I'm a history graduate who focused on Australian history, so it's not surprising that Ballarat would appeal to me. As the site of the massive 1850s gold rush which led to the Eureka Stockade rebellion of 1854, when miners resisted the corruption and authoritarian rule of the goldfields authorities, the city has a prominent place in history books.
As a result, I've always focused on the historic and cutural attractions of the place: the Ballarat Art Gallery, the historical village at Sovereign Hill, and the Museum of Australian Democracy (MADE) at the Eureka site.
Not far down the road from MADE, however, is the Ballarat Wildlife Park. Basically nestled in the Ballarat suburbs, it's an open zoo featuring Australian native animals.
I was surprised by just how open it was. Firstly, as I was walking toward the koala enclosure, I met this kangaroo dozing on the walkway:
Then I found I could get quite close to the koalas as they slept in their open-air zone (sharing it with some quokkas who wandered around at ground level):
By chance I'd arrived at the koala enclosure at 2pm, when one of the staff feeds the creatures milk supplements and answers questions from visitors:
While I was standing there, the kangaroo I'd passed earlier came up and sniffed around my pockets. He could smell the animal food I'd obtained at reception, a mix of grains. So I fed him some, as he stood up and hung onto my hand for balance. This was definitely a highlight of the visit:
Further on, I passed through a big open grassy area with gum trees, which sloped down to a lake. There were dozens of kangaroos here, with no barriers at all between them and the human passers-by:
There were a couple more memorable Aussie animals of the visit. First, Tasmanian Devils, well named as they have demonic teeth and an eerie growl...
... and finally, the wombat. You can't go past a wombat for solid good-natured cuteness. And it's related to the koala, one of the staff told me. I can see the resemblance.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Ballarat Regional Tourism and V/Line.