I last visited Taronga Zoo as a young child - way too many years ago to admit to now! I can still remember my childhood visits very clearly. The big cats were pacing around in tiny pits back then. My brother and I had a ride on the resident elephant, who carried several children at once on a long wooden seat strapped to its back!
The elephant rides are long-gone now, but Taronga still shines as a place of childhood happiness and wonderment. The opportunity to rediscover Taronga, this time with my own children aged 4 and 6, was a real treat.
The drive to the Zoo was fairly straight-forward thanks to the Sat-Nav, and the Zoo's multi-story car park made parking easy (the first 90 minutes is free - $16 for a full day). If you have more time up your sleeve, you can take the harbour ferry from Circular Quay (only 15 minutes) and really make a day of it.
The grand old Taronga Zoo entrance building was a welcoming and nostalgic sight, however there was no time to reflect on times-past - the moment the kids feet hit the Zoo paths, they were off - pinging around from one animal exhibit to another with mum happily trailing along behind.
There's something really amazing about witnessing your child's reactions to new experiences - and my kids excited squeals with each new animal discovery were a real thrill for me too.
First-stop was the koala tower, where we spotted no less than four sleepy bears in the trees within. Then it was onward to the reptiles area - creepily fascinating, and always a hit with children. Truly enormous snakes, including a boa-constrictor had the kids entranced (and mum rather horrified!).
On we went, slowly working our way along the looping paths with ease thanks to the downhill gradient that the Zoo is built upon.
All the big-attraction animals are here - elephants, giraffes, gorillas, big cats, zebras - many of them with spring babies right now, including a gorgeous baby elephant cuddled up to his protective mother and a super-cute baby Gorilla riding about on mum's back.
At the front of many animal enclosures you'll find life-sized models of the animals within, and these models seem almost as popular as the real thing. Children love to climb and play on them, and everyone loves posing with them for photos - which is brilliant for snap-happy parents (like me!)
No matter how many zoos you may have already visited, surely there are none that can boast more spectacular views than those of Taronga. There's nothing quite like witnessing a looming giraffe's head with the stunning Sydney Harbour, Opera House and Harbour Bridge vista in the background - even if the children don't quite appreciate it! (me - "Wow, look at the beautiful harbour kids!" kids - "We know Mummy, hurry up! Look at the chimps swinging on the ropes!"
Taronga Zoo is such a good zoo for parents, because everything is within reasonably close reach - you can cover a large variety of amazing animals in a relatively small amount of time - fantastic for toddler and young children attention spans and fatigue threshold.
The Zoo is well fitted-out for parents too, with dedicated parent rooms, and numerous water bottle filling stations dotted around the park. A mall-type restaurant hall is situated in the centre of the zoo to satisfy the hungriest of budding zoologists, and there's no shortage of souvenir opportunities either, with Zoo shops full-to-bursting with stuffed versions of everyone's favourites (unfortunately for me, even the snakes!)
Eventually we had meandered our way down to the very bottom of the hill to the seal aquarium. I took a seat in the indoor theatre to give the children a quick snack, but sitting still was not an option - they couldn't resist the lure of the gigantic seal tank viewing glass, hardly believing their eyes when a seal slowly materialised out of the blue, swimming right towards them! It was a delight to watch the kids first scream in amazed excitement, and then frantically wave to the seal - desperately seeking to somehow make themselves known this beautiful animal. The seal appeared to forgive them their noisy enthusiasm, and instead of sensibly turning tail and swimming off, casually floated about in front of them - almost humouring them! It was a touchingly innocent moment between animal and children that I knew would become one of my most-favourite Taronga Zoo memories - and hopefully my children's too
Taronga Zoo is a famous animal park situated in Sydney. You can get there in around 15 minutes by ferry from the City or drive to North Sydney. Open every day of the year, with keeper talks, seal shows, sleep-outs and more.