In October last year, the Taronga Conservation Society opened the Wildlife Retreat at Taronga. A lush bushland oasis just a stone’s throw from Sydney’s CBD.
Owned and operated by the not-for-profit organisation, the brand new, five-star ‘eco-retreat’ attached to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo was commissioned to unite earthy Australian luxury with an up-close overnight experience starring the very animals which call the zoo home. This is ‘roar and snore’ on another level.
In all honesty, news of the opening came as a little surprise and brought about the same amount of scepticism. For one, the pricing – north of $650 per night at the bottom end of the scale – caught me off-guard. There’s no doubt Taronga Zoo is a beloved Sydney institution, but it’s not one that I’d ever considered to be associated with a luxury stay. I initially pegged the steep nightly rate down to the uniqueness of the offering.
My assumptions were quickly dispelled, however, when I arrived at the Wildlife Retreat for an overnight stay with my significant other. Greeted upon arrival by retracting automatic gates I like to imagine was a little nod to Jurassic Park, there was certainly a gravitas to the occasion. A friendly concierge service welcomed us in the beautifully designed N’gurra Lounge and our stay’s all-inclusive itinerary was laid out before us. The full experience soon came into view. A soothing eco-inspired atmosphere quickly set in as we allowed ourselves to sink into the gentle ambience of the animals, ushering the setting sun over the Sydney Harbour skyline for another day.
The price per room at Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Retreat is based on double occupancy and includes a guided tour of the ‘Sanctuary’, dinner for two at the sensational on-site Me-Gal restaurant, a buffet breakfast the following morning and early access to the zoo prior to gates being opened for the public. I also discovered that a portion of this cost goes towards the care efforts of Taronga’s animals and conservation programs around Australia. I’ll expand on each of these inclusions in due course, but first, let’s take a look at the rooms on offer.
The aforementioned $650 nightly rate is for luxury sleepovers in the ‘Bushland Room’, followed closely by the ‘Animal View’ and ‘Harbour View’ rooms. We were fortunate enough to enjoy one of the top-tier ‘Treetop Suites’, a light-filled, open-plan room perched among the branches of eucalyptus trees with Sydney Harbour peeking through the far side.
Huge floor-to-ceiling windows stretch across the entire suite, with a massive retracting glass door in the centre so you can enjoy the sounds of the animals in the evening and a fresh sea breeze in the morning. A plush, four-post king-sized bed sits in the middle of the room, which follows the same earthy decor as the rest of the retreat and is lit by soft ambient lighting. A freestanding bathtub (my low-key favourite feature of hotels) is placed to the side of the open-plan ensuite, and the minibar suitably stocked with all your favourite goodies essential for any relaxing night in.
Starting at $801 per night, the most expensive offering at the Wildlife Retreat Taronga is a beautifully appointed five-star space that, when you consider the value of the other inclusions, is really put into an affordable perspective.
Designed by leading Australian architects at Cox Architecture, the Wildlife Retreat Taronga features five environmentally-sensitive, sustainably-designed lodges. Draped in ivy and accompanied with the soothing sound of a cascading waterfall, the buildings naturally enclose a private sanctuary that can be experienced by retreat guests only. Koalas munch on eucalyptus leaves in the treetops while kangaroos, wallabies and echidnas roam freely down below. 45-minute guided tours of this sanctuary are one of the inclusions in the room rate and can be explored any time after check-in prior to dinner.
The N’gurra Lounge you see upon entry to the retreat is quite a relaxing space that centres around an open fire pit and offers some incredible views of the city skyline. We sat back for a few pre-dinner wines to unwind, watched the Koalas wake up as the sun set, and waited patiently to spot the resident platypus come up for air in the water feature outside.
One of the most impressive features of Taronga’s Wildlife Retreat is the fine-dining Me-Gal restaurant that slices, dices, and serves fresh local produce and native ingredients over a three-course meal. It’s hard not to let the incredible views distract you from the impressive flavour on your plate, which tastes just that little bit sweeter knowing that it’s a retreat-exclusive restaurant. You’d be silly to look past the Huon Valley salmon to start and the beef fillet to follow. If you aren’t satisfied with that alone, the decadent cheeseboard will tip you over the edge to the food coma’s point of no return. It’s worth noting that drinks aren’t included, but you’ll be having such a nice time that you’ll be in the spending mood anyway.
Me-Gal is also the location of your buffet breakfast the next morning. You can graze on free-range and sustainably sourced produce, locally inspired condiments and in-house made pastries at your leisure. I’d also recommend taking the elevator up one more floor to the event space above and checking out the sensational views from the top-floor terrace. It’s the best vantage point from the whole retreat and I only wish I’d discovered it during sunset the night before.
As well as the sanctuary experience upon arrival, guests of the Wildlife Retreat at Taronga are lucky enough to wake up with the animals during a private pre-opening tour of the zoo.
Zoo guides took us for a wander through the bird enclosure as it came alive in the crisp morning, followed by a sneak peek at the giraffes, kangaroos and the resident Tasmanian devil.
I hadn’t been to the zoo in probably a decade, but it didn’t take long to be reminded that there are over 4,000 animals of 350 species at Taronga, including a family of Asian elephants, giraffe and tiger cubs.
The Retreat will hold your luggage, provide complimentary zoo entry passes for you to explore at your leisure, and validate your overnight parking when you’re ready to depart.
The overall experience at Wildlife Retreat at Taronga is a staycation like no other, elevated by the refreshingly unique – and just recently opened – offering that makes it hard to remember you’re only 15 minutes from the CBD.
For a breakdown of the room rates and to book, visit taronga.org.au.
Feature image: Cox Architecture