Sanctuaries offer animal-loving travellers a chance to contribute and get up close and personal with rescued wildlife, writes Linda Moon.
I've fallen in love... with three friendly turkeys. Emitting a musical coo, they waddle after me. Paris the goat also follows as I join the volunteers at the Lucky Star Sanctuary as they clean the chicken runs and refill them with plentiful fresh wood shavings.
Later, in a shed repurposed as a kitchen, we're chopping vegetables - leftovers from Coles that have been picked up by generous helpers - under the instruction of Teena Cooper, a dedicated full-time volunteer.
There are plenty of opportunities for pats and photos as we distribute the food to the hungry mobs of alpacas, sheep, donkeys, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and peacocks across the nearly 10-hectare property in Bywong, New South Wales, a 30-minute drive from Canberra.
Amazingly, Ms Cooper knows the names of every one of the 300 or so rescued animals at the sanctuary. Kerrie Carroll, founder of the not-for-profit, says most of the animals arrive here because of neglect or injury, through other organisations and anonymous hand-in services.
Lucky Star has taken in sheep burnt during the bushfires and wild birds injured by storms. Orphaned and injured kangaroos in rehabilitation loll on a large bank.
The sanctuary relies heavily on volunteers and sponsors. Visitors are able to participate by volunteering (chores include feeding the animals and cleaning enclosures) but be prepared for hard work. Basic but comfortable accommodation is available for a donation of $10 to $20 per person - to cover water and power costs.
"We love sharing the place," says Ms Carroll.
"We're just so happy for people to come out and help us and we don't want anyone to miss out on the experience and learning."
Along with learning how human actions, including factory farming, harm animals, we discover, for instance, that kangaroos shake when they're trying to smell you.
At the cafe at Secret Creek Sanctuary in Lithgow, NSW, there's an experience of a more culinary kind.
The cafe serves all plant-based meals and regulars love the pot pies and nacho loaded fries. The seasonal menu may include the likes of potato roesti with tofu scramble, roasted fennel, carrot purée and dehydrated olive; potato-bread pizzetta with garlic-braised jackfruit, stinging nettle gremolata and pickled red onion; or Biscoff pancakes with maple, pecan praline and apple compote.
Testament to the skill of cafe owner/chef Tenille Evans, the meals are so tasty even dedicated meat-eaters lurk here.
Set in a charming wood farm-style building, the cafe offers glimpses through the windows of cute furry-faced rock wallabies and emus in the adjacent wildlife sanctuary. The cafe contributes money towards supporting the sanctuary, which was founded by Ms Evans' father, Trevor.
After a dessert of vegan ice-cream, we wander outside to look at the dingoes, brush turkeys, wallabies, kangaroos, Cape Barren geese and other native birds wandering behind the fencing.
Beyond this, the wild 400-hectare reserve contains two mountains and three gullies which are home to rock and swamp wallabies, roos, lizards and other wild animals. Protective enclosures house quolls, koalas, long-nosed potoroos and other endangered species.
Occasional sunset tours (hopefully soon to recommence) provide a chance to see these. But, with scores of animal sanctuaries across the country, there's no reason to miss out if you're not in NSW.
Sanctuaries to visit
Animal sanctuaries require intending visitors to call or email in advance. Most are registered charities meaning you can claim a tax deduction.
Lucky Star Sanctuary, Bywong, NSW
The sanctuary welcomes volunteers and donations can be made on the website. It also runs open days and garage sales. Explore more:luckystarssanctuary.org
Peanuts Wellbeing Sanctuary, Windellama, NSW
This sanctuary offers a one-night loft stay in an old woolshed for $280 per couple (singles $190), which includes a home-cooked plant-based dinner and breakfast. Wander the 40-hectare property - 50 kilometres out of Goulburn - with the goats, horses, ponies, sheep, bulls, pigs, cats and dogs. Explore more: peanutswellbeingsanctuary.org.au
Secret Creek Sanctuary and Cafe, Lithgow, NSW
This Blue Mountains cafe is currently open weekends only and you must book. The sanctuary is currently closed due to COVID; check the website before visiting. Explore more:secretcreekcafe.com
Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary, Mole Creek, Tas
See Tassie devils, wombats, quolls, echidnas, Forester kangaroos and more 45 minutes' drive west of Launceston on a 35-hectare wildlife conservation sanctuary. It's open daily and costs $16 per child, $28 per adult and family concessions are available. Explore more:trowunna.com.au
Deathrow Unchained Animal Rescue, Burbank, Qld
This organisation rescues and rehouses animals of all kinds from death row. There are regular one-hour tours each week ($10 per child, $20 per adult) and open days offer a chance to meet and cuddle the dogs, cats and farm animals. Explore more: deathrowunchained.org
Edgar's Mission, Lancefield, Vic
Over 450 rescued farm animals live here on 62 hectares in the Macedon Ranges. While currently closed, the sanctuary hopes to reopen next month. Options for visits include free general tours, premium tours for 10 to 12 people ($45 each), volunteering and virtual tours. Explore more:edgarsmission.org.au
Balingup Highview Chalets, Balingup, WA
Chill out and play with rescued animals while staying in a self-catering adults-only chalet 233 kilometres south of Perth in the Blackwood Valley Region. Accommodation starts from $210. In-house massages are also on offer. Explore more:balinguphighviewchalets.com
Possum Valley Animal Sanctuary, Mount Helena, WA
Enjoy yoga in a goat and lamb paddock ($30), partake in a Busy Bee or join a one-hour sanctuary tour ($20 adults, $10 kids under 12, infants under two years free) to meet some 150 rescued farm and native animals.
Explore more: possumvalley.org
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