This week our “best places” roundup is inspired by children’s favourite Blinky Bill.
This mischievous koala first made an appearance in a series of children’s books in 1933 and recently became a film star in Blinky Bill the Movie (out on DVD on 27 February).
In the movie, Blinky Bill braves the Outback in search for his missing father.
In real-life, koalas aren’t adventurers; they’re docile creatures who spend 75% of their time sleeping. They might look like teddy bears but they’re actually marsupials – their closest living relative is the wombat.
Koalas live in eucalyptus forests, surviving on eucalyptus leaves, and are only found in Eastern and Southern Australia. They used to be hunted for their soft grey-brown fur so there are only a few hundred thousand left.
Nowadays they’re protected by law and there are plenty of places to spot them at zoos, sanctuaries and in the wild. The best place to base yourself is Melbourne in the state of Victoria in southeast Australia.
1. Healesville Sanctuary, Yarra Valley & the Dandenong Ranges
Victoria’s famous Healesville Sanctuary is home to native Australian wildlife, including, you guessed it, the koala. The koalas roam freely in the sanctuary bush land and there are special boardwalks that take you up to branch level (perfect for checking out sleeping koalas). The sanctuary is located in the Yarra Valley, just an hour from Melbourne and a region famous for its vineyards and farm shops, making it the perfect starting place on your Australian road trip.
2. Koala Conservation Centre, Phillip Island
Thanks to the new koala boardwalk at Koala Conservation Centre, you can take a stroll through the eucalyptus woodland and have eye-level encounters with these gentle creatures. Situated on Phillip Island, the conservation centre guarantees exceptional views of the surrounding hills and coastline, but also a more in-depth look at the koala species. After you’ve seen the koalas, head to the beach to witness the famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade.
3. Echidna Walkabout, Melbourne
Echidna Walkabout is a social enterprise nature tour operator that promotes sustainability and viewing wildlife in its natural habitat. Echidna’s expert guides know the best places to spot native wildlife in its natural environment and on one of their tours, guests are not only more likely to see Australia’s iconic wildlife but will learn interesting facts that they won’t find in guidebooks. The small group tours are lead on foot and the guides take a non-intrusive approach.
A driving principle of Echidna Walkabout is positive conservation – they won the 2014 award for “Best for Wildlife Conservation” in the World Responsible Tourism Awards. In 2015 Echidna launched the Koala Clancy Foundation – a not-for-profit association set up to support the conservation and research work of Echidna Walkabout that aims to protect wild koalas in Victoria and Australia. Through research Echidna discovered that wild koalas rarely use eucalypts that are surrounded by thick infestations of Boneseed – an introduced weed – and so several of their tours offer guests a hands-on experience of clearing these weeds.
Echidna’s most popular tour is a one-day tour out of Melbourne to see koalas and kangaroos in the wild.
4. Conservation Ecology Centre and Great Ocean Ecolodge, Great Ocean Road
The award-winning Great Ocean Ecolodge is a social enterprise, established and operated by the Conservation Ecology Centre. All profits are invested into wildlife conservation and the Ecolodge itself is entirely solar-powered and ecologically responsible.
During a stay at the award-winning eco retreat, guests can venture out into the bush with researchers to help save endangered species, explore the Great Ocean Walk, indulge in the region’s finest local produce or just relax in the dappled shade of the eucalypts. A highlight of a stay here is the guided dusk walk at through Australian Bush to observe wild kangaroos and koalas
5. Kennett River, Great Ocean Road
About an hour along the Great Ocean Road, there’s a secret that shouldn’t be missed. Around 20 minutes drive from Lorne you will arrive at Kennett River. Stop here, take a break and follow the “koala walk” with your camera ready. Here is one of top places to find wild koalas snoozing and eating high up in gum trees. Once you’ve had enough of playing eye-spy with these not-to-miss marsupials, keep heading down the road and you find yourself in a spot that is perfect for a picnic.
6. Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, Great Ocean Road
Declared Victoria’s first National Park in 1892, Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is the ideal place to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s most iconic native birds and animals including emus, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, seasonal reptiles and, of course, koalas. The park is a 30,000-year-old extinct volcano, making it a fascinating and breathtaking place to do some nature spotting. This natural wonder is just a short drive past Warrnambool at the end of the Great Ocean Road. To make the most of your trip, go on a Worn Gundidj guided walking tour!
7. Raymond Island, Gippsland
Raymond Island is home to Victoria’s largest koala population and draws nature-lovers for some of the best koala-spotting around. Jump on the ferry from Paynesville, 300 kilometres from Melbourne, and hit the island’s Koala Trail. The clearly marked path leads you among the gumtrees. Don’t forget to look up: they’re are probably fast asleep above you, though you may be lucky enough to spot one out and about. You can walk the trail in 20 minutes, and follow up with a scenic picnic lunch.
Blinky Bill the Movie is out on DVD on 27 February