French Island, a Victorian drawcard.
Pat local koalas in their trees.
Overnight in the converted officers' quarters.
On French Island, resident koalas outnumber the locals 50 to one. When you visit this beautiful island just off the Melbourne coast you can join an eco-tour hosted by "Koala-Dundee".
The fairy penguins of Phillip Island have always made it a popular place for visitors to Victoria's Western Port Bay, but its neighbour French Island is bigger, less developed and much more laidback.
French Island can't lay claim to being home to penguins, but koalas, which are disease-free, outnumber the locals 50 to one.
Alan Chandler has lived on French Island for 30 years and was given the name Koala Dundee by a Japanese tourist. He is a pioneer of tourism on the island and has been running eco-tours for 25 years. He loves the island, its isolation and, of course, the furry little koalas. You are guaranteed to spot them in the wild on one of Alan's tours, some are so familiar to him he has named them.
Seventy-two percent of French Island is national park, with many unique combinations there are wetlands, the world's most southern mangroves and even a remnant rainforest. To really explore the island you need to stay overnight, and you have choices.
If sleeping with nature is your thing, Fairhaven campsite is for you. It offers isolation, nature and a peaceful adventure. A maximum of 30 are allowed at one time (in groups of up to 10) and it's free. It's a 5km walk or bike ride from the jetty to the campsite and you need to take your own drinking water with you. Bicycles can be hired from the general store, which is pretty much the hub of the island.
If you prefer to stay in something a little more comfortable, Mark and Melinda Cunningham run McLeod Eco Farm, an organic haven set on 93ha. Any memories of its former life as a prison have gone. The 88 cells have been converted into twin rooms and the offices are family and deluxe rooms.
Eighty percent of the food served in their restaurant is grown or raised on the farm and they have their own natural spring water. Even their nine-hole golf course is organic, as they do not use any pesticides at all.
The Perseverance Primary School was established in 1896. Last year it had seven pupils, this year the number has swelled to 12. To prepare the students for bigger high schools, they spend every second Friday at a sister school on the mainland.