This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2015. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
Let me start by saying I don’t normally visit zoos.
I’m more of a wildlife sanctuary kind of gal. Wild animals that aren’t enclosed in cages or animals that have been rescued from injury in the wild are definitely the encounters that I like to have.
However, I had heard good things about Taronga with its various programs for conservation of endangered species, and a few years ago on a sunny summer Sunday, I decided to pay it a visit.
I was cautious of the admission price, which I thought to be ultra expensive. At $49 AUD for an adult and $29 AUD for a child, it’s not one of the cheapest things to do in Sydney. Of course, there are always travel experiences that are worth splurging on, but my question was whether Taronga Zoo should be counted as one of those. If you’re also wondering whether you should hand over cash for this pricey Sydney activity, here’s my thoughts on whether it’s worth it!
How to get to Taronga Zoo:
Getting to Taronga Zoo is easiest done by ferry from Circular Quay. The ferry takes passengers across the river to Taronga, where you walk to the zoo entrance.
I would advise that you don’t get the zoo plus ferry ticket as this costs an extra $16 AUD for the return ferry ticket, but it’s cheaper to get the public transport ticket separately at $6.12 AUD each way.
For visitors who will be doing more public transport trips during your stay in Sydney, an Opal Card will give you access to public transport options including the public ferry to Taronga. Alternatively, you can tap on/off to the public transport using your credit card at the Opal card readers, though it will end up being slightly more expensive this way.
In my opinion, one of the most spectacular things about visiting the zoo is the ferry ride from Circular Quay as you get some Instagrammable views of Sydney on the ride over! Keep your camera handy as soon as the ferry departs, you’ll get some seriously awesome views of the Opera House on one side and the Harbour Bridge on the other.
Where to get Taronga Zoo tickets:
You can pre-purchase a ticket for the zoo either online (which means you’ll get a 10% discount) or directly from the ticket seller within the ferry terminal at Circular Quay. By purchasing the ticket before you arrive at the zoo, there’ll be no queueing at the gate once you arrive.
Concession tickets: If you’re a senior or a full-time student, you can get a discounted ticket for $39 AUD. You’ll need to take along your student card or seniors card to show when you enter the zoo. The Taronga website states that international concession cards are accepted, but we saw some German girls present their student cards only to be told that they had to be an Australian students to be eligible for the concession price, so I can’t confirm that it will be valid.
On arrival at Taronga:
When you jump off the ferry at Taronga wharf, you’ll realise that the zoo entrance is at the bottom of a rather large hill with the zoo stretching up its side. Luckily, there is a gondola/cable car that takes you to the top. This is included in the ticket price (that you have so cleverly purchased beforehand) so head straight to the base of the gondola to get started!
The gondola will transport you directly above many of the animals as you ascend to the top of the hill, which is a pretty neat experience. Be sure to grab a zoo map once you jump off at the top. You’ll never find your way around without it.
Getting around the zoo:
Walking through takes a long while. Taronga is big. Very big. You’re going to need an absolute minimum of three hours to walk through at a reasonable pace, and if you want to see it in detail (or if you’re travelling with kids) I’d put aside an entire day.
I’m not sure why, but I was under the impression that Taronga Zoo would mostly consist of Australian animals. This is definitely not the case – it’s probably about 25% Australian animals. The zoo is made up of themed ‘walks’ including Reptiles, Big Cats, Birds, Australian Wildlife, Orangutans, and Seals. A number of talks and shows are also scheduled throughout the day at various enclosures, refer to your map for the timing of these.
My thoughts on the Taronga experience:
Taronga has many conservation and breeding programs for endangered species. They also rescue injured wildlife, treat them at an on-site veterinary hospital, and rehabilitate them for release back into the wild or keep them in the zoo if release is not possible. Hearing the story of how Bondi the seal was found injured on Bondi Beach and then rehabilitated by the zoo was a touching story. Oh, the feels!
This is a great thing that they’re doing and I was super pleased to know that the whole zoo isn’t just put together for tourists. Though I was a little… uhh… let’s say affronted, that there were donation boxes placed at almost every major exhibit. It felt as if they were saying the excessive entrance fee that I’d just paid wasn’t enough. I mean sure, I want to help the animals, but if that’s not included it in the admission price then what the hell did I just pay for?
Now I will admit, I don’t usually visit places that contain so many young children to avoid tantrum-throwing toddlers and swarms of oversized prams blocking pathways. Taronga was packed with families, and yeah, there were a lot of kids, but most of the pathways were fairly wide and the zoo has obviously anticipated the amount of people that would be visiting on a sunny weekend day. There was ‘pram parking’ in all of the popular spots where shows would be, and the foot traffic moved along fairly quickly in most places.
One other thing I’ll mention (which is a huge bonus) is that you can take food and drink into the zoo. This is great as you can bring your own lunch if you don’t want to pay for overpriced tourist food. We took in a water bottle and some bread rolls and dip, then sat at one of the many park benches to stop and eat lunch.
So, is Taronga Zoo worth the admission price?
Whether it’s worth the cost depends on your situation, so ask yourself the following questions:
Are you short on time while in Sydney? If you’ll only be here for a few days, then sure, the zoo is worth a visit as it’s easy to access from downtown and involves getting out on the harbour via the ferry ride over. I think it’s an especially good option for international visitors as you get to see plenty of Australian animals without leaving inner Sydney. The convenient location is worth the cost in this situation.
Will you be seeing Australian animals anywhere else? If you have the chance to visit a wildlife sanctuary instead, then I’d say don’t bother with Taronga. There are no wildlife sanctuaries near inner Sydney, but Featherdale Wildlife Park is an alternative zoo option in western Sydney (about 45 minutes drive from downtown and on the way to the Blue Mountains) which offers a more hands on experience with Australian animals and it’s much cheaper than Taronga at $35 AUD per adult and $22 AUD per child.
Are you travelling with kids? If yes, then they will probably love Taronga. All of the kids we walked by were having the time of their lives. If you’re not travelling with kids, you may find the zoo to be a little too family-oriented and I’d suggest opting for a wildlife sanctuary outside of Sydney instead, if you have the chance to visit one.
My overall opinion is that Taronga is a fairly good zoo, and definitely better than many others I’ve been to over the years, though I did feel sorry for a few of the animals and I still don’t really see the point of keeping non-local animals like tigers and gorillas in Australia. Taronga is worth the admission price if you haven’t seen Australian animals yet and won’t see them anywhere else on your trip, but if you’ll be visiting a wildlife sanctuary at some stage, that will be a much better (and cheaper) experience. There you have it!