Painful as it was to leave Melbourne, we quickly set our sights on our impending visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, buying tickets online as soon as we landed in Brisbane. We shoved our luggage into our rooms and ran back downstairs to catch an Uber to the sanctuary. It was already past 2pm and koala cuddling ended at 4:30, so there wasn’t a moment to lose. I have never seen Nathalie so excited about anything. I mean, she was close to tears as we entered the car park. So when they told us that koala cuddling tickets (an extra $18 fee) were sold out, I was genuinely expecting Nathalie to chuck a wobbly at the employee. We would be allowed to pet them, but not allowed to hold them. Apparently too many tourists had already come through and manhandled the poor koalas, who were all humaned out. You’ve never seen such disappointment. I wanted to cry just looking at Nathalie’s face.
We slowly came to terms with our disappointment as we meandered through the sanctuary. All the wonderful and unexpected creatures helped. We were first greeted by a bearded dragon, which we soon realized had compadres lurking in every corner. There were also wild turkeys running about. Our spirits lifted by these encounters, we made a beeline for the koalas. There was a mom and joey enclosure, a bachelor pad enclosure, a kindy koala enclosure, and the cuddling station. Adam made a valiant effort at talking them into letting us hold Buckley, the koala of the day, but Buckley’s handler wasn’t having it. We were allowed up only one at a time to pet Buckley – and only on the lower back portion, please – and his handler kept us to about 30 seconds each. I’ll be honest: I was only there because I have a young son and I have to be able to tell him I pet a koala in Australia. But as soon as I touched Buckley’s soft dense fur, I was charmed. And I’ll be damned if my heart didn’t melt instantly at the sight of koala moms cuddling with their joeys. And Nathalie? I think her voice went up at least two octaves.
After some quality time with the koalas, we moved onto dingoes, tasmanian devils, platypuses, kookaburras, snakes, monitor lizards and emus, among others. Then it was time for a refreshment in the cafe, where we were tortured by a wall of celebrities holding koalas. Nathalie immediately found Janet Jackson, and Adam immediately found Grover (yes, from Sesame Street). John Paul II and the Queen Mother also got koala cuddles. If only we were famous.
After studying other visitors in the kangaroo enclosure feeding the roos out of hand and surviving, we each bought packets of kangaroo food and tried our hand as well. Aside from the unavoidable roo poo, it was an exhilarating experience to walk amongst the kangaroos and feed them right out of your hand. They were extremely docile, but we still kept a safe distance from the moms carrying joeys. For the most part they were pretty small, except for one which was as big as a pony and was patrolling the enclosure from the outside, probably for obvious reasons. We basically closed out the sanctuary hanging out with the kangaroos as the caretakers made noises about locking us in. We made one last pass through the koalas and then had to say goodbye. They escaped our grasp this time, but mark me well: if we are ever back, they will not escape a second time.