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Is Taronga Zoo worth the crazy admission price?

Let me start by saying I’m not really a fan of zoos.

As you can imagine, my vegetarian self is rather against the containment of animals, especially when it’s for the sole purpose of entertaining humans.

But I’d heard only good things about Taronga Zoo, and as I’m a few weeks away from leaving Sydney for an indefinite amount of time, I feel as though I can’t leave and confidently say I’ve done the city without a visit to Taronga.

So one sunny summer Sunday, I finally paid it a visit.


getting there

Now you may know that I prefer to travel on a tight budget, but there are always going to be travel experiences that are worth splurging on. The question is whether the zoo is one of those.

The reason I haven’t been to Taronga Zoo before now is because the entry price is about $46 AUD for an adult. Ridiculous! And if you’re a student visiting from another country and think you can get a concession ticket – joke’s on you. We stood behind some German girls who presented their student cards, only to be told that it had to be an Australian student card to be eligible for the concession price.

Sydney Opera House

Don’t get the zoo plus ferry ticket unless you’ll only be in Sydney for a few days. It’s usually cheaper to get the public transport ticket separately.

For visitors staying a week or two, a MyMulti ticket will give you unlimited public transport for 7 or 14 days. And if you’ll be staying a month or more, best to get an Opal Card (for use on public transport in Sydney) and travel on a Sunday when transport costs are capped at $2.50 for the entire day.

Buy your ticket for the zoo either online or directly from the ticket seller within the ferry terminal at Circular Quay. This way there’ll be no queueing when you arrive at the zoo, and you’ve taken advantage of the cheap public transport fares.

One of the most spectacular things about the zoo is the ferry ride from Circular Quay. If you’ve seen the photos from my Sydney Harbour coastal walk, you’ll know the full potential of views offered by being anywhere in the harbour’s general vicinity. 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.

Sydney from Taronga Zoo

On arrival

When you jump off at the ferry terminal you’ll realise that the zoo entrance is right at the bottom of a rather large hill, but luckily there is a gondola/cable car to take you to the top. This is included in the ticket that you have so cleverly purchased beforehand, so head straight there! This will take you directly above many of the animals as you ascent.

Be sure to grab a zoo map once you jump off at the top entrance. You’ll never find your way around without it.

Taronga 3

Walking through the zoo

Walking through took a long while. It’s 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.

Now I’m not sure why but I was under the impression that Taronga Zoo would mostly consist of Australian animals, but this is not the case. It’s probably about 25% Australian animals. The international selection is very good though.

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 times.

Taronga 2

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… lets say affronted, that there were donation boxes placed at almost every major exhibit. It was as if they were saying the $46 I’d just paid for the entry fee 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?

Taronga Zoo

Now I will admit, I usually avoid places that contain so many young children. It’s not that I don’t like kids, but when I’m trying to do something meaningful and all I can hear is one hundred toddlers screaming in my sensitive ears, I get a little annoyed. And if I can’t walk along a footpath that was narrow enough without the swarm of prams blocking the way, I get pretty frustrated. No offense, parents! It’s probably just me.

Taronga was busy, and yeah there were a lot of kids, but most of the pathways were fairly wide and the zoo had obviously anticipated the amount of families 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. Kudos to Taronga for making families and backpackers play together nicely!

You can take food and drink into the zoo, so if you don’t want to pay tourist prices for food – bring your own lunch. We took in a water bottle, some bread rolls and dip, and sat at one of the many park benches to stop and eat.

Taronga Zoo

So, is Taronga Zoo worth the admission price?

In my opinion – it’s a good zoo, and maybe a little better than others I’ve been to. Whether it’s worth the cost depends on your situation, so ask yourself the following questions:

Have you been to Australia before? No? Then sure, the zoo is worth a visit. You’ll get to see plenty of Australian animals and learn all about them at the same time. If you’re Australian or if you’ve seen Australian animals before, then you probably don’t need to feel as though Taronga is a must.

Will you be seeing Australian animals anywhere else? If no, then definitely head to the zoo – this might be your only chance to see them. If yes, then you might not need to do the zoo as well as whatever else you’re doing. It depends on how interested you are in seeing the animals in captivity.

Are you travelling with kids? I can guarantee that they will love it. All of the kids we walked by were having a ball (except for that one that was having a tantrum… but that ratio is still about 1 in 1000).

Have you frequented zoos in the past? If not, then you’ll probably have a great time! But if you’ve done a few in the past then you might not be all that impressed.


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Ashlea Wheeler

This post was written by Ashlea, a colourfully clothed and excitable vegetarian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

15 Responses to “Is Taronga Zoo worth the crazy admission price?”

  1. Lindsay @ Frugal Frolicker

    Ooh, I’m so glad you did a post on this! Based on your recommendations, the zoo probably wouldn’t be worth it for me – but I can see why it would be for many others! Are you able to hold a koala there??

    Also, donation boxes: wtf? Just… no. That’s insulting after dropping all that money on an admission ticket. Silly zoo!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I thought it would be a valuable post, seeing as I’ve been in Sydney for 2 years and have been wondering what the answer is to this question the entire time! Yes, they do koala encounters, but wait for it… it costs an extra $20!

      Reply
  2. Esther

    Good article.
    The $46 (!!) was the precise reason we decided to skip. It’s a nice zoo, maybe the best zoo. But it’s still a zoo. We visited rescue shelters in Australia too (where we saw lots of Ozzie animals being rescued after they’d been hit by a car or some another accident) and I thought these were far more meaningful to me.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I think the rescue shelters would have been a much more meaningful experience Esther! And if you’ve already seen Australian animals, then there’s no real reason to go to Taronga.

      Reply
  3. Anne Sutherland-Smith

    Ashlea, we have been to Taronga many times – fortunately we have the advantage of being able to use a Gold Pass so we don’t have to pay anywhere near full price – but these passes are not available for the general public.

    It is a great zoo, but if visitors to Sydney want a cheaper option to see Australian animals I would also suggest that they check out Wildlife World, which is beside the Sydney Aquarium in Darling Harbour. It has a good range of Australian animals, and you can buy some different passes which package it with the Aquarium, the Sydney Tower Eye and a few other attractions which can be good value. If you are prepared to travel a bit further outside of central Sydney there are also places like Featherdale Wildlife Park which is a lot cheaper to visit, but the trip is around 45 minutes each way if you drive.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Anne, I’ve never been to Wildlife World but maybe it’s worth checking out. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Sea Life Aquarium (a little too crowded for my liking and it didn’t feel very genuine) but others may enjoy it. It’s absolutely better to travel outside of the major cities to see Australian animals, and I would definitely recommend that to anyone who is visiting Australia and has some time on their hands 🙂

      Reply
  4. Kirstie

    I was able to go with free tickets from a friend who got them through work, and the $0 admission price (plus the ferry cost) was definitely worth it, ha! I’m not generally a fan of zoos either, but the views were stunning from there, so that alone was worth it, and I did enjoy the zoo aspect of it more than expected. I’m not 100% sure I’d be willing to pay $46 since I’ve seen Australian animals elsewhere, but if you’re a tourist and haven’t yet seen kangaroos, koalas, and wombats, Taronga seems a much better deal than the $28 online/$40 in person for Wild Life in Darling Harbour.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      The views really are amazing from there! And I can imagine having free entry would totally make it worth it! I think the cost would be ok for anyone who is only staying in Australia a short time. For those of us who have seen Australian animals elsewhere though, $46 is a bit unreasonable!

      Reply
  5. Holly

    It is the same price for the Toronto Zoo here, but worth going to because it is a really ethical zoo. Like you, I am a vegetarian and so it is important to me that zoos contribute.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You know I’ve heard good things about the Toronto Zoo – if it’s as good as everyone says then I might have to head over next time I’m in the area 🙂 It’s a really hard thing as a vegetarian to head to a place where animals are in captivity – I’m glad you can relate Holly!

      Reply
  6. Sanji

    I was in the Taronga Zoo some months ago, when I was visiting Sydney the first time. It was just around Spring Break I think, so kind of perfect for going to a Zoo. But I was very disappointed. The best thing were the ferry drive to get there and the view from the giraffe area. Otherwise it wasn’t too special. But maybe I’m a bit spoilt by “my” Zoo back home in Germany. If you are ever in former Eastern Germany go to the Zoo in LEIPZIG. It is sooooo beautiful and the animals have huge areas. Best Zoo I’ve seen so far 😉

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks for the tips Sanji! I agree, the ferry ride is definitely the best part of a zoo visit! I can imagine that someone who has been to an amazing zoo before might not be all that impressed with Taronga.

      Reply
  7. Génesis

    I don’t want to offend any one ….but I don’t think you guys understand how the admissions money and donation money works. I’ve never been to Australia so I’m not positive on how things work there, but in other zoos and aquariums in the US and Europe the admissions money gets separated to different departments. Some goes to food for the animals, other parts of it go to pay checks for the employees, education programs, ect. The donation boxes sometimes go towards rehab programs or a certain exhibit or animals. They use that money to provide better services to those animals. Since most organizations are non profit they don’t receive any money besides what visitors give them . When you think about it, taking care of the facilities, the people, and the animals….you are gonna need all the money you can get!

    I work at an aquarium in Texas, so I’m not just saying this just because. I’m in the wild flight department, so I take care and train birds . We have a donation box near our birds exhibits, and whatever money you visitors put in there goes straight to our bird rehab department and nowhere else.

    I know sometimes it may look like a lot , but trust me we don’t take that money for granted. Besides its not like we are forcing you to gives us money, it’s your choice if you want to support us.

    If you do decide to give even a dollar or a few cents, I thank you for that. Some of those animals need all the help we can give them 😀

    Reply
    • Melody kemp

      Genesis thank you for that. I am far more offended by Australias food and wine prices than i am by Taronga entrance fees. The facility is huge, needs a lot of maintenance, and continual upgrading. The pelace is staffed by expsrts , they have up to date vererinarian services and for some animals need quarantine and specialist drugs for unusual conditions..and the food bill must be jumbo sized.. each elephant earts about 150-200 kgs of food per day..if the facilities were terrible, all these contributors would be complaining about that. I live in Asia in places where wildlife is disappearing. Only the precious and those who don’t read can afford to be critical of Zoos. By enteraining whatever that means, the public at least get to see how precious and aware inspiring wildlife is.

      Reply
  8. Jim KABLE

    Just to-day with visitors from Japan – in Newcastle NSW – we spent a brilliant hour (free entry – only money $3/hour for parking) looking at a full range of Australian animals and birds and other creatures – wombats, koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, emus…at Blackbutt Reserve. Beautiful! The only exotic creatures – a flock of wandering peacocks/peahens!

    Reply

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