For many travellers a trip to Melbourne also includes a visit to the famous Great Ocean Road. Its most memorable landscape feature, the Twelve Apostles, are just three hours from Melbourne, perfect for a day trip or a weekend away.
But let’s be honest: just because adults like to look at the spectacular coastal scenery it doesn’t mean that kids will have just as much fun as the grown-ups. From experience I can tell you that it helps tremendously if you manage to build a day trip itinerary that will take into account the interests of all parties. Kids don’t particularly care about stone stacks that are slowly eaten away by the forces of nature. But what they do care about are animals. Ideally, animals that are tame and that you can hand feed and maybe even pet.
Luckily, there is a wildlife park close to Twelve Apostles, just 15 minutes drive from one of Australia’s most scenic spots. Aptly named Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park this family-run business is a mix of different ideas, all neatly packaged in a way so that families with children big and small can have a great time here.
To be clear, Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park is not a zoo. It is a 39 acre family farm that happens to life in harmony with nature. Sustainability is key here, a goal that the family is keen to achieve in the near future, with areas for growing food currently being established all over the property.
This makes Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park a multi-faceted experience filled with simple fun activities and educational lessons about the environment and the featured animals. From our own first-hand experience I can assure you that kids will love the close animal encounters that are located right next to the visitor centre – you really don’t have to walk far to bump into your first peacock, an incredibly vain creature which continued to impress us with its bright display of colours and charming dance routine, ruffled feathers and all.
The petting zoo is a small enclosure with a variety of animals that can be easily fed with the feed provided. Not just Australian animals, mind you, like wallabies, wombats, emus and kangaroos, but there are also fluffy alpacas with soft fur that the kids loved to touch. The farm keeps these alpacas for their good quality wool, hence there is again the arch to sustainable farming techniques.
The close encounters do not end here. For a small fee you can even get extremely close to one of the resident dingoes. Wait… you may think. Isn’t this dangerous? Remember the story of the dingo and the baby…? And aren’t these creatures kept in separate enclosures behind strong wire mesh and enforced fences for a reason?
Well, yes. But getting close to these wild beasts for a cuddle session is actually not that far-fetched. The operators of the wildlife park are strong believers that the dingo is getting a bad rep for all the wrong reasons. They want to show the world that the dingo is in fact not an aggressive animal, that you can safely interact with it as long as you don’t threaten it.
From the petting area we set off to the next section of the farm, the Animal Sanctuary. The trail led us past sustainable farming areas in process – there were veggie patches, and a new orchard. Colourful hand painted signs gave us food for thought along the way, such as information on the animals, the aboriginal heritage of the land, the owners’ ideas on their connection with the land and the role we all play in our natural environment.
In front of us, the farm unfolded in soft undulating pastures. In the distance we could spot more animals, now in a more natural environment. Grazing under trees there were donkeys and horses in the distance, and an emu stalked gracefully along the crest of a hill. Deer big and small were coming to the fences, curiously sniffing our outstretched hands for any leftover feed.
In gumboots that we swapped with our sneakers at the entrance, we carefully walked down the hill to the pretty lake, now swollen after heavy rains over the previous weeks. The path was muddy and wet, and the kids enjoyed navigating their way from one dry spot to the next.
Sheep ran up to us, inspecting us curiously through the fences. There were soft tufts of wool on the path, I picked it up to show it to the kids. Herds of lazing kangaroos dotted the slopes of nearby hills like Londoners on a sunny day in Hyde Park, their hind legs outstretched, the ears upright in constant alarm. It only took us around 30 minutes to walk around the farm, perfect for the short attention span of our little ones.
Before you head back to Melbourne or wherever your next stop might be on your day trip, you could end your visit with a slice of pizza in the café and have a chat with the friendly owners about their plans for complete sustainability – their knowledge and views are outstanding and incredibly interesting.
If you plan a visit now, make sure you don’t rock up on a Saturday as the park will be closed on this day. Weather permitting, the park will be open during daylight hours, and the fee for a family of four is just $45.00. For more info, see here: http://www.greatoceanroadwildlifepark.com/
Great Ocean Road Wildlife Park. 29 The Boulevarde, Princetown.
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