“I want to go to Australia and take the same goofy picture of me holding a koala that everyone else takes.”
– Jessi Klein
So did I, Jessi… So did I.
Another dream come through, holding a koala ❤ I had planned to go to Queensland somewhere to do this as I was told holding the koalas is not allowed anywhere else anymore, but then luck and happenstance would have it I found Cleland Wildlife Park while searching online what the f… to do in Adelaide, because that was the only place I could afford to go from Perth.
Not really, but plane tickets in Australia are bloody expensive so my plan to go from Perth to Alice Springs went right out the window (jesus the cost!) and I found myself booking a flight from Perth to Adelaide, because the cheapest route was Adelaide – Alice Springs – Melbourne – Sydney.
I spent three nights in Adelaide, but only got one full day really, and I spent it looking for Cleland Wildlife Park. The guy at my hostel was extremely helpful and told me where to get what bus and that where the bus dropped me off I could either get another bus up to the entrance (but this didn’t come along too often), get a taxi or Uber up to the entrance or if I wanted a bit of exercise I could walk. It would be about 20 minutes.
He was wrong about that last part. I know that because I picked that option.
Two and a half hours later (it’s supposed to take a little over one hour) I finally fund the sign pointing me to the entrance of the park. (This was after walking up, up, up in the scorching sun, flagging down an older lady in her car asking how far it was, having her offer to drive me to the entrance because she felt bad for me, me declining because it would take her in the opposite direction than what she was going, and then walking the rest of the way with the directions she gave me). The walk itself made me thirsty, but it was actually quite pleasant, the only thing that worried me was being too late to actually hold the koala, which was the most important thing for me that day.
Cleland Wildife Park only allow between 10-15 people to hold a koala per day and only if the koalas are happy to do it, so there’s always a warning that you might not be able to anyway, but if you do you can’t book an appointment. You have to just show up around 2pm and wait in line.
So I came in through the door, sweating and stressed out, but incredibly relieved I’d found the place. I saw a lovely woman with a welcoming smile at the front desk and exclaimed: “Thank god I finally found you!”. She looked at me at bit quizzically and her smile faded a bit when she heard how long I’d been walking, and she offered me water (to be fair it was pretty hot). I thanked her and immediately asked if it was too late to hold the koala(!?) She smiled and told me not to worry, all I had to do was find the koala-area and be there about 1.45pm to get in line, I should be there no later because they already had about 10 people interested, but I should be fine as it was just 1pm. So I paid the entrance, bought a bag of snacks for the inhabitants (they make these for the visitors, snacks that are safe to give the roaming kangaroos, wallabies etc) and walked pretty much straight to the koala-area. I got in line at 1.25pm, I shit you not. I stood there for half an hour before anyone else showed up because I. Was. Not. Missing. This.
I got ticket #1 😉
We were then guided in to the room where the koala-holding would take place and I was by no means alone in my eagerness. The lady explained that we would be holding either “Poppy” (a smaller female) or a larger male I can’t remember the name of, depending on which of them was happy to join. Turned out Poppy wanted snacks. So we all got out protective sweaters on (to protect our clothes from their sharp claws) and received a crash course in how to pretend to be a tree for the koala. We didn’t really need much, they know what to do. The keeper brought her in and everyone went “Aaaaaawh!!” and then immediately remembered they have excellent hearing and we should be as quiet as possible so a quick shush descended. I then took up my spot in front of the camera and the keeper brought Poppy to me. Poppy immediately just grabbed me, sat her bum in my left hand and started sniffing the eucalyptus leaves (apparently they like two different ones and these were like chocolate to them). She started eating and every now and then would look around at me, the other visitors and the keepers – and the keeper taking photos was a pro, she got some really good ones of Poppy “smiling”.
People have told me that koalas are cute, but smell really bad, but I couldn’t smell anything bad about Poppy. I can’t actually remember her smelling anything, so it’s safe to say she didn’t stink.
“Their hands have two opposable thumbs, providing better gripping ability. Koalas have big, fluffy ears and an excellent sense of hearing. Because they have poor eyesight, koalas generally detect predators by sound”
I got some really good photos and stayed to watch my two, new aquaintances from Italy having their koala-experience, then we all went further into the park to see the other koalas, the dingos (“A dingo ate mah baibeeeee!”), the birds, the wallabies, kangaroos and those little mousey thingys I can’t remember the name of. (I was there for the koala, ok? the rest was just bonus)
Clealand Wildlife Park was amazing though. I keep saying “the rest was just bonus”, and to a degree it was, my main focus was getting to hold a koala (bucket list item, what can you do?), but what a bonus it was! I loved this park, plain and simple. It’s worth a visit to Adelaide to see it and I am so very glad I found out about it in time to stop by.
My newfound friend at the front desk made sure I got the bus back from the very entrance of the park and down to Crafers Ramp (where I had walked up from) to save me another hour worth of walking. I thanked her, bought a few ornaments to remember the place by, made sure my USB stick with the koala pics was safe from the oncoming rain and got on the bus back down. I asked the bus driver about the bus back into Adelaide and he took on the role of caring grandpa, he stopped at Crafers told me to wait at this very spot for the bus (“Wait RIGHT HERE, and don’t move until bus 843 comes along. Then you get on and stay on until you reach city center.”) He was the sweetest ❤