There are times when the most practical way to view certain animals is in a zoo or sanctuary (like our recent encounter with Tasmanian Devils). But there’s something really special about experiencing wildlife… in the wild.
That’s most feasible when the species in question frequents known accessible areas and isn’t dangerous to humans. And it’s most exciting when they’re utterly foreign to us (spotting wild raccoons or squirrels isn’t likely to get our hearts racing).
So one of the most clearly marked items on our to-do list in Australia was to view indigenous wildlife in natural habitat whenever reasonably possible. So far, we’ve had great success hunting down elusive duck-billed platypuses, and now it’s time to find koalas.
While koalas range over a wide area, actually spotting them in any particular place can be a challenge. Not only are they nocturnal, but the forests of eucalyptus they frequent can be large. Where exactly do you start looking?
We’d read that a particular hike on Magnetic Island, easily accessible by ferry from Townsville, Queensland, was known as a good koala-spotting location. But we’d also heard that it’s common to take the hike and not see any at all.
We had one day in the area, and one trip to the island, so failure was not an option. We had one shot on Magnetic, and we had to make it count.
As we’ve found with virtually everyone Down Under, a simple question can lead to a wealth of information. People here are as wonderful as we’d heard, and eager to share the beauty and wonders of their country. They seem to appreciate the fact that most visitors have to travel such a great distance to reach them, so they’re eager to reward the effort.
Since wildlife encounters are one of our prime interests, we asked many people about the most likely places to find each species we were interested in. We were all set to take the Magnetic Island hike we’d read about, knowing that we might have only a 50-50 chance of success.
Never shy about chatting with locals, we made one final inquiry at the ferry office as we bought our tickets. “We’re heading over to Magnetic for one reason; to see koalas” we told the ticket agent. “We’ve heard that ‘The Forts’ walking track is the place to go?”
She said she’d heard that The Forts was indeed a popular hike for koala spotting.
As luck would have it, a fellow ferry employee overheard our conversation and stepped over to add her insight. “If you really want to see koalas, I’ll show you where to go. There’s a place where you’re guaranteed to see them, sometimes 6 or 7 at a time.” She drew on the map, providing detailed instructions to the exact spot.
The bus driver on the island reinforced our already-solid perception of Aussies as friendly, helpful people. When we showed him the map and requested that he drop us off at the closest stop to our destination, he said “I can get you real close” then detoured off-route to take us a mile closer than the bus route. It was much appreciated in the tropical heat.
When we arrived at the magic location, we stepped into the eucalyptus trees and were immediately alone among the koalas. Every 40 or 50 feet there was another one, cuter than the next, some just 4 or 5 feet overhead. As they were totally nonplussed by our presence, we’re guessing that the lady in the ferry ticket office has shared this secret spot before. ;-)
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- Preparing to Drive on the Left in Dunedin, NZ
- Akaroa, NZ Waterfront Freedom Camping
- Freedom Camping on the Mohaka River near Napier, NZ
- RVgeeks Interviewed by the Legendary Pacific Coast team
- Picking Up Our Campervan. We’re On the Road in OZ!
- Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef
- How To Hook-Up & Dump Tanks on an Australian Campervan
- Duck-Billed Platypus Hunting in Australia’s Atherton Tablelands
- Australia Campervan Tour
Monday 14th of January 2019
I followed your directions to a tee and managed to watch about 7 different koalas, including a tiny baby still in the pouch and a bigger juvenile. It was such an incredible experience, I actually visited two times during my day at Magnetic Island. Can’t thank you enough for the tips, it truly made my visit to Maggie really special!
Tuesday 15th of January 2019
Oh Chantal! We can’t begin to tell you how excited we are to hear that you had such great success in the same magical spot we did. Thank you so much for letting us know that we were able to help you find this cool spot. It brings back so many wonderful memories to know that you were there.
Monday 23rd of October 2017
Hey guys, I just stumbled across your blog while we a plannig our trip to Australia und Magnetic Island next month. My wife is curious to see wild living Koalas (maybe most of the reason to travel from Germany to Australia...;-)). Is there any chance you still know where the exact spot was? It would be brilliant if you were able to share this information with us! Thanks a lot and best whishes Niko
Monday 23rd of October 2017
Hi Niko! Are you ever in luck that we managed to figure out the exact spot! Thank you to Google Maps! :) The EXACT GPS coordinates of that stand of trees is: -19.128256, 146.855811. Here's how we found it: We'd heard that Magnetic Island is a great place to see koalas in the wild. So we went to the ferry terminal in Townsville (we walked on, and if we remember correctly, this is not a car ferry anyway). We asked the ticket agent where the best place is to view koalas, and she just said "everyone goes to 'The Forts' and does the walk there. We'd heard about that in the guidebooks, so we weren't surprised. Luckily for us, another ticket agent overheard our conversation and said "Don't go to The Forts. You won't be guaranteed a sighting there. I'll tell you exactly where to go to see a group of about 1/2 dozen koalas living in a stand of trees on the edge of a residential neighborhood, guaranteed." She said to take the bus to The Forts, but tell the driver you'd like to get off the bus at Gifford Street, which is before The Forts. When you get off the bus, walk down Gifford St about 800 meters to Pirie St, and turn left. Walk to the end of Pirie Street (about 150 meters) and turn left onto Wallaby Way. Then walk about 50 meters down Wallaby way. As you walk, there is a house nestled into eucalyptus trees on your left. As you pass the house, start to keep an eye into the trees, about 3-5 meters off the ground. As you come to the end of the stand of trees, turn left, and walk along them, with the trees on your left and a grassy field on your right. In that stand of trees is where we saw ALL of the koalas that we spotted... about 4 or 5 of them. One additional tip... when we told the bus driver we wanted to get off at Gifford Street, he asked where we were going. When we told him the corner of Gifford & Pirie, he turned left on Gifford and drove us right to Pirie! We stepped off the bus, and within moments, we had walked down Pirie, then Wallaby, and were face to face with Koalas! Then just walk back up to the end of Gifford to catch the bus going the other way, back to the ferry terminal. This wasn't deep in the eucalyptus forest or anything, but we were all alone, up close and personal with the koalas for quite some time. It was amazing. Please let us know if you make it out there, and if you see them too!
Sunday 17th of April 2016
It is funny that you mention squirrels. Our experience is the opposite. My kids live and went to school in Redcliffe (just north of Brisbane QLD, AUS) and they had a Koala living in the school yard so were used to seeing them, but when we went to the Florida theme parks and my teenage kids saw these tiny squirrels darting around the bushes and stealing from the shops in the park they were totally mesmerized and spent the rest of the day when they were waiting to get on the rides looking for them.
Hope you keep enjoying your time here and thanks for the effort you have put into your videos.
Sunday 17th of April 2016
It's so funny how one's perspective can be so different based on our particular situation. The fact that squirrels could be so intriguing when they're considered such an everyday thing to people in North America makes us that much more appreciative of all the people down here who've so kindly advised us where to spot kangaroos, which are surely nothing new to anyone here!
Sunday 10th of April 2016
How very cool. It has been fun to follow your travels to Australia. I appreciate your how to videos and have steered others this way. Keep up the great work and watch the curves.
Sunday 10th of April 2016
When I was fortunate to visit Australia, I saw a WILD Koala! My husband was working in Manley, a town outside of Melbourne. The motel we stayed at was out of town a ways & there was a Koala in the tree out back. I also got to hold one at the park. I'll never forget it. It's WONDERFUL in Australia!!!!