5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

We arrived in Melbourne with the kids on a Friday afternoon, five days into the Australia part of our round-the-world-trip, and still no iconic Australian critter sightings. The highway signs kept teasing us with their messages. A “Kangaroo Crossing” sign here or an outline of a large furry animal there made us put down our maps and scour the road ahead for moving creatures. But after five days of driving, we still hadn’t seen any (except for that dead wombat). Our CouchSurfing hosts in Melbourne were all too happy to help remedy that. We had scarcely had time to put down our bags when they whisked us to a local park where we saw loads of kangaroos noshing on the wide lawns there. We even saw a couple of mamas with baby joeys in their pouches. These kangaroos were used to people gawking at them, so we were able to get quite close to them.

Wildlife Street Signs in Australia

The area where we were staying was about an hour from the center of Melbourne, in the Dandenong Ranges, a hilly area of soaring forests. We soon discovered that this area held many many treasures in its small towns and parks. Our recommendations if you’re in Melbourne with kids, especially if they love animals, are these:

Healesville Sanctuary

1- Healesville Sanctuary – This is the place to get your fill of all the cute and cuddly (and not so) Australian animals. This is a zoo specifically for the native fauna of Australia. Try to make it for koala feeding time, otherwise, all you’ll see are furry balls perched up in the trees. Platypus, dingo, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, lyrebird, wombat, and even Tasmanian devil can all be found here. The staff are happy to answer questions, and occasionally bring out an animal for petting. The sanctuary is about an hour outside of the city, but is accessible by public transportation. There are also several bus companies in Melbourne that run shuttles to the sanctuary.

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

2 –  Cardinia Reservoir Park – The park itself, in the town of Emerald, is a great big expanse of green surrounding a lovely reservoir that supplies Melbourne with drinking water. But the real treat here is the kangaroos, who venture out into the large fields of the park just before dusk. Though of course you shouldn’t pester the ‘roos, they are accustomed enough to people that you can get close enough for some great photos. But seriously, don’t try to pet them. They’ve got a kick that can flatten a sumo wrestler.

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

3 – The Great Ocean Road – This has to be one of the best coastal drives in the world, with dramatic cliffs dropping down to great wide beaches as bare as a newborn’s bottom. All along the route are parks, where you can find all sorts of wildlife from snakes to sea anemone to observe, and marine sanctuaries, where you can rest assured there are happy sea creatures, even though you can’t swim with them. My advice? Just pack a picnic, get in the car, and drive until a spot draws you in. You really can’t go wrong here.

Yep, that crab is sun-baked.

Crab along the Great Ocean Road

4 – Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium – While the two are not related, most folks in Melbourne discuss them in the same breath, because they are two stellar animal parks and they are both highlights of a visit to the city, especially for families.

Puffing Billy Railway

Puffing Billy Railway

5 – Puffing Billy Railway – Yes, I will grant you, this is not, per se, an animal-related outing. However, the Puffing Billy Railway is a 100-year-old steam train in the Dandenongs that is beloved by all. Who can resist the adorable wooden cars, the puffing steam from the coal-fired locomotive, the hoot of the train whistle? The locals hop right on and stick their feet out the side to ride in the windows, which is perfectly fine until you get to the rail trestle crossing. Just don’t look down. The ride takes between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the day and the stops.

 

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

We arrived in Melbourne with the kids on a Friday afternoon, five days into the Australia part of our round-the-world-trip, and still no iconic Australian critter sightings. The highway signs kept teasing us with their messages. A “Kangaroo Crossing” sign here or an outline of a large furry animal there made us put down our maps and scour the road ahead for moving creatures. But after five days of driving, we still hadn’t seen any (except for that dead wombat). Our CouchSurfing hosts in Melbourne were all too happy to help remedy that. We had scarcely had time to put down our bags when they whisked us to a local park where we saw loads of kangaroos noshing on the wide lawns there. We even saw a couple of mamas with baby joeys in their pouches. These kangaroos were used to people gawking at them, so we were able to get quite close to them.

Wildlife Street Signs in Australia

The area where we were staying was about an hour from the center of Melbourne, in the Dandenong Ranges, a hilly area of soaring forests. We soon discovered that this area held many many treasures in its small towns and parks. Our recommendations if you’re in Melbourne with kids, especially if they love animals, are these:

Healesville Sanctuary

1- Healesville Sanctuary – This is the place to get your fill of all the cute and cuddly (and not so) Australian animals. This is a zoo specifically for the native fauna of Australia. Try to make it for koala feeding time, otherwise, all you’ll see are furry balls perched up in the trees. Platypus, dingo, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, lyrebird, wombat, and even Tasmanian devil can all be found here. The staff are happy to answer questions, and occasionally bring out an animal for petting. The sanctuary is about an hour outside of the city, but is accessible by public transportation. There are also several bus companies in Melbourne that run shuttles to the sanctuary.

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

2 –  Cardinia Reservoir Park – The park itself, in the town of Emerald, is a great big expanse of green surrounding a lovely reservoir that supplies Melbourne with drinking water. But the real treat here is the kangaroos, who venture out into the large fields of the park just before dusk. Though of course you shouldn’t pester the ‘roos, they are accustomed enough to people that you can get close enough for some great photos. But seriously, don’t try to pet them. They’ve got a kick that can flatten a sumo wrestler.

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

3 – The Great Ocean Road – This has to be one of the best coastal drives in the world, with dramatic cliffs dropping down to great wide beaches as bare as a newborn’s bottom. All along the route are parks, where you can find all sorts of wildlife from snakes to sea anemone to observe, and marine sanctuaries, where you can rest assured there are happy sea creatures, even though you can’t swim with them. My advice? Just pack a picnic, get in the car, and drive until a spot draws you in. You really can’t go wrong here.

Yep, that crab is sun-baked.

Crab along the Great Ocean Road

4 – Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium – While the two are not related, most folks in Melbourne discuss them in the same breath, because they are two stellar animal parks and they are both highlights of a visit to the city, especially for families.

Puffing Billy Railway

Puffing Billy Railway

5 – Puffing Billy Railway – Yes, I will grant you, this is not, per se, an animal-related outing. However, the Puffing Billy Railway is a 100-year-old steam train in the Dandenongs that is beloved by all. Who can resist the adorable wooden cars, the puffing steam from the coal-fired locomotive, the hoot of the train whistle? The locals hop right on and stick their feet out the side to ride in the windows, which is perfectly fine until you get to the rail trestle crossing. Just don’t look down. The ride takes between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the day and the stops.

 

Dead Wombat in the Middle of the Road

Dead Wombat in the Middle of the Road

Day three in Australia begins with rain outside and Magnolia running a fever. We stop for oysters on our way out of town, since we had been foiled in our earlier effort. These Clyde River oysters were the perfect balance of briny and sweet, and had come right out of the river just hours before. We made a pledge to eat as many fresh local oysters as possible. Bonus: they were not crazy expensive.

Clyde River Oysters

We stopped at Mystery Bay, just south of Narooma, where in 1880 a ship carrying a gold-field surveyor and his crew washed ashore not long after its departure, completely empty of supplies, and with four holes in the hull that appeared to have been made from the inside. For us, it was a sweet spot for a picnic and a quick dip in the crystal clear water. The girls did not join us in the swim, though. We’ve all been reading Bill Bryson’s book, Down Under, which includes in it’s first chapters a litany of all the deadly creatures living in Australia and its waters, so they choose the relative safety of the swing set.

The drive was full of signs for kangaroo crossings, and the eucalyptus forests are home to koalas. We passed the Genoa River, which is said to be home to platypus. But we have yet to see any of those things. We were thrilled, though, to hang out with these pelicans for a while.

Pelicans on the Clyde River

Spent the night in the town of Lakes Entrance. According to Aboriginal legend, the lakes were formed by a mystical spit take, when a frog who had swallowed the ocean was surprised by an eel who was standing upright. I think I need to read more Aboriginal legends.

We stopped by several motels before we found one with wifi. The very pleasant Comfort Inn Emmanuel fit the bill, and had a cute googie style that I forgot to photograph.

Before we left in the morning, we crossed the footbridge over to Ninety Mile Beach. Yes. Ninety Mile Beach. We were about to declare it the greatest beach ever, when we almost stepped on a tiny bluebottle jellyfish. And then another. And another. Bluebottle stings are notoriously painful, and can leave permanent scars. We decided to put our shoes back on and head back to the car.

Tiny bluebottle jellyfish

Before going to our friend Nicole’s house near Melbourne, we thought we’d aim for one more beach along the way. Or, sort of along the way. Or, “a four-hour detour to a total sh*thole on the most dangerous road in all of Australia,” as Nicole would call it. She tried to talk us out of it, but I could tell that the more she discouraged us, the more John dug in his heels. This place he had read a paragraph about in a tourist office publication this morning was now an essential must-do on our trip.

I’m happy to say that it was a very cool place. The Bununrong Marine National Park had an amazing rocky beach with tide pools full of sea life we’d never seen before, surrounded by dramatic sandstone cliffs. We even saw some penguin-like birds.

Bununrung Marine National Park

But indeed we did see our first cool Australian critter – a wombat –  sadly dead on the side of the road. Those things are huge! I always thought they were like large guinea pigs, but this was closer in size to a small bear. Even legs up and clearly dead, it was adorable, and reminded me of Mr. Danders, the misunderstood guinea pig in Cul de Sac. I did not photograph it, but here’s a photo of a wombat by Phil Whitehouse for your viewing pleasure.

Wombat by Phil Whitehouse

Australian Road Trip!

Australian Road Trip!

We arrived in Australia on Monday evening, and were treated to a spectacle sunset as we drove our (Upgraded! Score!) rental car towards the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The sky in Australia seems a lot livelier than at home. The blue is bluer, the clouds are fluffier, and the sunsets last so long you start to think the earth might have slowed down its spin.

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When we walked into our motor court motel room in Katoomba, Calla looked around suspiciously. “I’ve heard things about motels,” she said. Now this was not a luxury destination, by any means, but compared to some of the places we’ve stayed on this trip, even in the past week, this was pretty nice. Ensuite bathroom with unlimited hot water on demand (no coins required!), sheets, towels, blankets, AC, even TV. But she’s never stayed in a motel.

Interestingly, we learn the next day that the term “hotel” does not mean what we thought it meant. After passing several “hotels” that appeared not to have any rooms for rent, we finally asked someone about it. Apparently the only places that can sell beer for home consumption are bottle shops (liquor stores) and hotels, which look a lot like bars.

Our first morning in Australia we awoke to a very loud screech. Or squawk. We opened the door to find a pair of very large white cockatiels battling for control of the parking lot. Our first critter-spotting in Australia!

We set out for a short hike in the Blue Mountains National Park. We started out by the Three Sisters rock formations, which just made me miss my two sisters. 🙁 The landscape was pretty stunning, but we had perhaps overdosed on stunning landscapes in New Zealand. We were ready to move on.

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We hadn’t planned to go into Sydney at all, but Calla seemed really sad to miss seeing the Opera House, so we headed back into the city. After many, many wrong turns trying to get to a good spot to view it from afar, we accidentally pulled up right next to it.

From there, having seen quite a bit of the city by accident, we decided to head for the beach. Bondi Beach was a gorgeous stretch of the softest sand I’ve ever seen, loaded with the most attractive beach bodies I’ve ever seen. But then again, I’m usually at the Jersey Shore. Badumbum. I kid! I love the Jersey Shore! And there are not nearly as many deadly sharks and jellyfish there.

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Leaving the beach just as rush hour began, we started the long drive south towards Melbourne. We spent the night in the nondescript beach town of Wollongong, whose name is the coolest thing about it. I hear the surfing’s good, though, but we were on the road again first thing in the morning.

The road south slowed through several cute small towns, which all seemed to have three bakeries and a cheese shop. We stopped in one called Milton for a great lunch, and were thrilled to find they had a two-for-one deal that day. Chicken pie!

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Have I mentioned that Australia is extremely expensive? We’d gotten used to the fact that we’d be tripling our daily budget when we were in New Zealand, but we hoped it would be better here. It’s not. And the Aussie dollar is stronger than the kiwi one. Blah. So again, we just pretend it’s Monopoly money we’re paying with and move ahead. It will all balance out in South East Asia.

We arrived in Batemans Bay on the early side for us, giving us time for a nap, a walk, a load of laundry, and some schoolwork before making dinner in our sweet little cabin at the Big4 Batemans Bay at East Riverside Holiday Park (really rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?). It felt good to just chill for a bit. We might have stayed another night, but we figured it will take another 8 hours of driving to Melbourne, and we don’t want to do it all in one day. So we’re off again in the morning.