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Ten of Melbourne’s Most Amazing Wildlife Experiences

Go where the wild things are in and around Melbourne with this checklist of the city's best animal viewing experiences.
Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences: Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Little penguins are big business in Victoria.

Around half a million people make the 90-minute trip from Melbourne to Phillip Island every year to see the Penguin Parade at sunset. The dash up the beach at Summerland by those formerly known as ‘fairy’ — now by the more politically correct title of ‘little’ — to their rookery, follows what can be up to four weeks of fishing in Bass Strait. Watching the penguins arrive home is an incredibly popular tourist activity and has been for almost a century.

That said, the Victorian capital offers a wide variety of animal viewing experiences — and sometimes in the most unlikely of places! Stash your stuff with a Melbourne luggage storage service and go for a walk on the wild side!

Here are ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences.


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Melbourne Tours, Activities & Attractions


1. Watch the Phillip Island Penguin Parade

The Phillip Island Penguin Parade is world-renowned — hence its pulling power in terms of visitor numbers. It’s a fascinating experience, but one that may require you to temper your expectations. While the term ‘parade’ suggests vast numbers of penguins marching up the beach, in reality the numbers of birds that appear on any given night varies depending on a range of environmental and seasonal factors. Go with an open mind and a realisation that this is Mother Nature at work and she’s not on call for the tourists. You’ll be thoroughly entertained. And after all, who doesn’t love a parade?

2. Visit Phillip Island’s Koala Conservation Reserve

Arguably Australia’s most iconic animal (and certainly one of its cutest critters!) — koalas can be spotted in the wild in various locations relatively close to the capital, including along the Great Ocean Road (many tours pull over at Kennett River, which is almost a sure bet), Warrandyte State Park, and Werribee Gorge State Park. To guarantee a sighting at close range, you can of course visit any of the region’s myriad wildlife parks — all of which have resident koalas snoozing in the forks of tree branches or munching contentedly on eucalypt leaves. If you are heading down to Phillip Island to see the penguins, schedule an earlier stop at the Koala Conservation Reserve and get an insight into efforts to stabilise the numbers of what is sadly now an endangered animal in many parts of the country.

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Koala Conservation Reserve, Phillip Island. Image: Visit Victoria

3. Spot penguins at St Kilda Pier

Phillip Island isn’t the only place where you can see little penguins during your stay in Melbourne; there’s a colony right on the city’s doorstep at St Kilda — and you can clock them for nix! Stroll out to the breakwater at the end of St Kilda Pier at dusk to watch members of a thousand-strong population coming and going. Note that feeding or touching the birds, and the use of torches and flash photography are not permitted. Parks Victoria works with not-for-profit Earthcare St Kilda to supervise proceedings in peak periods. Rug up, and hold on to your hat! Please note: Access to the St Kilda penguin colony is currently closed due to the Pier redevelopment (scheduled for completion in 2024).

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
See the St Kilda penguins. Image: Visit Victoria

4. Meet the exotic locals at Melbourne Zoo

Explore a wondrous world of both native and exotic wildlife at Melbourne Zoo — Australia’s oldest zoological park. Situated in Parkville — a 15-minute tram ride from the CBD — Melbourne Zoo was originally established to acclimatise foreign animal species for possible release into the bush! Things have of course changed, and today the Zoo’s focus is on education and conservation. It hosts more than 300 animal species — including close to 30 of those on Australia’s endangered list. Visiting families will be thrilled to hear that there is no entry charge for children under the age of four, and all children (under 16 years of age) can enter the zoo free of charge on weekends, public holidays, and Victorian school holidays.

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences: Melbourne Zoo

5. Learn about native conservation at Healesville Sanctuary

For close encounters of the native animal kind, Healesville Sanctuary on the city’s rural eastern fringe is a must-visit. Home to more than 200 species of Australian animals, birds, and reptiles, Healesville works at the coal face of efforts to preserve our endangered species and threatened habitats. The Sanctuary features a range of specialist precincts (including Animals of the Night, Dingo Country, Koala Forest, and the Land of Parrots), and offers a series of premium wildlife encounters. Don a pair of waders and enter the platypus habitat, or enjoy a rare interaction with an echidna.

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences: Healesville Sanctuary. Image: Visit Victoria

6. See sea life at Melbourne Aquarium

Finding Nemo is about to get even easier at Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium, which will unveil its new 2.2-million-litre oceanarium by the end of 2023. Situated right in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, this popular facility boasts thousands of marine animals, housed across 12 habitat zones. See rays, jellyfish, sharks, penguins, turtles, a feisty saltwater crocodile, and endless tropical fish, and watch keeper presentations and animal feedings throughout the day. If you’d like to be, under the sea, Sea Life has it covered!

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. Image: Visit Victoria

7. Do a game drive at Werribee Open Range Zoo

The Serengeti may be almost 12,000 kilometres from Melbourne, but an African-style game drive is yours to enjoy nonetheless! Hoof it out to Werribee Open Range Zoo, which wows visitors with a superb 40-minute game drive through acres of open grassland occupied by zebras, giraffes, antelopes, ostriches, and several other free ranging members of the African animal kingdom. Spend the rest of your day visiting the many exhibits and enclosures in the zoo’s main precinct.

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Werribee Open Range Zoo. Image: Visit Victoria

8. Look for lyrebirds in Kinglake National Park

Sitting pretty 80 kilometres or so north of the CBD, Kinglake National Park is a natural wonder that draws day-trippers a plenty. And many of them head to the park hoping to spot a superb lyrebird (yes, that’s their actual name), which are renowned for the ability to mimic almost any sound in the forest. Kinglake is regularly surveyed for lyrebird numbers by Parks Victoria, and it’s even possible to take part in the dawn counting as a volunteer if you’re in town at the right time of year. Decimated by the Black Sunday bushfires of 2009, the lyrebird population has been slowly increasing year on year. Take a stroll along the 500-metre Lyrebird Circuit Walk for a good chance of sighting these talented performers.

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences: Get on the trail of lyrebirds in Kinglake.

9. Take a bandicoot break in Woodlands Historic Park

While few airline passengers would be aware of it on final approach to Melbourne Airport, the scrubby bushland below them is playing a key role in conserving the endangered eastern barred bandicoot. Back in 2012, Parks Victoria and Conservation Volunteers Australia established a fenced bandicoot reserve in Woodlands Historic Park on the Airport’s north-east boundary — free of foxes and feral cats. The introduced bandicoots have thrived, bringing the species back from the brink of extinction. There are several walking tracks that crisscross the protected zone — and while bandicoots are nocturnal and notoriously difficult to catch a glimpse of, you never know your luck so close to the big city! Keep your eyes peeled and be sure to close the gate!

Ten of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences
Bandicoot release, Woodlands Historic Park. Image: Adam Ford

10. Go bird watching in the Dandenongs

For many years, Grants Picnic Ground on the edge of stunning Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges was frequented by busloads of tourists keen to feed the local population of crimson rosellas, rainbow lorikeets, and sulphur crested cockatoos. Fears for the health of the birds and changes in their natural feeding habits led to a ban on the practice in 2020 — but regardless, Grants remains a magnet for feathered types and their twitchy fans. Bring good walking shoes and a set of binoculars.

This post was published thanks to Bounce.

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Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best Melbourne wildlife experiences? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Depositphotos, Bigstock, and Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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