Australian Adventures

A Koala Kind of Day

“We’re going to hug koalas. We’re going to hug koalas. We’re going to hug koalas!” My third grade schoolyard chant wasn’t amusing anyone on the bus. I didn’t care. I bounced up and down in my seat.

I was on my way to the Lone Pines Koala Sanctuary located outside of Brisbane to have an intimate moment with one of the world’s most beloved creatures (or should be, according to my book). I was convinced it was going to be the most warm-and-fuzzy-make-your-heart-melt kind of moments I’d ever have.

“I hear they have claws and can scratch you,” my new friend Elaine commented quietly.

I looked at her with a stupid grin and said, “Well, we’re going to find out!” Her eyes were skeptical. She was far less convinced of the day’s choice of activity but I didn’t mind. More koalas for me.

I stared at the window for a moment before turning to face her. “And even if I do get mauled, it will be the cutest mauling in the world. Seriously… what would that headline look like? Even in tragedy people will coo.” She gave a nervous laugh.

Elaine was one of my bunkmates at the Brisbane YHA Hostel. We both arrived at our designated room at the same time and bonded over a mutual exhaustion from our solo travels. She listened considerately to my Cairns recount through my crocodile tears. I empathized with her worries of heading to Southeast Asia for the next three months. We were meant to be friends, obviously.

When I had first approached my Irish amiga about joining me for this adventure, she was reluctant. Not being the animal lover that I was, she didn’t see the draw of spending a day at the world’s largest koala sanctuary. And given her fears, I was even more grateful for her company and willingness to document the experience for me.

Koala cuddling was the only reason I had decided to stop through Brisbane to begin with. I mean, sure… I guess I could have chosen to see them at the zoo in Sydney or up in Cairns. But as an advocate of the, “Go big or go home,” mentality, I figured if I was going to exchange an intimate nose nuzzle with a fuzzy-faced friend, it should be at the world’s largest sanctuary. Plus after receiving an invitation from The Sanctuary itself to come out and explore, my mind was more than made up. So now I waited impatiently. I bounced and rocked, humming my schoolyard chant. The wheels on the bus went ’round and ’round. My thoughts mimicked the motion.

I wondered what the koalas would feel like. I’d heard their fur wasn’t as soft as it looked and that their nails could dig into your skin. Would they talk with little accents like the cartoon koala in The Rescuers Down Under? I’d also been told that they had a distinct smell. Was I building up this experience to be much more than it could be? Hell no, I thought. This is going to be the best. Who could resist those fuzzy faces and big ears? They were literally creatures meant for love. I was pretty convinced that if you disliked koalas you were a communist.

We arrived at the sanctuary by late morning. “Well,” Elaine said as we disembarked the bus, “What do you want to see first?”

I almost laughed at the question. “Are you kidding?”

She smiled at my enthusiasm. I skipped to the koala habitat. Was this what it felt like to be six again?

I purchased the photo pass and walked over to the koala handling area. There was no-one in line so I hopped through the cue to the front. I smiled broadly at the girl in the safari shirt. “Hello, my name is Hilary and I would like to hold a koala, please.”

She showed me to the little X I needed to stand on. “Our handler is going to get one of the koalas. Just wait here.”

She explained to me that I needed to stand as still as a tree and keep my palms flat so that the koala had a place to rest his furry behind. I couldn’t make a sudden movements and had to speak in a soft tone. I nodded emphatically, drinking in my directions.

Then I saw him. And I lost my shit. His name was Max.

The thought process went as follows… OH MY GOD!!!! He even folds his hands like the koala in the Rescuers cartoon! I knew it!

OH MY GOD! I’m HOLDING a KOALA! And he’s FUZZY!

Heart… is… melting… Words… failing…. askjlgmklasdflkajbkjldaf

Am I really nose nuzzling a koala? Don’t let this end, don’t let this end…

HAPPY HAPPY JOY. JOY HAPPY HAPPY JOY. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY! Wait… did I seriously just do and internal Ren and Stimpy happy dance? Whatevs. HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!

But like all good things, the moment ended as quickly as it began. And my heart sank. I could feel the koala withdrawals already. So, as many addicts do, I resorted to desperate measures. I purchased another koala cuddling pass.

My face beamed as I turned to Elaine. “Well, now at least we have documentation of the day I decided to become a professional koala cuddler.”

She laughed. “Was it everything you wanted?”

“And MORE. I wonder if it ever gets old…” I looked thoughtfully toward the handlers.

“Well, what do you want to do now?”

I gave her a sly grin. “I hear they have a designated area where you get to feed kangaroos. Are you game?”

She smiled. “Let’s do it, then.”

We left the koala cuddling area and headed to the reserve. I was still reeling from the intimate moment with my koala buddies, but I could feel the excitement building for this next adventure. Would I lose all mental capacity around the kangaroos too?

*Many thanks to Cheryl Lee and the Lone Pines Koala Sanctuary for sponsoring this adventure!

62 Comments

  • Reply

    August 8, 2012

    SWEEEEETTTTTT!

  • Reply

    larkycanuck

    August 8, 2012

    I always wanted to own a Koala as a pet. since i cant instead i adopted a bunny recently. they are good substitutes.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 8, 2012

      I would be inclined to agree with you; bunnies would be the closest substitute. Unfortunately, I am deathly allergic. I need another non-allergy-inducing-nose-nuzzling creature in my life. Something to ponder for sure…

      • Reply

        larkycanuck

        August 9, 2012

        they breed the allergen free ones nowadays. next up on my list is a parrot. then in few years a tea cup pig.
        maybe i should just buy a zoo.

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 9, 2012

          Hahaha! Maybe. I hear it’s pretty easy to do these days. Well, according to movies… =)

  • Reply

    Anastasia

    August 8, 2012

    So fun! This is how I get when I see 3 toed sloths. Beside myself dopey.

  • Reply

    Haha this is hilarious, love the enthusiasm. I think I felt this excited when I got to hold a lion cub one time–I kept wanting to hold him up and sing “The Ciiiiiiiirrrrrcle of Life!” I also got really excited when I went to see the tarsier monkeys–have you seen those things? They’re like little furry gremlins, but they’re so ugly they’re cute! I def want to cuddle with a koala now. :)

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Hey Kaleena!

      No, I have never seen a tarsier monkey. They sound super interesting, though! And you are so cute! Lion cubs are the beeessst! Every time I work with them at the Lion Habitat Ranch I want to be like, “Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa…” We’re such girls!

      And I absolutely recommend koala cuddling! One of those things to add to the bucket list for sure!!

      • Reply

        kaleenaskaleidoscope

        August 10, 2012

        Haha we are clearly children of the Lion King generation (the best Disney generation, duh). Lol. If you ever make it to the Philippines (which you defffffinitely should) then check out the tarsier monkeys there in Bohol. They’ll rock your socks off in their creepy, cuddly little way.

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 11, 2012

          I keep getting signs to add the Philippines to my list. Maybe it’s time I start trying to get out that way! And thanks so much for the tip! I will be sure to do so.

          Lion King generation = best ever! I lucked out growing up; my aunt was an animator for Disney and Warner Bros. So if I wasn’t into Disney enough as it is, me and my sister became obsessed with it through her job!

  • Reply

    Nikhil Kardale

    August 8, 2012

    This is both ‘cool’ and ‘cute’! I can imagine how excited you must have been holding the Koala in your arms. Excellent pictures too. This experience goes into my bucket-list now, as a ‘must-do’!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Hi Nikhil!

      I’m so happy to hear you say that! I wasn’t sure how this post was going to be taken by my male readers… so I’m glad to hear you find it an experience worth having. They are precious!

      What other things are on your bucket list?

      • Reply

        Nikhil Kardale

        August 16, 2012

        Oh, the bucket list is a long one, and being a geek, its an interesting one too :). However, its ‘animal section’ does contain an entry titled: ‘Try to befriend a Kangaroo and a Koala’, both of which should happen on a tour to Australia someday. The section also had an entry titled: ‘See a Panda in person, in a zoo or elsewhere’. Pandas are rare, so this was a tricky one, but I managed to spot a huge Panda from very close quarters in Tokyo (Japan) last year. It was an awe-inspiring experience!

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 16, 2012

          Wow! That sounds so amazing! I’ve seen a panda at the San Diego Zoo previously, but I’d really like to hold one someday. They may be the only animal cuter than koalas. Well, maybe them or penguins. I’m torn.

  • Reply

    whatsonyourwall

    August 9, 2012

    I have also been to Lone Pines and got to hold a koala, however the one i held relieved itself on my foot as i was holding him/her and reached for my eyes it was a t this point the handler took him/her away. Still it was a good if somewhat strange experience and i am glad i did it

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Oh my gosh! That sounds like a crazy experience!! Thanks so much for sharing. How did you react to that?

      What did you think of the rest of the sanctuary?

      • Reply

        whatsonyourwall

        August 13, 2012

        Well i was quite happy to hand him/her back to the handler they had just changed Koala bears and i think this one wanted to be left alone. I enjoyed the sanctuary it was not my idea i just went along with some friends who were more interested, but it did end up being a memorable experience so im glad i went.

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 16, 2012

          I’m glad to hear it was memorable (even if the memories weren’t all pleasant!) Hopefully you’ll have a more pleasant animal encounter in the future!!

  • Reply

    Erica

    August 9, 2012

    AHHH FUZZY KOALAS!!! I had a chance to pet a Koala named Sean, but he seemed a little angry from being woken up so it was just a quickie :)
    How fun is feeding roos?! I was really scared until I decided that they would not karate kick me in the face.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Awww, yeah I hear they can be finicky creatures. Luckily both of my koalas were super sweet. They just kind of leaned against my body and were like, “I’m going to lay here, is that cool with you?” And I was like, “Of course, adorable little bear looking creature.” And it was settled, haha.

      The kangaroo experience was crazy. I definitely had some nervous moments with some handsy roos, but all went well. Post to come! =)

  • Reply

    The ITT System

    August 9, 2012

    My new goal in life is to cuddle a koala at Lone Pine.

    I got to pet shedded koala fur at Zoo Camp, they said the koalas were too temperamental and slightly vicious to actually touch.

    But now that I know this is a thing, I must do it!
    ~M

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      It’s absolutely a thing! And the great thing about this sanctuary is that they have very strict rules about how the koalas are handled and how long they can be handled for. So they are never stressed or overworked, and I appreciated that!

      I think there might be age restrictions? Maybe they were worried about youngsters holding koalas? What else did you do at zoo camp? That sounds so interesting!

  • Reply

    Jconowitch

    August 9, 2012

    Awesome Post Hilary and I love your new photo for your banner! Good job Girl!!! Joe

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Thank you so much, Joe! I’m so happy to hear you like the blog and the new photo! Have you ever had an animal encounter?

  • Reply

    aidaweb101

    August 9, 2012

    So cute!Cool shots!
    Cheers!

  • Reply

    A Gracious Life

    August 9, 2012

    hey! was wondering what you were up to?! adorable, adorable, adorable! my heart melted too. =>

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Yep! I’ve been busy holding koalas and feeding kangaroos (post to come!) Super fun!

      How are you, lady? How is life in your edge of the ocean?

      • Reply

        A Gracious Life

        August 9, 2012

        The weather has been really bad the past ten days. The sun came out shining only today! but it’s good we were kept safe and warm during the storm. I wonder how it feels hugging a koala in the storm!

        Keep having fun Hilary!

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 11, 2012

          Oh no! What a drag! And koala hugging storm style would definitely be an experience!!

          Keep staying safe! Hope to hear good news from you soon! Lots of love!

  • Reply

    Anita Mac

    August 9, 2012

    That is so awesome! Looks like you got to hold him for a while too! They are sooooo adorable! Love the koalas. Looks like you were loving it!! HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 9, 2012

      Oh, I was totally milking the experience. I asked a bunch of questions in an effort to distract them from making me give the koala back. I think it helped that there was no-one waiting in line.

      Happy happy joy joy indeed! Have you ever had an animal encounter?

      Lots of love to yo, Anita!

  • Reply

    aidaweb101

    August 9, 2012

    Congratulations.Read this please:http://aidaweb101.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/nomination-for-one-lovely-blog-award/
    All the best!
    Aida

  • Reply

    I want to hug a koala bear too! oh yes, they’re so cute!
    Hilary, once again : you’re my HERO!
    when the hell do we meet?
    ;-)
    Cheers! and happy kangaroo cuddling!
    Jul’

  • Reply

    kaybird1

    August 9, 2012

    AWE!!! I’m so freaking jealous! So was his fur snuggly soft? How did you wind up getting a personal invite from the sanctuary? Only 46 more business days until I leave this office and can really start sharing some stories of my adventures with you – in the meantime, you continue to be a source of fun and inspiration!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 10, 2012

      The fur WAS snuggly soft! I could have held him all day!

      I had been talking with some readers that I had in the Brisbane area about activities they’d recommend. One of them put me in touch with their coordinator, which was very nice!

      I am so excited for you! You must be itching to get going! Please please please keep me updated! Lots of love to you, my soon-to-be nomadic friend!

  • Reply

    haileyjw

    August 9, 2012

    Ahh! They are bursting with cuteness!! You look so happy too. I would have been the sort to be worried about the claws and teethy things, but they apparently appear to be pretty much teddy bears. Fantastico!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 10, 2012

      Yes, the cuteness is deadly! Wait til you see the video. I could not stop making this high pitched laugh. I didn’t even realize I was capable of such sounds, haha.

      I’ve heard mixed reviews on koala experiences, so I may have just lucked out. But these guys at LP really seem to have a handle on their koala babies.

      I hope you try it sometime!!

  • Reply

    Off The Map

    August 9, 2012

    Hey! Realized haven’t seen your adventures lately! Absolutely loving the koalas!!!! how are you?

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 10, 2012

      Hey you!

      I’m awesome! This experience has left me on a koala bear high for a couple of days now. How are things? What are you up to?

      • Reply

        Off The Map

        August 10, 2012

        I’m doing amazing :) I had to take the summer off of writing here because I was dedicating myself to other writing projects but i’ve still been exploring and traveling and now i’m finally back here! :D where are you off to next?

      • Reply

        Off The Map

        August 10, 2012

        I’m doing amazing :) I had to take the summer off of writing here because I was dedicating myself to other writing projects but i’ve still been exploring and traveling and now i’m finally back here! :D where are you off to next? I just started a new work from home job that gives me plenty of travel time, i’m planning on doing southeast asia and maybe back to Europe next year, and want to keep on seeing more of the US! When are you coming down to these Florida parts??? We’re cool too!

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          August 11, 2012

          Wonderful news! I’ve been hearing a lot of stories about burn-out lately and becoming overwhelmed with other projects. Glad you’re back on the blogging train. We missed you!

          On my way to Fiji next! Then from there I’m not sure… It’s funny that you mention SE Asia though… that keeps coming up. I was hoping to get there by the end of the year but not sure if that’s going to happen. But fingers crossed!

          You know I’ve actually never been to Florida? I guess out West it was always just thought to be the land of retirees and Disney. Am I missing out?

          • Off The Map

            August 15, 2012

            Have you ever ridden a bicycle next to a 12 foot suntanning gator? Camped out in a wooden platform over the everglades swamp? Kayaked through dense mangrove forests full of life? We got so much more here.

          • Hilary Billings

            August 16, 2012

            Okay. Point taken! If/when I make it down that way, we’re doing all those things!

  • Reply

    Browsing the Atlas

    August 9, 2012

    This sounds like a fantastic day! I loved your stream-of-consciousness giddiness. I’m not sure I’d be as enthralled with koalas (or maybe I would be), but the nirvana you described was how I felt about hugging a dolphin.

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 11, 2012

      Oh you are so sweet! Thank you so much. When I get giddy I can’t help but just switch to stream-of-consciousness. Sarcasm doesn’t exist in my world when fuzzy animals are around.

      You got to HUG a DOLPHIN? I must know more! Sounds so exciting! And slippery!

  • Reply

    travellingmo

    August 10, 2012

    That looks so amazing!!! They are so weird but sooo adorable! I had a similar experience where I held a baby kangaroo at a wildlife reserve while in Australia. I can’t wait to hear about your kanga stories!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      August 11, 2012

      You got to hold a baby kangaroo?!? Was that adorable or what??

      Yeah, they are such strange looking creatures. If you think about it, all of the Australian animals are so weird in comparison to the wildlife I’m used to. I wonder what they must think of us!

  • Reply

    margyleunbound

    August 29, 2012

    I also enjoy koalas… They see to have the right idea on how to live. I held one in Oz a few years ago… Aside from the odor on its fur… Soooo cute lol

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About Me

About Me

Hey fellow adventurers, my name is Hilary! After being rejected from grad school, I took off on a solo journey around the world. Now I constantly challenge myself to take on new experiences. This blog documents my journeys from Europe to Fiji, swimming with sharks and living with tribes, to becoming an accidental beauty queen and working for one of the top national media outlets. If you like what you're reading, please subscribe! Here's to the next great adventure!

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