Even if your trip to Melbourne is CBD-centric, you don’t have to travel far to see Australia’s unique wildlife.
See a giant crocodile
20 minutes from the city: More than 10,000 creatures reside at the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, inside a building that resembles a boat on the Yarra River. It’s just a short walk from Flinders Street Station but visitors could be 20,000 leagues under the sea as hammerhead sharks and huge stingrays glide overhead. From a stunning re-creation of a coral atoll, with its brightly coloured tropical fish, to the freezing Antarctic simulation housing a regal colony of king penguins, the aquarium definitely has the wow factor. Open from 9.30am to 6pm every day, it’s the place to dive with sharks, watch penguins feed, meet stingrays or go behind the scenes to see the food preparation area, vet lab and dive zone. But whatever you do, make sure you visit Pinjarra, the breathtaking five-metre, 750-kilogram saltwater crocodile. Stand on the glass walkway directly over his lair, if you dare.
Corner of King and Flinders streets, Melbourne; 1800 026 576
Cuddle a koala
One hour from the city: Keen to handfeed a kangaroo, pat a dingo, get up close to a python or go nose to nose with a koala? Then the Healesville Sanctuary is for you. Open daily from 9am to 5pm, Victoria’s native wildlife zoo combines state-of-the-art exhibits with a natural bush setting, only one hour’s drive from Melbourne in the magnificent Yarra Valley. Purchase a Close-Up Encounter ticket with your entry and you’ll get to spend 10 minutes with your favourite Australian animal in the company of an expert ranger. Other highlights? The new Koala Forest – where a boardwalk takes visitors up into the treetops for the best view of the sleepy herbivores – and Tales from Platypus Creek, in which the reclusive creatures reveal their extroverted side. Don’t miss the birds of prey displaying their aerial skills in the Spirits of the Sky show, daily at noon and 2.30pm. While you’re there, make the most of the Yarra Valley with a visit to one of the award-winning cool-climate producers of pinot noir and chardonnay, such as Levantine Hill or Yering Station.
Badger Creek Road, Healesville; (03) 5957 2800
Watch the penguin parade
Two hours from the city: They’re tiny creatures with a worldwide reputation: Phillip Island’s colony of little penguins is a huge tourist drawcard despite their small size (they’re around 33 centimetres high and one kilogram in weight, with an untold measure of cuteness). At the height of the season in summer, around 1000 little penguins tumble through the waves and waddle ashore to their burrows each sunset after their day’s fishing, with numbers dropping to a couple of hundred during nest-building season in June. Buy tickets to view the dark-blue-and-white flightless seabirds from a range of specially constructed stands and boardwalks. Phillip Island Nature Parks’ interactive and educational displays are a compelling reason for visitors to arrive an hour before the penguins make their appearance. Other things to do on the island – around one-and-a-half to two hours’ drive south-east of Melbourne – include visiting the Maru Koala and Animal Park or doing an eco-boat tour to its pristine beaches and colony of fur seals.
1019 Ventnor Road, Summerlands; (03) 5951 2800