When we live somewhere for too long, we grow dull. We stop noticing our surroundings with that childlike awe we reserve for exotic, foreign cities. Having lived within walking distance of Balmoral Beach, Taronga Zoo and some of Sydney’s most stunning coastal walks for most of my life, I should know. No matter how vibrantly the sun splashes across the water, I’m constantly overlooking it while I dream of some place more far- flung, more interesting, more colourful.
So when the opportunity to experience Zoo2Q, a new two-day journey incorporating Taronga Zoo’s Roar and Snore, a 15-kilometre coastal walk passing through Bradleys Head, Balmoral and Clontarf and a stay at Q Station came about, I took the opportunity to see my chunk of Sydney through the eyes of a tourist as a challenge. Could I become excited about my own backyard again? I was ready to find out.
The sun-bathed afternoon ferry ride from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo is a promising start. Sunbeams kapow off the water, casting a golden glow over those old show-offs the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. By the time our small group steps into the cable car that whisks us up to the top of the zoo, we’re giggling like school kids.
We’re welcomed with a didgeridoo song played by Leon, an Aboriginal zookeeper from Cairns, to “let the spirits of this Cammeraygal land know we’re here’’. As the shadows lengthen, we’re introduced to koalas, echidnas, wallabies and kangaroos, and to bush tucker including the sour, hot pink berries of the lilly pilly plant (“good for hangovers”, says Leon). “I hope you’re hungry,” says Leon with a grin as he opens a box of squirming mealworms. We’re meant to feed them to the birds in the rainforest habitat, but Leon and a few brave souls pop them into their mouths. Apparently they taste like carrots.
Some antipasti and a glass of wine in the main tent of the Roar and Snore glamping area is much more my jam. The keepers walk around with carpet snakes, blue tongue lizards and bearded dragons draped over their arms for us to meet as we sip and sup.
After a buffet dinner in the zoo’s dining hall we’re off again, this time on night safari. There’s an illicit thrill involved in traipsing about with the city lights twinkling in the distance, and a member of our group comments that it feels as though we’ve broken in for the night. This is enhanced by the eerie red glow of the keeper’s torches, which illuminate sun bears saved from becoming bear paw soup, Sumatran tigers, African lions, tiny fennec foxes and their kits, zebras, the critically endangered Bongo. I fall asleep, exhausted but inspired, in my cozy, timber-floored tent an hour later.
Elephant trumpeting and bird calling heralds sunrise the following morning. Zipping open my tent, I catch my breath as I’m greeted by views of the harbour bathed in hazy pink morning light. Luckily it doesn’t take me long to recover, because almost immediately we’re off to feed the giraffes before embarking on our harbour walk.
As we weave through eucalypt- covered bush paths, past hidden coves and beaches scattered along Headland Park in the chilly morning mist, our guide Ian from Sydney Coast Walks fills us in on the history of Sydney Harbour. “This harbour’s 10,000 years old; it actually used to be a gorge that flooded when the ice caps melted,” he says.
We learn that if you hug a Sydney red gum on a hot day it will cool you down, and that Headland Park was formerly occupied by six defence bases. These historical lessons are peppered throughout the walk, which takes us past Chowder Bay where we stop for coffee, to our lunch and swim stop at Balmoral Beach.
A postprandial stroll then takes us through Chinamans Beach and over the Spit Bridge, past more idyllic bays and coves and into sub- tropical sections of bush near Clontarf. We spot the zoo in the distance and can hardly believe how far our legs have carried us. Arriving at Reef Beach, our final destination, we’re elated by our efforts. A Sydney Harbour EcoHopper boat draws up to the shore to collect us and we shoot off into the harbour, wondering how this day could possibly get any better. Until we see a whale. Breaching and spurting, just a hundred metres away.
The whale is almost as welcome a sight as the man waiting for us on the beach at Q Station, Sydney’s former quarantine station, with a tray of champagne. As we watch the sky turn blood orange, a pair of paddleboarders pass by in the distance as the headland’s resident fairy penguins screech away happily. The evening whizzes by in a contented blur that includes a three-course meal at the Boilerhouse restaurant and a poke about the supposedly haunted hospital on the hill.
Luckily, we don’t leave with a supernatural experience. What we do leave with, however, is another gorgeous sunrise, a deeper connection to the natural beauty that surrounds us every day, and a renewed appreciation for a clutch of Sydney gems we had either completely forgotten about, or never knew existed in the first place.
Zoo2Q departs from Circular Quay, with transfers to Taronga Zoo included.STAYING THERE
The two-night Zoo2Q experience, including Taronga Zoo’s Roar and Snore experience, guided coastal walk, whale watching boat ride, all meals and overnight stay at Q Station, starts from $1200 a person, twin share. Singles from $1350.