There’s nothing quite like seeing an Australian koala for the first time and hugging a koala is a truly heartwarming experience. There’s something very special about being so close to an endangered koala and it’s guaranteed to melt your heart. Koalas have sweet button noses and gentle furry faces that are very endearing.
Koalas are the size of a small child and they like to hug. They’ll cling to you as though you are a tree. Even a short koala hugging encounter will be an experience you’ll never forget. But you’ll need to plan ahead to have this special wildlife experience as koalas are protected in Australia and holding a koala is only permitted with strict supervision. Places, where you can cuddle a koala in Australia, are few and far between.
Keep reading to find out where you can cuddle a koala in Australia and have an unforgettable wildlife experience. Have your photo taken holding a koala and you’ll have a beautiful memento to share with friends and family.
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- About koalas in Australia
- Is hugging a koala on your bucket list?
- Do koalas like being hugged?
- The best places for hugging a koala in Australia
- The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Queensland
- Australia Zoo – Sunshine Coast, Queensland
- Kuranda Koala Gardens, Queensland
- Gorge Wildlife Park, Cudlee Creek, South Australia
- Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, South Australia
- Cohunu Koala Park, Western Australia
- Other great places to see koalas
- How many koalas are left in the world?
- What you can do to help endangered koalas
- Final Thoughts
- Essentials for Travel in Australia
About koalas in Australia
Koalas are native to Australia and are one of our iconic animals. They eat gum leaves and are tree-dwelling marsupials living high up in the trees. Wild Koalas can be found on the east coast of Australia from Queensland to South Australia in their favourite eucalyptus forests. Koalas are fussy eaters and although there are more than 700 species of gum trees, they will only eat the leaves of about 50. They eat a lot of eucalyptus leaves and will put away up to a kilogram of leaves in a night.
Koalas tend to sleep a lot, up to 20 hours a day and are mostly active at night so the best time to see a koala in the wild is at dawn or at dusk. They live high in the trees and can be hard to spot when they are sleeping. Koalas get all the moisture they need from gum leaves and only come down to the ground to change trees or move to another place and they communicate with each other by bellowing and grunting.
Koalas are territorial and have scent glands on their chest that they use to mark their home trees. Like a kangaroo, a baby koala is called a joey and lives in its mothers pouch until it is big enough to leave. After about 7 months, a koala joey climbs onto its mother’s back and it will become independent when it is around one year old. A fully grown koala is the size of a small child and weighs from 4 to 15 kilograms.
Is hugging a koala on your bucket list?
If hugging a koala is on your bucket list (and it should be) you’ll need to plan ahead. There are strict laws in Australia about the handling of koalas and other native wildlife and, it’s only in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia that holding a koala is permitted for people without a licence. In other states, you can get up close to koalas, learn all about them and have your photo taken beside a koala but you won’t be allowed to actually cuddle a koala.
Zoos and Koala Sanctuaries in New South Wales and Victoria are great places to see endangered koalas. You may be able to feed them eucalyptus leaves, touch their fur and enjoy watching them as they snooze and cuddle each other but hugging a koala is not allowed. Head to Queensland or South Australia if you want to cuddle a koala.
Do koalas like being hugged?
Koalas like being handled and a licenced koala handler will supervise your encounter and make sure that the koala is happy to see you. While I was waiting to meet my koala, the handler swapped koalas twice before they found one that was ready for a cuddle. The koala handler assured me she was trained to recognise signs of distress in koalas and she was adamant that you can’t make a koala do anything it doesn’t want to do. So rest assured that the koala’s well-being is paramount when you cuddle a koala.
Koalas naturally like to hug. They spend all day high up in the trees hugging branches so that they don’t fall. When you are holding a koala it will automatically hug you to feel secure. I made the mistake of jiggling the koala as though it was a baby in my arms and the koala reached forward to hug me tighter with its sharp claws. The koala handler immediately moved the koala to a more comfortable position.
TIP: When you’re hugging a koala stand still. This will help the koala feel safer and more secure.
Here’s a video of me holding a koala. Notice the huge smile on my face at the end.
The best places for hugging a koala in Australia
The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Queensland
The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and leads the way in koala welfare and research. Set in a lovely location on the Brisbane River it’s one of the best places to see endangered koalas in Australia. I loved visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and can highly recommend spending a day there. As well as many, many koalas, there are kangaroos, platypus, wombats, dingos, crocodiles, birds and more koalas. The outdoor eating area is surrounded by cuddly koalas and nearby there’s a large area where you can hand-feed the resident kangaroos.
If you’re over 130cm tall you can have your photo taken hugging a koala. The Sanctuary also offers an opportunity to pat a koala and take a selfie and you can have a professional photo taken while you’re holding a koala. The money raised goes towards supporting koalas in Australia through the sanctuary and the Lone Pine Wildlife Hospital. Dingo and snake photo opportunities are also available and it’s best to book ahead so you don’t miss out.
It’s easy to drive there but the best way to get to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is to book a tour from Brisbane. This day trip will take you to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and you’ll see the highlights of Brisbane city on the way.
Where to stay in Brisbane
Budget: Brisbane City YHA is affordable, comfortable and friendly providing dormitory and private rooms close to the city.
Mid-Range: Soho Brisbane Hotel I enjoyed staying here! It’s good value and I loved the location within walking distance of the Brisbane River and the ferry to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.
Luxury: Treasury Brisbane is a luxury hotel in a beautiful heritage building. Located right in the centre of Brisbane beside the river, this hotel gets exceptional reviews.
Australia Zoo – Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Australia Zoo is a fabulous place to get up close and personal with an endangered koala in Australia. You can see cute koalas almost at eye level in their enclosure at Australia Zoo. And the keepers leave signs showing you where the koalas are hiding so that you know where to look up into the trees to spot one.
Australia Zoo is located on the Sunshine Coast and the easiest way to get there is to book a transfer to Australia Zoo from Brisbane or from the Gold Coast. You’ll be collected from your hotel and zoo tickets are included so you can skip the queues when you arrive. It takes around an hour from Brisbane by car and public transport options are also available. Plan to spend a whole day exploring the beautifully kept grounds and enclosures. Australia Zoo is huge so wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen.
If hugging a koala is on the agenda, book a cuddly koala encounter and learn all about koalas or have a wildlife studio photo taken with a koala. A licensed koala handler will make sure the koala is happy to meet you and answer all your questions. You must be at least 8 years old and accompanied by an adult if you’re under 18.
Australia Zoo is a world leader in wildlife conservation and is involved in various conservation projects research and education programs. There is a wildlife hospital at Australia Zoo that has an animal rescue unit that treats wildlife in need and there are plenty of ways you can help. Become a wildlife warrior, adopt an animal or donate to Australia Zoo to support wildlife conservation. Koala hugging will cost a bit more at Australia Zoo than at other places but you will be supporting wildlife conservation and a good cause.
Kuranda Koala Gardens, Queensland
The Kuranda Koala Gardens near Cairns are one of the few places in Australia where you can hold a koala and have a souvenir photo taken of the experience. Located in the rainforest the koala Gardens are home to many native Australian animals including wombats, wallabies, possums, quokkas, crocodiles, gliders and more.
Travel to Kuranda on the Scenic Railway and back on the Skyrail on a day trip from Cairns through the beautiful Kuranda rainforest. The Kuranda Koala Gardens can be found in Kuranda Village at the Kuranda Heritage Market and are open from 10 – 4 pm daily. Book your ticket to the Kuranda Koala Gardens in advance.
Gorge Wildlife Park, Cudlee Creek, South Australia
In Cudlee Creek South Australia, hugging a koala is permitted and you can see all your favourite Australian wildlife as well. Gorge Wildlife Park has Tasmanian Devils, echidnas, Dingos, and Wombats, and you can hand-feed wallabies and kangaroos. You’re sure to love the gentle kangaroos eating right out of your hand and it’s almost as good as hugging a koala to warm your heart. Children must be over 130cm tall to cuddle a koala and encounters will not be available in very hot weather.
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, South Australia
The Wildlife Park on Kangaroo Island in South Australia is another great place to go for hugging a koala and there are several sessions available each day. You can get up close to a variety of different Australian animals and Koala hugging sessions are available along with Dingo, snake, penguin, marmoset, echidna, and alligator feeding and encounters. You can also visit the animal hospital and bottle-feed an orphaned kangaroo joey.
Cohunu Koala Park, Western Australia
If you’re in Western Australia, The Cohunu Koala Park is the only place you will be allowed to cuddle a koala and have your photo taken. The Cohunu Koala Park is located around 40 minutes outside Perth, the capital of Western Australia amongst the trees in picturesque native Australian bushland. A highlight of your visit is sure to be koala hugging although the park has lots of free-roaming Australian animals like kangaroos, emus and wombats as well.
Other great places to see koalas
Magnetic Island, Queensland
Magnetic Island near Townsville in Queensland is one of the best places to see endangered koalas in the wild. The popular walking track to the Fort passes through a koala gum forest and you have a very good chance of multiple sightings here.
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, New South Wales
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in NSW is a great place to visit and support. I can recommend calling in if you’re on the mid-north coast of NSW. The hospital cares for sick koalas and releases them back into the wild. Holding a koala is not allowed here but you will see lots of koalas and the hospital is located in a lovely setting on the grounds of historic Roto House in Port Macquarie. Many of the koalas at this hospital have been displaced after losing their homes and others are suffering from chlamydia and conjunctivitis. The hospital is supported by volunteers and runs various programs to help endangered koalas. Entry is FREE.
Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary, New South Wales
The Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary just outside Newcastle is another place in NSW where you can see endangered koalas but unfortunately hugging a koala is not permitted here either.
How many koalas are left in the world?
Sadly Australian koalas are now an endangered species and this means they are close to extinction. In the past few decades urban encroachment, bushfires and disease have caused a significant decline in the number of wild koalas in Australia. In recent years, destructive bushfires devastated the eucalypt forests where koalas live. An estimated 8,000 koalas died in the 2019 Black Summer bushfires leaving only around 40,000 koalas still living in the wild. Diseases such as chlamydia have also severely impacted the health and well-being of koalas in Australia. If the decline in numbers continues koalas may be extinct by 2050. And this would be a tragic loss!
What you can do to help endangered koalas
Book a cuddly koala encounter and have your photo taken with a koala. Much of the money you pay to cuddle a koala will go towards habitat conservation and animal rescue programs.
Make a donation or volunteer at a koala sanctuary
Volunteer with Friends of the Koala and help rescue koalas in need
Hugging a koala was a beautiful and uniquely Australian experience. It was a highlight of my trip to Brisbane. To be so close to a beautiful koala was a delight and a privilege (and my Mum loved the photo!) Koalas are an endangered species and they need our help and support. If they were to become extinct it would be a real tragedy. Having a close encounter with a koala can only be a positive thing if it raises awareness and money to help these gorgeous animals.
I was satisfied that holding a koala was pleasant for the koala and that the well-being of the koala was closely monitored during the experience. So if hugging a koala is something you’d like to do I would encourage you to go ahead. It will make your day!