Koalas eat their own poop and are riddled with chlamydia. Let’s give one a hug!

I only had two goals for our trip to Queensland, Australia. One was to go to the Great Barrier. The second was to hug a koala.

Despite being in Sydney for the last four months, I still had not hugged a koala. I had been able to pet one, sure. But I hadn’t yet been able to hold one in my arms, give it a squeeze, and pretend, for just a second, that it was my own.

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So my friends and I ensured that, during our trip down Queensland, that we would visit somewhere that would let us hold a koala. We found a place called the Billabong Sanctuary, which has this banner across the front of its homepage:

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Consider us sold.

The Billabong Sanctuary isn’t your typical zoo, though. Unlike Wild Life Sydney or Taronga Zoo, where animals are untouchable behind their glass enclosures, the Billabong Sanctuary encourages interaction between its visitors and animals. Which is why, at the front entrance, they sell these bags of seed.

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It seems like visitors of the Billabong Sanctuary have been feeding the animals for years. The ducks knew exactly what to do as soon as we stepped into the park.

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We were immediately swarmed by hordes of wild whistling ducks, all quacking and hooting and fighting each other for food. While it was fun feeding them at first…

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…they continued to follow us and fight each other as we walked around the park.

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Those ducks weren’t the only fans of bird feed, either. Wallabies approached us, hoping to get in on the action.

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Kangaroos joined us too!

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The crazy part is, a lot of the animals that live at the Billabong Sanctuary are wild. The park had humble beginnings: A Sydney schoolteacher, ready for a change in his life, moved to Queensland and spent two years building an artificial lagoon. Locals offered up native animals to add to the park. Today, the Billabong Sanctuary does host rarer animals like wombats and colorful cockatoos– but those ducks? The geese that later flew in to fight with the ducks? The tons of turtles, swimming in the ponds? They’re all native to the area and moved into the park on their own. The Billabong Sanctuary is a pretty ideal place to live, so why not?

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In order to deepen the understanding between humans and animals, the sanctuary runs talks every day. They’re interactive! That morning, for example, we were introduced to Hope, a baby cassowary that lives at the park.

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Not only were we able to feed her…

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…we were allowed to feed the larger and slightly scarier adult cassowary as well.

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One of the park rangers took a wombat out of his enclosure and gave a a talk about wombats in Australia. She didn’t even flinch when the wombat proceeded to pee on her boot for a minute straight.

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I still couldn’t resist petting this fat fella, though.

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For $99, you can even feed one of the gigantic crocodiles that live at the park. My friends and I decided to skip this, though, content to watch the park rangers do it instead.

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This was crazy!

And then, finally…

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The koalas!

While admission to the park allows you to view and pet the koalas, to hold them costs a little extra. My friends and I had traveled all this way, so we coughed up the extra $16. This included a professional photo and a print, so I suppose the price could be worse.

We were led to the side of one of the lagoons (gotta have that scenic background, after all) where the ranger took our photos one by one. My friends went first, gingerly clutching the koala and smiling for the camera. And then, my turn came!

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The ranger carefully placed the koala in my arms.

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And fixed my unruly hair for the photo.

Then, finally, I got to hold a koala!

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It was the crowning moment of the entire day.

The Australian rainforest needs some “DO NOT TOUCH” signs.

Before I went to Australia, I had an idea of what Australia would look like.

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The majority of Australia is arid or semi-arid, and the country is famous for its vast Outback. I wasn’t aware, then, that…

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Australia has large swaths of rainforest all around the country, including Queensland, where my friends and I would be traveling after our semester in Sydney. My friends and I are from temperate climates. We get the deciduous trees, the rabbits, the squirrels. I didn’t have a clue about the Australian jungle– so we booked a tour of the rainforests around Cairns.

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The day of our tour, we were picked up from our hostel by a very Australian man in a Jeep.

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We began our ascent into the rainforest, which was located in the mountains.

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The higher we drove, the more lush the landscape became. The trees became thicker and thicker and thicker– until finally, our tour guide stopped the car and let us see for ourselves.

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Luckily for us, our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife of the area.

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Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

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Even when you don’t touch anything, Australia can be… iffy.

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Despite all the dangers…

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…the tour was really amazing. Really! I mean, how often do you get to eat lunch in the middle of a rainforest…

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…or get the chance to try some of Australia’s more local foods?

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What I found the most amazing was how suddenly the climate would change. Driving into the mountains, you could see the exact spot where the normal forest ended and the rainforest began. When we reached the other side of the mountain, the climate changed radically again.

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Lookit that termite mound!

I guess what my 6th grade teacher taught us about mountains really is true.

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You know, how one side of the mountain gets all the rainfall while the other side does not.

What she forgot to mention, though? How incredible mountains, and the forests on those mountains, can be.

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So, leeches? Come at me, bros. Even you can’t ruin the beauty of the Australian rainforest. 

(Though getting kicked by a cassowary might. Have you seen the claws on those things? And they only live in the rainforest!)

In which we finally get attacked by the fine Australian wildlife.

I’ve been traveling down the east of coast of Queensland for the last two weeks with three of my friends from USyd. On the way, we’ve been enjoying the Australian wildlife.

Wild koala on Magnetic Island!

Wild koala on Magnetic Island!

Rock wallaby! Check out the baby in its pouch.

Rock wallaby! Check out the baby in its pouch.

Terrible photo, but I swear that's a platypus.

Terrible photo, but I swear that’s a platypus.

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Australia is famous for its cute and cuddly animals. It’s true: wallabies are cute! However, Australia is equally notorious for its dangerous and poisonous animals. The amount of articles/memes/Buzzfeed posts about Oz’s freaky animals is absurd.

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Usually, these are easy to laugh off.

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Sometimes, though, it’s not so easy.

As my friends and I found three nights ago.

We were in a cute little coastal town in southern Queensland. The weather was beautiful, so we had spent the day at the beach. After a long dinner at a beachside restaurant, we were walking home to our hostel.

And then.

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Our friend was bitten by a snake.

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We inspected our friend’s ankle. There was only one fang mark, and though it was bleeding a bit, she said it barely hurt and mostly itched. We decided to return to the restaurant.

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From there, we called 000, the emergency number in Australia. The emergency services sent us an ambulance. Fifteen minutes later, a paramedic arrived to inspect our friend’s wound.

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At this point, our friend was feeling weak in her bitten leg. It might have been just from panic, as the paramedic concluded that our friend showed no symptoms of snake venom. Since we didn’t know what kind of snake bit her, though, he decided to take her to the ER anyway. We followed her to the hospital, where we sat around in the waiting room.

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After a long wait, a nurse came out to greet us.

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Our friend was still strapped to her stretcher, coherent, but worried.

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It’s standard procedure in Australia, apparently, to monitor snake bite victims after the initial injury. However, this small hospital didn’t have the proper equipment to do this. They had to move her to a hospital about a half hour away.

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One of us stayed in the hospital with her. The remaining friend and I went back to our hostel. We wouldn’t all be able to stay the night in the hospital, after all, and we had already had our hostel booked, and someone had to pack up the luggage and get the rental car the next morning.

My friend and I went back and did exactly that.

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There was only one problem.

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Our friend with the snakebite was also our driver, you see. She was the only one who was comfortable with, and had experience with, driving in Australia. The roads here are a bit weird: people drive on the left, not the right.

Now, we were without a driver. What do we do?

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Duty called.

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Somehow, we made it to the hospital without dying. After an hour’s wait, the wound was declared non-venomous and our friend was discharged.

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Because my friend had to have her blood checked throughout the night, she had barely slept at all. My friend who had stayed with her wasn’t much better off. But we had an itinerary to follow. Our hostel for that night was already booked, in a town about 4 to 5 hours away.

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Thus, my friends and I got to have the authentic Australian experience. Driving on the left side of the road? Hospitalized due to snakebite? Seriously, all we needed now was to be attacked by a spider or stung by a jellyfish.

But that didn’t happen until a couple days later.

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And that’s how we called the paramedics twice in three days.

(Don’t worry, though– we’re all fine!)