Intimate encounters with denizens of Down Under

As a child, I was obsessed with Australia. To me, it was wild and exotic with animals that couldn’t be found anywhere else on the earth. I decided one day I would visit the island continent that held so much mystic in my mind.

On my recent visit to Sydney, I had booked the Wild Australia Experience at Taronga Zoo. This extraordinary adventure takes you behind the scenes and takes you inside the everyday life of a zoo keeper.

Situated in the Sydney suburb of Mosman, this lush hillside zoo affords breathtaking panoramic views of Sydney Harbour. The giraffes have an amazing lookout of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I wonder if they know how lucky they are.

Taronga Zoo is a short twelve-minute ferry ride from Circular Key, across Sydney Harbour, to the Taronga Zoo wharf. Once you disembark, you can take the Sky Safari cable car up the hill to the park entrance, while getting a birds-eye view of the various animal enclosures below.

Our small group of six people was met by our zoo guide, Alicia. We embarked on our two-hour adventure with our guide asking each group member which animals they would like to see. We started by taking a walk around the zoo and visiting the indigenous animals of Australia. We got to feed kangaroos, see a platypus (currently on the endangered species list) and have our picture taken with a koala. As we walked along, Alicia gave us facts about the zoo that opened on October 7th, 1912 to its present day species conservation efforts. The zoo currently cares for over 4,000 animals and 350 species. They provide education, hospital care and a breeding program to ensure a long healthy future for Australia’s animals. Alicia was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and very accommodating.

Next, we went behind the scenes into the zoo kitchens where various fruit, vegetables, and insects were kept in refrigeration. The wall was adorned with feeding charts listing the animal, location, meal preference, and feeding times.  We then took our prepared meals and headed for the Bushtail Possum’s enclosure in the Nocturnal House.

The enclosure mimicked the Bushtail Possum’s natural habitat. The setting inside the enclosure was a starry night in the suburbs. The back yard scene included a shed sitting next to a tree. There was also a café table and bicycle with a basket.  Bushtail possums live in the hollow of a tree or on shed roofs, so their attention to detail in creating an authentic habit was just another way Taronga Zoo shows its love of wildlife conservation.

In a hushed tone, Alicia explained how the possums come alive at night and love to feast on fruit and insects. We placed our small tins of food in the various parts of the enclosure. One by one, the possums came out to feast. It was thrilling to be up close watching them enjoy their meal.

At the end of our tour, our guide took us to the Harbourside Café to enjoy a beverage and cupcake. Alicia answered more questions from the group and asked for feedback on how she could improve the tour. She was a fantastic guide and none of us could offer suggestions for improvement.  I could see that Alicia was truly passionate about her job and her smile could not be contained. She made this once in a lifetime opportunity all that much sweeter.

If you have a sense of adventure and love to try something different, I highly recommend you check out Taronga Zoo.

Travel Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes and sun block. Take a water bottle. The zoo has several water stations where you can refill and hydrate.

Budget Tip: Check out the tour tick at Viator (a Trip Advisor Company) for a great price starting at US $104.00 Do a Google search to get current coupon codes that will save you an addition 10% to 15% off.

Check out the tour on Taronga Zoo’s website. Prices from $US102

My article as it appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer.


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