Cuddling a Koala Got Personal

Koalas. Those cute, fuzzy, gray marsupials with noses like big mushrooms and mobility like a drunk baby. It’s criminal to travel all the way down under and not hug this iconic Australian animal.  There are only two states in Oz that allow visitors to hold koalas, and Queensland is one of them.

Fun Fact: Did you know that "koala" is the aboriginal word for "no drink"? Because koalas feed on eucalypt leaves with a high moisture level, they usually don't need to drink water!

Fun Fact: Did you know that “koala” is the aboriginal word for “no drink”? Because koalas feed on eucalypt leaves with a high moisture level, they usually don’t need to drink water!

We decided to wait until we arrived on Hamilton Island for this animal encounter for the sole reason that WILD LIFE Hamilton Island offers breakfast with the koalas every morning. Breakfast – our favorite (and the most important) meal of the day – WITH a koala dining companion? Sold. There’s also that warm fuzzy thought [pun intended] that WILD LIFE Hamilton Island is not just a zoo – it’s an animal rescue center.


When we entered the vicinity of the restaurant, my first thought was “Where are all the koalas?!” It took a minute of playing Where’s Waldo, but there they were, hanging out in the trees among the diners. We picked a table with a great vantage point. Though they rested in the trees like living ornaments, I couldn’t help but feel that their breakfast duty was more of an annoyance between the squealing kids and clinking of forks scraping away at the eggs, bacon, and sausage brekky. Can koalas roll their eyes? Between sleep, I swear I witnessed the koala glaring through tired, slitted eyes when dishes loudly clanged at the breakfast buffet. But if there is such a thing as relaxing with grace, these koalas were experts.

5 points if you spot the koala! Notice the sign... poor sleepy guy!

5 points if you spot the koala! Notice the sign… poor sleepy guy!

After overindulging everything on the menu, it was time for the main event: Koala cuddling. Introducing the cuddler of the day: Willow, the tiniest (& most adorable) koala resident at WILD LIFE Hamilton Island.

I’ve heard that koalas can rip faces off (True? Or no?) and those long, black claws reached out toward me with purpose; I hesitated for a minute, not knowing what to do with myself. Sorry, I’ve never received How To Hold A Koala training before! “Cradle the bottom” the keeper instructed. “Touch its butt?!” I hesitated again, feeling like I would violate poor Willow with some behind contact.  Throwing reluctances aside, I ignored the thought of her discolored derriere and reached out to the adorable creature. All she wanted was something to grasp, so Willow reached longingly as she was passed along: I cradled the butt, hugged her close… and she grabbed on to the ta-ta, clutching for extra security. I guess you can say things got personal pretty quickly.

Holding Willow felt like a sack of sand plopped in a koala pillow case. She was a bottom-heavy, floppy creature. Her thick, dense fur, slightly wiry and surprisingly plush wasn’t necessarily soft, but definitely fuzzy and padded and completely cuddle-able. Willow was so cute, I didn’t even mind that she chose to go straight to second base.

Getting Groped by a Koala: Definitely bucket list worthy.


Isn’t she adorable? If I could have kidnapped her and taken her home with me, I would have. But I suppose, in a way, I did. I have the most epic professional souvenir photo of us hanging in my office cubicle. It thrills when my co-workers ask about the photo (“Is that your baby?” “Is that real?” “How did you hold a koala?!”). When my work days get dull & I dwindle to adventure-emptiness, those koala cuddling moments captured on paper prompt a smile. It inflates me with happiness… and hope that more creature friends will find their way into my travels in the future.

Is cuddling a koala something you’d like to do one day? What animals have you befriended on your travels? I’d love to hear in the comments!


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