Discovering the Wild Side of Phillip Island’s Wildlife (Part 1)

Phillip Island on Victoria’s Bass Coast is a weekend destination under a two-hour drive from Melbourne. It’s where a torrent of waves from Bass Strait collide into craggy cliffs stretching the breadth if the island. Phillip Island is naturally staged for a weekend nature adventure, furnished by wild and wondrous bushland and inhabited by unique wildlife spotting opportunities including the world-famous Penguin Parade.

Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan

Collectively, the Koala Conservation Centre, Seal Rock and Penguin Parade are three of the most popular nature areas that make up much of the Phillip Island Nature Parks, a self-funded organisation that’d dedicated to the conservation of wildlife that live here. Phillip Island Nature Parks’ tagline is simple but effective – ‘discover your wild side’ Wild is how Phillip Island prefers its wilderness, especially for the conservation of those species who call this area home.

Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan

Vegans will tell you they are opposed to the exploitation of animals for the sake of human gain. Yet, there are vegans in the community of Melbourne who are unopposed by experiencing these three nature experiences found at Phillip Island. The conservational benefits this non-profit establishment affords are evident, focusing on the ecology for these native stars of such a lush and diversity-rich area. Just take a detouring wander through the bushland trails nearby for a snapshot. Overall, each experience provides vegans (and non-vegans) travelling to Phillip Island the opportunity to witness koalas, seals and penguins in their natural habitats, with as much non-interference from visitors at each stepping stone as possible.

Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan
Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan

The open air, tree-top boardwalks circumnavigating the Koala Conservation Centre lead visitors around a concourse of eucalypt trees. Fluffy koalas can be found sleeping in the forks of branches and it’s as if visitors here are ‘walking with’ these adorable Australian marsupials; the koalas themselves climb lazily as they’re tempted by young, fresh eucalypt leaves to munch on. On occasion, it’s a beautiful setting to spot a mother and her little joey clinging confidently to her back. Though, these ‘mum and bub’ sightings can be a little far and few between, depending when you visit. Given their sedentary lifestyle, koalas are big-sleepers and often sleep up to 18 hours a day. This is because their diet of eucalypt leaves is low in energy.

Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan
Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan
Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan

Upon my visit to the Koala Conservation Centre, one tourist was keen for a photo and was a little eager, to put it lightly. He discovered a sleepy koala in a low baring bough and the poor creature was shaken awake by the tourist who rattled the branch that was within easy-reach. More often than not staff are wandering the boardwalk to supervise. Yet it was at this moment that timing was futile for the koala. I took it upon myself to tell the tourist to stop, reminding him that his actions were detrimental to the wildlife. He composed himself and proceeded to wander the boardwalk amidst unsavoury glances from other tourists.

Phillip Island Melbourne Victoria Australia koalas penguins seals nature travel vegan

The point here is that while the Koala Conservation Centre aims to conserve koalas in their natural habitat, an unruly tourist is always going to appear at any moment and it’s up to us to take the initiative and educate. This is especially important, in this age when urbanisation, land-clearing and loss of habitat are real issues wildlife face regularly. It’s ultimately our role to conserve what is left so Phillip Island doesn’t its priceless treasures – the wildlife.         

You can experience the Koala Conservation Centre for yourself. 1810 Phillip Island Road, Phillip Island, Victoria Australia 3923. The Koala Conservation Centre is open 10am to 5pm daily and extended hours operate in the Australian summer months of December through to February.

    Adult (16 years+) tickets cost $12.80, child (4-15 years) $6.40, family (2 adults and 2 children) $32.00 and Australian Pensioner (ID required) $8.95

The Koala Conservation Centre is accessible by car and car-parking is free. Public transport is limited to Cowes via V-Line bus from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne CBD (does not go to the Koala Conservation Centre). Taxis are available via Phillip Island Taxis on 03 5952 2200.

Be sure to look out for Part 2 where you'll learn more about the wildlife on Phillip Island: The Penguin Parade and an EcoBoat ride for seal-watching.

How to Fit More Green Time into your Life

When you think of ‘green time’, what thoughts come to mind? Are you drawn to the colour green in your mind? Are you seduced by the view of your garden through a window or a forest from a bus? Or, do you feel a compelling urge to reach for colouring pencils or a paint brush? For me, green time is the important ritual of listening to myself then searching for the green, mindfully, that exists beyond the comforts of the indoors. Then, how do I fit it in to my life?

green time, nature, travel, walking, switch off, travel tips

Start by shouting a resounding ‘NO’!
Being trapped indoors, gripped by daily deadlines, demanding bouts of screen time or being bombarded by the demands of daily life all drain my energy reserves eventually. The opportunity to refuel each day can sometimes slip away from me. So, there are times when I have to stamp my foot down and shout a resounding ‘NO’ when demands become too demanding. For me, saying ‘no’ is what I’ve discovered to be as saying ‘YES’ to myself. What good am I to my writing, my work, family and friends if I’m not functioning well? That’s when my ‘green time’ starts. The skill is to know when you need to say ‘no’. Learn to listen to your inner voice. What is it saying to you about your inner state? Do you need a break? Do you need to recuperate?   

Switch off and tune in with the within
It seems almost impossible in this life to switch off. Notice, I said ‘almost’? Start with your conscious ability to switch off like switching off that phone, tablet, laptop and PC. Have you ever gone out for a few hours without your phone? I recommend you try it. Then, choose how you’re going to spend those couple of hours – device-free.

green time, travel, travel tips, nature

Choose an outdoor activity that’s right for you
My easiest go-to activity is walking. Walking has been my foundation exercise for years, even during the hardest times in my life when I could barely walk due to exhaustion, sickness, or chronic stress. No matter how far I walked during those times, I realised that my energy was gaining on me step by step. I was breathing in pure, fresh air, the momentum of my stride made me feel I was in flow and my surroundings rejuvenated me. I’m grateful that I have a gorgeous view of the Dandenong Ranges at the top of my street – the pinnacle of my daily walks.

Now, much stronger and energised and feeling the most alive I have ever been, I’m considering running. For now, long-distance walking and newfound yoga classes are further increasing my strengths in which to try running. Is walking your thing too? You can also mix it up with a walk with a friend, changing the location of your walk or going for an extended walk in nature that will take you a couple of hours.

green time, nature, travel, travel tips, switch off

Take advantage of long weekends and annual leave by travelling
Long weekends and annual leave are your tickets to holiday time. Choose a destination you always wanted to visit and book it! Or, start a savings fund in order to pay for your break away. Before you leave, research the activities you want to engage in – walking trails, day-trips to a forest, beach or local national parks, or even exploring local restaurants to try vegan, plant-based food. If you like to volunteer is there a reputable animal sanctuary where you can dedicate some of your time while embracing your love of animals and nature? Or, is there a goal you wish to achieve? For me, this came as a hike over four days in Tasmania earlier this year.

Your green time is in your hands. All it starts with is a ‘no’ to your demanding world, then a ‘yes’ to yourself. Only then, you can embrace your inner yes to leverage your chances at green time. If anything, consider it as a basic, primal need to your survival.

How do you fit the green time you need into your life? I'd love to hear about how you achieve your time back to nature, or the rituals of which you abide by. I'd love to hear your stories about how you say no, then yes, too!

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Wandering through Tamworth Country Music Fame at Bicentennial Park

Tamworth is known as the country music capital of Australia. Stories of hardship and heartbreak while living on the land have turned into bloodlines of the countless ballads sung by esteemed country music artists over the decades. Many musicians have travelled the hard, dusty road to Tamworth to perform at the the town's annual Tamworth Country Music Festival; the second-biggest in the world. Outside festival time, by late-Autumn, Tamworth is a little sleepy. While many townsfolk have temporarily headed to the big smoke of Sydney and beyond, travellers like me have made their way to Tamworth to seek adventure.

Tamworth country music australia travel

Aside that Tamworth finds itself mid-way between Brisbane and Sydney, there’s a sense of honest, country grit that holds this town of over 30,000 people together. While it may have turned a few heads when vegan requests were made at some of the town's restaurants and cafés (even the occasional stand-offish demeanour; this is "cattle country, though) it was Tamworth's streets that called me in. Walking the footpaths of Tamworth’s retail precinct flanked by towering, sturdy locals smartly dressed in shirts, jeans and orbiting cowboy hats to shield them from the dry, mid-afternoon heat. Eventually, I stumble over Kable Avenue and through the gates of Bicentennial Park.

Tamworth country music travel australia

Hugging Tamworth's Peel River, Bicentennial Park provides a green refuge to wanderers seeking serenity only nature can muster. A trip to Oxley Lookout the afternoon before confirmed that Peel River was discovered by Surveyor General of New South Wales, Lieutenant John Oxley RN in 1818. He also proclaimed the lookout a "million dollar view" where travellers can now understand the expanse of Tamworth's residential sprawl, and Peel River winding through the heart of it. 

Tamworth travel country music birds nature australia

Tamworth's Bicentennial Park, built in 1988, is where wandering travellers can discover the natural beauty of this part of regional New South Wales. Yet, there’s a subtle irony that harnesses the town's country music charm in this park. The bloodlines of those who have lived and died by the law of this rugged land are chorused by country music stars past and present. Then, there’s the parallel to ever-present native fauna and fauna that finds a stubborn way to survive and thrive despite the constant cycle of Australia’s droughts and floods.

While meandering, there’s time to listen to the light breeze rustling the bending branches of gums above. Rainbow lorikeets balance among the gum leaves, playing peek-a-boo with those quiet enough to wander by. Heading closer to ponds dotted around Bicentennial Park and wild ducks paddle in the early-morning sunlight, shaking their tail feathers before motoring along.

Tamworth country music travel nature birds australia
Tamworth country music travel nature birds australia

Further meandering finds a rusty, old windmill nestled high among the gum leaves, weathered by bouts of drought over the decades. Today, the windmill stands at idle, waiting for the weather to turn as busts of country music royalty stand poised along Memorial Walk, ready to pluck a ballad from a guitar or sing the sorrows of a farmer's wife doing it tough.

Tamworth country music travel australia
Tamworth country music travel australia

The pinnacle to this country music theme at Bicentennial Park is the Country Music Hands of Fame installation. Country music greats have travelled thousands of kilometres to grace the stage at the Tamworth Country Music Festival annually. And, many of these stars leave a timeless reminder of their travels through this town – in the form of handprints in cement.

Tamworth country music travel australia
Tamworth country music travel australia
Tamworth country music travel australia

Walk to Bicentennial Park and take a hire car to Oxley Lookout. Entry is free. Explore more of Tamworth's country music history with a photo-stop at The Big Golden Guitar and adjoining tourist centre that’s filled with memorabilia. Entry is free here, too.

Travel to Tamworth by booking a connecting regional flight running daily from Sydney to Tamworth. Or, you can book a train through NSW Trainlink in one or both directions. Just be sure to pack your vegan meals and snacks for the train journey. 

Stay at CH on Peel Boutique Hotel, a historic art deco hotel that's located in the centre of Tamworth’s central business district and close to restaurants, supermarkets; a short walk from Bicentennial Park. The vegan breakfast options at Inland Cafe, 407 Peel Street, are only a short stroll away. 

Remembering to Walk as an Urban Nomad

“Walk, don’t run!” These wise words arrived in an email while I was logged in remotely at my local library. For over a month now, my usual creative space has been undergoing water damage repairs. My beloved space is in boxes – deconstructed – while my notes and photos are packed in a transportable basket. Due to the extent of the repairs, my husband, our cat and I have been living temporarily between an apartment and my in-laws’ house with no clear return date home. Suffice to say, we’re living our lives as urban nomads with a one-way ticket to suburbia; only 15 minutes from home.

walking nomad urban nature wellbeing

While this uncertainty has been unsettling, my creative routine has been shaken up. Impatience and frustration could’ve easily taken over my thinking. Instead, I’ve used this time to walk – not run. Being a natural-born traveller, I’ve remembered that being an urban nomad can reveal opportunity.

I pretended to be out on the road again and wrote this post on pen and paper, as I would if I was in the middle of nowhere. Returning to my travel writing basics has kick-started the stagnant state of my travel writing and blogging. And, I’ve returned to exploring my temporary, urban surrounds. Maintaining connections is always important and an urban existence can be enhanced by those surprise places we haven’t yet explored or the people we’re yet to meet.

Life has a way of forcing us to stop running in order to rejuvenate ourselves. You will agree that I’ve taken my time to post here, yet that’s the incredible bonus of travel. We can disconnect and slow the pace so we can take in the beauty and potential of our world. So, what have I been walking to?        

Walking and Cycling Back to Nature
I’ve continued my regular walking rituals and the closer I get to nature the better I feel. It’s been beautiful watching autumn leaves morph into their final colours before dropping to the ground; Melbourne’s winter has now truly set in. Nature always seems to surround us whether we’re wandering the urban sprawl or not. Even the change in season reminds us of this. If the weather has been too wet, I’ve retreated to the treadmill in the gym at our apartment accommodation and pretend I’m cycling through the outskirts of a remote town. 

walking nature autumn winter cycling
walking nature wellbeing exercise nature autumn winter

Discovering a New Skill and Cultivating New Knowledge
I’m a proud library card holder with Eastern Regional Libraries here in Melbourne. Aside from the free internet access – for which I am grateful – I also have access to their Autumn/Winter events program.

Eastern Regional Libraries knowledge nature

I joined the Boronia Grows gardening group one afternoon for a free lesson in Eco-Printing class, run by local artist Bernadette Ryan. Together, we spent time learning how to dye materials with naturally-produced dyes through soaking dried leaves, shrubs and kitchen scraps like onion skins. Each sheet of cotton or item of clothing is rolled around more dried leaves, pods and branches then tightly tied with twine.

Eastern Regional Libraries Eco-Printing craft nature

Each bundle is then immersed in a bucket of dye and left to soak. We spent the rest of the class unwinding the twine to reveal the kaleidoscope of patterns; exquisite, unique and unexpected surprises found within. The class didn’t know what patterns would emerge, and our fun was found in each surprise bundle. Eco-printing has circumnavigated centuries and cultures the world over. Amusingly, one attendee was overheard saying: “I wonder if this will catch on?” We discovered that eco-printing is a seemingly timeless skill, as timeless as nature itself and what nature could yield in such a fun way.

Eastern Regional Libraries craft eco-printing nature

Sharing Meals with Family and Friends
During our time as urban nomads, my husband and I have shared delicious meals, conversation and time together with family, whether it’s a casual mid-week meal or to celebrate a birthday. On those rainy days, we’ve discovered newfound friends and foods by attending events hosted by Plant Powered Melbourne; a Facebook group of like-minded vegetarians and vegans around town.

Urban Projuice Albert Park raw bowl

A yummy raw bowl was found and devoured at Urban Projuice while new connections with Melburnians were forged in the process. Some of us reunited over a “pot luck lunch” a few weeks ago when we all brought a dish to enjoy together. The luck of discovering what we’d be eating brought smiles to our faces, plant-based nourishment to our bellies and conversation with one another. Just through the simple act of sharing a meal with others can lead to sharing stories and togetherness.

Some say that "truth can be a stubborn thing". When we slow down to listen to our circumstances – when we’re told to walk – we can then rejuvenate our connections within our world and what we’ve planted in our lives. What we sow are the surprises we discover along the way. Choosing to walk helps us to be urban nomads again.

When have you decided to walk as an urban nomad? What surprises did you uncover in the process and how did those surprises help you to re-connect with your world?

I’d love to hear about your experiences and travels in the comments below.

A Sunday Wander to Maroondah Reservoir Park in Healesville

A Sunday wander to Maroondah Reservoir Park started off like many other weekend walks. Fuel for the wander was topped up by a scheduled brunch at a nearby café, then a short drive to a secluded spot before peaceful wanders and a reconnection with nature ensued. The café at Alchemy Yarra Valley set our course as planned with a freshly packed “green bowl” of organic brown rice, sprouts, and bright slices of avocado, braised leaves and crispy sweet peas. The bowl itself was as lush and seasonal as Alchemy strives towards; organically pure and fresh as an early autumn allows. Yet, the weekender vibe within the café brought the day’s wander a little closer to home.

Alchemy Yarra Valley cafe vegan options Healesville

One way to define the word “alchemy” is along the lines of a ‘magical process of transformation, creation or combination’. In a café space such as Alchemy, this definition tends to hit the mark. The walls are whitewashed and concrete, the chairs are minimalist and sleek. Though, the accents that bring Alchemy to life are hanging pots of plants draping from mesh-style rafters above and bold block paintings leaning on walls. Light-shades are bronzed and leaf-like, as if re-enacting the autumnal changes happening among trees lining the streets of Healesville outside. Defined lines are subtly re-directed around the café by carefree contours of shrubbery. This neutral space allows nature to run its course indoors; a co-existence that stemmed to my wander through Maroondah Reservoir Park.

Maroondah Reservoir Park Healesville walking wander

What I discovered once I arrived at Maroondah Reservoir Park were natural catchments co-existing with this man-made reservoir. Much of the city of Melbourne depends on this water supply, as too native birdlife, mammals and reptiles.

After a wander of Maroondah Reservoir's rim stories above, I began to understand that most of Melbourne’s water originates from these protected catchments; one of the few protected water catchments in the world. Within it, a bustling ecosystem, home to koalas, ibis, wedge-tailed eagles and lyrebirds, call this area home. A quieter forest walk brought me further afoot yet closer to the natural personality of Maroondah Reservoir; within easy reach just by following the signs from the upper reservoir rim. 

Maroondah Reservoir Park Healesville wander walking

How grateful to feel, as a Melburnian and as a traveller, that Melbourne is supplied with such a valuable, pure and protected resource. As a human, there’s s a duty to live as fresh, protected and sustainable as this for generations to come.   

Spend some time this autumn to explore Maroondah Reservoir Park, entry via Maroondah Highway, Healesville Victoria, Australia 3777

Vegan-option eats and treats can be found in the café arm of Alchemy Yarra Valley before heading to the Park. 242 Maroondah Highway, Healesville Victoria, Australia 3777