Koala (koh-ah-luh). The koala is probably one of the most loved and iconic animals of Australia. With their leather button looking noses, small round eyes, and what appears to be soft fluffy bodies of fur, they have captured the hearts of millions. In fact, they are my very favorite animal.
Often mistaken for a bear, they have no relation what so ever to bears and belong to the marsupial family. Marsupials are distinguished by the fact the baby is carried and suckled in a pouch. Most marsupials are found and reside in Australia and New Guinea, but here in the states we do have the opossums.
The koala can be found in a variety of states and regions in Australia, but mainly in the forest areas where their source of food the eucalyptus tree grows. There are over 700 species of eucalyptus, but our picky eater the koala only likes about 10 and depending on which region they live in depends on which of those they like. The koalas not only smell like this eucalyptus when you encounter them, but the blended oils from eating it act as insect repellent for them.
I know for me the thing I wanted most when I went to Australia was to have a koala “cuddle”, but much to my disappointment that did not happen on my first encounter. It is good to know that there are only limited areas where “cuddling” a koala is still allowed by law as excessive handling can be quite stressful for these very inactive animals who sleep nearly the whole day. So how can you get up close and personal with koalas in Australia?
Spotting Koalas in the Wild
One way to see the koalas is right out in their own backyard. You go out on trek to see if you can “spot” the koala just as it sounds. Koalas sleep high up in the gum trees and with the color of their fur can be hard to spot unless you have a good eye. There are several operators that do this. One great place is to do this on Kangaroo Island. It’s a full day of spotting broken up with tea at a billybong and lunch cooked in the bush. Besides koalas you will also encounter a variety of Australia’s other native animals. A second option, that I recommend is in Victoria, in the You Yangs outside of Melbourne. There is a company that has been following a whole system and family of koalas for years. Go out in find them in person while learning all the fun facts such as how each koala has a unique nose pattern.
The koala pat aka selfie opportunity is found in around most of the city areas and zoos, like Wildlife Sydney, in the states that don’t allow cuddling. There are specific times allotted each day to “meet” the koala or even “breakfast with the koalas”. The koalas will be placed on a branch in a viewing area. You will be allowed to go up, maybe place a hand gently on their bum or just get side by side for a nice photo op or selfie. Another great option is to include this with a day trip out to the Blue Mountains stopping in the morning enroute to see them for breakfast.
The koala cuddle like the pat is found in zoos or sanctuary areas in the two states that still allow the “cuddle” which are Queensland and South Australia. Like the pat there are specific designated times when the cuddles are allowed. It is a very short time each day because as mentioned earlier the touching can cause stress to the animals and each koala is limited to the amount of times it can be held. For the “cuddle” the handler will tell you how to hold your hands and stand and place the koala on you supported by your interlocked hands. You will then have the opportunity to have a photo taken for a fee. You will be surprised to find out the koala is not as soft as he appears and his fur is more akin to a sheep’s wool.
Any or all of the experiences can be incorporated throughout your Australian itinerary. The spotting in the wild would be a full-day tour that I would recommend booking in advance. The pat and cuddle can be done more on the fly, but it is nice to have the advanced tickets to the zoo or exhibit you will be visiting and make sure to know ahead of time what time the koalas are available. Nothing in my opinion quite beats the up close and personal experiences you can have in Australia with these very unique and beautiful creatures.
Lisa Rossmeissl is the owner of Boomerang Escapes, a home-based agency located in Old Bridge, New Jersey with agents in TN, MS, and WI.
She has been a professional travel consultant since 2008 and specializes in Australia and the South Pacific. Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, and Cook Islands are among the specialist certificates she holds. Her agency’s focus is on creating custom itineraries with their client’s wants, desires, and budgets in mind. She and her planners believe in getting to know the traveler to ensure they have a vacation to remember. With each planner specializing in a different market area, Boomerang Escapes can offer a wide variety of leisure vacation planning.