There’s nothing quite like getting up close and personal with a koala. Here’s how.
There’s only one country on Earth where you can cuddle a koala – Australia! This special experience is only available in a select few sanctuaries and wildlife parks where visits are strictly monitored and the koalas are very well cared for. Here are a few of the best experiences on offer.
You can only cuddle a koala in three states: Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. Of these, Queensland is undoubtedly the nation’s koala-cuddling capital.
The world’s first and largest koala sanctuary is just outside Brisbane. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is home to more than 130 koalas, and you can hold one at any time from 10am to 4pm.
“Holding a koala is a very special experience,” says Lone Pine communications coordinator Amy Swinn. “We see varied reactions from guests — everything from disbelief to pure joy, and sometimes even happy tears!
“Koala holding is a heavily regulated experience to ensure the welfare of the koalas remains top priority at all times. Only a portion of our koalas meet guests for holds, and these are the koalas who have suitable personalities and temperaments, and enjoy interacting with guests. Some koalas are not afraid to snuggle right up during a hold and possibly even doze off for a nap.”
Other Queensland koala-cuddling opportunities (as well as encounters with other Aussie animals) can be found at wildlife parks including Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast, Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas, and Australia Zoo (founded by the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin) on the Sunshine Coast.
Kangaroo Island, off the South Australian coast, is like a giant animal sanctuary. It’s home to everything from sea lions to wallabies to dolphins, and hugely popular with wildlife spotters.
There’s a good chance you’ll see koalas in the wild on the island, but for a close-up, head to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, where you can hold koalas — and snakes if that’s more your cup of tea — and get a picture taken for all your Instagram followers.
Also in South Australia, visit Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills, just 20 minutes from the Adelaide city centre. You can handfeed kangaroos, emus, wallabies, potoroos (rabbit-sized marsupials) and waterfowl, and meet Tasmanian devils, dingoes and reptiles — as well as cuddle you-know-who.
You can also hold a koala at Gorge Wildlife Park at the appropriately named Cudlee Creek, a 40-minute drive from the Adelaide CBD. It’s one of the few places in Australia that doesn’t charge extra for koala cuddles.
In New South Wales, you aren’t allowed to cuddle a koala, but you can get up close at numerous venues, including Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney, where you can meet and pet a koala — or even have breakfast with one, if you prefer. Breakfast with koalas is also an option at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo.
In Victoria, cuddles with koalas aren't permitted due to state laws but Ballarat Wildlife Park allows you to get extremely close to its koalas without actually giving them a hug. For more ideas about where to see koalas in Australia, check out the Australian Koala Foundation.
You can cuddle koalas in Western Australia, too — as long as you go to Cohunu Koala Park near Perth.
It’s believed to be the only place in the state that offers koala cuddling, says 77-year-old owner Lucille Sorbello, who, with her husband, Nardino, has been running the wildlife park for almost five decades and breeding koalas for 26 years.
Cohunu currently has a dozen koalas alongside its largely free-roaming emus, wallabies, dingoes, deer, swans, owls — and 30 talking parrots. If you like, you can spot the animals from the comfort of a miniature train that chugs around the park.
"The koalas are very happy in their West Australian home," Lucille says. “They are lucky to live to 10 years in the wild, but we had one that lived to be 18. She had 18 babies.”