Virtual wildlife tours: Byron Bay koalas the new reality stars

Among the many screen-time choices during lockdown, a walk among koala habitats with Byron Bay-based Vision Walk Eco Tours is proving a hit.

After a downturn in business due to the pandemic, owner Wendy Bithell started the world-first live virtual koala tourism, which attracts groups as diverse as Harvard University students to guests at children's parties.

"It's so unique because no one else is doing it," Bithell says.

"I literally go to my secret koala spot - scout out where they are beforehand - then get on to Zoom, live with the participants. I tell them all about their biology, habitat, threats and what they can do to help. On the way I'm showing them live wild koalas. The participants can ask questions as we go."

Bithell, who has an academic background in environmental science and created interactive content for the BBC in London, says the experience is like a live interactive wildlife documentary.

"If we see one climbing down a tree, sleeping or scratching its butt, we all see it live and talk to each other about what we are seeing."

She says the platypus tour is proving popular with overseas uni students and the new Indigenous tour with Aunty Delta Kay, one of which was with a group of Native American school children, was "magical".

Delta Kay, who runs her own tourism business, Explore Byron, tells stories, shows the long-distance guests the local wildlife, demonstrates bush tucker and sings and dances with the students via the Zoom link.

On the "Glow in the Dark" Tour, Bithell, with her UV light, takes her long-distance guests into the bush to discover what lights up. Some of the subjects are bioluminescent (light up on their own), and some are biofluorescent (lights up with UV light).

"All sorts of stuff glows in the dark in Australian forests, wildlife, fungi, leaves, it's literally like Avatar out there."

Virtual tours run for 60 minutes and cost from $30 a person. See visionwalks.com.au

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