A stay at home Mum who doesn't stay at home much; too many exciting things to be discovering in this city...
Published April 1st 2012
Melbourne and its surrounds have an abundance of animal encounters for the public to enjoy. If you are an animal lover or conservationist, or if you have little ones to entertain, there are many interactive experiences to choose from. You might want to treat visitors from interstate or especially overseas to a look at native Australian wildlife. Whatever your reason, you should find something from the list below which fits your criteria. For details of each experience, follow the links to the individual websites where you will be able to find information on locations, prices and opening hours. This list is not exhaustive by a long shot; there are many other zoos, farms, stables, dive companies and so on, located in Victoria which will allow you to get up close to nature. I have simply selected some of my 'top picks'.
Myuna Farm is a firm family favourite and in my opinion, one of Melbourne's best farms for children. It's reasonably priced, easy to find and has lots to do. There is a barn featuring smaller animals which are available for a good squeezing by little hands and larger animals roaming the paddocks along the feed trail. Your entry price includes a whole loaf of bread which the hungry sheep, cows, alpacas, goats, donkey, deer and pigs will make short work of. Besides the animals there are shelters for picnicking, a great playground complete with wooden maze and for a small extra cost, pony and train rides.
Little ones cuddling rabbits and guinea pigs at Myuna Farm
Werribee Zoo doesn't have a huge range of animals on display, but the big drawcard is the free range African Safari and the diversity of animals you will encounter on it. Climb aboard your rugged safari bus and watch through the extra large windows as your tour guide takes you from one 'savannah' to the next. You get pretty close up to most of the animals and if you're unlikely to make it to Africa in your lifetime, this might be the next best thing.
If it's a more natural experience you're after you might want to join a Sea Dragon Tour in Port Phillip Bay. You don't need to have any previous snorkelling experience and anyone from the age of 7 years can join in. Bayplay Snorkel Tours start with an introduction to basic snorkelling and information on the marine life you are likely to bump into. The weedy sea dragons aren't the only creatures you'll find, with corals, sponges, hermit crabs and puffer fish also on the list. Everything you need will be provided and you can even purchase underwater cameras from the Bayplay shop to capture your memories.
Phillip Island Wildlife Park is great for introducing overseas visitors to over 100 species of native Australian animals. You can hand feed the roaming kangaroos and w allabies, many of which had joeys in situ when we visited. Koalas can also be seen up close, from an elevated boardwalk which puts you right at eye level with them. There are plenty of birds to see as well, including emus and cassowaries .
Phillip Island has many animal attractions including the Phillip Island Wildlife Park
Melbourne Aquarium offers a variety of underwater experiences from general admission to the aquarium, right up to the four part Ultimate Experience. This includes an access all areas tour and a chance to walk with the sharks wearing a custom made Shark Walker helmet. You don't need any diving experience to participate as the helmet allows you to breathe naturally whilst underwater. Melbourne Aquarium is not a cheap option but there is lots on offer and new exhibits pop up fairly frequently. Themed around four different 'lands' this one should be a hit with the kids.
The Moonlit Sanctuary is a bit different from your average fauna park in that it offers night time tours of its nocturnal residents. Our tour guide was very friendly and informative and the relatively small group meant that we got plenty of opportunities to get up close to the animals. Your guide will hand out food so you get a chance to feed some of the animals and you'll see some native animals that you wouldn't see in other parks, such as sugar gliders and bettongs.
Try your hand at feeding sharks and rays of all sizes
The Australian Shark and Ray Centre offers a unique experience which allows you to interact with a huge range of rays and sharks. Don your wetsuit or waders and slip into a tank armed with your feeding stick. Feeding these normally elusive creatures of the deep is truly special even though the setting is somewhat artificial. Being surrounded by sharks is something you'll be able to boast about to all your friends afterwards; just don't tell them they didn't have any teeth...
The Penguin Parade on Phillip Island is an absolute must do. Both times that I have done it we have opted for the Penguins Plus Experience and I highly recommend paying that extra bit of money for a much better view of the action. Every night as the sun sets, the Phillip Island little penguins waddle in from hunting at sea and make for their burrows scattered through the sand. These penguins are so cute you could be forgiven for trying to smuggle one home with you (not to be recommended). You can watch the penguins walk meters away from you and follow on the boardwalk as they toddle into their own burrows. It's a totally worthwhile experience for any age and a definite highlight of Melbourne's wild side.