11 Sept 2022


Did you know there could be koalas or other threatened wildlife living near you? 

Discover what animals need protection in your local area using WWF-Australia’s ‘My Backyard’ tool, and find out how well they’re being cared for.

I spy something beginning with 'k'... here are the best places you can see a koala in the wild on the east coast of Australia.

For an animal so widely loved, that spends most of the day sleeping, the koala can be very tricky to spy in the wild. We haven't made it easy for this Aussie ambassador either, with historic landclearing and human-induced climate change robbing the koala of vast tracts of its natural habitat and causing them to become endangered in QLD, NSW and the ACT.

However, while many koalas are now confined to eucalypt forests protected deep within National Parks or on private lands, there are still a few public places where you might just be lucky enough to glimpse one.

A koala joey in Swan Bay in the Richmond Valley
img-koala-joey-swan-bay-1000px © Jacob Crisp

We asked WWF-Australia conservation scientist and self-confessed koala enthusiast Dr Stuart Blanch to give us his top koala-spotting recommendations, spanning three states. Follow his advice and you may become one of the few Australians to see this national icon in the wild.

  • Redlands and Noosa, QLD: In the Greater Brisbane/Sunshine Coast areas of Queensland there are still small groups of koalas living at Redlands and Noosa
  • Ballina, Byron, Tweed, Bangalow, Tucki, Lismore and Kyogle Region, NSW: Heading south, your prospects are good in the Northern Rivers region, where koalas maintain something of a stronghold, particularly west of the Pacific Highway;
  • Coffs Harbour Hinterland, NSW: A healthy population of koalas survives in the Coffs Harbour region and hinterland, around Bellingen, Bongil Bongil and Repton;
  • Port Macquarie, NSW: Home of a world-famous koala hospital, Port Macquarie remains perhaps the best place on the east coast to see healthy individuals in the wild, even in the surrounds of the hospital and bushy suburban streets;
  • Port Stephens, NSW: At Port Stephens, where you'll find the amazing Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary, you might try Sunset Beach at Anna Bay or keep your eyes peeled on the walk between Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay;
  • Campbelltown, Appin and Minto, NSW: Southwest of Sydney, Campbelltown, Appin and around Minto are worth exploring and are expanding out of nearby national parks and Defence lands;
  • Richmond and Kurrajong, NSW: Koala populations are also expanding northwest of Sydney in the Richmond/Kurrajong region;
  • Wingecarribee and Southern Highlands, NSW: At Wingecarribee and in the Southern Highlands we're glad to know that a large koala population exists and is expanding, so check out forests there;
  • French Island, Vic.: French Island in Western Port Bay is home to a large population of koalas that have expanded in abundance;
  • Lorne and Apollo Bay, Vic.: Heading south into Victoria, travellers on the Great Ocean Road commonly see koalas around Lorne and Apollo Bay; and
  • Adelaide Hills, SA: A large koala population occurs in the Adelaide Hills, with sightings common in bushy suburbs and national parks on the escarpment, and at Cleland Wildlife Park.
The unique native Australian koala, hugging a gum tree
© Jackson Photography - stock.adobe.com

So, you've made the trek to koala territory, what next?

Stuart recommends doing some online research to get the lie of the land.

"Local environment and koala groups, tour guides, national parks offices and councils provide all sorts of great information on where to look for koalas," he says. "One of the simplest things to do is to search for ‘Koala Crossing’ signs on major roads; it's generally a good indication of who lives in the neighbourhood. Then, slow down, pull over and set off on foot. Koalas are mostly active at dusk and dawn but often your best chance of seeing one is when it's stationary and sleeping."

Now anyone would expect that food trees are a great place to start looking for such a fussy eater. And that's mostly true. Depending on the location, koalas will certainly show a strong preference for red gums, tallowoods, grey gums and swamp mahogany, and flooded gums.

But while koalas spend most of their day sleeping in a tree, it may not necessarily be a dietary favourite. "You can find them dozing in or using all sorts of trees as they travel across the landscape, so be prepared to be surprised where you'll find a koala," Stuart says. "I've even seen them sleeping in camphor laurels, figs, palms, turpentines and banksias."

Koala scat found by Maya the koala detection dog on the Sunshine Coast= QLD
© WWF-Australia / Madeleine Smitham

So once you've found what you think is good koala territory, look down, not up. Koala scat at the base of a tree - small, greenish-brown pellets about 20 millimetres long - can indicate a koala in residence. Then move your eyes upwards and take a closer look at the tree's trunk for any tell-tale scratches that koalas make with their sharp claws as they climb. Koalas may have poor eyesight but their senses of smell and hearing are pronounced, and they can become distressed if you get too close.

Koala spotting requires considerable patience and strong neck muscles. A koala snoozing in the fork of a tree is easy to overlook. They blend into a eucalypt very well. Stuart advises moving quietly around the base of trees and looking up into the canopy from a variety of different angles. A koala can appear like a mid-sized grey lump up in the canopy, or dozing in the fork of a gumtree, and easily be overlooked, so take your time.

Dr Stuart Blanch
Dr Stuart Blanch © WWF-Aus / Adam Krowitz

Finally, good luck! Seeing a koala, the furred face of our forests, in the wild is a rare privilege - and becoming rarer.

Curious what threatened animals could be living in your backyard? 

Explore WWF-Australia’s ‘My Backyard’ tool to learn what wildlife makes their home near you and how well they're being cared for.