The mist rolls in over the Southern Ocean and rises to meet the forested hills of Victoria’s Otway Ranges, drowning the canopies of mighty mountain ash trees. It’s a scene that’s almost primordial; the temperate rainforest rears straight out the sea behind the Great Ocean Road and floods inland like a dark green tsunami. I’m driving to the coast from the aptly-named inland town of Forrest, but in a sense I’m also driving back in time, getting a glimpse of what this wild, southern stretch of Victoria would have looked like before European settlement.

It’s a fitting way to arrive at my destination, because recreating the Victoria we’ve largely lost is one of the goals at Wildlife Wonders, a native animal sanctuary five kilometres west of Apollo Bay that opened its doors in March this year. It’s the latest project for the Conservation Ecology Centre, a not-for-profit organisation achieving conservation wonders not just here but throughout the Otways. Protected by a 1.4 kilometres long perimeter fence, native animals are safe from the feral predators that have devastated biodiversity not just here but throughout mainland Australia. It’s a place that offers a snapshot of the Otways landscape as it was and as it should be, while raising money for ongoing conservation and research work.

I’m taking one of Wildlife Wonders’ first ever tours, a 75-minute guided walk through a rehabilitated landscape that not long ago was a sheep paddock bounded by blackberry-infested gullies. A Landcare revegetation project was started here 25 years ago, and the rejuvenation is quite remarkable. It’s still early days for this project but the eucalypts are already shooting skywards, giving habitat for koalas, possums and birds, while lush fern gullies provide sheltered protection for pobblebonk frogs and shy bandicoots and potoroos. With time the bush with spread and become denser, more animals will move in and the vision will become complete. But seeing it in its infancy is very special…

Read the full story here