Encounter Australia’s magnificent wildlife and meet the people protecting them at these nature sanctuaries.
Raptor Refuge, Kettering
Craig Webb never intended to open a raptor refuge. “I didn’t choose the birds; they chose me,” he says. Webb, a veterinary nurse, developed a fondness for kangaroos after five years working in the Kimberley. When he returned to Tassie, he set up his refuge in the south-coast town of Kettering with the aim of rehabilitating hurt ’roos. “I had a few ’roos but then several injured birds were brought in so I built a couple of aviaries,” says Webb. “Then a sea eagle came in and I thought, ‘This is a serious bird, it needs a serious aviary.’” By the time that first enclosure was built, Webb had become known as the bloke who looks after raptors and the Raptor Refuge was born. There are fewer than 120 breeding pairs of eagles left in Tassie and all the state’s birds of prey face threats to their survival. The refuge now contains 38 aviaries, including two of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Webb nurses injured hawks, eagles, falcons and owls, which can take time. “When a sea eagle has lost its tail feathers in an accident, it takes two years to grow new ones,” he says. You can learn more about the birds on the refuge’s private Walk & Talk tours.
Devils@Cradle, Cradle Mountain
Nestled in the rainforest at the entrance to the World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, the Devils@Cradle nature sanctuary undertakes a variety of field monitoring, breeding and release programs, not only for Tasmanian devils but also the spotted-tailed quoll and eastern quoll. A memorable experience is the Dine with the Devil tour. Combining behind-the-scenes access with a light dinner of local salmon, cheese and wine, the evening ends sitting by the campfire listening to the calls of wild devils.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, Brighton
The first thing to know about Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary near Hobart: the ’roos have right of way. The 100 or so free-roaming kangaroos are among the most popular inhabitants of this haven, which also runs Tasmania’s largest wildlife rehabilitation service. Most of Bonorong’s other residents – from wombats and echidnas to koalas, quolls and, of course, Tasmanian devils – are rescued animals that couldn’t be released back into the wild. It’s worth chatting to the keepers, who can tell you the story behind each one. The sanctuary is open for tours day and night and its nocturnal exhibits are particularly good. Bonorong is also home to the state’s only seabird rehabilitation facility and engages in conservation projects, such as a five-year study of devils in the Tarkine.
Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, Adelaide Hills
When Dr John Wamsley founded Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary in 1969, his feral-proof fence – the first in Australia – set new standards for conservation. Fifty years on, Warrawong’s new owners, David Cobbold and Narelle MacPherson, are still pushing boundaries. As well as opening a wildlife hospital, they’re in the process of setting up Australia’s first privately funded koala breeding program to create a robust insurance population. As you wander through the sanctuary’s diverse landscape of rainforest, scrubland and grassy plains, keep an eye out for potoroos, bandicoots and bettongs, which are all endangered.
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Kangaroo Island
Don’t be surprised if you see a ute piled high with gum leaves driving into the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park – it’s heading for the park’s newest inhabitants. Following the devastating January bushfires that swept across one-third of the island, the park – which was spared – became a refuge for hurt wildlife, including 400 koalas that chew their way through an awful lot of leaves every day. Although the hospital is off-limits to visitors, the park is the place to see a number of the island’s most distinctive species – including Tammar wallabies and Kangaroo Island kangaroos – as well as emus and echidnas.
New South Wales
Koala Hospital, Port Macquarie
There is nowhere better to view koala rehabilitation in action than Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital. The staff there have been tending to the sick and injured marsupials for more than 40 years and during the recent bushfires, they cared for more than 75 koalas, most of which will be returned to their homes once their habitat regrows. “We record the exact coordinates of where each koala was found on its card then we return them back to that spot,” says the hospital’s president, Sue Ashton. You can learn more on the free daily tour held in the afternoon or just drop by to check on the koalas recovering in enclosures around the grounds.
Aussie Ark, Barrington Tops
Don’t be fooled by the brutish name: Tasmanian devils are actually endearing. So says Brodie Chiswick of Aussie Ark,, which operates the largest breeding program for Tassie devils at Barrington Tops, 300 kilometres north of Sydney. “They have the sweetest personality,” she insists, adding that the devils’ terrifying shrieks have given the marsupials their fearsome reputation. Make up your own mind on one of Aussie Ark’s tours, which are held twice a month, when you can meet hand-reared youngsters not yet ready to be released into the wild. And you won’t just encounter devils but other endangered species such as eastern quolls and bandicoots, too.
Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary, One Mile
Visitors can wander through the the koala refuge along a canopy boardwalk six metres above the ground. Peer through the leaves to spot koalas relaxing in the branches and stop by the viewing window at the koala hospital to see their care up close. Also on site are glamping tents, with kitchenette, where you can enjoy a glass of wine on your deck as the sun sets. Overnight guests can also take a tour of the sanctuary in the morning.
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Wildlife Wonders, Apollo Bay
At Wildlife Wonders, “the only fence will be the predator-proof fence that surrounds the site,” promises Lizzie Corke, co-founder of the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC), which will manage this Great Ocean Road attraction when it opens in July. Guests can take a guided tour through a 20-hectare habitat that’s home to a range of native and rare species, including bettongs, bandicoots and smoky mice. Smoky mice? “They’re just one of several smaller marsupials in danger of slipping away,” says Corke. In addition to providing a reliable funding stream for the CEC’s conservation work, Wildlife Wonders will also help the local community. “We’ll be one of the largest local employers and for an environmental NGO, that’s pretty special.”
Healesville Sanctuary, Yarra Valley
Follow the track through Healesville Sanctuary, shaded by ancient towering gum trees, and you’ll get to admire about 200 native species, as lyrebirds, platypus, dingoes brolgas and many others go about their business in sprawling habitat-specific enclosures. But what happens beyond the exhibits is just as compelling: more than 1500 sick and injured native animals pass through the sanctuary’s Australian Wildlife Health Centre each year and the organisation’s conservation work includes breeding programs for endangered species such as mountain pygmy-possums, Southern corroboree frogs and Guthega skinks.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast
They chirrup and squawk and wheel and flutter and descend like a technicolour cloud. The flocks of lorikeets in residence at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary have been delighting visitors for decades. But this nature reserve also has a serious side: Currumbin is home to one of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the world, with more than 12,000 animals treated here in 2019 alone. The sanctuary’s essential conservation work includes breeding programs for endangered species such as bilbies, glossy black cockatoos and mahogany gliders, which have lost about 80 per cent of their habitats.
Mon Repos, Bundaberg
If you’d like to witness a turtle laying her eggs on a beach or experience the thrill of a hatching – watching the tiny turtles as they fight their way out of the sandy nest and propel themselves towards the water – it helps to be a night owl. Nesting and hatching most often happen after dark and the best place to see these spectacles is at Mon Repos Turtle Centre near Bundaberg in the state’s south-east, where trained staff are on hand to ensure that visitors do not impact the turtles’ activities. Loggerheads lay their eggs here from November to January and hatchlings emerge between January and March. Book ahead if you want to catch the action – and pack some patience. Tours start at 7pm but there is no guarantee of when things will kick into gear. It could be 10 minutes later – or closer to midnight – before the beach patrollers spot the first young turtles and invite you to join them on the sand.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane
Fun fact: Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary was the first of its kind in the world and has been caring for sick, injured and orphaned koalas for more than 90 years. It’s also involved in extensive research, including playing a significant part in the development of a vaccine for chlamydia, a disease that’s deadly for the marsupial. About 130 koalas live at Lone Pine with more than 70 other native species, from platypus and freshwater crocs to pink Major Mitchell cockatoos.
The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Alice Springs
From being chased around paddocks by kangaroos to swapping saliva with a joey, Chris “Brolga” Barns’ job is never dull. It’s little wonder that the BBC TV series following his exploits, Kangaroo Dundee, has become a global hit. Brolga’s The Kangaroo Sanctuary – where volunteers and visiting vets help care for injured kangaroos until they can be released back into the wild – has also become one of Alice Springs’ most popular attractions. Be sure to take a sunset tour as the admission fee helps fund this essential centre.
Territory Wildlife Park, Darwin
Ever seen a black wallaroo or a narbalek or even heard of one? If not, it’s time to head to the Territory Wildlife Park. Set on 400 hectares outside Darwin, the park showcases Top End fauna within their natural habitats, including rare macropods such as the narbalek, a species of rock-wallaby. The site is also known for its conservation projects, which include breeding programs for northern quolls and Tiwi Islands masked owls.
Alice Springs Desert Park, Alice Springs
On a hot, still day the Red Centre can seem like a lifeless place. That’s because much of the area’s wildlife doesn’t come out until night falls, making sunset one of the best times to visit Alice Springs Desert Park. Nocturnal tours allow you to discover endangered species such as bilbies, echidnas and mala (rufous hare-wallaby) but double back in the daytime to catch other critters like dingoes and the fearsome-looking thorny devils. The park is actively involved in a range of conservation projects, like relocating captive-bred mala to wilderness areas and breeding projects for birds, mammals and reptiles.
Mornington Wilderness Camp, The Kimberley
With its rugged ranges and open savannas, the vast Kimberley is home to plenty of unique animals. Encounter the local wildlife at Mornington Wilderness Camp, a 300,000-hectare sanctuary that’s run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Set in the King Leopold Ranges, five hours out of Derby, Mornington Wilderness Camp is isolated – you’ll need to book one of their safari tents or bring your own – which makes it bliss for birders. Expect to spot up to 200 species, including rare varieties such as the purple-crowned fairy-wren, the Gouldian finch and the red goshawk. The varied terrain allows for a choice of other wildlife spotting; as you canoe down Sir John Gorge you might catch a glimpse of short-eared rock-wallabies or you could watch the brolgas and egrets at the Lake Gladstone wetlands. Be aware that Mornington Wilderness Camp is only open between May and September.