In a city with some of the world’s most expensive real estate, it’s the giraffes that have the best view.
Sure, being the world’s tallest animal helps, but the giraffe enclosure at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, takes prime position, overlooking Sydney Harbour and Sydney Opera House. In fact, Taronga is an Aboriginal word meaning “beautiful view”.
First opened in 1916, the zoo occupies a peninsula jutting out from Mosman, on Sydney’s fashionable North Shore. It is one of two zoos operated by the Taronga Conservation Society. The other, Taronga Western Plains Zoo, was opened in 1977 in the rural town of Dubbo to accommodate the living and breeding needs of some larger animals.
Taronga can be a great way to spend at least half a day in Sydney, even for visitors who wouldn’t normally squeeze a zoo into their plans. Sure, you can take a bus right to Taronga’s front gate. But with ferry services from Circular Quay taking you to the zoo’s waterfront entry, why not enjoy the best view of harbour sights like Sydney Opera House and Fort Denison en route? Then take in a bird’s-eye view of the zoo on your way to the front gate, as a gondola takes you over the many animal habitats to the top of the hill.
Over 340 species are spread over the zoo’s eight geographic regions, which take guests right by African waterholes, through South American aviaries, across the Himalayan mountains and to the Great Southern oceans – all within a leisurely walk down the hill. An impressive range of reptiles and birds is also on show, while the zoo boasts one of the finest collections of Asian animals to be found outside the continent itself. You’ll see such unusual and beautiful creatures as snow leopards, Komodo dragons, binturongs (also known as ‘bear cats’), sun bears, and adorable red pandas.
Unsurprisingly however, the zoo’s biggest draw is its Australian natives. If you’re unable to get out and see these magnificent animals in the wild, Taronga is a great place to spend several hours surrounded by koalas, kangaroos, and emus. Keep a lookout for elusive wombats, echidna, and platypus, or stare through the glass into the fearsome jaws of a saltwater crocodile! If you prefer, you can even enjoy a ‘Wild Australia Experience’ tour with Taronga’s expert keepers, which gives you the chance to touch and feed the animals while learning more about them. Naturally, these tours are kept small and fill fast, so be sure to book in advance.
A visit to Taronga is usually a full day, but for some globetrotters, this won’t be enough. With that in mind, the zoo has introduced Roar & Snore, a unique overnight experience in which guests stay in specially designed tents overlooking the harbour. Arrive just before sunset as the park closes to the general public, and enjoy a unique photo opportunity with the animals before dinner. This is followed by an hour-long night safari at the zoo – an opportunity few visitors get! After a light dessert, it’s lights out at your camp until you wake up to a delicious breakfast, followed by more behind-the-scenes tours before the zoo opens. Then, enjoy a full day enjoying the zoo’s regular programs, or depart early to continue your sightseeing.
A zoo visit may not be on everyone’s to-do list while in a new city. But beyond its impressive range of animals and extensive conservation work, Taronga awakens during the summer to become one of Sydney’s premiere cultural hot spots. Outdoor concerts take over its lawns during the warmer months. You may find yourself enjoying open-air jazz while overlooking the sunset on the harbour… with the occasional roar of lions in the background. It’s the perfect end to a grown-up’s day at the zoo.