Monarto Zoo: An African safari in Australia

I’m not a massive fan of zoos. Sure, we’ve been to some good ones, like the zoo in Cuenca, Ecuador, but there’s something about seeing animals trapped behind a fence that makes me feel mildly depressed.

But when I read that Monarto Zoo, outside of Adelaide, is one of the largest open-range zoo parks in the world, it made me think that it was a zoo with a difference. And it didn’t disappoint!

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My cheeky meercat, aka Ruby with her grandad

Monarto Zoo is a safari park

Unlike any animal park I’ve been to before, you catch a bus around the zoo and drive straight through where the animals are living. It’s like being on safari… except you’re in Australia.

The animals are mostly from Africa yet rather than travelling through savannah plains you’re driving through the Aussie bush, which can seem a little odd at times. When on the bus, the volunteer guides explain interesting facts about the animals as you view them.

The other main point of difference is that Monarto Zoo is a not-for-profit organisation, so all the money they make is going back into conservation.

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A real life meercat

A breeding and conservation hotspot

Monarto Zoo has some of the most successful breeding programs in the world, with animals like cheetahs and giraffes. In fact, they were breeding giraffes so quickly they had to separate the males from the females so the ladies could get a break from so often being pregnant.

We certainly didn’t pity these animals; they were living the life, free to roam over 1,500 hectares of land. Monarto Zoo is so big you could fit all the zoos in Australia within the same area and still have space!

Originally the land, roughly an hour’s drive from Adelaide, was going to be transformed into a satellite city, but the government changed hands and the new leadership decided it’d be better used for conservation purposes.

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Giraffe crossing

Ruby loved exploring the zoo and seeing the animals being fed. You can visit different exhibitions at different times of day to see the zookeepers interact with them.

Feeding time at Monarto Zoo

The feeding of the giraffes was a highlight, with their big tongues wrapping around tasty carrots. A keeper told me a few years back a mother giraffe gave birth right in front of everyone standing on the viewing platform, which would’ve been a sight to see!

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Kinky the giraffe enjoys her carrot

The cheetahs were a special part of the day. It was fascinating to get up so close to the beautiful animals and see the mother with her cubs.

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The cheetahs were beautiful

Lions up close

There’s also a huge pride of lions and we saw them while they were being fed through the lion 360 dome. This is where visitors can pay extra for an up close encounter with the lions by entering a giant cage and feeding them through the wire. It’s like shark cage diving… but with lions.

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The Lion 360 experience

It was eye opening to see it from the lion’s side of the cage – it looked like the humans were on the lunch menu.

Lion 360 Monarto Zoo Double-Barrelled Travel

The rhinos were also a favourite with Ruby – especially the baby rhino who was only born a few months ago. Birth weight? A healthy 50kg.

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Monarto Zoo is a must visit

But the best part of the day came at the end, when we went to see the chimps. A mama was cradling her baby at the other side of her living space, but when she saw Ruby looking at them, she came over to us and showed Ruby her baby. It was adorable and Ruby was jumping out of her skin.

So, if you’re heading to Adelaide, put Monarto Zoo on your list! We’re are going to check out Adelaide Zoo next, which is run by the same organisation, so stay tuned for that encounter…

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The zookeeper with the giraffes

What you need to know for a visit to Monarto Zoo:

Cost: Adults are $37 and children over 4 are $20.

When to go: Monarto Zoo is open every day from 9:30am – 5pm, with last entry at 3pm. We spent more than five hours here so it’s worth putting aside a whole day!

How to get there: The Zoo is 70km from Adelaide.

Amenities: There is plenty of parking on site. There’s a well-equipped café and a large playground for the kids. We packed a lunch but there aren’t any BBQs. No smoking is allowed anywhere in the grounds.

What’s the best zoo you’ve been to? Let us know in the comments!



About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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