Many of Australia’s mammals share a somewhat inconvenient trait for wildlife watchers - they’re nocturnal. So three cheers for the endangered numbat: it’s one of few that’s out and about during daylight hours, if you know where to look. The place to start looking - for these and for other endemic and endangered Aussie creatures - is in the national parks and protected areas of the southwest corner of Western Australia.
While land clearing and European settlement have altered much of this ancient landscape, pockets of extraordinary biological interest and beauty remain. For numbats this means Dryandra Woodland, a remnant patch of old eucalypt forest, two hours drive south of Perth. Nothing else in Australia looks like numbats. They are striped and squirrel-sized marsupials, with furry tails and long sticky tongues designed for an exclusive diet of wood-eating termites. And, of course, it’s possible to see them in daytime.
Other native animals - including bandicoots, bettongs and bilbies - can also be seen, on evening tours in Dryandra’s on-site sanctuary. Accommodation options are low-key, including several self-contained ex-forestry cottages or camping for the self-sufficient.
Heading further south, to the very edge of the continent, isolated country hugs the wild and lovely coast of the Southern Ocean. At Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, talcum beaches and turquoise water provide a scenic backdrop to hillside gullies and heathland. This is home to one of the world’s rarest mammals, Gilbert’s potoroo - a roundish, rabbit-sized, pointy-nosed, truffle-eating marsupial. A stable - but tiny and critically endangered - natural population of about 40 individuals lives in the park. They are under the watchful eye of the reserve’s potoroo recovery team who, with the help of volunteers, regularly survey the animals.
Birders come here twitching for the region’s ‘big three’: western whipbird, western bristlebird and noisy scrub-bird. All are more often heard than seen - especially the aptly named noisy scrub-bird - but the folk at Cheynes Beach caravan park, about 30km along the coast, usually have reliable and recent sighting information.
Albany’s historic waterfront, with accommodation to suit all budgets and cafés to suit all tastes (try Vancouver, or Liberté at the London), makes a good base for exploring the south coast. In winter - roughly July to September - the town’s sheltered bays, like many along this coastline, protect migrating Southern right whales and their calves.
Winter whales are also on the itinerary of visitors to Fitzgerald River National Park. This gorgeous swath of wilderness, 200kms east of Albany and known locally as ‘the Fitz’, is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It’s noted for unique plants - 62 of its 1800 species are endemic to the park - and an animal tally that includes 200 species of birds and 22 species of mammal. Such profusion of flowering plants makes the Fitz home to tiny honey possums - smaller than mice and equipped with brush-tipped tongues for feeding off nectar - and slightly bigger pygmy possums.
At ground level, the carnivorous dibbler is another small, endangered marsupial with distinctive white-rimmed eyes. All are nocturnal - it’s well worth walking around with a torch after dark. If the park’s beautiful bush campground at Point Ann doesn’t suit, the atmospheric 1858 Quaalup Homestead might. It offers clean, tatty, self-contained cabins and campsites - along with the bonus of Edna, a curious wild emu. Bookending the Fitz, the townships of Bremer Bay and Hopetoun provide fishing shacks and chalets, caravan parks and campsites, B&Bs and motels. These small, welcoming, waterfront communities give a different insight into life on the edge.
Ready to track down more of Oz's unique fauna and flora? Find the best spots for wildlife watching Down Under in Lonely Planet's Australia travel guide.