Sleep with the animals: Jamala Wildlife Lodge
M has kind of love-hate relationship with surprises: the idea of not knowing what’s about to happen is rather exciting, but at the same time, not being prepared or in control is infuriating. So, organising a surprise-destination long weekend has become a sort of tradition at Plate+Plane – and G loves nothing more than to organise things.
One of our surprise weekends was to celebrate our two year anniversary, where we ended up in Canberra. G kept every activity a secret, not letting up his plans until we arrived at each destination. Were we going camping? Hot air ballooning? Were there vineyards in Canberra?
But as soon as we pulled up at the Jurassic Park-esque front gates of Jamala Wildlife Lodge, it clicked – WE WERE GOING TO BE SLEEPING WITH ANIMALS!
Suffice to say: Best. Anniversary present. Ever.
National Zoo And Aquarium and Jamala Wildlife Lodge
Let’s give you a bit of history for context: back in 1998, Richard and Maureen Tindale purchased what was then a small zoo and aquarium. Their ultimate dream was to build a major facility that would house animals as comfortably as possible. Many of the enclosure sizes at the National Zoo are far larger than what you’d find at many other urban zoos, and the owners pride themselves at achieving best practices when it comes to husbandry and animal welfare. Animals that were rescued from circuses or private collections now had somebody providing them with a comfortable place to spend their retirement years – and the addition of Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a major step to help bolster the programs that are run by the zoo, such as education, wildlife rejuvenation and breeding programs for endangered animals.
The Lodge itself comprises of three five star accommodation hubs: uShaka Lodge – originally the founder’s family home – Giraffe Treehouses and Jungle Bungalows. The safari-inspired luxury suites are nestled within the National Zoo itself, allowing guests to have up close and personal encounters with truly magnificent – and dangerous – wild animals, from lions, to bears, and giraffes.
Central to Jamala is a gorgeous African-inspired home, uShaka Lodge, overlooking the Canberra hinterlands and lions den. The vast living quarters opens to a sunny deck and pool, and to one side are a few playpens with some rehabilitating animals taking a break from the full zoo. While we were there, a lemur and a pair of Tamarin monkeys were keeping us company. Inside, you can see directly into the large aquarium tank, where a huge groper and tawny shark can be seen lazily swimming by, amongst other smaller sharks, fish and coral.
The rooms themselves are sumptuously spacious – we stayed in one of the Wild Encounter rooms, which featured a king-sized poster bed and spa bath, as well as a small deck for relaxing during free time. Children 6 years or older can be accommodated in most rooms – or the larger uShaka room – and there are dedicated nights for those with 4 and 5 year old children who are zoologically inclined.
There’s a few options when booking programs at Jamala; you can stay anywhere from overnight to three nights. When you book your stay at Jamala, you’re not just booking accommodation – you’re booking a full-blown safari, complete with exclusive tours of the zoo, afternoon tea, breakfast, gorgeous dinners in the Jamala Cave with your fellow guests and the option for an extra encounter with the animal of your choice.
When we arrived at uShaka Lodge, we were greeted with afternoon tea and taken through the our itinerary as we waited for our fellow guests to arrive. We also got to meet some of the zoo’s residents: two beautiful carpet pythons, who were quite happy to be handled and photographed.
Both the afternoon safari tour and morning safari tour sees you and your fellow guests privately escorted through the zoo with zookeepers. As you’re guided through the exhibits – from the cute and cheeky capuchin monkeys, to the proud white lions, to the gorgeous sun bears – they’ll give you detailed background on each animal and their quirks. You can clearly see the great relationship the staff have developed with each and every one of the animals, such as the second oldest wombat in Australia (a grumpy old thing), to the cheeky little Tamarin monkey who likes to fling poo at a certain zookeeper she doesn’t like.
There are plenty of opportunities to interact with animals and view their feeding times; we got to see the meerkats, Tasmanian tigers, lemurs and otters enjoy a few meals. During the morning tour, we were guided through the yet-to-be-completed new extension, which is off-limits to the public. The extension includes a number of new exhibits with fascinating animals such as African Painted Dogs and Dingos. After much coaxing from the keepers, we also had the chance to meet the rhino brothers – and by meet, we mean stroke. We highly recommend it, as it gives you a true insight into not only their size, but also their gentle nature. Try and get a hand in-between their armour folds, as it’s surprisingly smooth (and apparently they find it really enjoyable!), but do follow all instructions lest you lose a limb!
You’ll also get a chance to book a wild encounter – a ten minute chance to get up close and personal with a lion, tiger, bear, red panda, otters, owls, meerkats, tree kangaroos, sharks or sunbears. We got to meet one of the cheetahs, who happily gnawed on a bone and licked up some egg yolk as we got to stroke her luxurious fur and ask the experts about her.
P.S. cheetahs totally meow. Soft, hilariously cute meows.
Your fee includes ticket entry to the zoo, so any exhibits you miss during the tours, you’ll be able to see during your own free time.
Depending on how long you stay, every meal is provided for with your package – from an ample afternoon tea on arrival, to hors d’oeuvres and pre-dinner drinks on the terrace, overlooking the lions’ prides, to a gourmet African-themed dinner party in the Rainforest Cave. The dinner party will also give you a chance to meet with and mingle with your fellow guests – and if you’re lucky, a pair of white lions, a snow leopard, or the hyena brothers may care to grace your presence by settling in their dens for the night, which adjoin the Cave.
Our meals were beautifully presented and cooked, though the menu changes regularly depending on the season. They’re paired well with a wide selection of wines, and dietary requirements are also taken into consideration.
You’ll also get to start your day off right with an ample breakfast, with the option to choose from the buffet, or to have fresh eggs cooked your way by the chef. Again, the lions and hyenas may or may not be snoozing next to you – depends on how cold the night was!
Our time at Jamala was an unforgettable experience, and one we’d highly recommend. From its five star resort facilities, to its world-class zoo and exhibits, Jamala Wildlife Lodge is definitely a must for those who love animals and want to experience something truly unique.
For more information and bookings, check out Jamala’s site here.
Want to spend some more time in Canberra and see what there is to do? We’ve rounded up some of our favourite activities – and if you want to stay a few nights, we’ve even reviewed the QT Canberra for your convenience!