By ROGER ALLNUTT
It was getting dark as the small group (about 30 people) gathered inside the entrance of Taronga Zoo for our overnight Roar and Snore experience among the animals. As if on cue there was a deep grunt from a seal in the distance, birds rustled in the trees and I am sure I also heard a lion roar.
Taronga Zoo runs the overnight experience most nights of the year and it is very popular and often booked out well ahead. Our night, a Wednesday, was an adults only night which is good if you want to a calmer experience.
Once we had all gathered together (some had come by ferry and others by car), our main guide Ady explained the procedure for the night and led us along dark paths to our ‘tented’ safari-style accommodation set on a hillside with stunning views across Sydney harbour to the bridge. The tents are basic but comfortable although toilets and showers are in a separate block.
First stop was nibbles (lovely cheese and biscuits and other snacks) with plenty of drinks on offer. I really liked the excellent red and there were other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available. While we all got to know each other the four guides (Chad, Ryan and Leon plus Ady) introduced us to some scaly friends including snakes, lizards and a special stick insect. Even people with a phobia of snakes took the opportunity to feel their skin.
It was interesting to find that four women were there with their partners celebrating a birthday on that day and others had been given the experience as a Christmas or birthday present.
A relaxing buffet dinner followed after which the group set off for a night walk around the zoo. Tigers, lions, Barbary sheep elegantly clambering over steep rocks, a Himalayan Tahr and I was particularly taken with the meerkats (having watched the show Meerkat Manor on TV) scampering about and posing always alert to danger.
After a quick coffee and dessert everyone repaired to their tents to lie back and hear the night noises before sleeping.
The morning arrived quickly and after breakfast it was time for the behind the scenes tour to get up close and friendly with the animals before the crowds arrived for the day. There was a chance to feed giraffes, touch an echidna, have your photo taken with a koala and watch many different animals in their enclosures.
I was taken with the sluggish Komodo dragon, a beautifully sleek and graceful snow leopard and again the tigers which reminded me of my Burmese cat at home. The huge male gorilla looked disdainfully at us through the window of his enclosure while chomping contentedly on leaves. The zebras with their distinctive striped coats (all different like fingerprints) are a perennial favourite.
The Roar and Snore program also allows you to stay on at the zoo for as much of the day as you wish. Not to be missed is the seal show, the colourful and excitable monkeys, the imposing elephants, the large gorillas not to mention the glorious views of the harbour.
Definitely a one-off experience not to be missed.
For more information and prices check the website www.taronga.org.au