Post 17 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
I had been looking forward to this specific day for months. Why? Because I was going to cuddle a koala!
Although this experience is also offered at the larger Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary stood out for me as the smaller, friendlier, cheaper and more authentic sanctuary. Not to mention one endorsed by a surprising succession of celebrities. So we caught an early bus from Brisbane city centre to Lone Pine and found that it offered much more than just koalas!
The bus drove right up to the park entrance, making it easy for us to know when to get off. We had a quick breakfast of tea, coffee and cookies from the outside cafe before heading in, showing reception the tickets we’d bought online and printed back at home. The first animal we encountered was a beautiful white and yellow cockatoo, who, according to a sign on his large cage, was called ‘Mr Cocky’ and could say certain phrases.
I was delighted when he replied to my first greeting with a cheery “Hello!”, but he went quiet when we tried to get him to speak again. We managed to get just one more little hello out of him on camera (you can view the videos we shot on the Roam with Juliet Facebook page). We continued walking past the bird cages, stopping to speak to more birds (including the gorgeous kookaburras, below), and around the outside edge of the park.
Kangaroos and koalas
At the centre we saw where the koala photos were being taken, and went into the shop to buy our photo passes. At the counter, however, the paper bags of kangaroo feed caught my eye and we decided that the koalas could wait for just a little longer.
The kangaroos were scattered around a huge enclosure that we entered through a wooden gate. Not really knowing what to expect, I walked up to a kangaroo, knelt down and tipped some pellets into my palm. Seconds after the closest kangaroo and bent its head and delicately nibbled the pellet out of my hand, several others gathered around to join in – as well as a gaggle of geese! I was pleasantly surprised by how gentle and easy to feed the kangaroos were, although a couple of impatient ones did try to grab or nibble at the bag itself!
Feed bags emptied, we returned to the photography area to get our koala cuddles. It was right next to a koala enclosure, which the koalas were being switched in and out of. When my turn came I was asked to make a ‘seat’ for the koala with my hands, and the keeper gently placed the koala in my arms. He was heavier than I expected, rather like a large baby, but firmer in body and with such soft, fluffy fur. He rested his paws on my chest – his claws were sharp, but didn’t hurt – and I felt a rush of love and protectiveness toward this gorgeous creature. I could happily have continued cuddling him long after the camera’s flash went off, and it was disappointing having to hand him back to the assistant!
Next we watched a series of animal presentations, using the timetable we’d printed out beforehand as our guide. First up was a talk by the flying fox cages, which amazed me. I’d never seen bat-like creatures before, so found myself mesmerised by the flying foxes’ delicate leathery wings, round glowing eyes and furry pointed noses. They seemed almost otherworldly.
The stars of the second presentation were animals I’d been waiting to see my whole life: platypuses. The amazing duck-billed, egg-laying mammals that have managed to dig out a unique evolutionary niche all for themselves. The first thing that struck me, upon staring into their water tank, was how tiny they were! For some reason I’d always imagined them to be the size of beavers, but they were more comparable to guinea pigs. This made these species-defying creatures all the more lovable. It was a joy to watch them gracefully darting around in the water, and the talk was fascinating; but unfortunately, the room was too dark to take photographs.
Our final presentation before lunch concerned the tasmanian devil, which, in case you were wondering, doesn’t look a bit like Loony Tunes’ Taz. It put me in mind of a large black weasel and seemed rather harmless until the presenter told us that it eats not only all types of meat, but bones too. The efficacy with which this fierce little thing tore apart the carcass dropped into its enclosure was quite chilling.
Lunch, sheep and lorikeets
We ate lunch inside the cafe and shop in the centre of the park, and were pleasantly surprised by how cheap and high-quality it was. My chicken schnitzel sandwich was big and delicious – one of the best sandwiches of our trip. Next on our schedule was a sheep herding and shearing show. The first part involved some talented dogs rounding up some fluffy sheep, which was great. The second part was a butch man leaning over and shaving bare a wriggling sheep, in what was a very strange spectacle! But learning about the hammock-like device he used to support his upper body was interesting, and it was impressive how he managed to shave off the wool in one very large, continuous piece.
We returned to the central photography area for a snake presentation followed by a koala presentation, both of which allowed us to stroke the animals at the end. The fact that we’d touched both earlier in our trip took nothing away from the pleasure of feeling the smoothness of the snake’s skin, and the silkiness of the koala’s fur.
We bought ice creams to help relieve ourselves of the sweltering heat and made one more circuit of the park to ensure we’d seen all the animals. These included gorgeous white dingoes, scary large birds (cassowarys), adorable frogs and many types of reptile, from crocodiles to giant perentie lizards. Some smaller birds and lizards (such as the iguana below) were just freely roaming the park, and seemed to enjoy posing for photos.
The day culminated in a raucous frenzy of colour and noise: the lorikeet feeding session. Looking at these beautiful birds quietly sitting in the trees, I never could have imagined the noisy rabble they’d become at the sight of porridge! The porridge was in shallow bowls on sticks, which the park keeper invited us to pick up. Immediately upon doing this we were surrounded by the brightly coloured birds – flapping, chattering and crowding into the bowls to greedily slurp up their feed. They seemed to be everywhere, including on people’s heads, and I had to put my hat on to shield my scalp from their sharp claws! It was an incredible experience, but we were quite relieved to retire to the quiet peace of the bus back into town.
Brisbane’s South Bank
We had just enough energy when we got back into town to do some exploring. Unfortunately, as it was now around 6pm, the museums had all just closed. Fortunately, the South Bank was just waking up. We were struck by how similar it was to London’s South Bank: both have a giant Ferris wheel, a modern theatre, green spaces, art installations (in this case, giant letters spelling out Brisbane) and the skyscrapers of the financial district on the horizon.
But Brisbane’s South Bank also has some awesome features that just couldn’t work in London: namely a rainforest garden with a pagoda, and a large outdoor swimming pool with a fake beach! Both looked stunning lit-up, as the soft dusk gradually turned to dark.
There was an exciting array of fancy restaurants and trendy bars to choose from, and we deliberated over which one to choose for ages. In the end we decided to eschew the expensive places for a lively pub called the Plough Inn, drawn in by a live guitarist covering The Police songs. We sat at a table on the balcony, which was hung with rainbow-coloured fairy lights and filled with happy people. The food was what I would call ‘British gastropub with an Asian twist’, which I believe is pretty typical of Modern Australian (“Mod-Oz”) cuisine. I had a gorgeous plate of Korean BBQ-glazed pork belly, firey kim chi (Korean pickled cabbage), apple and cucumber slaw, buttered Chinese greens and a cake of seedy wild rice, which was all washed down with a lovely sparkling rosé. The desserts seemed a bit expensive, so we ended the night gorging on ice cream back at our airbnb flat.
All photos (c) Juliet Langton.