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Published October 16th 2012
Federation Square is not a natural habitat for koalas and to see them in the wild will require some degree of travel outside the Central Business District.
You can see koalas in a zoo or Animal Park but it's much more rewarding and exciting to find one in the wild. However, be warned that habitat destruction means that they are not easy to find in the wild within the Melbourne area. In fact, it might be easier to find a needle in a haystack.
Here are some places where you have a fighting chance to see a wild koala.
Coolart Wetlands & Homestead in Somers
This wetlands area located around a large lagoon with a number of bird hides and a large Observatory is home to over 1000 Australian white ibis and other waterbirds during the breading season. There are a number of loop walks ranging in length from 1 km to 3.1 km, some of which pass through areas of gum trees which are the feeding grounds for koalas. If you cover all the outlying trails and scan the trees intently there is a chance of spotting a koala.
Even if koala spotting draws a blank, the park is lovely and centred around a magnificent late Victorian mansion with beautiful gardens. There are plenty of tables and BBQs for a picnic.
Close to Coolart Wetlands, at the end of Beach Hill Avenue, is the Somers Koala Reserve. The Somers Koala Reserve was originally a farmer's paddock and over the last 12 or so years dedicated volunteers have systematically revegetated the 17 acres with indigenous plants and Koala food trees (manna gum and swamp gum). These trees may prove tempting for a koala and enable a sighting.
The Briars Park in Mount Martha also has a habitat which provides the opportunity of seeing a koala. Take the 4 km long Kur-Bur-Rer walk for the best chance of a sighting. You may also see Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the more open grassy woodlands part of the walk.
If, despite all our hints on the best spots for sightings, you fail to see any wild koalas, then you can pay to take an organized tour and increase your chances to practically 100 percent.
The Savannah Walkabout Australian Animals Eco Tour is an 8 hour tour costing around $180 p.p. The knowledgeable guides will maximise your chances of seeing a koala in the You Yangs area. You will also get the chance to walk amongst large free ranging "mobs" (groups) of wild kangaroos. This tour also includes a delicious bush lunch.
If you can travel outside Melbourne you will almost certainly manage to spot a wild koala. Some of the best places are:
The small hamlet of Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road (160 km from Melbourne) is one of the best places to see koalas in the wild. Turn off the Great Ocean Road at Kennett River and then immediately turn into Grey River Road. After one to two kilometres along the road you will be almost guaranteed to spot koalas in the gum trees.
If you visit the Cape Otway Lightstation (220 km from Melbourne) the road turning off from the Great Ocean Road passes through sections of gum trees where koalas reside. It would be nigh on impossible not to see a koala here.
You can travel further afield to Raymond Island (300 km from Melbourne) which is a small island, only 6 km long by 2 km wide, in the Gippsland Lakes. It is reached by a short ferry ride from the town of Paynesville. There are many koalas on the island and there is even a Koala Walk which is 1.2 km in length and starts in the ferry car park.
The absolute best place to see Koalas in the wild, and many of them is on Raymond Island in the Gippsland Lakes. Take the ferry - free if you walk, $10 if you want to take the car, then follow the Koala trail.
Make sure to take a picnic basket along as there are no shops on the island. Paynesville's new IGA supermarket stocks everything you might need/like.
Besides Koalas you can spot Echidnas, Wallabies and a huge number of birds. The boardwalk takes you a different route along the foreshore and if you like fishing, bring your rod along (licence available from local store in Paynesville)
Too much to pack into one day? Local B&B's, a Motel, or "Lakes Escapes" offer plenty of accommodation on or off the Island
Yarra Bend Park (melway: 2DK6) has a permanent colony of federally and state listed grey headed flying foxes (mega-bats). There is a viewing deck and public toilets and an electric BBQ. The bats have declined nationally by around 97 percent in the past 100 years and are important native tree pollinators and seed dispersers.
Mother bats have one bub per year and can be seen nursing them at this time of year. The bubs breast feed. When they bubs are too heavy to carry out flying at night they are creched in trees together. Their high pitched `trilling`
can be heard when the mothers leave them - they aren't happy. Mothers pick them up in the early morning the nurse them all day. Bubs are semi-independent at four-six months of age depending on how sooky they are. Quiet observation of colony only. Penalties for disturbing animals are substantial.