The wildlife seems wilder at night. Chimpanzees scream, koalas growl, frogs croak, and something is wailing like a child (it’s possibly a child). And the birds – chirping, singing, screeching, whistling, calling – never seem to stop. For all I know, they could be insects or ringing phones or car alarms.

There’s something about the acoustics of Taronga Zoo that sends these crazy noises down the hill into our tent. It’s absolutely wacky and wonderful, but after an hour I pop in my ear plugs to turn down the volume. Eventually I drift off to sleep while waiting to hear lions and elephants.

By 5:30 am, my niece and nephew are awake, roused by cackling kookaburras.

I thought I would have to drag them out of bed (real beds with comfortable mattresses, sheets and pillows) for the 7am activity. But they’re excited to embark on a behind-the-scenes tour before the zoo opens.

Still in our pyjamas, we unzip the tent door and head down the path to a lookout for one of the best views of the harbour. The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are almost directly opposite. As the first ferry of the day chugs past, the night lights of the city are replaced by the rising sun.

While our fellow campers start waking up, we grab a free snack of banana bread and tea in the communal kitchen. The other Roar and Snorers are couples ranging in age from their twenties to sixties, some with children but several without. Wearing masks, we gather around the guides to find out our surprise animal encounter. Not only will we be taken inside the giraffe enclosure, we get to feed them!

Keeper for a Day at Taronga Zoo.

Up to five metres tall, the three giraffes are a sight to behold. As the zookeepers teach us about the world’s tallest mammals, we line up with lettuce leaves for these lanky lickers, whose purple tongues are 50 centimetres long. They bend all the way down to scoop the food from our sanitised hands, while everyone takes photos.

Next stop is the elephants, where we watch them get showered with a hose. We’re also allowed in their barn, from a safe distance, while they eat piles of hay. Then it’s time for our own breakfast – bacon and egg rolls with coffee and pastries – before free time in the zoo all day.

Finn, 8, wants to see the goats at the farmyard, which we have completely to ourselves. Tara, 11, wants to ride the cable car, so we scoot over when it starts operating at 10 am to avoid the queue. What a treat to pretend Taronga is our private playground.

It might not be as exotic as an African safari but Roar and Snore is close enough. The overnight experience, including four tours, food, drinks and accommodation, is cheaper, convenient and loads of fun.

On the first day, campers arrive after the zoo closes, enjoying welcome drinks and canapes. The keepers come for a chat at each table, bringing snakes rather than snacks. Then they lead an evening tour to see the squirrel monkeys, gorillas, koalas, platypus and meerkats.

Dinner is served in a quiet restaurant overlooking the harbour. Wine, beer and soft drinks are included, along with an African-inspired selection of chicken, sausage, corn, rice, beans and salad, or chicken schnitzel and chips for the kids. After dessert is the rare opportunity to observe some of the 4000 animals at night.

Taronga Zoo Sydney – Tiger Tour

The nocturnal tour is fascinating. Sleepy tigers are curled up like kittens, with one cub lying flat on his back, hind legs sprawled and front paws folded across his chest. We spot a sun bear, lit up by the keeper’s gentle red-light torch, roaming around his territory. In the Seal Bay exhibit, we meet Charlie, a friendly Australian sea lion. It’s 10:30 pm by the time we get to bed.

For more adventure, add on a session at Wild Ropes, an obstacle course of suspension bridges, tightropes and flying foxes in the treetops. Finn finished but took some coaching from Aunty Lou, while Tara wanted to do it all over again. Luckily for my wobbly legs, we had to go roaring and snoring before any more soaring and falling.

Take me there

Drive: From Newcastle, take the M1 to Sydney, merge onto the M2, turning left at the Military Road/Mosman exit. From Canberra, take the M23, then the Federal Highway to the M31, continue on the M5 towards Sydney Airport, then stay on the M1 until the Military Road/Mosman exit. The car park is on Bradleys Head Road.

Ferry: From Circular Quay in Sydney, catch the ferry to Taronga Zoo.

Stay: Summer nights are priced from $691 for twin-share, safari-style accommodation with harbour views. The cost includes zoo entry, parking, animal encounters, keeper talks and tours, food and drinks.

Explore more: taronga.org.au

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Comments 1

  1. Nicolle says:

    So correct me if I’m wrong but for a couple with 2 children the cost would be $1382, and for my husband and I to take our 4 children it would cost us $2073 for this activity. It sounds like a great idea but at that price it’s sadly out of our budget, as I’m sure would be the case with many other families.

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