While it only covers about one hundred square kilometers, Phillip Island in Victoria Australia has numerous opportunities to see wildlife. To see koalas amongst the eucalyptus, the place to go is the Koala Conservation Centre.
Koala Conservation Centre has an informative visitor center, walking trails, and elevated boardwalks where you see koalas up close. The main attractions, the Koala Boardwalk and Woodland Boardwalk, offer approximately 350 meters of walking through trees where koalas live. Combine the boardwalks with the Woodland Walk, a dirt trail that explores more of the conservation area, and you can hike over a kilometer in koala country.
Enter the Koala Conservation Centre from the large parking area, pass through the gift shop, and pay the entrance fee (details below) to reach a room full of koala facts. Before you rush off to see the koalas, read the panels to learn interesting things about these restful marsupials (koalas are not bears). Koalas only eat around 500 grams (1.1 pounds) of eucalyptus leaves each day and have developed a low-energy lifestyle to match this restrictive diet. Koalas sleep up to twenty hours a day and are most active at night and at dusk, so the koalas you see on your visit will be pretty sedentary.
Koalas live in eucalyptus (gum tree) forests across eastern Australia, but they were not originally native to Phillip Island. Koalas were brought to the island in the 1870s and their population thrived, becoming a major tourist draw. As development on the island continued, the koala population shrank. The Koala Conservation Centre opened in 1992 to protect the remaining koalas.
Step out the back door of the visitor center where a wide dirt trail beneath eucalyptus trees will lead you into the koala habitat and to a sign with an aerial view map of the conservation area. You can stay to the left to walk around the Woodland Walk or turn right to head to the Koala Boardwalk and Woodland Boardwalk. The entire park and each of the boardwalk areas are enclosed by koala-proof fences. These bright green barriers let you know when you’re approaching a main attraction or the edge of the park.
Bear right at the sign to head toward the boardwalks. You will quickly reach another split. Every trail junction is marked by a tall sign to keep you heading in the right direction. The Woodland Boardwalk is to the left and the Koala Boardwalk is to the right. Stay to the right to begin with the Koala Boardwalk, where you can look for four female koalas and one lucky male koala (and maybe their young) that are part of the center’s koala breeding program.
You’ll make another right and then pass through a gate in the green fence to reach the Koala Boardwalk. The wooden boardwalk takes you off the forest floor and into the trees. The Koala Conservation Centre website describes the Koala Boardwalk and Woodland Boardwalk as “tree-top boardwalks” but they would more accurately be called tree-trunk boardwalks. While the walkways might not reach the canopy, they can still bring you alongside some of the koalas. Koalas in the treetops may still seem high above you though.
The Koala Boardwalk is a 200-meter long loop. Walk around the boardwalk and see if you can spot the five koalas in this area. There will be informative panels along the railing of the walkway where koalas have been seen. Since koalas don’t move very much, it’s pretty easy to track their location. When you come to a sign along the trail, look around and you’ll probably find a koala. The koalas have lots of places to perch in the eucalyptus trees and seem to like wedging themselves between large tree branches.
At the far end of the boardwalk there is a view over a small pond and wetlands to the east. Look out from the boardwalk and you might be lucky enough to see wallabies or some of the area’s birds. Stroll around the Koala Boardwalk once or twice until you’ve spotted each koala. They stay pretty still, but if you stand and watch, you’ll see koalas stretch and look around from time to time.
Leave the Koala Boardwalk and head toward the Woodland Boardwalk, where koalas may be perched nearer to the level of the boardwalk, allowing you a closer look. Follow the trail signs between the two boardwalks making a right, a left, and then a right to enter the Woodland Boardwalk, again passing through a green koala fence.
This second boardwalk is around 150 meters long and not a complete loop. There are additional animals within this koala habitat. Look on the ground and you may spot one of Australia’s other interesting animals, an echidna (shown in the photos below). As you rise off the ground on this boardwalk, you’ll find more koalas in the trees. Koalas along this boardwalk seem to be lower and closer than on the Koala Boardwalk, allowing you to get a better look. The sleepy koalas seem to stay in a state of quasi-hibernation, so you won’t see much movement except for the occasional adorable yawn.
Koalas have strong limbs and sharp claws for climbing and clinging to trees. If you’re allowed a close look at a koala’s hand, you’ll notice that while it has five fingers, it has two connected thumbs. This strong-grip configuration helps koalas to climb and suspend themselves in trees.
When you exit the Woodland Boardwalk, you will have two options:
- Turn left to walk about 200 meters back to the visitor center
- Turn right and take the woodland walk through the northwest area of the preserve
Twenty free-range koalas live in the woodland area outside the boardwalk encloses, but you may have trouble spotting them. The woodland walk is level and offers a pleasant stroll through the eucalyptus. Flying animals like lorikeets and hopping animals like wallabies can also be seen along the Woodland Walk. After turning right at the end of the Woodland Boardwalk, turn left to explore the longer woodland walk. Stroll 1/3 of a kilometer to the north side of the conservation area where there’s another junction. Bear left to take the larger loop. In another 1/3 of a kilometer, you’ll reach a trail around the fence enclosing the Woodland Boardwalk. Bear left and pass between the two boardwalk areas, following signs for the short distance back to the visitor center. If you covered every piece of the woodland walk, you could hike 1.6 kilometers. The itinerary described above (the two boardwalks and the main area of the woodland walk) gives you a 1.2-kilometer walk among the koalas.
Naturally, dogs and bikes are not permitted at the Koala Conservation Centre. The cost of entry is $6.40 for children ages 4 to 15 and $12.80 for adults and children over 16. A family fare for 2 adults and 2 children is $32.00 and Australian pensioners get in for $8.95 (all prices shown in Australian Dollars as of 2017). The Koala Conservation Centre opens daily at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. from Boxing Day to end of January. From February to the end of March, the center closes at 5:30 p.m. And from April to Christmas, the center closes at 5 p.m. (the center does not open until 2 p.m. on Christmas Day). Visit the Koala Conservation Centre website for more information.
Directions: From Melbourne, take M1 east for approximately 30 kilometers to the exit for South Gippsland Freeway (M420) and drive south for 97 kilometers on M420 following signs for Phillip Island. Bear right onto Phillip Island Road (B420) to cross the bridge onto Phillip Island. Now continue another 8.5 kilometers to a intersection with Back Beach Road, which splits off to the left. Stay to the right on Phillip Island Road and drive another 1.7 kilometers to the entrance to the Koala Conservation Centre, which will be on the right.
Address: 1810 Phillip Island Road, Cowes, VIC 3922, Australia
Coordinates: -38.485668, 145.262828 (38° 29′ 08.40″S 145° 15′ 46.18″E)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Australian trails, campgrounds, and lodging.
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