If you are looking to get off the beaten track, head over to Calga – just an hour out of Sydney - and check out the Australian Wildlife Walkabout Park, located just off the Peats Ridge road. The park is a sanctuary to numerous Australian birds and animals, most of which are allowed to roam free.
A friend and I drove up for the day and were uniquely welcomed to the park by a nonchalant goanna strolling in front of our car -and the park itself did not disappoint after this thrilling start.
Emus share the paths
There you will find that the animals are more at home among the picnic benches than people are. We were greeted by the rare sight of kangaroos, wallabies, emus and peacocks idly lounging together in the surrounds of the gift shop. They were friendly and curious of humans and it was an easy experience just to walk among them, gently stroke them or sit down next to them and share the peace.
Relax with nature
You will find some of the other inhabitants in various enclosures; koalas, a group of long-surviving Tasmanian devils, bilbies, wombats, flying foxes, dingoes, quolls and even echidnas engender the charm of this truly special park. What's more there are also various cold-blooded animals to be found in glass confines.
There is even a petting zoo with rabbits, goats and chickens - a less imposing delight for younger visitors. The rangers are helpful and keep a busy schedule of feeding, while at the same time giving informative talks about each of the park's inhabitants.
Learn about flying foxes
The animals, however, are not the solo attraction of this park. In fact there are various aboriginal sites present in the park belonging to the Darkinjung and Guringai people. Aboriginal cave art awaited us at the end of the short trail that we chose, but there are various longer walks to other sites as well.
Aboriginal cave art
The Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park also offers the opportunity to stay overnight, which allows you to experience the Australian bush after dark. However, these overnight activities are offered mostly during the warmer months of the year and require booking.
Meanwhile, for those who would like to be a more permanent fixture, the park offers a volunteer program. This is open to students studying animal care and related fields, and who are looking to gain experience. Retirees and local residents are also invited to volunteer and be a part of the park's conservation activities.
The beauty of the place for me, though, was the ease with which you can wander and connect with the animals, learn more about them and, when you choose, drift in and out of the more scheduled activities. It was an unusual and delightfully unique opportunity to feel so connected to our Australian wildlife, while still being so close to Sydney.