters of Ningaloo Reef, hop on a ferry to Rottnest Island or venture to Bremer Bay as long as you choose the right time of year. But we have asked our experts on Australia’s wild side to provide a definitive guide on how you can spot the Aussie Big Five next time you visit.

Swim with whale sharks

Whale sharks converge on Australia’s most accessible fringing reef from March-July each year. They are fiercely protected while in WA’s waters. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Marine Park is one of the most ecologically respectful places on Earth where you can swim alongside a whale shark. Eco-certified tour boat operators allow only 10 people to interact with each gentle giant, giving a no-touch berth of three to four metres. Visitors are also taught how to engage in citizen science by sharing photographs and observations with conservationists. There’s an astonishing 97 per cent success rate in whale shark sightings in Western Australia, due to the clean visibility of Ningaloo’s waters and experienced operators.

Did you know? Whale sharks can live up to 100 years and reach 20 metres in length, most seen at Ningaloo measure up to 11 metres.

View the Humpback whale migration

There are more humpback whales in Western Australia’s waters than anywhere else in the world. An estimated 45,000 of these mammals migrate along the coastline from May-December, in what is one of the longest whale watching seasons on Earth. Leaving the feeding grounds of Antarctica, they journey for more than 5,999 kilometres (3728 miles) to reach a protected ‘maternity ward’ in the Kimberley, before returning south. From May-August, they pause in the flirting grounds of Augusta, where they can be seen breaching and slapping the water. The former whaling station of Albany offers whale watching from late May to early October. Kalbarri sees whales from June-August, while from July-September, they can be spotted in Broome. From August-October, they visit Ningaloo Reef, where tours allow you to swim 30 metres from them. From September-November, whale watching tours depart the capital city of Perth as well as Busselton, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south. Neighbouring Dunsborough’s season runs from September to mid-December.

Did you know? The high-pressure exhales made by humpback whales can reach up to three metres high. 

Observe orcas from January to April

Nowhere else in the Southern Hemisphere do more orcas come to churn the seas, than Bremer Bay. Here on the far southern edge of Western Australia there is a deep, underwater canyon filled with diverse marine life - a reliable food source that’s believed to draw hundreds of killer whales. Full-day expeditions depart from the remote harbour during the January-April observation season, and Naturaliste Charters also offers same-day transfers from the nearby town of Albany. Marine biologists are on board every trip, sharing recent findings and the latest conservation efforts. The ride there is often rough, but the thrill of watching a pod of apex predators makes it all worthwhile.

Did you know? Bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, blue whales and sea lions are also on the sightseeing list in Bremer Bay. 

Quokkas on Rottnest Island 

You can’t see a quokka anywhere on Earth, apart from in Western Australia. Quokkas roam freely on Rottnest Island, a car-free holiday isle facing the metropolis of Perth. The solar and wind powered, EarthCheck certified sustainable destination protects and conserves the state’s biggest quokka population, where you’re guaranteed to see not one, but many. The Quokka Walk takes you to the heart of this creature’s habitat. As you scan the lush woodland, you’ll learn why these animals thrive here. You will also discover some of the endemic flora which makes these forests unique.

Did you know? Quokkas rarely drink water, instead sourcing it from the leaves and grasses they nibble on.

Key to spotting kangaroos

Kangaroos cover the entire state, but the key is knowing where - and when - to look for them. They tend to emerge from the bush at dawn and dusk, choosing to lie low during the heat of the day. Many feast on roadside grasses and they love a golf course grass buffet, but there are also more picturesque places to spot them. In the Margaret River region, kangaroos graze between the famous vineyards; further south, they bound through the tall tree forests surrounding Pemberton and, at the bottom of the state, they sunbathe on the white, sandy beach of Lucky Bay, east of Esperance.

Did you know? Kangaroos dig water holes in paprika-red sand dunes at World Heritage-listed Shark Bay. Find their traces on tour with an Aboriginal guide.

See and meet Australia’s wildlife with our 'Australia Wildlife Adventure' itinerary