Seeing a koala in Australia is a must-do. You can't go half the way across the world and not come away having seen one of these gorgeous and iconic. It's really easy to see one in a zoo, but it's far more fulfilling to see one in their natural envrionment.
What you may not know is that they are endangered. Koalas are difficult to see in the wild and their habitat is getting smaller and smaller. However, if you know the right places you can find one.
Best places to see a wild koala near Sydney
Koalas have become really endangered in New South Wales, so unlike kangaroos trying to see a wild koala near Sydney is pretty hard when compared to Victoria, South Australia and even Queensland. We've not had too much luck with the completely wild areas (having only seen them in Tucki Tucki), but there are several spots you can try and get lucky. If you don't manage as a back up there are places you can see rescued or semi-wild koalas in sanctuaries.
Whilst we know of very small populations living as near to Sydney as Campbelltown (45 minutes from the city centre) they would be very difficult to spot so we've included some areas that are further away but give you a higher chance of success.
Near Tea Gardens in Port Stephens is the closest area to Sydney where we know several people have spotted koalas, though we have tried and were not so lucky. The place to look is either side of the road in the gumtrees just before the Singing Bridge. Koalas are sleepy in the day time so the best chance to see them would be early morning or around dusk.
There is also a small tourist information centre in Tea Gardens where we popped in and found out where to look If you haven't spotted any it would be worth stopping in and seeing whether the locals have had any recent sightings in other nearby areas.
Tucki Tucki Nature Reserve
Tucki Tucki nature reserve is our top tip for koalas in New South Wales as we actually saw two here in a short amount of time! It's an area that's small enough to be able to walk around easily and see several of them as there's a relatively high population for the small space.
Tucki Tucki would best be combined with a trip to Byron Bay, only one hour away. We visited as part of an east coast road trip and it's only an hours diversion from the coast road, well worth the trip.
We toyed with putting Tidbinbilla on the list as technically the koalas here aren't wild, but are in a protected area. We felt it wasn't a zoo, so was worth putting on the list as it did have a "wild feel".
As you walk through the gum trees in the koala area you still have to try and hunt them out and we only saw one on our visit so it felt a little more wild than your average sanctuary would.
The other benefit of Tidbinbilla is that you can add this into your itinerary for a weekend away in Canberra. Canberra also happens to be the kangaroo capital of Australia and you will see dozens of wild roos on your trip.
Port MacQuarie is home to the Koala Hospital and a great place to go even if you have been lucky enough to see some in the wild already. It's an opportunity to get much closer to them than you would in the wild (unless you are very lucky) and learn more about them, and sadly their plight.
All koalas have been rescued from troubled situations such as dog attack and bush fires so it's a really great cause to support and one of our treasured Australian experiences.
Best places to see a koala in the rest of Australia
If you were to ask us what one place you should go to see a wild koala, we'd recommend Kangaroo Island. It's a place that has a really healthy population and we saw them in multiple places without trying too hard.
Kangaroo Island is also a great place to see wild kangaroos, wallabies, seals, echidnas and several other wild Australian animals. Kangaroo Island is either a short flight from Adelaide or a short ferry trip from Cape Jervis.
Here's our favourite places on Kangaroo Island to see wild koalas.
Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island
A good place to see koalas on Kangaroo Island is along the Heritage Walk, a 1.5km track directly by the visitor's centre at Flinders Chase National Park. Whilst walking this trail we saw two adult koalas and one joey in the trees, right along the track. Just keep looking up in the trees and we're sure you'll spot them here.
Harriet River, Kangaroo Island
If you'd like to see koalas in the wild whilst kayaking, then head to Harriet River. Whilst paddling along the river we saw two in the trees that arched right above us. One gave a good old growl as we paddled beneath his tree.
Hanson Bay, Kangaroo Island
Hanson Bay also has a high population of koalas in the area and we heard of some people getting really lucky and seeing them close to the dirt road on the way to the beach. Alternatively, you can go to the sanctuary where a population is being protected.
Every morning spotters put flags below the trees where they are seen. There is a small entrance fee if you aren't staying at the Hanson Bay cabins. As it's one of our favourite accommodation we stayed at in Australia we would recommend checking the cabins out.
Its also the place where Cat took one of my favourite pictures of a koala ever :)
Great Ocean Road, Victoria
The Great Ocean Road is a brilliant spot to see wild koalas. Most people will have luck if spending a few days in the area. One of our friends even saw one crossing the road right in front of their car whilst on this iconic drive! Kennett River is the easiest place to see them, there is a huge population of koalas living in a relatively small area. Head to the koala walk - Grey River Road - which is a road lined with gum trees and should be an easy spotting win.
How to spot koalas
What to look for
Koalas can be tricky to find as they tend to be curled up high in gum trees that match the colour of their fur. The best way to see one is to look for an unusually round object high up in a tree, usually close to where a branch comes off the trunk. Another trick is to look for koala poo on the ground!
Best time of day to see koalas
Koalas are most active at dawn and dusk. This doesn't mean you'll see them running around, but it's the time they're most likely to move.
Due to their low-energy diet, koalas spent most of the time asleep, especially in the heat of the day. If you can, try to go as close to sunrise or sunset as possible to spot them.
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If you're keen to spot other iconic Aussie animals in the wild we've put together a post with tips on where to find them gathered over the last four years wildlife watching in Australia.
Are you planning a trip to Australia? Have you ever seen koalas in the wild in a place we haven't listed? Let us know in the comments below!