Crowds and koalas greet Oprah circus

HAMILTON ISLAND, Australia : US talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey cuddled a koala and her excited studio guests scattered across Australia Wednesday as her “Ultimate Australian Adventure” swung into action.Winfrey touched down in Great Barrier Reef holiday spot Hamilton Island in her private jet before personally driving a golf buggy to a wildlife sanctuary, where she was mobbed by hundreds of cheering Australians on the first stop of her tour.”It’s beautiful. It’s a long trip but it’s worth it,” Winfrey, wearing a marigold blouse and gold hoop earrings, said of her first impressions of Australia.”It’s better than a book or a magazine. And the people are so friendly. Spectacular is what it is,” she added, before being ushered away by her security detail.Earlier about 100 members of her studio audience flew in from Sydney, with some still struggling to come to terms with their trip of a lifetime.”This is very exciting. This is awesome. I don’t have the words, man, I’m speechless. It’s awesome, it’s just bananas,” said 27-year-old Epiphany Toi, from Washington DC.

“It’s above and beyond a dream come true. I never thought I could have anything like and have it actually be real,” added Milwaukee, Wisconsin teacher Meghan Wielebski, 32.The rest of the 302-strong audience, which has been split into groups, jetted off to destinations in Australia’s rugged Outback to visit sacred Aboriginal rock art, and to exclusive vineyards west of Sydney.Oprah’s tour, which will take in all corners of the vast country, marks the first time her wildly popular talk show — now filming its final season — has been filmed outside North America.The megastar said she would take a helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef before flying to Australia’s red desert centre Thursday to visit Uluru, a giant monolith sacred to local tribes, also known as Ayers Rock.From there Oprah said she would go to Melbourne, reportedly to meet Prime Minister Julia Gillard and make a public appearance with fans, before returning to Sydney, while her audience would visit far southern and western regions in her place.”I have been here one hour and I’ve seen two koalas mating already,” Winfrey joked to the Ten Network of the amorous pair, Elvis and Phoebe.

“I’m trying to do it all in eight days.”Winfrey, 56, said she was “overjoyed” to be in Australia “and really just open to this entire experience”.”As I was flying in I thought ‘this, I could get used to’,” she said of Hamilton Island, the idyllic white-sand gateway to the Whitsunday Islands chain.Winfrey’s tour is being funded by 2.3 million dollars (2.25 million US) of government money in a bid to halt a fall in tourism since its highs of the 1990s, and officials hope it will be a boon for the industry, suffering due to the strong Australian dollar.”This trip will generate enormous publicity when the show goes to air in January,” said Tourism Queensland CEO Anthony Hayes.Oprah’s whirlwind itinerary remains a closely guarded secret, but a climb of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and visit to Bondi Beach are believed to be on her weekend agenda.The iconic Sydney Opera House will become the “Oprah House” on December 14, when two episodes of the hit talk-show are to be filmed in its forecourt before 12,000 Australians who were selected by ballot.Ranked the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine, Oprah is expected to be swarmed by fans Australia-wide, with some even staking out Cairns airport where she made a pit-stop Wednesday, hoping for a glimpse of their icon.Local media have dubbed her visit the “biggest show in town”, with security rivalling that normally offered to heads of state and summits, complete with road closures and exclusion zones throughout Sydney.Australian fans attending the Opera House tapings have been issued a lengthy list of prohibited items including umbrellas, coolers, tents, bicycles, fires, illegal drugs and pets – Yahoonews