Want to see the wild side of Australia’s Great Ocean Road? Take an immersive walk through a wildlife sanctuary that’s giving threatened species a fighting chance at survival.
From watching sea turtles lay eggs on a beach in Borneo to seeing troops of chimpanzees in the forests of Uganda, wildlife trips are trending as travellers jump at the chance to get closer to nature.
Now, travellers road-tripping through Australia on Intrepid’s new Great Ocean Road and Grampians Adventure will see some of the world’s most unique animal species on a magical walk through a bush sanctuary that supports conservation projects making a real difference to biodiversity.
Go where the wild things are
Located in coastal Victoria where the forest meets the sea, Wildlife Wonders is a social enterprise founded by Lizzie Corke, a conservationist who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to conservation and the environment.
You may already know about the Great Ocean Road’s monolithic sea stacks, but this nearby bushland sanctuary is home to many wonders of its own. Protected by over a kilometre of hidden fencing (designed to keep predators out), this safe haven provides a habitat for many of Australia’s most beloved species. It also supports the work of the not-for-profit Conservation Ecology Centre, providing much-needed funding for conservation research.
Delaney Martin, a Wildlife Wonders nature guide, has always had an interest in “all things furry, scaly and feathered”. Her passion for the natural world led her to pursue an environmental research career, achieving a degree in zoology and animal sciences. But it was a bushwalk with a friend that propelled her onto a new path. While sharing her knowledge about animal behaviours and habitats, Delaney could see how engaged her friend was.
“At one point, we were both on the ground huddled over some diggings in the dirt, and I started matching its distinctive shape with some Oscar-worthy echidna digging motions,” she remembers.
Now she welcomes visitors to the sanctuary that’s home to many native wildlife species including koalas, wallabies, emus and kangaroos. While guests are usually keen to catch a glimpse of a koala, there’s also a chance to see lesser-known species like Tasmanian pademelons, Eastern bettongs, Southern brown bandicoots and long-nosed potoroos.
But it’s not all about furry animals with adorable faces. Delaney explains that these landscapes are home to some of the oldest trees in the Otways, as well as the world’s tallest flowering plant, the Mountain Ash. There’s even a snail with cannibalistic tendencies that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
“The Otway Black Snail is a carnivorous invertebrate species that’s endemic to this environment and found nowhere else on earth,” says Delaney.
Managing threats, championing biodiversity
As if seeing some of the world’s most unique animals isn’t cool enough, your visit also funds an important cause. When you visit Wildlife Wonders, grab a bite to eat in the onsite café, or buy a memento from the gift shop, you’re supporting conservation work that’s critical to the survival of Australia’s threatened species and environments.
From plant-killing pathogens to destructive invasive species like feral cats, foxes and pigs, this fragile ecosystem is exposed to many threats. Like most other natural areas in Australia, bushfires are also a danger (in late 2015, fires raged throughout the region for six days, scorching over 2000 hectares of forest).
Sure, that sounds like a lot of bad news for the local wildlife and forests and heathlands they call home. But there’s some good news too. Just look at the vital work the conservation scientists are carrying out at the Conservation Ecology Centre. By learning more about the relationships threatened species have with their environment, we can better support the resilience of ecosystems.
One such species is the Tiger quoll. Thought to be extinct in the area, the elusive spotted (not striped as the name would suggest) marsupial was rediscovered by the Conservation Ecology Centre team in 2012. Now visitors to Wildlife Wonders can rest easy knowing that the species has a band of clever humans on its side, fighting to support its future.
“All the conservation projects support ecosystem health and connectivity. I love that this all leads to conservation of such an important flagship species,” says Delaney.
The enduring influence of ecotourism
“Ecotourism can play a key role in connecting people with nature – which is the first critical step in conservation. Spending time in nature and learning about it can help people understand how to make sustainable choices in life and work,” she says.
When you’re travelling, the well-known landmarks and blockbuster attractions often don’t live up to the hype. Instead, it’s the out-of-the-way places and unexpected moments that end up blowing you away. Wildlife Wonders is one of those places. But their impact stretches far beyond people going home with cool stories and photos.
“Sustainable tourism also supports the local economy, creating jobs and opportunities for local producers, artists and artisans to showcase their work and produce to people from all over the world,” Delaney says.
Working for a not-for-profit carrying out meaningful conservation research projects in one of the most scenic, biodiverse corners of Australia, Delaney has what many people would consider to be a dream job. So what’s the most rewarding part of her role? Seeing the priceless look on the faces of visitors is up there.
“Watching their reactions as we slowly wind our way through the sanctuary; from the excited gasps and smiles when we spot a koala, long-nosed potoroo or pademelon, to the headshakes of awe when learning about the unique function of various plants, animals and fungi, or even the jaw-drops at the view from the ocean lookout.”
Does koala spotting with a side serve of ocean views sound good to you? Add the Great Ocean Road and Grampians Adventure to your travel wish list.