I am a bit wary about zoos. In recent years we have become more informed about the way zoos and other animal attractions treat their animals. It’s no longer okay to ride elephants, and circus animals are no longer made to do unnatural tricks. Zoos with animals confined in small, dirty cages are no longer entertaining or fun. In fact they are downright repulsive. The good news is, you will not find anything like that here at Monarto Safari Park.
Monarto Zoo was first started in 1983 when the South Australian government designated 1000 hectares of land as a breeding and conservation area for Zoos SA. In 1993, Monarto was finally opened up to the public as an open range zoo. Soon many animals were moved here from the Adelaide Zoo to allow larger enclosures to be built there for the remaining animals. Other animals were brought in from all over the world to establish breeding programs for many endangered species.
Today Monarto Zoo is over 1500 hectares, and has acquired even more land for future development. All of the area is open range, meaning the animals roam in huge enclosures not cages like you would see in a traditional zoo. It’s not only being used for breeding and conservation of exotic animals though, there are many areas where Australian native animals live in the wild too, and you are just as likely to see wild kangaroos and emus wandering around as giraffes and lions. There are also pockets of rare native flora that are being revegetated, and some areas are virgin scrub that are now protected from future development.
Edit: Right after I published this post Monarto Zoo changed its name to Monarto Safari Park and announced some huge developments that will be done over the next few years, turning this into the largest safari park outside of Africa. You can read more about it here. Please read the names Monarto Zoo/Monarto Safari Park interchangeably throughout this post.
Where is Monarto Safari Park?
Monarto Safari Park is located about 65km east of the centre of Adelaide. If you are driving, it’s an easy drive along the South Eastern Freeway, taking about 45 minutes.
There is also a limited bus to Monarto Zoo from Adelaide run by. During the week it goes directly there, on the weekends a connection is needed in the town of Mount Barker. The bus leaves from Currie Street in the centre of Adelaide, with services in the morning to Monarto then returning later in the afternoon. To see the times, go to the LinkSA website here.
The LinkSA bus prices (as of July 2019) for Adelaide to Monarto direct – $22.80 (adult) or $11.40 (concession) each way.
The weekend service requires an AdelaideMetro bus to Mt Barker which has varying prices, at most it will be $5.60 each way (see all fare details here). The LinkSA bus from Mount Barker to Monarto Zoo will be $14.10 (adult) or $7.30 (concession) each way.
If you are visiting Adelaide with family members, it might be worth considering hiring a car to drive to Monarto. I use and recommend Rentalcars.com to compare and find the cheapest car rental options.
Monarto Zoo Prices & Tickets
For general entry to Monarto Zoo tickets can be bought online or at the gate for $37 for adult tickets, and $20 for children’s tickets. Concession tickets are also available for $26.50, but you will need to ensure you have photo ID with you.
Visiting Monarto Safari Park
When you first arrive at Monarto Zoo you will drive along a long driveway until you arrive at the visitors centre. Along the way keep an eye out for kangaroos, emus and other native animals that live in this area. Maybe you will have a rare siting of a wombat or an echidna.
Once you arrive at the visitors centre, grab a map and information about when the keeper talks are throughout the day so you can start to plan your time. (if you like to plan even further ahead, the keeper times are available of on the website here)
To see most of the animals you will need to jump on the Zu-loop bus. It stops directly in front of the visitors centre (look out for the signs) and leaves about every 15-20 minutes. Either do a full loop on the bus and learn about all the animals and conservation projects, or get off at the various stops to see the keeper talks. The volunteer guides on the buses will remind you what keeper talks are coming up and where to get off the bus. And don’t worry, they will not let you off in the lion enclosure!
If you prefer, there are also a lot of safe hiking trails available as part of Monarto Zoo. In fact there are over 10km or walking tracks that are open to the public during there visits. Some will take you to the various locations for the keeper talks, others will take you through bushland.
There are some animals that are close to the visitors centre and that you will need to walk to see. The meerkats are only metres away, and are always a favourite of both kids and adults alike. There are a few different enclosures, and you may need to search through them to find the meerkats, because, like in the wild, there are tunnels joining them underground where the meerkats can live and breed, and the enclosures only contain the above ground portion of their habitat.
There are also a pair of african crested porcupines that live close to the visitors centre, but they have always been elusive during my visits. I am assured by other people they do exist though!
The yellow-footed rock wallabies are a little further along the path that eventually leads to the Chimpanzee enclosure. This enclosure is the largest of it’s kind in the southern hemisphere and is home to ten adult chimpanzees, and when I was there earlier this year, a new little baby girl too.
There are about five hundred Monarto Zoo animals, so I won’t go through and list them all, but you can see giraffes, lions, two different types of rhino, cheetah, bison, ostriches, zebra and many more here, all living out on the open plains. Many of them are endangered, some even extinct in the wild, and the breeding programs are playing a vital role in preserving the species.
After you have finished visiting the animals, make sure you have a browse through the gift shop or grab a snack, drink or meal at the cafe. While there are plenty of areas to bring and eat a picnic, all proceeds from the cafe go towards animal conservation, so it’s go to support the cause even more if you can.
Monarto Zoo Experiences
As well as a general visit there are a number of Monarto Zoo Experiences that are particularly special. Here you can get up close and personal with some of the animals and learn more about them and their plight for survival.
Monarto Zoo Lions 360 Experience
This is the one I am most excited about, although I have not had a chance to do it myself yet. Last year a new cage was build in the lion enclosure. The cage is not for the lions though, it is for visitors. People walk through a tunnel into the lion enclosure and emerge into a mesh cage, which is all that is between you and the lions. If they so wish they can come over and climb all over it. There is also an old vehicle backed into the cage which again visitors can climb into. Sit in the drivers seat and watch out the front window as one of the lions comes over to investigate what the movement is inside. I don’t think you could get any more up close to these amazing creatures unless you took the cage away!
Monarto Zoo Giraffe Safari
With this experience visitors can get up close to the giraffes and learn all about them. There is a huge herd at Monarto, the largest in Australia, with only a few of them in the enclosure the bus drives through at any one time. There is almost always a baby or two to see, and I know that since my last visit in April at least two more babies have arrived. During the giraffe safari visitors also get to hand feed some of the giraffes.
Monarto Zoo Rhino Interactive Experience
Monarto Zoo has both the Southern White Rhino and the Black rhino living here. The latter is critically endangered so the program here is particularly important. There are big plans to bring more rhinos to Monarto in the near future, but in the meantime you can spend some time hanging out with the keeper and those that are already here, including a southern white rhino baby. Visitors get to assist with the daily health checks, and since this is an afternoon experience, you get to help put them to bed too.
Monarto Zoo Lions at Bedtime Experience
This late afternoon experience has the visitors helping the keepers call the largest lion pride in Australia into their night quarters. You get to help to feed them, before also having a chance to get close to some of the other carnivores at Monarto, the hyenas.
Looking for more things to do in South Australia? Check out these posts
Things to do in Adelaide
Things to do in the Barossa Valley that aren’t Wine Tasting
South Australia Holiday Destinations
Want even more? – I have created a Facebook Group to answer any questions you may have about travel in South Australia. We can help with any queries you have, make further suggestions and provide the latest information. Click here to join now.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.