About Maru

How Maru became Maru

About Maru Koala and Animal Park

Maru Koala and Animal Park is a family run tourist attraction on five acres near the waterline of Westernport Bay and features an animal park, Pirate Pete’s Mini-golf and the Homestead Bistro. Part of the Gippsland region and only fifteen minutes from Phillip Island, Maru has been operating its current location since 1983.

We are passionate about fostering an understanding and appreciation of our native wildlife and their environment, and we accompish this through tactile experiences where our guests can hand-feed, pat and ‘get in touch with’ many of the animals, including koalas. Our park keepers provide regular talks to encourage you to learn more about the animals and Maru is also an authorized Wildlife Shelter, rehabilitating injured and orphaned native animals and then returning them to the wild.

The Maru and Heffer History

The Maru business was originally founded by the late Mrs. Ruth Heffer along with her late husband George and all of their three children, Marilyn, Stephen and Ian were all involved. Ruth and George ran a dairy farm in the Cobram area, and in 1974 Ruth registered the business name of Maru Craft. “Maru” was formed using the first two letters of the ladies names, Marilyn and Ruth. The family made hand crafted ceramics and traded from several locations and markets before George and Ruth moved to Frankston and purchased an uncleared bush-block of land in Grantville to ‘retire’ on.

They began clearing and building their new home and Ruth said to George, “I just want a little shop out the front to keep me occupied in my retirement”, and so “Maru Craft” began trading from a small shop on their Grantville property in 1983. As the business grew and coaches began to stop on their way to Phillip Island, animals were also added. George was fond of animals and there are many stories of one of his favourite wombats following him all around the property, or Charlie the cockatoo (still a Maru resident) perched on George’s shoulder or greeting guests in the shop.

The entire family was originally involved, but it was son Ian who saw the potential for the business to be developed on a much larger scale and took over management from his parents in 1990. As the animal park grew, the trading name was changed to ‘Maru Koala and Animal Park’, the original small shop twice expanded to include an eating and retail area along with an Australian themed Mini-Golf course which was also added. In 2006 the Mini-Golf course was rejuvenated with a unique pirate theme complete with a pirate ship and life-size pirate figures.

Ruth and George continued to remain involved but in 1997 George sadly passed away. Ruth was still very passionate about Maru and a regular friendly face greeting visitors until she sadly passed away in July 2022 at the age of 96. In 2004, Ian married Neroli who has also joined the business. Daughter Becky was born in 2006 along with Tabatha in 2008 and both are regular and popular faces at the animal park as they interact with the visitors.

It was a sad day on the 3rd January 2009 when a major fire totally destroyed the buildings and all contents and the charred remains of the original shop and buildings were cleared away. Maru continued to trade from temporary buildings, and in August 2011 a brand new building of over a million dollars investment was opened. The new modern premises include the entrance and souvenir area and a large commercial kitchen that caters for the Homestead Bistro, with dining area that looks out over the animal park.

From its humble beginnings, Maru has developed into an award winning and professional tourist attraction that is still very proudly family owned and operated.

Maru’s Awards

2023 Bass Coast Business Awards
Access, Equity and Inclusion – Finalist

2019 Bass Coast Business Awards
Business Excellence – Winner
Marketing and Promotion – Winner
2019 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence
Hall of Fame
2018 Bass Coast Business Awards
Business Excellence – Winner
2017 Bass Coast Business Awards
Business Excellence – Runner Up
2017 RACV Victorian Tourism Awards
2016 Bass Coast Business Awards
Good Access is Good Business – Hall of Fame
Good Access is Good Business – Winner
Marketing and Promotion – Runner Up
2015 Bass Coast Business Awards
Good Access is Good Business – Winner
Business Excellence 6+ employees – Runner Up
2015 Gippsland Business Awards
Tourism Category – Winner

More Awards

2013 Bendigo Bank Business Awards
Tourism – Winner
Good Access is Good Business – Winner
Sustainable Business Practice – Finalist
2013 Superpages Bass Coast Business Awards
Good Access is Good Business – Winner
People’s Choice Tourism Category – Winner
Marketing and Promotion – Finalist
2012 Victorian Tourism Awards
Finalist in the 2012 Victorian Tourism Awards in the Tourist Attraction Category
2012 Bass Coast Business Awards
Good Access is Good Business – Finalist
2011 Gippsland Business Awards
Winner of the Good Access Good Business Award, Winner of the Tourist Attraction Award
2011 Victorian Tourism Awards
Finalist in the 2011 Victorian Tourism Awards in the Tourist Attraction Category
2011 Superpages Bass Coast Business awards
Winner of the People’s Choice Tourist Attraction, as voted by our visitors
Winner of the Good Access Good Business Award, in recognition of services and amenities provided for people with special needs
2010 Superpages Bass Coast Business Awards
Winner of Good Access is Good Business Award
2009 Superpages Bass Coast Australia Day Awards
Winner of Community Event of the Year
2008 Superpages Bass Coast Business Awards
Winner of Encouragement Award
2009 Bass Coast Shire Council Australia Day Awards

In 2009 Maru was nominated for and won the award for the Bass Coast Australia Day Awards “Best Community Event of the Year” for our ‘Dreamnight at the Zoo’ event. ‘Dreamnight at the Zoo’ is a global organization run by volunteers that encourages zoos and parks worldwide to open up their premises for free for one night to special needs children. Maru learned about and joined the program in 2006 and now runs a ‘Dreamnight at the Zoo’ every November. There are currently 35 countries with zoos or parks that host a Dreamnight at the Zoo event. Learn more about the organisation by visiting www.dreamnightatthezoo.nl

Special needs children and their entire families across the Gippsland area are invited to come along for a free night of fun and entertainment at Maru. This includes children who are mentally and physically challenged, enduring chronic illness, disease or disabilities such as autism and downs syndrome. These special people come along and enjoy entry to the Animal Park and Pirate Pete’s Mini-golf, a BBQ dinner and entertainment at no cost. There are children’s rides, face painting, animal costume characters and lots of entertainment to enjoy. The park keepers are also out with the animals to encourage hands on interaction and introduce the animals to the children. Each family also receives a free showbag of goodies to take home and a photo of them with one of the animals.

Maru staff and other locals all volunteer their time on the night for the children with many local businesses and major Maru business suppliers donating money and goods to make the night possible. The event is also supported by the Bass Coast Shire Council. Receiving this award is recognition of the efforts of all of our volunteers and sponsors, because without them this wonderful event would not be possible.

The night also brings together many local community groups and volunteers including the local CFA, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and Lions Club.

Please note that attendance on our ‘Dreamnight’ is strictly by invitation only. However if you work with special needs children in the Gippsland area and would like to have them invited, we encourage you to contact us for an invitation and entry pass for the night.

Buy Tickets