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Tuesday, 29 January 2013 05:14

Melbourne’s Tame and Tender Wild Side

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Victoria’s newest marine attraction, the Nobbies Centre in Phillip Island Nature Park in Melbourne has opened after a $6.1 million redevelopment. In a first for Australian tourism, hi-tech cameras allow visitors close-up viewing of the world’s second largest Australian Fur Seal colony at Seal Rock (numbering 20,000) as they frolic in Bass Strait. Dolphins and sharks can also be spotted, as well as the rich bird life nesting in the cliffs. Entry to the centre is free. Phillip Island Nature Park is also renowned as the home of Australia’s most popular natural wildlife attraction, the world famous Penguin Parade. Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, Phillip Island features wildlife reserves, wetlands and breathtaking coastlines, offering some of the most intimate viewing experiences of Australian wildlife in their natural habitats.

Penguins on Parade
Each night at sunset visitors flock to Phillip Island’s Summerland Beach to observe the world’s largest colony of Little Penguins as they waddle ashore to their sand dune burrows after a long day of fishing. Among numerous ways to enjoy the spectacle, the newest is the exclusive Penguin Sky Box, which accommodates just five people per night. Visitors can also get closer to the action with a Private Penguin Parade, complete with personalized ranger commentary. Ideal for those seeking an even more intimate eco encounter is the Ultimate Penguin Tour, where guests are escorted to a secluded beach where they use night-vision goggles to watch as the Little Penguins pass by, mere inches away. Today, visitors can commemorate their experience by “Adopting a Penguin,” which provides an adoption certificate, personalized thank you card with photo and free Penguin Parade entry voucher, as well as regular updates on what it’s eating, where it’s swimming, if it’s in love (penguins mate for life) or is nurturing new offspring. The $75 donation supports the Penguin Foundation and builds a Little Penguin nesting box to enhance the safety of a “penguin couple” and improve its long-term prospects for successful breeding. www.penguinfoundation.org.au
Also at Phillip Island is the Koala Conservation Centre, which brings visitors face-to-face with Australia’s iconic marsupials. A series of treetop boardwalks allows guests to view the beguiling creatures in their natural environment. The Koala Conservation Centre has Australia’s highest ecotourism rating and has played an important role in saving Phillip Island’s koala population. The centre also boasts a woodland walk through natural bush where wallabies, possums, echidnas, and snakes are regularly spotted.
An easy way to see Phillip Island Nature Park is with Qantas Vacation’s four-day “Melbourne Discovery” package. After being met on arrival and transferred to a hotel of choice, a day of leisure awaits with ample time to explore Melbourne’s fabulous alfresco eateries or wander and shop in the city’s famed laneways. Day two features a guided morning tour of Melbourne’s “old meets new” architecture, the Yarra River, Captain Cook’s Cottage, the Queen Victoria Market, Fitzroy Gardens and Albert Park – home to the Formula One Grand Prix. After seeing the historic Shrine of Remembrance and strolling along Southbank’s waterfront, the afternoon is free for self-exploration. In the evening, dine aboard a beautifully restored 1927 Colonial tramcar as it trundles through the streets of Melbourne.
An afternoon guided tour on day three starts with a stop at a local winery to sample some Aussie vino and enjoy a homemade afternoon tea. At Phillip Island, guests first visit the Koala Conservation Centre, then the new Nobbies Centre. 
As the sun sets the Penguin Parade begins, with thousands of Little Penguins arriving onshore from their ocean feeding grounds, "walking and talking" loudly as they work their way back to their burrow nests. The evening concludes with a local fish and chips dinner and overnight in Melbourne.
Per person prices for Qantas Vacations’ four-night “Melbourne Discovery” package start at $699 per person through March 31, 2009, and include three nights in Melbourne, half-day Melbourne city sights tour, Phillip Island luxury tour, roundtrip private car transfers, Colonial Tramcar and fish and chips dinners. Call Qantas Vacations, 866-934-4359; www.qantasvacations.com 

For more information on Phillip Island, visit www.visitphillipisland.com; for information on Melbourne, visit Tourism Victoria’s website at www.visitmelbourne.com

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