Furred, finned or feathered – all sections of the animal kingdom are covered by these 10 wildlife experiences in and around Melbourne’s urban jungle.
Melbourne’s colony of grey-headed flying foxes can be seen overhead each evening, heading to their feeding grounds in the north. By day they rest, hanging from trees alongside the Yarra River in one of the last stands of original bushland in inner Melbourne. See them from the Bellbird Picnic Area’s viewing platform and walking trail along the river. The spectacle is free.
Bellbird Picnic Area, Yarra Boulevard, Yarra Bend Park, Kew
Hit the plains of Werribee Open Range Zoo and experience an African safari just 30 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. Jeep tours of the Werribee savannah offer the chance to get up close and personal with giraffes, rhinos, lions and other prominent members of the food chain.
K Road, Werribee South; 1300 966 784
Melbourne Zoo might be 155 years old but it’s keeping step with the times through interactive exhibits such as the spectacular butterfly house, walk-through lemur enclosure and elephant trail. With more than 320 species housed within its 22-hectare inner-city plot, it’s practically impossible to see them all in one visit.
Elliott Avenue, Parkville; 1300 966 784
A wildlife conservation park with a difference, Moonlit Sanctuary takes ecotourism into the nocturnal zone. Lantern-lit tours give visitors a glimpse of our night-loving animal friends, including Tasmanian devils, quolls, pademelons and feather-tail gliders. Visit the sanctuary, a 50-minute drive from Melbourne, during the day for the chance to meet a python and cuddle a koala.
550 Tyabb-Tooradin Road, Pearcedale; (03) 5978 7935
Image: Shannyn Higgins
Away in the bay
Swim with wild bottlenose dolphins in Port Phillip Bay with an ecotourism operator such as Polperro Dolphin Swims, who’ll kit you out with wetsuits, masks and snorkels and provide an experienced guide.
Sorrento Pier, Esplanade, Sorrento; (03) 5988 8437
Image: Troy Muir
An hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Healesville Sanctuary is the place to see wombats, kangaroos and their all-Australian band mates in a bushland setting. The twice-daily Spirits of the Sky show, starring birds of prey such as the wedge-tailed eagle and peregrine falcon, is a sanctuary highlight.
Badger Creek Road, Healesville; 1300 966 784
Waddle on the wild side
One of Australia’s most visited attractions, the nightly parade of little penguins at Phillip Island, 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, has had value added with boardwalks, a tiered viewing stand, ranger commentary, night-vision technology and an underground viewing experience.
1019 Ventnor Road, Summerlands, Phillip Island; (03) 5951 2800
More penguin power
The easier, free alternative to the Phillip Island penguin parade is the 100-strong colony of little penguins that calls the St Kilda breakwater home. They can be seen around sunset each evening as they waddle home for the night. Volunteer penguin guides ask that visitors refrain from climbing on the rocks and using flash photography. Visit stkildapenguins.com.au.
St Kilda Pier, Pier Road, St Kilda
Milk a cow
A little slice of bucolic heaven only five kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, Collingwood Children’s Farm gives all kids, great and small, the chance to visit farm animals in a natural setting. There’s the opportunity to take part in cow-milking twice a day and interact with a family of guinea pigs amenable to gentle cuddles.
18 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford; (03) 9417 5806
Head on an ocean adventure at Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, where sharks swim overhead in an immersive glass tunnel, a terrifyingly huge saltwater crocodile lumbers below a glass viewing platform and a Penguin Passport will get you onto the ice to meet the noble king penguins in person.
Corner King and Flinders streets, Melbourne; 1800 026 576
Top image: Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium