19 March 2019 by Gary Stevens
With its spectacular diversity of landscapes and climates, Victoria is home to many of Australia's most iconic native animals. As well as the famous kangaroos and impossibly cute wombats, the state has the largest and most thriving population of wild koalas in Australia.
These tree-hugging marsupials can be found in many regions of Victoria, from the Great Ocean Road in the west to the rolling farmlands of 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:
1. You Yangs Regional Park
Koala in a eucalyptus tree in the 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 a 45 minute drive from Melbourne, en route to Geelong and the Great Ocean Road, it's the closest place to the city where koala spotting in the wild is almost guaranteed.
2. Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean 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, sleepy fishing villages and coastal bushland – home to many colonies of koalas. The most renowned place to spot them is the little village of Kennett River. Perched between the river and beach, simply meander through the beautiful walking tracks after turning off the Great Ocean Road at the Koala Cove Café & General Store, proceed along Grey River Road and look up.
3. Cape Otway and the Great Ocean Walk
Koala spotted along 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. Home to a lush, temperate rainforest and creatures such as platypus, wallabies and glow worms, it's also extremely popular with koalas. Clusters of parked cars surrounded by people looking up is usually a giveaway, however the easiest place to stop, spot and snap pictures 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, dotted along the way with koalas hiding in the trees.
4. Tower Hill Game Reserve
Tower Hill Game Reserve
Nestled inside a dormant volcano, Tower Hill is a wildlife haven. There are more than 200 kangaroos and koalas in this tiny crater-bound ecosystem as well as emus, echidnas and waterbirds – many even live around the visitor car park. 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 the gum trees and chat with the local rangers from the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre who are incredibly knowledgeable about the area and its inhabitants.
5. Raymond Island, Gippsland
Koala on Raymond Island
Covering a huge area from the east of Melbourne to the border of New South Wales, Gippsland is a nature lover's paradise where five rivers meet at the sea, edged with gold-sand beaches. Raymond Island is an untouched landscape part of the Gippsland lakes region and can be reached via ferry from the seaside resort of Paynesville. Though only introduced in 1953, koalas have thrived on this little piece of land for years, making them almost impossible to miss on the 1.2 kilometre 'koala walk' that's 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 Australia's most beloved and iconic species.
Victoria's top koala sanctuaries and wildlife parks:
Kangaroos at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria
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.
Koala at Moonlit Sanctuary, Victoria
Moonlit Sanctuary lies at the top of the Mornington Peninsula among acres of wetlands, home to birds, reptiles, dingoes, kangaroos, wallabies and, of course, koalas. Guests can even enjoy petting them, as well as hand-feeding kangaroos, while by night, the sanctuary's famous nighttime lantern-lit tours are an excellent way to spot night birds and other nocturnal species, such as the famous and endangered Tasmanian devil.
Koala Conservation Centre
Koala Conservation Centre, Victoria
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 koala 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
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 pet 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. The park also opened its new Crocodile Billabong Experience and Conservation Centre in November 2012 – the largest crocodilian education exhibit in southern Australia.