4. Nature & Conservation
Conservation is at the heart of the state, with sanctuaries and controlled breeding sites working to eradicate foxes, cats and rabbits (introduced with the arrival of the Europeans) that have disturbed the natural habitat and survival of native species.
The Healesville Sanctuary wildlife conservation park in the Yarra Valley has established dozens of programmes, alongside a wildlife hospital, to help fight the near-extinction of over 200 species of Australian animals. You can see koalas, kangaroos, wombats, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, platypus, emus and possums in a natural environment, on indigenous land. Internationally renowned for its work saving endangered species, injured animals are often brought here for breeding or rehabilitation, brought back to life and eventually released.
Phillip Island is a conservation haven. The main highlights are the EcoBoat Tour that departs in the early evening to the Seal Rocks, home to Australia’s largest seal fur colony, and watching the beautiful and peaceful ‘Penguin Parade’ in the evening.
Seal Rocks, Phillip Island
Penguin Walk Phillip Island
This truly magical experience sees crowds of penguins waddle in to Summerland Beach to rest up and hibernate on the land after a day sourcing food. It’s a spectacle of nature, seeing over 1,000 of these gorgeously furry creatures come to a safe haven, made possible after the government ‘bought back’ 183 houses and restored the area to its natural use. You wait quietly and watch with trepidation alongside the other spectators on the various above and below ground viewing platforms and a roped off section of the beach. This conservation and education programme has resulted in creating a home for one the largest penguin colonies in all of Australia.
Historical Churchill Island, one of the first sites in Victoria to be colonised, now has a new underground community whose population is flourishing. With its mixture of farmland and gardens, this island has become a successful trial site for breeding Bandicoots, which became extinct in the wild in 2010. Wander with a ranger, like I did, and see if you can spot one.
From Sorrento Pier, I headed out into the waters of Port Phillip Bay that are home to wild bottlenose dolphins. Polperro Dolphin Swims, one of only two registered conservation boats allowed to take people out, are careful not to disturb the natural habitat of these playful creatures, allowing visitors to enter the water a maximum of five times. The dolphins swim so close below you as you peacefully float on the water surface, holding on the boat’s long rope, that it’s hard to keep still and not splash around in delight. A swim with the seals and a reef snorkel to see weedy seadragons, completes this unforgettable experience in a unique underwater habitat.
Dolphin Swim Boat
It’s hard to imagine that the golden brown wilderness of The Mount Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre (Mt Rothwell) is only one hour west of Melbourne. It’s flat lands – the largest predator free ecosystem in Victoria – are scattered with boulders where wallabies keep watch, and dramatic trees that made me feel as if you are in an isolated desert. It’s also a film set, having recently been used for the set of the film, The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslet.