Kookaburras, Koalas and Kangaroos. Wombats, echidnas and Tasmanian Devils. These “down-under” animals live in a forested hillside called the Taranga Zoo, which promises an exciting, Australian-style safari.
The zoo lies across the harbor from Sydney, Australia, a fifteen-minute get acquainted with Sydney’s sparkling blue harbour and bays filled with ferries and jet-cats and sailboats.
My day at the Taronga Zoo began at the hilltop entrance. I marked “must sees” on the detailed zoo map that I bought at the information center. Elephants and giraffes, chimpanzees and seals — the stuff of most zoos – have habitats here, but my priority was to see the animals indigenous to the South Pacific.
First stop: the koalas. They roam through a eucalyptus forest with a view of the city of Sydney, one of the best around.
Visitors are encouraged to have their picture taken with a koala. I did. The first step was a thick shoulder drape — protection from the koalas long, curved claws. As I held the fluffy, gray and white koala, she chomped on her eucalyptus branches, her tiny round black-cherry nose wiggling with each bite.
Nearby, we found the wombats’ den but no wombats. The nocturnal marsupials tend to hide inside their burrows to escape the bright sun.
We saw kangaroos roaming along the edge of the forest. They loped and rocked from strong, hind legs to short front legs. The gray ‘roos are the animal most associated with Australia from the Qantas airline symbol to decorations on hats, towels and Olympic promotions.
“I’ve got to see a platypus,” I said. As a child, I learned that the duck-billed platypus, whose name intrigued me, had lived long ago in prehistoric times. We found a platypus in a darkened house that held a huge, lighted water tank. He zipped around the tank and flashed through the plants so fast we could not focus a camera. We just clicked at random, hoping we’d get at least one good shot of the silver-gray aquatic mammal with the weird flat bill.
What was next? Dingos are the unappealing, wild yellow dogs that have roamed Australia for over 3,000 years. They destroyed so many sheep in Australia’s Outback that the farmers built a 3,307-mile wood and wire fence to protect their sheep. Without the barrier, farmers say, the sheep industry would not survive. We glanced at the ugly dingo and moved on. Maybe the Tasmanian Devil would be more appealing, I thought. How close does it come to looking like the Disney Taz cartoon creature? What we saw was a black furry lump among the leaves and grasses in the far corner of his shady habitat. No bared teeth, no attack-lunge. But we read that they are the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials, and have scandalous eating habits. With their powerful jaws, they grind up every bit of their prey, all the while screaming, grunting and growling. Oh, my.
We paused by the elephant habitat, but our real purpose was to capture on camera the Sydney skyline and the bay. The magnificent view detracted, for a moment, from the animal hunt. We identified the white sails of the Opera House, the black steel Harbor Bridge span, and the island, Fort Denison, once a prison and a defense fortress.
Continuing our animal safari, we wound across the hillside to find a real echidna. We’d seen caricatures of it along with the platypus and the kookaburra on postcards, billboards and in magazines advertising the Olympics. The echidna has a tiny face with a long snout that’s surrounded by a big, round, bristly body. That echidna creature was very uncooperative. He went back and forth from his play yard under a spreading hillside tree, to his house under a building. Our picture shows his spiky backside heading underground. Oh well.
Two strains of penguins, more than two dozen in all, showed off in their rock-lined pond, preening and marching around their habitat. The brown Fjordland Penguin can remain at sea for 4 months, feed and sleep in the icy water south of New Zealand. These penguins breed in the cool coastal forests along the rocky, South New Zealand shores. The other strain, Little Penguins, and the world’s smallest, build their nests in burrows. They come ashore during the first two hours after dark and return to the sea in the hour before sunrise after they have laid two eggs in each burrow. Only one egg will survive.
We strolled a downhill path through the rainforest to the Red Pandas, where a big sign announced that we were nearing an endangered species. It also stated, “No trees, no pandas! No zoos, no pandas.”
Red Pandas are tree dwellers and their tree homes are disappearing. The zoos, particularly the Taronga, have biologists successfully breeding the pandas in captivity. Red pandas dash up the tree-trunks, run along the limbs, and then peer down at the visitors as they swish their long, bushy tails. We wished for more time to enjoy their antics.
Moving on, we found another appealing animal – a small black Sun Bear, the smallest bear in the world. Their short, sleek fur sheds tropical rain and keeps them dry. The little bears raid bee hives for honey and dig into palm trees for a hearts-of-palm treat.
For more animal encounters, the zoo also offers daily animals-in-focus presentations and animal keeper talks. As for the air safari, the twice-daily “Free Flight Bird Show” features a spectacular display of more than seventeen species of birds that take to the skies over Sydney Harbor. To round out the offerings, zoo keepers lead guided tours and a have a Discovery Farm complete with milk cows.
The Sydney Ferries advertise a ZooPass: “For a wild day out, it’s just the ticket.” Your round-trip ferry and bus trips, and zoo admission are all included. The day’s adventure begins at Sydney’s Wharf 2, Circular Quay, where bay ferries leaves every half-hour for Taronga Zoo. At the zoo wharf, a bus waits to run you up to the Zoo gates.
The Sydney Tourist Guide says, “The Taronga Zoo is regarded as the world’s most spectacular zoo.” That may be hype, but Sydneysiders do have something to brag about.
ADDITIONAL INFO about Taranga Zoo:
If going by car, the address is Bradley’s Head Rd., Mosman
By Ferry: A Zoo Pass is a real buy and includes entry, round-trip ferry from Circular Quay, and bus ride or Aerial Safari (cable car, if running) to upper entrance.
Ferries leave the Circular Quay every half hour from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m