A night at the zoo takes on a whole new meaning for guests at the CHADA designed Wildlife Retreat, nestled discretely inside the iconic Taronga Zoo, in an affluent suburb of Sydney.

Imagine waking to a spectacular view of Sydney harbour, the sun sparkling on the water and bouncing off the white sails of the Sydney Opera House and, no more than a meter from your window, is a koala harvesting his breakfast gum leaves while watching you with one curious eye.

This is the experience created by renowned interior architecture studio, CHADA. In a world first, the eco-retreat offers guests an immersive zoo experience and stylish resort stay.

The 64-guestroom retreat is an extension of the park’s highly successful safari-style experience, called Roar and Snore, and provides guests with a luxurious alternative to sleeping in a tent.

The Wildlife Retreat at Taronga is testimony to the fact that Conscious Design – or design with a conscience – doesn’t necessarily mean basic, pared back, unembellished, and adverse to luxury.

But it does mean making a commitment to sustainability from the outset which very often comes at a financial cost. This retreat is a good example of such singular vision and commitment.

The client’s brief to CHADA and the project architects, Cox, was to embrace the zoo’s ethos of celebrating and conserving Australian native fauna as well as achieving a five-star green rating and a carbon neutral precinct.

The CHADA team planned the internal spaces to take advantage of the stunning local natural light and views but also to control heat from the sun. The team researched and specified sustainable base materials such as non-toxic paints and textiles.

“Sustainability is partly about redefining what luxury is,” explains CHADA Creative Director and Partner, Juliet Ashworth.

“Experience is the new luxury, ephemeral but lasting in our memory. Our job is to design the spaces where those memories are formed. So, our skill is to create spaces which are authentic, individual, which engage people emotionally and promote well-being. This way, as designers, we can create a desire for a more sustainable way of living. It’s also of enormous value to the hospitality brand, not to mention the essential benefits to the planet,” Juliet says.

The result is a unique hotel experience with a true sense of place – reflecting the landscape, flora and fauna and the Taronga Zoo’s national park environment, as well as representing the original owners of the land, the Aboriginal Cammeraigal people.

The first thing that greets you when you enter the resort lobby, known as the Nest, is a spacious and inviting gathering spot– a circular meeting place around a ‘campfire’, under a flock of porcelain birds. This emulates the Aboriginal ‘talking circles’ where tribe elders would traditionally gather in circles for community get togethers. From here you can gaze out over arguably one of the best aspects of Sydney Harbour with an elevated position and gun barrel views to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Nothing can compete with the extraordinary natural environment shown-off from every aspect in the 180-degree views, so the interiors are cleverly designed to match and compliment it in every way. The punchy hand-made rugs reflect the rich colours of Taronga’s landscape, while the Nest Bar and reception desk are clad in green leaf mosaic tiles, a biophilic reference that appears throughout the retreat. Playful floor lamps are designed as stylised crane birds with nests for shades and birds’ feet at their base. Much of the custom furniture has curvy lines to give a soft organic feel to the space and motifs from nature are everywhere but subtly applied.

The Nest reception desk is built on a part of the heritage infrastructure of the zoo and old fountain – once a well -known meeting place – now preserved and repurposed as a sturdy plinth capped with a contemporary, functioning hotel reception desk.

At the retreat meals are also enjoyed looking over the million-dollar view.  In Me-Gal restaurant guests enjoy a fine dining experience while immersed in the natural theme with a delightful ceiling feature of timber leaves and suspended acorn lights. A crafted metal screen which reflects the contours of the land and sea divides a private dining space with panoramic views through floor to ceiling glazing and decorative fabrics feature native birds and flowers. Over the giant, sculpted, pebble-shaped buffet counter is an over-sized hand-made twig light made from hundreds of eucalyptus branches collected from the site. Layers of branches have been carefully arranged to create a unique sculptural piece interwoven with LED lights to give a gentle, ambient lighting in a stunning giant artisanal nest!

Along the retreat’s open corridors vines have grown to create a green canopy, all but disguising the structure of the building and blending it into the site. At night camping lanterns wash the open-air with a glowing light and inside the cosy rooms CHADA’s use of limed ash creates a restful, treehouse atmosphere. Here the beautiful resort detailing includes leather drawer pulls and bronze tapware.

Moveable shutters divide the bathroom and bedroom enabling guests to soak-up the views while brushing their teeth. The king-sized bed is oriented towards the floor-to-ceiling windows so guests wake to a wide view of the animal enclosures and harbour backdrop.

Each room features imagery of an Australian native animal as a custom printed wallcovering, beds are topped with native flower throw cushions and a quirky occasional table with legs crafted from rustic tree stumps. There’s also a charming pendant light with a little Honey Eater, an endangered bird significant to the conservation programme at Taronga.

The CHADA team brought together a mix of raw and tailored materials so there’s a five-star level of luxury and functionality but with numerous custom-crafted and artisan features honouring Taronga and directly communing with the very special environment.

Project: Wildlife Retreat at Taronga
Location: Sydney, Australia
Design Studio: CHADA
Photo Credits:
– Dave Katague, Dan Gosse
– Signage images courtesy of Corlette Design
– Lighting images courtesy of FPOV
Website: chada.com.au