It’s a strange noise to hear in the middle of the Otways bushland…a loud drumming sound. But then all is revealed when happening upon a couple of Emus foraging in the grasslands! I am on a 75-minute “Walk with Wildlife” nature tour through the magical Otways bushland, where I get to meet all the local wildlife as well as enjoy lush tree fern gullies, eucalypt woodlands and marvel at spectacular ocean views. This is Wildlife Wonders, Australia’s newest wildlife sanctuary, located just outside Apollo Bay on the famous Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Wildlife Wonders has been honoured to be listed as one of the 5 best places in the world to enjoy nature, as named by National Geographic, in their 2022 Amazing Journeys in the world to explore. Not a bad accolade and well deserved for one of Australia’s top wildlife sanctuaries and most definitely, a unique wildlife experience not to be missed.
Located just 100kms or 1.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne in Victoria, the world-famous Great Ocean Road is a premier Australia experience and enables an encounter with nature in all its wonder on the 244km epic journey. This dramatic coastal road begins in Torquay and winds its way westward, hugging the rugged cliffs and beaches of southern Australia through seaside villages and national parks. The Great Ocean Road pays homage to servicemen lost in World War 1, and the thousands of returned soldiers who carved the route from rocky cliffs. It is most famous for the Twelve Apostles, the limestone stacks rising out of the Southern Ocean, as well as the Great Otway National Park, which delivers breathtaking waterfalls in tall mountain forests. Don’t miss the chance to learn to surf, go hiking through the Otways or stay awhile and do a section or all of the 8-day Great Ocean Walk. There is also plenty of places for fishing and kayaking and wonderful beaches to explore. Don’t miss the impressive breweries, cafes, and distilleries to be discovered and meander the local small towns at Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Fairy.
Take a walk on the wild side…encounter unique wildlife living freely in a stunning bushland setting
The Great Ocean Road is unquestionably a spectacular backdrop for nature based activities and Wildlife Wonders ticks all the boxes for those seeking a unique wildlife experience. The sanctuary is protected by a fox and cat proof fence, so it is free from feral predators. This ensures a visit will offer a thriving Otways ecosystem that presently cannot be found elsewhere. The guided nature walks at Wildlife Wonders are an absolute must not only to meet the local wildlife residents, but also to understand the secrets of the bush and learn about the plants and animals who call the Otways home. The main inhabitants of Wildlife Wonders are Koalas, Swamp Wallabies, Kangaroos, Emus, Kookaburras, Potoroos and Bandicoots. Koalas, Possums, and Birds can come and go as they please, but they all get to enjoy, nest, and thrive in the safe sanctuary free of predators. The sanctuary offers two nature walks including the Walk with Wildlife nature tour as well as the Dusk Discovery Wildlife Tour. Both tours utilise a gentle meandering path which is wheelchair accessible and suitable for all ages. If you are looking for more wildlife action, then choose the dusk tour as you can expect more activity at that time from the shy native residents such as Potoroos and Bandicoots as well as enjoy a mezze plate of local delights with beer or wine afterwards.
Know your visit is giving back…
Every visit to Wildlife Wonders, including money spent at the café and gift shop, supports a brighter future for the wild Otways, and for nature across Australia. This is because Wildlife Wonders is a social enterprise, with all monies reinvested into nature by supporting the critical research and conservation programs of the Conservation Ecology Centre(CEC). Lizzie Corke co-founded the CEC in 2000 in order to develop and deliver solutions to the most urgent conservation challenges in the Otways. Lizzie’s experience with ecotourism social enterprise began in 2004 when she co-founded the Great Ocean Ecolodge, and then Wildlife Wonders followed in 2021. Lizzie’s dedication to conservation is impressive and she was awarded the Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year Award in 2005, and a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to conservation and the environment in 2020.
The CEC works collaboratively and innovatively to develop and deliver solutions to the most urgent conservation challenges in the Otways region. Their vision is a healthy and resilient Otways cared for forever. Their purpose is to generate knowledge to nurture the Otways landscape, with building knowledge, restoring habitats, and supporting threatened species in the Otways. The guided Walk with Wildlife tour includes a pause at the Research Base, where you’ll be able to learn more about projects currently being undertaken across the Otways by the Conservation Ecology Centre, which your visit is helping to support. Current projects include planting habitat trees for koalas, undertaking surveys for threatened species, and controlling cats and foxes so the native species have a chance to thrive. You can support the Conservation Ecology Centre & Lizzie’s work by donating here
The Great Ocean Road is a must-visit destination for those of us that enjoy the great outdoors. It is a triple win of magnificent beaches, pristine forests and getting up close and personal with the native wildlife. So, with the combination of a unique wildlife experience, the spectacular surrounds and supporting the local community and environment, Wildlife Wonders and the Great Ocean Road are a perfect choice. Immerse yourself in nature – taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the Otways on a guided tour. Spot an elusive threatened species, like a Long-nosed Potoroo or Southern Brown Bandicoot. Take in the spectacular views of the Southern Ocean, and maybe spot a whale. Tick iconic Aussie wildlife sightings off your list – kangaroos (tick), koalas (tick), emus (tick). And most importantly, contribute to environmental research and conservation in the Otways with every dollar spent. Make sure to include a guided nature tour with Wildlife Wonders on your next visit…. I know it will be the highlight of your Aussie adventure!
Summer in Australia takes place from December-February and expect the weather temperatures for the Great Ocean Road during the peak season to range from 25-30 degrees. With endless beaches and the sun glittering on the ocean, it’s no surprise that this is the busiest season. However, for less crowds but still warm weather and most importantly, having the road to yourself, consider travelling in the shoulder seasons of October – November or February-March.
Good to know:
It is worthwhile to stay three nights to explore the spectacular Great Ocean Road. Priorities should be to have some beach time and meet the local Aussie wildlife in the magnificent Otways forests. You are in for a treat with some magnificent surf and swimming beaches. This is where you will find the home of such iconic surf brands as Ripcurl and Quicksilver. The Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach is where the world’s best surfers compete each Easter in the longest running surf competition in the world.
Do some short walks through the Otway Ranges amongst tall trees, ancient plant life and lush green ferns. Walk among giant tree ferns at Maits Rest Rainforest Trail just a 10 minute drive from Wildlife Wonders. Just 30 minutes inland take the time to kayak Lake Elizabeth at dawn or dusk to meet the unique Australian Platypus in a beautiful, enchanting setting. Other attractions in the region include viewing the glow worms at Melba Gully, enjoying the impressive Triplet Falls or experiencing the full beauty of this rainforest paradise on the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk or Zip Line tour.
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