Wildlife wonderland on the Great Ocean Walk

By Carolyn Barry 28 September 2011
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If there’s one thing about the Great Ocean Walk that stands out (aside from the stunning scenery), it’s the wildlife viewing.

IF THERE’S ONE THING about the Great Ocean Walk that stands out (aside from the stunning coastal scenery), it’s the wildlife viewing.

This area is teeming with wildlife so much that you’d be unlucky not to see many classic Australian fauna. Before you even start the walk, you can kayak with Australian fur seals right off the beach at Apollo Bay.

Around Cape Otway there is a huge and healthy population of koalas. They were reintroduced to the area about 30 years ago and have flourished. They don’t seem to have the chlamydia problems of their northern cousins and have bred extremely well. In fact, there’s almost in plague proportion here and eating themselves out of house and home.

You can spot the docile marsupials in the manna gums, their favourite tree. Often they’ll hang out in the low trees along the trail in the sections around the Cape – they may even be hanging in the branches at head height. Look for a dark ball-shaped mass in the trees.

Native animals galore

There are plenty of mobs of kangaroos around, especially around the grassy hillsides. And you’ll see swamp wallabies, typically solo, in the understorey, with their black faces, black feet and tail which has a white tip. They’re quite skittish, and have often bounded away before you even turn on your camera.

And did I mention the echidnas? All along the trail you’ll notice dirt dug up – it’s evidence of echidnas digging for ants. You will even see the nose holes they make in their search for their favourite food. While they’re generally nocturnal, they can be seen during the day and often close to the trail, so be careful not to trip on one!

Around this area are hoards of bird species, including the hooded plover, sporting a red beak and feet, which nests around the Johanna River and beach. You might be lucky enough to see yellow-tailed black cockatoos, gang-gang cockatoos, wedge-tailed eagles and, when the season is right, white-bellied sea eagles.

Animals galore on the Great Ocean Walk

On the trail you’ll see plenty of signs about snakes. Tiger snakes and copperheads are fairly common in summer, says park ranger Nick Alexeyeff, who is based at Apollo Bay. Keep in mind that they’re going to more scared of you than you are of them, so stand your ground and give them space to slink away. Wearing gaiters is a good option if you’re worried, especially in the warmer months when they may be on the trail sunning themselves.

There are plenty of other animals around, so keep your eyes open. You might see anticinus, bush rats and fairy penguins. And the odd leech, though I didn’t come across any of the harmless blood-suckers on this walk.

It’s a lovely aspect of the walk to see so many Australian animals in their native habitat.

Evidence of echidnas. The monotremes dig for ants and use the clear trackways, which are easy for them to navigate. (Credit: Carolyn Barry)

This is a typical view of an echidna. They’re generally nocturnal, but can sometimes be seen during the day.
But you’ve got to be quick, as they hunch into a ball at the first sign of danger. (Credit: Carolyn Barry)