Australia is massive—about the size of the United States—and has tons of unusual, unique, off-the-beaten-path activities to choose from. But if there’s one thing that travelers consistently want to do during trips to Australia, it’s to cuddle with a koala.

Here, our friends at HI Travel Tales share their experience cuddling with Lucy the koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside of Brisbane.

by Michael Hodgson

Roll your eyes if you must, but I’ve always dreamed of holding a koala. Not sure why that has been so important to me … perhaps the stuff of childhood fantasy. But I got my wish in October 2013 during our stay in Brisbane, Australia. My wife and I had heard about Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (, located approximately 13 kilometers (8 miles) southwest of Brisbane City Center. She was skeptical, not being a fan of zoos and animals behind fences. But the tourism office assured us it was incredible, filled with wildlife endemic only to Australia, and not your typical zoo. She signed on for the tour, albeit more for me.

The author Michael got his cuddle time with Lucy the koala (and his wife Therese).

Set alongside the picturesque Brisbane River, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary bills itself as the world’s largest koala preserve with approximately 130 koalas in residence, operating since 1927. For a small fee, anyone can get his or her photo taken with a koala. Once you pay, the crew is very accommodating about allowing photos to be taken with personal cameras, or with more than one person in the photo.

We felt very happy knowing that the money we spent was going to building new enclosures, funding research projects and growing eucalyptus plantations, the koala’s food source.

And, yes, koalas are completely irresistible. 

There are strict rules governing koala handling, and no koala is handled for longer than 30 minutes daily. Our family cuddle came with a koala named Lucy, who was just over a year old.  It lasted less than a minute, but left me with a memory that will last the rest of my life.


Though the koalas steal the show—the sanctuary is named for them, after all—there is much more to see and experience here. There are wombats, possums, dingoes, Tasmanian devils, skinks, lace monitors, baby crocs, snakes, frogs, bats, kookaburras, cassowaries, parrots, cockatoos, and platypus.

And—here’s the difference from a regular zoo—most are not just behind some huge fence pacing a concrete cage. In many cases (well, other than crocs and such) you can practically walk right up to the animals, which are always being watched over by caretakers. We loved the bird-of-prey show (held once a day), as well as the sheep sheering show (complete with a fabulous performance by a sheep dog keeping his flock in line).

It’s not all cuddling koalas and feeding kangaroos at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The bird of prey show is spectacular! (Photo by Therese Iknoian.)

Also a highlight is spending time within the 5-acre preserve housing over 130 kangaroos and wallabies—species living here include Eastern grey kangaroo, red kangaroo, swamp wallaby, and red neck wallaby—as well as a few very tolerant emus. Bags of kangaroo food can be purchased in the general store near the compound for those who wish to hand-feed the roos.

Therese feeding a kangaroo.

We noticed quite a few joeys (baby roos) peaking outside of mom’s pouches, too. And here’s where Therese came around; originally “The Skeptical One,” she turned into an enthusiastic fan, snapping hundreds of photos of the joeys peeping out of the pouches. Cuuuuuute!!!

About the Author, HI Travel Tales

Two lifetimes of globetrotting across several continents and dozens of countries fueled the love of people, places and cultural explorations for travel journalists Therese Iknoian and Michael Hodgson. Their blog, HI Travel Tales, was launched in 2014 to share their experiences and discoveries, not only as a married couple but also as solo travelers. They love collaborating with other travelers to communicate their stories, too, and have a growing slate of contributors, including many now from the Journeys International family.

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