We’re currently doing a housesit in a small village outside the medium-sized city of Ballarat. Located just over an hour from the popular city of Melbourne, Ballarat holds a big place in Australia’s history and offers a lot for visitors. When some people heard we were coming here, they were confused. Small towns may not be on most people’s list when they’re traveling, but we love them. And it was here that we had a great introduction to Australian animals. The Ballarat Wildlife Park is a family-run operation. The founder, Greg Parker, moved to Ballarat in 1984 with the express purpose of opening this wildlife park. Located on 32 acres of woodland, the park has an impressive collection of Australian native wildlife. The park’s unofficial greeters are a mob of Kangaroo Island kangaroos. They are free ranging and are incredibly friendly. Especially if you’re holding a bag of feed. That’s right, you can feed the kangaroos! A bag of their special mix costs $3 AUD. We bought two bags just in case, and I never would’ve imagined how much fun it would be to feed them. They’re incredibly cute and hop over to you as soon as they realize what’s in your hand. As you hold out your hand, their food nestled in your palm, the kangaroos stand up a bit, gently hold onto your hand with their paws, and lick the food out of your hand. They will let you pet them and are quite happy to even get a sideways hug. Some of the roos had a joey in their pouch. You can’t pet those, but they are so darn cute when they pop their little head out of their mom’s pouch to investigate what’s happening. And if Mama is eating off the ground, the joey may feed, too, while remaining safely ensconced in its special chamber. The park has an active education program, and while we were there we were able to attend presentations on several animals. One of the fabulous talks was about koalas. I learned a lot of things!
- Koalas are extremely emotionally sensitive. If a koala is on the ground and has to flee from a predator, it may be so traumatized from the experience that it could die within a couple of days from the emotional shock.
- Koalas rarely drink water. They get most of their supply from the eucalyptus leaves they eat. They will only drink if ill or in extreme hot.
- They cannot sweat. Imagine wearing a fur coat in 35-degree weather (95 degrees Fahrenheit)!
- There are about 8 species of eucalyptus, but koalas pick about 3 different types as their favorites and make up their diet from that preferred group.
- The ones located in the state of Victoria are up to 30% larger than the koalas in other parts of Australia.
During the presentation, we each had the opportunity to pet one. She fed on leaves and pretty much ignored us while we all took our turn stroking her back. My other favorite presentation was on wombats. I think they give koalas serious competition on the cuteness scale. And they’re quite large! Whenever I’ve seen their name, I’ve always envisioned a very aggressive animal, but wombats are quite gentle, inquisitive, and loaded with personality. Their keeper told us that you also can’t change their personality. If you get a grumpy wombat, it will always be grumpy no matter what you do. Wombats communicate with each other with bites, some of which may be nips but at other times are quite aggressive and break the skin. They have a cartilaginous strip in their backside which protects them when they’re hiding in their hole from predators.
There is also an exhibit of Tasmian devils which is one of the best I’ve seen. Often they’re behind glass or in a small enclosure, but these devils have a lot of room to roam around outdoors in what appears to be native habitat. Yet they are still close enough for you to get a good look. In addition to the furry cuties, there is a nice collection of reptiles. We missed the crocodile feeding demonstration because we were having too much fun with some kangaroos. We also enjoyed a nice lunch in their cafe, which, incidentally, serves wine in addition to hot and cold beverages and some tasty food. I definitely recommend a visit to the wildlife park. We enjoyed it so much, we may go back before we leave Australia. If you’ purchase the Ballarat Pass, it includes admission to the wildlife park. It’s hard to beat being able to experience Australian animals up close and to interact with them. I think we’ll remember our buddies the kangaroos for a long time.
—Special thanks to the Ballarat Regional Tourism office who provided us with a Ballarat Pass.