Taronga Zoo has been the attraction recommended to me in every conversation I have had since stepping foot in Sydney. Perhaps this is why I waited 6 months before actually visiting, fearing an average experience and excellent tourist trap. Perhaps you too are weighing up a visit with the same thought in mind – are the entrance fees worth it when you can see a zoo anywhere? After my 6 month internal debate, I found myself at 9:25am outside the gates of Taronga Zoo with 1.5 year old twins in tow.
For $44.10 just for one adult, it is worth checking Groupon for deals on entry or even looking at a annual zoo pass (which could be shared between friends or used for multiple visits). I used an annual pass which meant no queuing for tickets and discounted food and souvenirs! It is an idea to take a picture of the animal show timetable on the wall next to the ticket kiosk though, where there is additionally an information stand where you can grab a free map. Especially if visiting with younger children, planning what to see in advance can really ensure an enjoyable day out.
Getting to the zoo itself is easy, as it is on the ferry network accessible from the CBD by use of opal card. Alternatively, for those coming from North Sydney simply jump on a bus to Mosman and grab the M20/30 that stops directly outside.
Personally, the Tiger Trek at 10am is a winner. Get there a bit early to get a space in the queue, which you can relax and watch sun bears in their enclosure from. Ideal for children (and adults really), the Trek takes you on a “flight” to Sumatra featuring: a mock plane interior, speech from the pilot and “real” views of Indonesian National Parks from the windows. Once your “flight” is over, you step out in to a fully transformed area of Indonesian stalls and props. Winding along the walkway, you are treated to gorgeous views of the zoo’s tigers – playing in a pool at the base of a convincing manmade waterfall and spying from thick bushes. What was most impressive, however, was the focus on raising awareness for the conservation of tigers. This reached the extent of a shopping centre styled exit – which allowed visitors to check the sustainability of products they may buy and prompted you to email major companies. A fun and interactive experience of such majestic creatures, the Tiger Trek immediately impressed me and set a great tone for the rest of the day.
Another favourite was the seal enclosure, located near the ferries in the lower half of the zoo. With lift or stair access, continue over the bridge where you can watch the seals play on the land and surface. The path will lead you past another enclosure on your left – keep your eyes peeled for a darting penguin!
After 2 minutes you reach an entrance to the (in my opinion) best of the marine enclosures in the entire zoo. Upon entry, immediately look up to see penguin’s surprisingly graceful antics through a glass ceiling. Finally, the building ends with an auditorium style room. This features a cinema sized glass window showing the seal pool. Watching them play underwater is mesmerising and the best place to catch a breather or break from the sun. The room is dimly lit only by the blue tinged light from the pool, so I found it a great way to settle the twins for some quiet time.
For sights of the famous Sydney cityscape, head towards the ferry side of the zoo or the theatre in the Australian Walkabout section. In either of these spots you can take in sublime views of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Anzac Bridge and the harbour itself. Although many tourists will have already seen these landmarks up close, the perspective of the view is unique and bound to turn even the most country loving person’s head.
The skyline cable cars run constantly throughout the day as one way trips, beginning at the south (ferry) side of the zoo and ending at the north (main entrance). Approximately 2 minutes long ride, the queues to get on were not bad at all considering we visited in school holidays. The benefit of the cable cars is definitely the novelty and fun vantage point – although if you plan it well you could use it as a lift back to the main entrance.
The food available onsite is extensive, with multiple cafes and food markets. A regular cappuccino cost me $4 and a vegan toasted wrap that would make subway jealous set me back $13. An ice cream for the kids cost between $3-5. Something to keep in mind for those visiting with young children is that you can also rent prams for a reasonable price from the main entrance – which could even act as a back up if little legs get tired. Additionally, if you need to let older children run loose for a while there is a park located overlooking the Capybara enclosure and a waterfall. For an extra fee there is also a high ropes course!
Overall, Taronga Zoo is a class way to spend a day. Despite steep entry fees, I would highly recommend a visit. Although you should go with an open mind, as some experiences were more underwhelming than others, the zoo is somewhat unique in it’s progressive use of technology and excellent location. The incorporation of Wollemi Aboriginal art work in the Blue Mountains Bushwalk added a cultural depth to the experience. It would combine well with a ferry trip to take in the harbour and famous landmarks. Or even a laze at nearby Balmoral Beach, a basic but quieter escape from those of the Eastern suburbs. I vote to do.