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Where to spot koalas in Victoria

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16 August 2012 by Luke McCormick

With its diversity of landscapes and climates, Victoria is the preferred home to many of Australia's most iconic native animals. As well as widespread habitats of kangaroos and wombats, the state has the largest and most thriving population of wild koalas in Australia.

These tree hugging friends marsupials (not bears) can be found in many Victorian regions, from the Great Ocean Road in the west to Gippsland in the east. Some of the best koala spotting is only a short drive from Melbourne, making Victoria the perfect starting point for wildlife adventurers.   

Top 5 locations for koala spotting in Victoria:

You Yangs Regional Park

A great place to mountain bike, bush walk and bird watch, the You Yangs also has one of the healthiest populations of koalas in the state of Victoria. Only 45 minutes drive from Melbourne en route to Geelong and the Great Ocean Road, is it also the closest place to the city where koala spotting in the wild is almost guaranteed.

Great Ocean Road - Kennett River / Grey River Road

Known around the world for its dazzling coastal scenery, the Great Ocean Road stretches all the way from the home of Australian surfing in Torquay, to the Twelve Apostles rock formations and beyond. The road winds along the precipice of tall limestone cliffs, via white sandy beaches, quiet fishing villages, seaside resorts, and through the coastal bushland that is home to many colonies of koalas.

The most renowned place to spot them is the little village of Kennett River. Situated next to both a river and the beach, the best way to spot the koalas is a meander through the beautiful walking tracks. Visitors need simply turn off the Great Ocean Road at the Koala Cove Café & General Store, proceed along Grey River Road and look up - tourists have been said to spot 20 koalas within one kilometre.

Cape Otway and the Great Ocean Walk

Continuing past the surf town of Apollo Bay towards the Twelve Apostles, the Great Ocean Road travels through the stunning Great Otway National Park. A lush, cool temperate rainforest and home to creatures such as platypus, wallabies and glow worms, it is also extremely popular with koalas. Clusters of parked cars surrounded by people looking up is usually a giveaway that koalas are up above, however the easiest place to stop, spot and snap pictures of the eucalyptus lovers is along Lighthouse Road, around two kilometres before the Cape Otway Lightstation.

Koalas are abundant in this beautiful area, and the best way to see them is definitely by foot. The Great Ocean Walk offers more than 100 kilometres of stunning, untouched coastline and bush walks for those who would love to see, touch, smell and experience that natural wonder of the country.  

Tower Hill Game Reserve, near Warrnambool

Nestled inside a dormant volcano, Tower Hill is a wildlife haven. Still in the Great Ocean Road region, Tower Hill is north west of the coastal town of Warrnambool, around three hour's drive from Melbourne. There are more than 200 kangaroos and koalas in this tiny crater-bound ecosystem, and many live around the visitor car park. Emus, echidnas and waterbirds are also abundant. Boardwalks, nesting boxes and a bird hide have been constructed to assist bird watchers in catching a glimpse of many birds, including chestnut teal, musk dusks, and spoonbills. Have a picnic under a gum tree and chat with the local rangers from the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre who know everything there is to know about the area and its inhabitants and are happy to point out some real bush tucker to those who dare.

Raymond Island, near Paynesville, Gippsland

Covering a huge area from the east of Melbourne to the border of New South Wales, Gippsland is a nature lover's paradise where the sustaining waters of five rivers end their journey to the sea, creating a crown of waterways, edged with beaches of golden sand. Raymond Island is an untouched landscape, part of the Gippsland lakes region, around 300 kilometres from Melbourne. It can be reached via ferry from the seaside resort of Paynesville. Though only introduced to the Island in 1953, koalas have thrived on this little piece of land making them almost impossible to miss on the 1.2 kilometre 'koala walk'. Koala spotting is best done on foot or by bike.

While nothing beats the thrill of seeing native animals in their natural habitat, Victoria does offer some of the best animal sanctuaries and wildlife parks in the country. Perfect for time-pressed visitors, families and for getting up-close and personal photos with our nation's most beloved and iconic species.

Victoria's top 5 koala sanctuaries and wildlife parks:

Healesville Sanctuary

Healesville Sanctuary provides visitors with unique Australian wildlife experiences in a natural bushland setting just an hour's drive from Melbourne in the stunning Yarra Valley region. It features the largest collection of Australian wildlife in the world, with more than 200 species of native animals. The Sanctuary's 'Magic Moments' program offers 10-minute close encounters with Australia's wildlife of choice, including koalas, kangaroos and wombats.

Maru Koala and Animal Park

Located en route to Phillip Island, just an hour's drive from Melbourne, Maru Koala and Animal Park is home to six-year-old female Koobaroo who is well known for her monkey-like antics. Despite the fact that koalas usually sleep 18hrs a day and are usually very slow to get around, Koobs enjoys rolling around tress, and hanging upside down off branches and generally showing off in front of the cameras.

Melbourne Zoo

Melbourne Zoo is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2012. Its location so close to Melbourne's city centre makes it easy to visit time and time again and there is always something new to see. The Zoo's Australian Bush section is home to most of Australia's most iconic native animals including emus, koalas, kangaroos and wombats. The Zoo's 'Wild Encounters' program offers visitors an opportunity to get behind the scenes and cuddle up to some of the most popular animals in the zoo including the famous elephant, Mali, born in the zoo in 2010.

Koala Conservation Centre

Two elevated treetop boardwalks allow superb close viewing of wild koalas in six hectares of Australian bushland at the Koala Conservation Centre on Phillip Island. The Island, just 90 minutes from Melbourne, is most famous for its nightly Penguin Parade but is also home to many other Australian native animals and should be on the must-do list for any wildlife-seeking visitor. The Centre plays host to an important koala breeding program which is a vital part of the Centre's overall population management. Originally established in 1991, the Centre is dedicated to koala research and conservation and has played a vital role in ensuring there is a protected koala population on Phillip Island.

Ballarat Wildlife Park

This award-winning wildlife Park is set on 16 acres of gum woodland about 90 minutes from Melbourne in Victoria's Goldfields region. The park is home to 15 resident koalas and visitors have the opportunity to up close and pat a koala, watch the joey koalas nursing with their mothers in the koala nursery, and get their photo taken with a koala for a memorable souvenir. Founded in 1985, the park specialises in Australian native wildlife and is built on a passion for conservation of wildlife and the environment. And from the cute and cuddly to the big and scary, the park is getting ready to open its new Crocodile Billabong Experience and Conservation Centre in November 2012. The new Centre will be the largest crocodilian education exhibit in southern Australia.

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