Melbourne, like most of Australia, is home to some indigenous wildlife that many seek out when they visit. I was not an exception to this, and wanted to see as many as possible in a short time frame. My key focus, was in finding opportunities for true “encounters” which required venturing out of downtown Melbourne. If you have a rental car, you can certainly visit the locations covered in this post yourself, but in my case I chose a tour operator / program that took me around without needing to rent a car.
We took a tour with Bunyip Tours, on their “1 Day Phillip Island Ultimate Tour”, which was A$139pp when we went (TA Booking Link). Similar to my other post on Touring the Great Ocean Road, I’ll provide my honest account of the play-by-play itinerary.
Morning Pick-up: The hotel pick-up itself was fine, but the “registration” and mini-bus assignment process was a bit of a mess. After the hotel pick-up, we were taken to Bunyip’s offices in the city, where 80-100 tourists were all corralled into different groups and assigned mini-bus numbers to board. The experience wasn’t horrible, but could have been better planned and organized.
Moonlit Sanctuary: The 75-min drive to the sanctuary was not too eventful, and given the larger mini-bus, the ride was a bit bumpier than the experience had on the GOR Tour (My “GOR” Post). But, it was a means to an end, and served its purpose. Once at Moonlit Sanctuary – we rushed to the front desk to get our Koala Encounter passes (A$20 per person). *PRO TIP* – I emailed the sanctuary in advance to ensure we had a pass to see the Koala, as I’ve heard the passes run out. The tour should arrive by 12:30pm or so to the sanctuary, so you can book the 1:15pm session. Ensure you check the schedule before going (Moonlit Encounters Schedule)! The encounter is generally offered daily at 11:30am, 1:15pm, and 3:00pm, but subject to change.
Koala Encounter: After a quick lunch (of hot dogs and cole slaw), we saw what we came to see. The koala encounter also let us pet the koalas (amazingly soft fur), and take pictures up close – definitely a highlight.
Close-up Wildlife Encounter: The other fauna at the sanctuary are generally roaming around (wombats, kangaroos), and only a few are actually caged off (dingoes). We were able to feed the wombats and kangaroos (they ate out of our hands!) with the A$3 feed bag we purchased at the gift shop before venturing out.
Churchill Island: A picturesque farm with various “shows” and demonstrations offered (sheep shearing, horse feeding, etc.). Nice change of pace and great to walk around a bit and take pictures against the countryside backdrop.
Koala Conservation Centre: This was an interesting “park” that consists of 2-3 eucalyptus forests, and you walk along the elevated boardwalk throughout the trees and try to spot koalas. There are staff scattered along the boardwalks to help point them out if you can’t find them yourself (I needed help almost every time). Hard to see some of them as all of them were sleeping and in trees a distance away from the boardwalk (hence why the Koala Encounter is a must-do!).
Cape Woolamai Surf Beach: Did not stop by for this – not sure how much time we could even have, given the other activities are quite time-consuming.
Nobbies Centre: This is a cliff-side information center with nature conservancy exhibits. The walk along the cliffs here was quite beautiful, especially as the sun was setting, so definitely make time for this. *Warning* Even though we went in December (middle of Summer for AUS), the coastal winds became very chilly as the time passed. DEFINITELY bring a jacket.
Penguin Parade: The namesake of the entire tour, Phillip Island Penguin Parade was such a unique experience (but SUPER touristy). You’ll hear the history / explanation once there, but it’s basically a natural feeding migration for a couple thousand of these tiny penguins to return from their 3-4 day fishing trip to feed their young. *Warning* Once again, even though we went in December (middle of the summer in Australia), the coastal winds became very chilly as the time passed. Penguin Parade basically involves sitting down from dusk till night, waiting for these penguins to show up, so DEFINITELY bring a jacket or blanket.
*Pro Tip* You’ll see other tour operators offering different add-ons to the experience. We opted for the A$30 extra “Penguin Plus”, which was a great idea because the regular viewing area is VERY FAR from the actual coast where the penguins come out of the water. You will basically need binoculars to see them, and only after they have come onto land will you be able to see them. There are other packages that offer the underground/indoor viewing, but I am not sure how great the viewing angles are inside. It looked like you could get a great view of the penguins coming onto land, but hard to see things beyond that.
Hotel Drop-off: We were quite tired by the time we were heading home, so basically passed out till we got back to our hotel. Thank god for room service!