Melbourne is a city famous for its cafés, trendy laneways, arts culture and sporting events. It might not seem like the obvious place to go wildlife watching. Yet Melbourne is also a city of parks, beaches, nature reserves and – on its outskirts – beautiful areas of forests, woodlands and grasslands. We're lucky that in many of these places there's also plenty of wildlife who also call Melbourne home.
Here are some suggestions of places in Melbourne where you have a good chance of spotting wildlife in the wild, particularly if you are quiet and patient. There are places close to the city centre and places further out at the edge of Melbourne's urban sprawl. They are all free to visit, and the animals are also free to come and go as they please.
Kangaroos are just one species of native wildlife to see on Melbourne's outskirts
The key is to be patient, quiet and persistent. The more time you spend outside in nature, the more chances you'll have of spotting animals. Sit quietly, walk quietly and listen.
Respect our wildlife and their habitat. This means not disturbing animals in any way, especially don't feed them or try to touch them, and don't damage their environment. Don't leave litter or trample plants – make sure you stay on tracks. Lizards and other reptiles use rocks and logs for habitat so leave these alone. For our marine wildlife, don't let any litter enter our waterways – this includes fishing line, hooks and bait bags.
Yarra Bend Park is just a stone's throw east of the city centre, yet is home to one of Melbourne's most remarkable wildlife sights. Thousands of flying foxes call Yarra Bend Park home, with numbers rising to tens of thousands in the summer months. Snoozing during the day, at dusk the flying foxes stretch their wings and then take off in huge numbers, filling the sky above with their silhouettes before travelling across the suburbs to feed. Watching the colony depart for their nightly foraging expedition is amazing, especially considering that Melburnians can witness this spectacle so close to the centre of the city. This endangered species is an ecologically important pollinator and seed disperser.
Where: Bellbird Park, off Yarra Boulevard, Kew When: The best time is at dusk in the summer months. Parks Victoria also run free day tours at certain times of the year.
Little Penguins The penguin parade at Phillip Island is famous, but did you know there is also a Little Penguin colony at St Kilda breakwater, right in Melbourne's inner suburbs? Melburnians are incredibly lucky that these penguins live so close to the city. Visiting the colony is free, but considering the highly urban nature of their environment, it's very important that everyone does the right thing to protect them. This includes staying at least three metres away from the penguins, keeping off the rocks of the breakwater, and not using flash photography.
EarthCare St Kilda is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to looking after the penguins. The organisation has volunteer penguin guides on hand to answer visitor's questions.
Also keep your eye out for Rakali, the cute native water-rats that also live at the breakwater. With webbed hind feet and a long tail with a white tip, Rakali feed on marine critters like crabs, worms, mussels and fish - look for their feeding platforms containing the remains of their meal such as shells!
Where: St Kilda Pier, Pier Road, St Kilda When: Best viewing time is 30 minutes after sunset
Superb Lyrebirds are incredible mimics, and to see a male lyrebird singing and dancing and putting on a mating display is one of nature's delights.
Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges is one of the most reliable places to see these marvellous animals. On a drizzly winter's morning, walking quietly around the trails of the forest is the best chance that you'll have to spot one. It's important to be quiet and patient. Listen for a clear voice singing various different bird songs from the undergrowth – this is a sure sign of a lyrebird. The walking trails leaving from Sherbrooke Forest Picnic Ground and Grant's Picnic Ground (in eastern Sherbrook Forest along the appropriately-named Lyrebird Track) are fairly reliable spots for at least hearing – if not seeing – lyrebirds.
A lyrebird dashing through the undergrowth at Sherbrooke Forest
Echidnas, wallabies, bandicoots… oh my!
Other Australian native mammals are somewhat more elusive than the kangaroo, especially within the greater Melbourne area. But it's still possible to spot certain species in the larger, less disturbed and more forested nature reserves and parks on Melbourne's fringes.
Birds (other than penguins and lyrebirds!)
Melbourne is full of bird life. The sorts of birds that you might see will depend on the habitat you're in. Try and get your hands on a pair of binoculars before you head out. Good places to start bird watching are wetlands where it's often easy to spot a range of waterbirds, including Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands and Karkarook Park in Melbourne's south-east, or Cheetham Wetlands and Point Cook Coastal Park in the south-west. Closer to the city, Albert Park Lake is a particularly good spot to see black swans.
Melbourne might not have the Great Barrier Reef, but there is still plenty of wildlife to see underwater. The best way to see our marine life is to grab a snorkel and flippers (and a wetsuit for most of the year!) and go for a swim.
Other good snorkelling spots are a little further afield from Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula. Several piers are great spots to snorkel under to see the marine life. These include Portsea Pier, a great location for spotting the Weedy Seadragon, Rye Pier, where you can follow the underwater information signs of the Octopuses' Garden trail, and Blairgowrie Pier, a colourful underwater world of sponges, nudibranchs and other marine life attached to (and living among) the pylons. Blairgowrie Pier is also a reliable spot to see the incredible annual Spider Crab congregation, which starts in about May each year – truly one of Melbourne's spectacular and unique wildlife experiences.