“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?”
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.
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.
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!