Healesville Sanctuary is only an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, but it feels worlds away from urban life as you get up close and personal with Australian animals in their natural habitat.

And when I say you can get close to the animals, I mean you can have birds flying centimetres above your head, you can pat wallabies, and you can almost touch a platypus.

The park’s world-first, interactive show – Tales from Platypus Creek – gives an insight into the lives of the platypus and other waterway creatures.

Thanks to a clear tank, visitors can come face to face with Yami, who has been at the sanctuary since being washed out of her mother’s burrow in floods at just four months old.

From animals that swim to animals that soar – the most popular show at the park is Spirits of the Sky, a fun look at parrots and birds of prey.

The star is 46-year-old wedge-tailed eagle Jess, who is the oldest animal in the sanctuary, but Kevin the cheeky parrot gives him a run for his money, too.

Both shows are on twice daily and are included in the park entry ticket price, which is good value as children under 16 get free entry on weekends, school holidays and public holidays.

And what about the sanctuary’s other animals?

Easy-to-follow paths ensure a smooth walk around to see them all.

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You would be familiar with the favourites – kangaroos, koalas, emus, wombats, snakes.

But do you know what a land mullet is? You can find one in the reptile house!

If you want to know what it’s like to look after the animals and see them at their most active, there are keeper talks featuring wombats, Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, lyrebirds, koalas and dingoes.

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We met Florence, the park’s oldest wombat at 13.

While Florence had a feed, keeper Olivia gave us the lowdown on the marsupials.

Surprisingly, wombats can run really fast, despite their appearance!

And the sanctuary is more than just a place to see animals.

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It’s home to the Australian Wildlife Health Centre, where the vet team looks after more than 1500 sick, injured and orphaned animals a year.

People can bring injured animals in for free care, and some animals end up living at the sanctuary.

After the Black Saturday fires of 2009, about 150 animals were treated there, mostly for serious burns.

The centre is open to visitors who can see the vets at work, and there are also presentations and a “future vets” activity zone for kids.

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The sanctuary also plays a critical role in saving endangered animals, including the helmeted honeyeater and Leadbeater’s possum.

The theme of sustainability permeates all the shows and exhibits, ensuring people leave with more awareness about the environment and how to look after it.

If the kids need a break from the animals, there’s activities, playground equipment and water play fun, including in the Badger Creek that runs through the park.

And don’t forget the food – the options are plentiful.

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For budget-conscious families, there is lots of open space to bring a picnic, or have a barbecue.

If you want the food taken care of, you can pre-order gourmet picnic hampers.

And there are several dine-in options, too. The Harvest Café offers a great range, from sandwiches and snacks to main meals like a 200g beef burger, and a “Buddha bowl” filled with brown rice, crunchy chickpeas, sweet potato, spinach and a turmeric dressing.

With more than 200 species of Australian animals and plenty of things to do for adults and children, Healesville Sanctuary is a great way to spend a day.

This was originally published as a guest post at visityarravalley.com.au

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