Once-in-a-lifetime experiences with native Aussie animals
Healesville Sanctuary, a 30ha park housing a number of native Australian animals found nestled within the same Victorian region as the Yarra Valley's inviting wineries, attracts visitors from near and afar and with all good reason.
When it comes to wildlife variation, the sanctuary ticks most boxes; kangaroos, koalas, emus, cassowary, possums, dingoes, wombats, echidna, spoonbills, swans, platypus, Tasmanian devils, wallabies, bats, and many more feathered friends that call Healesville home.
You can pack a lot into a day at Healesville Sanctuary, exploring the park's many enclosures within its serene natural environment, all the while learning more about Australia's iconic animals, as well as those that fall under the critically endangered list.
With a strong focus on conservation and preservation, Healesville Sanctuary boasts an impressive animal rescue, rehabilitation and release program, stories of which can be followed online.
As a little fun project, the "Fighting Extinction Headquarters", invites children into a fun interactive room to be hand-scanned and given a challenge by Zooperman the SuperHero to investigate an endangered species within the park. Children are given an activity card with which to answer questions on their given wildlife challenge. (My own son still talks about Corroboree frog; his given species challenge on our visit).
If you are looking for a real stand-out experience during your visit to Healesville Sanctuary, you can pay for an additional wild encounter. There are three types of wild encounters you can pay for:
For a reasonable $12 per person (10% discount applies for zoo members), you can access animal enclosures with a Healesville Sanctuary staff member. Magic Moments make it possible to get as close to Australia's iconic animals as you can, with ample photograph opportunities. Note that kids are allowed, but those under 14 must be supervised by a paying adult.
Choose to meet the kangaroos, pythons, koalas, dingoes or echidnas during your Magic Moment visit. We were guided to meet one of the park's Koalas, feeding him juicy leaves and posed for some photographs; the kids absolutely loved it.
For $20pp you will be able to step into the wombat enclosure to meet one of Australia's chunkiest animals, with a chance to touch, pat and pose for photographs. Again, children under 14 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
A world-first experience happens within the grounds (waters) of Healesville Sanctuary. Should you wish to pay for a gold-class experience, consider investing in a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with one of Australia's most elusive aquatic creatures; the duck-billed platypus.
This very special experience begins with a listen to the public Tales from Platypus Creek presentation, followed by a behind-the-scenes insight into the life of a keeper, before stepping into some waterproof waders to enter the Platypus Play Pool for an incredible opportunity to socialise, touch, play and tickle a platypus.
Recommended for those aged 12 years plus (under 16 must be accompanied by a paying adult). Visitors need to be physically capable of getting in and out of a shallow pool. Prices are $195 or $175 for zoo members.
Take your own food and picnic at one of the many open park areas, otherwise grab a snack from the Pavillion Cafe or something a little bit more at the Sanctuary Harvest Cafe. If you have children, they will enjoy the Sanctuary's nature play themed playground, inspired by the local Wurundjeri culture.
Visit before the 31 May 2015, and you can take part in Corroboree; the biggest celebration of Indigenous people and culture at Healesville Sanctuary to-date. Hear dreamtime stories of native Australian wildlife, join in with some interactive bush tucker programs, learn to throw a boomerang whilst tuning into the sound of the didgeridoo. More info foundhere.
Cooking damper over an open fire at Healesville Sanctuary
NOTE: The Australian Wildlife Centre (Animal Hospital) treating more than 2000 sick and injured native animals every year, can be found within the park's grounds. While recently celebrating its 10th year anniversary, the Animal Hospital is currently closed from public viewing until May 2015, as it receives a brand new roof.