When friends come to town, there’s one thing I’m asked more than anything else: where can I get up close to Australian wildlife near Melbourne?
It’s a question I didn’t know the answer to. Healesville Sanctuary is a popular choice because of how easy it is to travel to, but it’s expensive. When my Indonesian friend Satya headed to Melbourne, I decided to find out the answer.
After a quick stop at the Novotel Melbourne St Kilda to pick up Satya, and some coffee and road trip treats from my favourite St Kilda cafe nearby, we were off on a road trip and what I hoped would be an unforgettable Australian animal adventure for her.
Less than an hour outside of Melbourne, Moonlit Sanctuary is located in Pearcedale along the Mornington Peninsula.
What makes Moonlit Sanctuary special is that they aim to help conserve some of Australia’s rarest and most endangered species of animals, and assisting in growing the population of these animals with their successful breeding program. The aim ultimately is not to keep these animals sheltered, but to release them back to thrive in the wild.
After paying for our entrance tickets, Satya made a beeline to see one of Australia’s cutest residents: koalas!
These small furry creatures see to be a must see on any travellers Aussie bucket list, but it’s likely you’ll find them curled up in the neck of a tree as opposed to scampering around. With their incredibly low-calorie eucalyptus leaf diet, koalas need to sleep for around 18-20 hours each day!
As with many Australian animals, including koalas, they are nocturnal. If you want to see the animals more active, Moonlit Sanctuary does offer night tours. While Satya and I didn’t go on it because we were looking for the best photos, I’m keen to head out and experience the park after dark.
It’s not just koalas that call Moonlit Sanctuary home. Tasmanian Devils, dingos, wombats, birds, various species of possum, even reptiles live among the 10 hectares of land.
The Tasmanian Devil (pictured above) is a particularly interesting animal, not only because Looney Tunes modeled Taz the Devil after them!
Due to a contagious cancer that began affecting the animals around 15 years ago, the numbers of these fierce little creatures have dwindled to around 500 making them endangered.
While they may look awkward but cute, stay away from their mouth! They have one of the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom and will eat every part of an animal; hair, bones and all! Eww…
On the humid winter day, a lot of the animals, particularly the dingoes (pictured above) seemed to be sleeping or lazing around their enclosures.
If you want to get up close and personal with them, you might be able to take part in an animal Encounter at set times each day for a small extra fee. It allows you to get up close, meet the animals and even get some photos.
Yes, that includes Koala Encounters, but in the state of Victoria (where Melbourne is located), you cannot hold koalas. In fact, the rules about their working conditions are pretty strict! They can only work for a certain number of hours every week, plenty of breaks and lots of eucalyptus leaves to chomp on!
The only places in Australia you can hold koalas during a koala encounter are Queensland and South Australia (I recommend Cleland Wildlife Park if you visit Adelaide!).
If you want to learn more about the animals, join a Keeper Talk where you’ll get to learn more about the animals and maybe even get up close to your favourite animal.
For the truly passionate and young Rangers consider becoming a Keeper for a Day! Half day and full day experiences allow people to learn about and feed the animals, and a range of other tasks the keepers do every day to care for them.
Another really interesting creature you might be able to spot at Moonlit Sanctuary is the Spot-tail Quoll. The largest carnivorous marsupial on the Australian mainland, the Quoll is listed as extinct, largely in part due to the loss of habitat; but Victorian breeding programs are helping to raise the numbers.
Keeping Up with the Koalas
Luckily, one of the koalas was awake!
Typia seemed to be excited by the feast that her keeper was brought into the enclosure. Branches and branches of eucalyptus leaves were placed and she quickly scampered across to begin chowing down.
I think she looks pretty determined to get to those fresh leaves in the photos below!
Hand Feeding Kangaroos and Wallabies
One of the reasons Moonlit Sanctuary is so popular is because it’s one of the best places to see kangaroos near Melbourne! But don’t just see them, feed them!
Roaming freely around the park, though mainly keeping to the back of the park, you’ll find a number of species of kangaroos and wallabies living together. It’s in this area you can hand feed the animals the food you buy from the entry, where the tickets and gift store are.
Satya’s face said it all: sheer and utter delight as the kangaroos and wallabies licked and sucked up the grains and pellets she held in her hand. She held her hand up to me, glistening with moisture.
I laughed and passed her another bag of kangaroo and wallaby food. One bag is never enough!
While you are there, please be mindful of the black ropes running along the edge of the path. This is so that the animals can hop away and have some personal time without selfie stick wielding tourists trying to get another photo. Respect the animals – and the keepers who do check to make sure you aren’t being naughty – and keep to the path. Trust me, you’ll have plenty of takers eating right out of your hand.
No matter how many times I encounter any of Australia’s native animals, I am always in awe of them. So make it a priority on your trip to Melbourne to get out of the city and say g’day to some new mates!
550 Tyabb-Tooradin Rd
Pearcedale, Victoria Australia
Getting to Moonlit Sanctuary:
Moonlit Sanctuary is located in Pearcedale on the Mornington Peninsula, around an hour drive outside of Melbourne.
I chose to drive to Moonlit Sanctuary. It’s an easy drive that follows highway pretty much the entire journey. You can rent a car with any of the big car companies (I recommend Hertz or Budget, personally) but you could also rent a car with GoGet or Car Next Door which charges on an hour-by-hour basis.
If you don’t want to drive, you can take public transport or Moonlit Sanctuary can provide transfers if you are staying in a city hotel. Read more here.
Where to stay on the Mornington Peninsula:
If you are looking for great places to stay in Melbourne, check out this post (it’s not just great for those who love sport!) or try the hotel Satya stayed at in St Kilda, a beach side suburb just a short distance from the CBD. Best of all, the SkyBus runs directly outside the Novotel Melbourne St Kilda, making really easy and affordable to get to the hotel!
The best time to visit the Mornington Peninsula:
The Mornington Peninsula is best to visit during the warmer months (September – April) though I would avoid January and February because these are the hottest months of the year and also school holidays so accommodation may be fully booked.
That said, you’ll be able to find activities to do year round – like a visit to Moonlit Sanctuary or Peninsula Hot Springs – you just have to bring warmer clothes!
I visited Moonlit Sanctuary during August, the middle of winter, and still had a fantastic time. You just have to pick the right activities for the right day.
Regardless of when you visit, be sure to bring a light jacket – I travel with a North Face Condor TriClimate that is rain and windproof, but can be separated into a thin rain jacket or warmer fleece. If you are going to take any of the hikes at Fort Nepean then hiking shoes or sturdy sneakers are a must.