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 (www.koala.net), 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.
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 and has been operating since 1927. For AUD $16, 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 and more than one person in the photo. For the concerned, 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 just over a year old, named Lucy. It lasted less than a minute, but left me with a memory that will last the rest of my life. And, yes, koalas are completely irresistible. We felt very happy that the money we spent is going to building new enclosures, funding research projects and growing eucalyptus plantations – the koala’s food source.
Not just a koala sanctuary
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 – 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 creatures, 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).
Also a highlight is spending time within the 5-acre preserve housing over 130 kangaroos and wallabies – species found 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 for AUD $2 in the general store near the compound for those who wish to hand-feed the roos.
We noticed quite a few joeys (baby roos) peaking outside of mom’s pouches. The Skeptical One, “she” turned into an enthusiastic fan, snapping hundreds of photos of the joeys peeping out of the pouches. Cuuuuuute!!!