Koalas have got to be the cutest Australian animals. They’re a major drawcard for Australia, with people from all over the world coming here hoping to see one up close. By far the best way to see them is in the wild, where they belong! In our state of Victoria, the best place to see them is on a small island off the East Gippsland coast called Raymond Island.
Sadly, during the horrible bushfires earlier this year, many parts of our state were affected, especially the East Gippsland region. Many of our wildlife perished, including so many of our beautiful koalas. But thankfully, Raymond Island was not affected by the fire; a big relief!
So, Simon and I made a plan to visit the East Gippsland area as soon as the fires stopped and the roads reopened. We’d include time on Raymond Island to see our lovely koalas again. After over a year of travelling overseas, I’d been missing these little guys! But then, the Covid 19 restrictions came into place mid-March. Seriously, 2020 couldn’t suck anymore, even if it tried!
However, with the current numbers in Australia remaining low, our state premier announced an easing to the restrictions, just before the June long weekend. We were now allowed to travel overnight within our state! That was fabulous news for us and I jumped out of bed as soon as I heard it and booked the trip. Raymond Island was just what the doctor ordered. A great first weekend away after two months in lockdown.
Where is Raymond Island?
Raymond Island is just off the coast at Paynesville, a small town in East Gippsland. Paynesville is an easy 3 hours and 30 minutes drive from Melbourne down the Princes Highway (M1). Along the way, there are lots of small towns where you can stop for a coffee and stretch your legs.
How to get to the island?
First, you need to get to Paynesville, which, as I mentioned, is easily done by car. However, if you do not have a car you can reach Paynesville by public transport.
There is a V-line train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station that will take you to Bairnsdale. From there you can catch a V-Line bus to Paynesville. It will take over 5 hours and costs between $30 and $50. For more info, check out the V-line website or call 136 196.
Once in Paynesville, it’s a short 200-metre car ferry ride to get to the island. The ride is so short that if you blink, you might miss it! The ferry departs every twenty minutes from 7 am till 11 pm (Sunday till Thursday) and from 7 am to 11.40 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The ferry is currently free for everyone because of the Covid 19 restrictions. However, this may change in the future to what it used to be (free for pedestrians and bicycles, $13 for cars and caravans, $20 for trucks).
What to do on Raymond Island?
The Koala trail
At last count, Raymond Island had a koala population of just over 300 koalas, making it one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in their natural environment.
The best way to see them on the island is to walk the well-marked koala trail. This trail is only 1.2 kilometres long and is an easy walk for the whole family. You can walk it, bike it or hire one of the “ride a koala” surrey bikes available for hire at the start of the walk.
The walk starts at the park directly across from where you exit the ferry. You will find a big information board with a map and it is normally possible to purchase a small booklet containing a map, information about the koalas, the island and all the other animal species on the island. The booklet costs $2 which goes directly towards helping the koalas. During the Covid 19 restrictions, the booklets were not available. However, you can still donate to help the koalas.
The trail does not take long to walk and wanders around a few streets where koalas are known to live. You’ll see gumtrees wherever you look and if you look closely you’ll spot koalas in some of them. Bear in mind that sometimes they can be quite high up in the trees, so take your time and have a good look!
The best area to see them is the reserve adjacent to Twelfth Avenue. There you’ll find many trees and many koalas! Some of them may even be on the lower branches, giving you a good photo opportunity.
Remember, koalas sleep 18 hours a day! So you may see a lot of sleepy koalas but eventually, you may come across one who is awake and eating some Eucalyptus leaves.
It’s not just about the koalas!
Once you are done with the trail, don’t forget to explore the rest of the island! You’ll need bikes or a car to do this but the inside of the island is home to even more wildlife! We spotted huge groups of kangaroos, wallabies and many types of birds. You may even spot an echidna!
Follow Centre Road to cut across the island and then go around exploring the northern beaches which are so peaceful with almost no-one in sight. The water is also perfect for taking a kayak out if you have one.
There’s a small boardwalk starting a few meters to the right of where you exit the ferry. This boardwalk follows the waterfront and is a lovely way to enjoy some water views. Once again, it doesn’t take long and can easily be done by the whole family. If you enjoy the views, you can keep walking for a while even after the boardwalk finishes. However, this isn’t easy for people with prams and small children.
If you happen to be there for sunset, the water views at that time are stunning.
Things to know before visiting Raymond Island
There are no shops on the island. So, bring your lunch, snacks, water and everything you need with you.
The island might be heaven for koalas but it is heaven for mosquitoes too. Be sure to bring some insect repellent and use it! They are terrible, even in winter and cold weather. I didn’t spray the first day thinking it was too cold for them and they bit me through my pants as I tried to stand still and photograph the koalas!
You only need to take your car if you want to explore the interior of the island and don’t want to bike it. If you only want to visit the koala trail and the main settlement area, leave your car in Paynesville. There are many parking spots there that are walking distance from the ferry terminal.
There are public toilets located at the playground across from where the ferry docks.
Koalas are cute, yes, but they are wild and they will scratch and bite! So don’t attempt to touch them. Observe them from a safe distance and don’t shove your selfie stick in their face either; they don’t like that very much!
Same with the kangaroos on the island. Some of the males are huge and will become aggressive if you venture too close. In fact, don’t get too close to any of our wildlife. They like their personal space, just like we do.
How long to stay on the island?
You can easily visit the island for the day which is what most people do. Within a few hours, you can walk the trail, the boardwalk and ride/drive around the island, finishing with a picnic at one of the island’s many picnic areas.
However, there are plenty of holiday houses to rent on the island and if you fancy a little relaxation as well, then, by all means, stay longer! We stayed for two nights and we could easily have stayed longer. We enjoyed the peacefulness and wildlife very much. If you choose that option, stock up with food and drinks on the mainland as there are no shops on the island.
Where to stay?
There are several Airbnbs to rent on the island but no hotels or camping sites. If you prefer to have easy access to shop and restaurants then you should stay in Paynesville instead. It’s pretty quick to catch the ferry across and back to get to the restaurants though.
There are a few hotels in Paynesville as well as a caravan park. You can use the search-box below to find accommodation in Paynesville if you wish to stay in the area for a night or more.