TRAVEL: You don’t cuddle a koala every day

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It’s not every day you get to cuddle a koala.

But if you’re in Australia and you’re offered the authentic Aussie experience, you can’t say no.

And while you’re out there in rural Oz, you might want to share in the spectacle of One Woman And Her Dog, rounding up the sheep in true Digger-style.

It’s perhaps not your everyday tourist experience, but both kids and adults love it, and it’s all available a few miles upstream from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.

Take a leisurely trip up the Brisbane River aboard the Miramar cruise vessel, and your first-hand brush with Australian wildlife is waiting for you at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Although the captivating koalas like to sleep for 20 hours a day, they’re allowed 30 minutes’ cuddling time with visitors before they retreat to their favourite eucalyptus trees.

The excursion is a pretty relaxing experience in itself. You board the Miramar on Brisbane’s South Bank jetty, before observing the high-roller homesteads as you meander upriver, and then spend a few hours in the sanctuary before the return journey.

After the koalas, you can witness the wallabies and catch sight of the kangeroos bounding across the open grasslands. They even come up close and stretch out in the sun, seemingly oblivious of the watching visitors.

The sheep rounding-up spectacle is a major attraction, giving a glimpse of a way of life that is rapidly changing as the Oz dollar chases the action in mineral wealth rather than outback farming

So a typical old Oz experience is a definite ‘must,’ even though the music on board the Miramar has shades of Edna Everidge. It’s all very pleasant and far away from the devastation and destruction caused when the 2011 floods broke the banks of the Brisbane River.

The three-storey, river-side Regatta Hotel is the perfect building to illustrate the flood levels reached in the three major inundations to hit the city in 1893, 1974 and two years ago. The first flood reached the third floor, the second the middle tier, the last merely sweeping into the ground floor.

But all is calm on the river bank when my wife and I meet ‘Brisbane Greeter’ Blair Allsopp, a volunteer guide who is taking us on a walking tour to get to grips with all the city has to offer.

To be honest, Brisbane today is an easy ‘sell.’ It’s no longer the backwater it used to be, having evolved into a vibrant but easy-going city of two million souls that offers much to the visitor.

How many inland cities have a riverside beach and swimming pool that is used throughout the year? There’s a riverside boardwalk and walkway on each side of the river too.

Once in Brisbane, you don’t need a car. Buses are plentiful and if you can take one of the city cycles ‘Boris style’ for around A$5 for a morning. Then there are the ferries, one set free, the other reasonably priced.

You can also use a boat to travel downstream to the plethora of islands in Moreton Bay. It’s all there – surfing, fishing, boating, dolphin spotting and beautiful beaches and dunes, on which to lounge or perfect the art of sand-boarding.

All too soon, it was time to fly the 10,000 miles home from Oz.

It’s a long haul but it was comforting to hear British voices again on board the trusty BA flight from Brisbane to Blighty, taking in Singapore en route.

Quite a holiday.

n Lindsay Sutton flew with British Airways from Manchester to London, then Heathrow to Sydney, with an airport break in Singapore. BA flies daily flights to Sydney, from £866 return –