Ideally I’d like my first post to be about something that you could do that’s fun around Sydney for free. However, I figured a better place to start would be a place I have visited many times over the course of my life.
Why Taronga Zoo?
For me there are six main reasons:
1. It’s fun. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how many times you see the same animals, there is still a level of joy in it. I can almost recite the seal show alongside the staff running it but there is still something so amazing about seeing what those seals can do.
2. It’s reasonably affordable. Especially if you have zoo friends (which comes with quite a few benefits) or you’re visiting with kids under 4.
3. The small water area is a less sandy version of taking your kids to the beach and it manages to make the day feel like you managed two seperate adventures in one.
The easiest way to find the water zone is to go down the first set of escalators at the centenary shop (located between the seal show and the elephants) and then turn left. There is a lift for strollers, prams and wheelchairs.
4. The Sky Safari. I have a photo of the kids with their noses pressed against the glass for each group of kids I’ve gone with. While I have no photographic evidence, adults do this too. There’s is something magical about looking down at the zoo and realising that’s where you’re going next.
I would recommend doing the sky safari first, I find it a useful way of getting the kids to decide what animals they want to see and it stops them from barrelling head first into the zoo and potentially running out of steam twenty minutes later. I will use the Sky Safari to either go from the bottom of the zoo to the top if I’ve caught the ferry or just for a quick round trip if I parked at the top of the zoo.
5. Tantrums! The animals are more interesting than a kid throwing a tantrum. So while you can almost guarantee you won’t be the only person who has a kid throwing a tantrum, even if you are no one is going to be staring at you and your perceived inability to manage a child when there are so many more interesting things to take note of.
Things get particularly crazy once a fun day out turns into the child missed their nap and is having irrational responses as a result of tiredness (not that I have much room to judge). I even managed to reach 4 tantrums for 3 kids one day, with each child having their own meltdown and one kid having two.
6. It’s educational. I’ve learnt about sustainable fishing, while the kids I’m with have learnt a little bit more about the negative environmental impact of gathering palm oil for our food. Of course you learn about the animals too.
My experience visiting with children under 5:
Taronga Zoo, I’ve come to discover, is a place I try to take as many kids as possible. There’s nothing quite like the wide-eyed wonder on their faces when they first spot the giraffes (every child I know has asked me to see the giraffes).
Perhaps the best thing about Taronga Zoo though is the sheer volume of animals to see. Even when I’m being rushed through the zoo with barely a second to glance at the actual animals (one of the benefits of stroller-bound vs free-walking children is that you have the ability to set the pace) it still takes at least three hours to see everything.
Once the kids have gotten over the starry eyed enjoyment of the giraffes and the elephants there generally comes the slump. This is usually the point in time where one of the kids will ask when it’s time to go home. Mind you, I have had the ‘I want to go home’ conversation 10 minutes into the zoo one day and while I managed to redirect her attention to what animals she wanted to see, I will forever be grateful that children under 4 have free entry and turning right around and leaving doesn’t cost much. So when this dreaded question is asked, I generally steer the kids in the direction of the aforementioned water zone. I think Taronga might call it a lagoon but water zone works for me.
Let me paint the picture for you. This water zone consists of a pool of ankle to calf deep water, that runs maybe 6-8m long and 2-3m wide. There is a wooden row boat that has been ‘abandoned on the beach’ that the kids can climb on, a few rocks for
the parents to perch on or dry some wet clothes on and while a nice place to cool your feet it is not overly amazing (if you ignore the view). However for the kids, Christmas might as well have come early. That wide eyed wonder that had slowly faded as the day dragged on is renewed, and this is generally before they spot the rushing stream of water that comes spilling out of a ‘cave’ in the wall with an action not dissimilar to a wave.
Provided you remember to bring a towel and a change of underwear I find that in summer the little 15 to 30 minute splash in the water is enough to cool them down for the rest of the afternoon and it also reenergises them and allows you to see the bottom half of the zoo that you may not have gotten around to yet.
A handy hint – you might think it’s not so bad doing the zoo from the bottom up but unless you really want to get the extra exercise it is a lot easier staring at the top of the hill and working your way down. Especially if you have a stroller with you.
My experience visiting with children with autism
Luckily for me, the little girls I took with me to the zoo were perfect angels that day. They happily allowed me to put sunscreen on them, were content to sit in their strollers and let the adults set the pace, seemed interested in the animals and only showed a little resistance about wearing their hats.
But from my other experiences with the girls, I can tell you they can have a meltdown just the same as any other kid, just perhaps with a little more frequency if they don’t quite understand why they have to wait in line for something or why the place we’re going isn’t open yet.
However unlike every other place where strangers that have no idea what your dealing with will openly stare, express their disapproval or go to extreme lengths to avoid looking over at the child having a tantrum, at the zoo there is so much chaos that a child having a meltdown is nothing of importance.
This is perhaps one of the most freeing experiences that the zoo provides. (Let me tell you it is not the same in the crowded and cramped hallways of the aquarium).
When I went to the zoo I didn’t know that Taronga Zoo had worked with Autism Spectrum Australia to provide a variety of services and some Access Taronga Days throughout the year. While we managed our day out without these services it’s always helpful to have a read through what’s available to you.
My experience visiting with teenagers:
The benefit of visiting with teenagers and possibly tweens is that even when you might not be able to set the pace completely they are generally willing to go at a pace that actually indicates they’re appreciating the animals. The potential downside is that they’re at an age where having an opinion is not too high on their list. Consequently when I got a ‘whatever’ response to what animals they wanted to see, I said ok, we’re going to see all of them and planned the walk through the zoo in advance. We then narrowed down the animals they wanted to see first by going on the Sky Safari – it works whether they’re 3 or 13.
My experience visiting with a foreigner.
You know the wide-eyed wonder at the giraffes (and their view) that I mentioned earlier, you can often view that very same look on adults. This wide eyed wonder I’ve discovered usually remains on everyone’s faces through all the animals including the koalas (though it might slip a little when you explain that they’re actually the devil wrapped up in a cute, smelly package that spends 90% of it’s day sleeping – of course this might just be my own opinion).
Taronga Zoo is a place that will give you and the kids your with lots of memories. With the exception of endless playgrounds and routine trips via ferry to Manly, Taronga Zoo is the place I remember my Nanna taking me to the most. I will always cherish those memories and that’s what you want from a day out. For me this has proven true as at Christmas I found my little cousins asking for the third year in a row if we were going to go to the zoo during the school holidays.
It is also only now that I appreciate how much it took out of her to take me to Taronga Zoo as I recently went with a 14 year old and an 18 year old and watched them both fall asleep in the car on the way home.
It is a lot of walking! So make sure you wear appropriate shoes.
So remember to bring:
1. A camera (or just your phone). You may have those memories forever but photos are fun too.
2. Sunscreen and a hat.
3. Your water bottle – hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Taronga provides lots of water bubblers throughout the zoo and from memory you can refill your bottle at some of those too.
Forgetting number 2 and 3 and underestimating the sun is how my not-used-to-the-Australian-sun foreigner ended up sick the following day as a result of heat stroke.
And remember have fun. Taronga Zoo is great even when it rains (speaking from personal experience).
Until next time,