Image: Jenni Ryall
- Taronga Zoo has an eco resort named the Wildlife Sanctuary where you can stay in luxury right on the cusp of a koala enclosure.
- Reopening on July 2 following the coronavirus pandemic, the cost per night has been cut to $542.
- As Taronga is a not-for-profit, the cost of your stay goes towards funding its projects and conservation efforts
- Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.
If you're looking to help out the local tourism industry and animal conservation in the aftermath of the horrific bushfires in January and the more recent global pandemic, the new Wildlife Sanctuary at Taronga Zoo is a solid choice. In an extra bonus, you can also wake up to a koala peering in your window.
The zoo, on Sydney Harbour, opened its brand new accommodation at the Wildlife Sanctuary to the public in October last year. Since its opening, the country has gone through two devastating events: firstly the catastrophic bushfires in January, and then the global coronavirus pandemic that shut down the country. Due to the New South Wales restrictions, the resort was forced to close during COVID-19, but is set to reopen from July 2.
The bougie older cousin of Roar n' Snore – the zoo's family-focused camping experience – opened with $790-a-night rooms, a 5-star restaurant and animals hanging out in touching distance of your room. The luxe option, which at full price sits closer to the price point of Sydney's top-of-the-line Park Hyatt, is clearly built to appeal to international tourists, and will no doubt be hit hard by the international border closures.
From July 2, the Wildlife Sanctuary has dropped its rates to $542 per night for an animal view room and $450 for a more basic bushland view room – so this is a great time to give back to a local institution now that restrictions have somewhat relaxed in New South Wale, allowing the zoo to move into the recovery phase.
In the cost of the room, you get two tours of the zoo including a sunrise tour before the zoo opens up for the day, a three-course dinner, a buffet breakfast and entry to the zoo. If you're looking for an experience to get up close and personal with the beloved koala, this eco-resort will give you the best chance.
"The Wildlife Retreat at Taronga [offers] guests an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a luxury sleepover with Australia’s unique wildlife and support conservation projects to save Australia’s iconic wildlife," Alex Emson, Head of Commercial Operations at Taronga Zoo, told Business Insider Australia in a statement.
Positioned right in the middle of the zoo's wildlife sanctuary, which is home to Australian natives such as echidnas, platypus, bandicoot, lyrebirds and wallabies, the eco-resort is made up of five sustainably-designed lodges.
Image: Jenni Ryall
The rooms are built with a focus on the animals, with a huge window opening on to perfectly situated trees that are home to multiple koalas – and there's a chance you'll wake up in the night to some loud bellowing noises from outside your window. The TV isn't the focal point of the room, with nature taking the place of the big screen and the TV folded off to the side. The rooms are modest and simply designed, with the price tag clearly due to the star attractions: a view of koalas and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
"We’re really pleased with how the retreat is tracking," Emson told Business Insider Australia via email. "What’s been really lovely is to see so many local Sydneysiders come into experience their city from a new perspective and learn a little about the animals in their own backyard. As time has progressed we’re welcoming more interstate and international guests."
Taronga Zoo closed its doors on March 25 due to COVID-19 restrictions and stayed shut for April and May. During this time, the Wildlife Retreat also remained closed. The zoo reopened its doors on June 1, but levels of visitors have remained sluggish, according to a report by Roy Morgan. Data covering the week to Sunday, June 21, shows movement at the zoo has reduced to 50% of levels seen at the start of 2020.
Image: Jenni Ryall
Michele Levine, CEO of Roy Morgan said in an online statement that popular tourist destinations, such as Taronga Zoo, are struggling due to the changes from the pandemic and the need to attract domestic tourists is vital.
“The latest aggregated movement data shows only small increases in movement data at the Zoo during the last three weeks following it’s re-opening in early June. This slower uptake than we’ve seen at other locations is due to the Zoo’s reliance on domestic and international tourism," Levine said.
“The re-opening of borders within Australia seems to be imminent for most states and territories however the recent spike in new cases of COVID-19 in Melbourne means travel to and from Victoria is set to remain restricted over the next month. For destinations such as Taronga, attracting domestic tourists will be vital once interstate travel is freely permitted throughout the nation."
Staying at the zoo is a unique way to support the animals affected by the bushfires in Australia and the zoo's recovery following the pandemic
As Taronga is not-for-profit, you can kick back knowing proceeds from your room are supporting an important and iconic location during a challenging time, with the cost going towards funding Taronga's projects and conservation efforts. That might make the high price tag a little easier to digest.
"Our hope is that our guests will leave having found a stronger connection to wildlife and its habitats, knowing that their stay has made a meaningful difference," Emson said.
For example, during and following the fires, the zoo has been involved in emergency operations to save affected wildlife by providing emergency shelter, medical care and rehabilitation for species including koalas, wallabies, echidnas, bats, frogs and fish.
“[The] fires, combined with persistent drought, have decimated already fragile animal populations. While it is too soon to know the exact scale of the impact to Australian wildlife, the number of animals believed to have perished as a result of these catastrophic conditions is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions," CEO of Taronga Zoo, Cameron Kerr, said in a statement at the time.
“With Taronga’s drive and expertise and your ongoing support, we remain hopeful that together we can ensure that Australian wildlife has a fighting chance."
Forking out a week's salary suddenly feels much more worthwhile.
The zoo is heavily involved in supporting animals following the bushfires
Image: Jenni Ryall
The Wildlife Retreat is just one of the many ways the zoo is providing a channel for people to support native animals in a time of need.
In December, Taronga Conservation Society rescued 12 koalas from the path of out-of-control bushfires and moved them to its emergency housing – plus the zoo is caring for a huge number of animals that have been injured or displaced from their habitats in the fires.
The zoo also halved online ticket prices for all of January allowing people to support their conservation efforts by visiting and it launched an appeal for donations to help it provide immediate support and long-term support to animals affected by the bushfire and drought.
“Now, with a better view of the full scale of the devastation caused by these bushfires and the ongoing impacts of the drought, it has become clear that our response will need to be bigger, broader and able to provide care and support for a much wider range of species,” Kerr said in a statement.
With the destruction of our natural environment earlier in the year and the devastation to tourism due to the pandemic, there's many ways you can give back – an overnight stay with koalas is no doubt one of the most rewarding.