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Of all Australia’s interesting and unique wildlife, the crowd favourite is surely the koala. These cute and fluffy icons regularly melt hearts and they are often number one of the wildlife visitors want to see. They’re not as common as kangaroos or emus though, so take a little more effort to see. Here is where to see koalas in South Australia.


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Some Koala Facts

Where to see Koalas in South Australia

Photo credit: Brad Leue, Adelaide Hills

You’ve probably seen koalas. looking all cute and cuddly, in the arms of a celebrity looking for all the world like an overgrown teddy bear. In reality, it’s always important to remember these are wild animals and need to be treated with the respect they deserve. Here are a few facts about koalas for you before you find them.

  • Koalas are not bears. They are in fact nothing like bears. Like many other native Australian species, they are a marsupial with a pouch for their young. The koala is one of only two animals that has a backwards-facing pouch.
  • Koalas only eat eucalyptus leaves from certain types of trees
  • Those leaves don’t given the koalas much energy, so they sleep around twenty hours a day
  • Koalas are only found in the wild in the southern and eastern part of Australia
  • Koalas have big claws, sharp teeth and and not as soft and cuddly as you might imagine
  • Koalas make a horrible noise, particularly at night. Sleeping in the wild with koalas might sound like fun, but it certainly is not!
  • Koalas are listed as “vulnerable” to extinction. Their numbers are dwindling due to deforestation, chlamydia, and most recently, devastating fires that killed many animals and destroyed huge tracts of their habitat.

Where to Find Koalas In the Wild

It is possible to spot koalas in the wild in many places in South Australia. Like all wild animals though, there is never a guarantee that you will see them on any given day. Other days you might see dozens of them. They usually sit high up in the branches of the towering Eucalyptus tress, and just appear as a large blob from below. Often if they are sleeping (and they mostly are) they will be tucked up so tight you may not even see their face.

If you do happen to come face to face with a koala in the wild, do not attempt to touch them. Those claws and teeth can do some damage if they so choose.

Here are some of the best places in the wild to try to see koalas. They are also great places to hike and enjoy some of the Australian bush too.

Photo credit: Cathy Edmonds, Riverland

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island, funnily enough, is not home to kangaroos (wallabies, yes) but it is one of the best places to see koalas in the wild. Unfortunately it was also possibly the most affected by the devastating bushfires of 2019/20. Almost half of kangaroo island was burnt, and that half was where most of the koalas lived on the island. It is estimated that the population fell from 40,000 koalas to just 8,500.

So this means it is a little harder to find koalas in the wild than it used to be, but it is still possible to spot them in different areas of the island as you are hiking and exploring. They are more likely to be found on the western end of KI, in and around Flinders Chase National Park.

During a recent visit I saw them in the trees around the Western KI Caravan Park, so if you happened to stay there for a night or two, look in the trees overheard (you will probably hear them anyway!)

Waterfall Gully/Chambers Gully

Koalas can be found in many parts of the Adelaide Hills. Once of the places I have seen them regularly over the years is around Waterfall Gully. There are a range of hikes available in this area, many of them through Chambers Gully, which will take you through koala habitat. I had a friend with a house on Waterfall Gully Road, and we saw koalas within a very short distance when we went for a walk, so even though many of the hikes are long, you can often just walk for a short distance and spot some koalas.

PureSA offer a guided Waterfall Gully Hike which includes the chance to see the kolas, and also transport to and from the city centre.

Morialta Conservation Park

Last time I was in this area, I had seen koalas before I even started one of the hikes! They were hanging out in the trees right at the car park. Morialta is a great place if you are not into long bush walks. While yes, there are long walks to see each of the three waterfalls here, there is also a flat, easy 800m walk to the first falls which is great for families. Along this walk you will also have great opportunities to see koalas.

PureSA offer a guided Morialta Wilderness and Wildlife Walk to see the main attractions in the park, including the koalas. Includes transport to and from the city centre

Photo credit: Greg Snell, Adelaide Hills

Belair National Park

This is another area in the foothills where there are some good hikes, playgrounds, BBQ areas, open spaces, and koalas! The koalas can be a little more elusive here, but they are definitely still around. Your best chance to see them is to do the Waterfall Hike, but this is a more difficult hike recommended only for experienced bushwalkers.

Renmark

I was really surprised as I was recently kayaking on the River Murray at Renmark to hear the distinctive koala calls from the other side of the river. We made our way across, and sure enough, there were koalas in the trees on the other side of the river, directly opposite the centre of Renmark. Koalas can also be spotted in the nearby area called the Paringa Paddock, a great area for walking through some of the river wetlands (although it quite possibly could be too wet if there has been recent rain)

Mikkira Station

I wasn’t sure whether Mikkira Station should be listed under “in the wild” or not. Mikkira Station is a private property located not too far from Port Lincoln on Eyre Peninsula. It is home to an old stand of Manna Gum Trees, which happen to be the perfect habitat for koalas. The koalas roam free here, but since this is private properly, you will need to pay a fee to enter. The fee also includes a night of camping if you would like to stay here too.

Mikkira Station is only open to the public during the cooler months of the year (due to the fire danger over summer) and is probably the koala experience I have personally enjoyed the most.

Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Eyre Peninsula

Where to See Koalas in Wildlife Parks

While searching for koalas in the wild can be fun, free and filled with the “thrill of the hunt”, it can also end in disappointment if the koalas prove to be elusive. A guaranteed way to see koalas in South Australia is to go to a wildlife park. Some of the parks also have options to interact with the koalas, from seeing them closer at eye level to perhaps even holding them. Most wildlife parks and zoos will have koalas. Here are some of the best wildlife parks in South Australia to see koalas.

Cleland Wildlife Park

Located at Mount Lofty in the Adelaide Hills, Cleland Wildlife Park is an easy twenty minute trip up the freeway. Popular with both locals and visitors alike, this is a great place to see koalas up close. Not only can you see koalas during a standard visit, Cleland also offer a range of koala experiences, both in groups and privately. These extra, paid, experiences can include just getting closer to the koalas, holding the koalas or a private feeding experience.

Pick up your Cleland Wildlife Park tickets here

If you don’t have your own transport, it is possible to book a day tour from the city centre to Cleland Wildlife Park, which also includes a “close up” experience with the koalas. See all the details here.

Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Kangaroo Island

Gorge Wildlife Park

Gorge Wildlife Park is also located in the Adelaide Hills, but a little further out in the Cuddle Creek area. This is another wildlife park that offers koala holding experiences. Twice a day a koala is brought out for a keeper talk, giving the opportunity for visitors to give the koala a pat, or by paying a little more, you can hold the koala too

Get your Gorge Wildlife Park tickets here

Urimbirra Wildlife Park

Urimbirra Wildlife Park is located at Victor Harbor, so is a great option if you are already visiting the Fleurieu Peninsula, McLaren Vale or the surrounding areas. This is a smaller park, mostly consisting of native Australian animals, but with a few common farm animals here too. While you can’t hold koalas here, you can get up close to them and give them a pat at the twice daily keeper talk. Urimbirra is a fantastic budget option for this experience, as it is included with your entry ticket, which at $14 for an adult, is very affordable.

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park is located at Parndarna, right in the middle of Kangaroo Island. This wildlife park was instrumental in the rescue efforts after the 2020 bushfire on KI. Around 600 injured koalas were brought here alone. Many have been returned to the wild, but some were either too badly injured or too young to be released, and have now boosted the koala population here at the park.

Twice a day there is a keeper talk to tell visitors a little about koalas in general, and some of the specific stories of the koalas that are on display. At the end of the talk, if the koalas are awake, then visitor get the chance to enter in enclosure, get photos next to the koalas and give them a pat. There is the added option to pay extra to hold a koala too, with these sessions happening separately during the day.

Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Adelaide Hills

Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

I’m going to include this one in here, even though they don’t appear to have all their tours running just yet. Located on the western end of Kangaroo Island, Hanson Bay was completely engulfed during the bushfires. They have been working hard to rehabilitate the sanitary and allow the koala numbers to increase a little. Current reports suggest there are now 40 koalas in the area and tours will be recommencing in Spring of 2022. If you are keen to take a look, you can see if they have any of their guided tours available by getting in contact with them via phone, email or Facebook. (I recommend this as some of the information on the website is contradictory).

Looking for more wildlife experiences in South Australia? These posts may help you out
Seeing the Giant Cuttlefish at Whyalla
The Lions 360 Experience at Monarto Safari Park
Kayaking with Dolphins in Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary


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