Pretending to be a tourist in your own city is just the best. You get to wear a bumbag, have a camera strapped to your body like Zach Galifianakis’s baby in Hangover and push your way obnoxiously through crowds. All while looking at your city with new, innocent eyes.
It was with this mindset that I recently found myself wearing a bumbag, belting out some Delta Goodrem – do you remember when you were seven? And the only thing that you wanted to do was show your mum that you could play the piano – and skipping my way around Taronga Zoo.
Here’s what I learnt:
1. How to get to Taronga Zoo
With a wharf directly out front of Taronga Zoo, you’d have to have ice cream in your head not to catch a ferry from Circular Quay. It’s the best and most beautiful way to get to the zoo. In my opinion. It’s also super easy, with ferries trawling the route regularly and it only takes about 12 minutes. If you’re anti-ferries, there are also buses to Taronga Zoo.
For those driving, and in turn sticking their finger up at public transport all together, you can enter the zoo’s car park off Bradleys Head Road. The luxury of all day parking will pillage $18 from your wallet.
2. Purchase your tickets online
I bought our zoo tickets online the night before (which you then have 365 days to use from the date of purchase in case you get cold feet). This meant I received a 10% discount off gate price and got to skip the cue, instead waving the email confirmation on my iPhone at the gate (no need for a printer). I eagerly encourage you to do the same.
If you intend on visiting Taronga Zoo more than three times a year – in other words you have kids – I would also eagerly encourage you to invest in an annual membership, otherwise you can kiss home ownership goodbye.
3. Taronga Zoo is older than Grandpa
Taronga Zoo officially opened just over 100 years ago on 7 October 1916. It wasn’t Sydney’s first zoo – a smaller zoo in Moore Park had been in operation since 1884 but couldn’t accommodate a vision to transform the zoo into a new ‘modern’ era. Eventually, 228 mammals, 552 birds and 64 reptiles were relocated from Moore Park to the harbourside site of the current zoo – many of which crossed the harbour aboard a flat top barge, including the elephants. What a sight.
If you look around, there’s still little nods to Taronga Zoo’s history, including the circa 1928 Floral Clock and plenty of Art Deco signage.
4. The views across Sydney Harbour are unreal
Taronga Zoo is set against a backdrop that belongs in a National Geographic calendar. It’s stunning. While enjoying the monkeys and gorillas, you’ll also enjoy the most breathtaking views across Sydney Harbour, with boats bobbing about in Sydney Cove, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House just standing there majestically in the background, and Sydney Tower piercing the city skyline in the distance. It’s a yum cha banquet for the eyes.
I wonder if the giraffes realise that their lounge room has views that would break realestate.com.au
5. Bring your walking shoes – Taronga Zoo is hilly
What living in Sydney has helped me realise is that to enjoy any kind of view, you need to climb a big stegosaurus-sized hill to begin with. Yes, this is quite logical. Yet something I’ve only embarrassingly come to the conclusion of at the seasoned age of 28.
And Taronga Zoo’s amazing views come at a cost. A cost to your legs, knees and thighs.
Built on the side of a hill, my recommendation is to catch the free Sky Safari cable car up to the top of the hill and walk criss-crossing your way drunkenly down. Of course, if you like thigh burn and the feeling of not being able to breathe, be my guest and start at the bottom. Whatever you do, have a plan. Otherwise you’ll find yourself doubling back and using up valuable leg power.
I visited Taronga Zoo with my parents 10 years ago (a time when I didn’t understand the logic behind views and hills) – they still talk about how mountainous Taronga Zoo is, comparing it to Kilimanjaro, and Mum still talks about how terrifying the Sky Safari is. For the record, the cable car is about as scary as the ghost train at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
To recap, stilettos, heels or stilts probably aren’t the best footwear choices. What is appropriate is sunscreen, a hat and extra layers in winter. The hillside location means the zoo is exposed to the most extreme of weather conditions, so best dress accordingly.
6. The free shows and keeper talks are worth the line up
I totally appreciate that the shows and keeper talks attract crowds akin to New Year’s Eve, and the thought of battling these crowds is as appealing as swimming from Circular Quay to Kirribilli. But you’ll forever regret it if you don’t identify a few shows that you want to attend, mentally brace yourself against the crowds and squeeze the most out of your entry fee.
The seal show, in particular, is absolutely worth the skirmish with the crowd. You can’t help but smile for 15 minutes as you watch the seals play about, doing tricks or just being cheeky and refusing to do that backwards leap. See the video below for a smile.
Watching the elephants splash about during bath time is also pretty priceless.
Then there are keeper talks with the chimpanzees, koalas, Aussie animals, meerkats, Komodo dragons, spiders (can I get a hell no), penguins, sun bears, Tasmanian devils, reptiles and lemurs. Take your pick.
Or if you’re allergic to crowds, you can pay an additional fee (minimum $24.95) and have a more exclusive animal encounter inside the exhibits of the owls, penguins, giraffes or koalas.
7. Pack a lunch
There are a couple of kiosks located throughout the zoo, serving the likes of burgers, chips and salads, and the food isn’t bad, but it is pricey. Alternatively, there are plenty of pretty picnic spots where you can sit and enjoy a much cheaper lunch from home.
Also just watch the seagulls. They’re notoriously friendly, expect to be hand-fed and don’t mind letting go of their bowels above your head. Whatever you do, don’t feed them.
Taronga Zoo | Bradleys Head Road, Mosman, New South Wales
Open daily 9:30am–4:30pm (May–August), 9:30am–5pm (September–April), 9:30am–4pm (New Year’s Eve)
Cost: adult, $46; child (4–15 years), $26; concession, $36; family (2 adults and 2 children), $129.60