Jamala Wildlife Lodge: A Room with a Zoo
By: Megan Jerrard
If you’ve ever dreamt of an intimate experience with wild animals, Australia has the lodge for you. While there are a number of zoos that offer overnight sleepovers, Jamala Wildlife Lodge takes the concept to a completely different level.
Built into Canberra’s National Zoo & Aquarium, guests wake up to lions at their bedside, and tigers besides their bath. Giraffes allow you to feed them from the balcony of your room, you can sit and watch cheetahs from your lounge, or look directly into a 5 metre deep ocean aquarium which extends across the wall of your room. You’re not dreaming if you’re watching TV and a black tipped reef shark swims past.
With 6 Giraffe Tree Houses, 7 rooms in the main lodge, and a series of luxury bungalows that are built backing onto various animal enclosures throughout the zoo, the accommodation has been built to blend into the animals habitat, putting you within centimeters of some of the most dangerous and endangered species on earth. The only thing separating your bed from the lion’s den is a pane of very strong floor to ceiling glass.
When you book a room at Jamala Wildlife Lodge you’re booking a room with a zoo. You’re entering your room to find a bear in there too!
The Jamala Experience
A stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge is an all inclusive experience, and guests are transported into the wild world of animals as soon as they arrive.
Reception is located in the main house of the lodge, and afternoon tea is served as guests start arriving around 1.30pm. Shown into the living room of the lodge where a magnificent shark tank extends from one end of the room to the other, and with Colobus monkeys watching from the other side, those who can tear themselves away from the wildlife enclosures will be equally as impressed with the authenticity of the space. Fine carvings, artworks and artifacts come together to create an authentic African theme, every piece having been shipped directly from South Africa.
For those who arrive early, there is plenty to do before other guests arrive. An outdoor entertaining area is only meters from the edge of Lake Burley Griffin and offers magnificent views across the lake to Black Mountain. It is here too that you can enjoy watching the lemurs and Colobus monkeys jump around.
As you await the arrival of all other guests, guides take time introducing you to various zoo critters and allow up close and personal encounters with them before you then depart on a two hour group tour of the zoo.
The afternoon safari which departs at 2.20pm is optional, and the passion from the tour guides shines through. With the tour of the aquarium and zoo, you learn some amazing facts about different species from around the world before you are delivered back to your room around 4pm.
Tip: For those who aren’t fond of tours with a group, you can choose to arrive a little later and explore the zoo at your own pace until your guide escorts you to your rooms.
A fairly standard zoo tour, the real adventure and excitement kicked in after the zoo closed it’s doors and it was time for the public to leave. Listening to the zoo come alive as the general public was forced to depart was incredible, and one is left with exclusive after hours access to each of the enclosures, to wander the zoo as they please. You will find yourself almost completely alone inside the zoo. That is, bar a bear or two!!
The following morning you also have the run of the zoo, and the animals are much more active at this time, as they tend to sleep during the hottest part of the day.
There is a morning group tour after breakfast (also optional) which includes an exclusive behind the scenes visit to the enclosure of white rhinos – a section which is not yet publicly accessible as part of the zoo. You will be fortunate enough to get up close and personal with these magnificent animals as you will be allowed to pet them. You will learn about the importance of Rhino conservation and the fight against illegal trafficking.
The accommodation options at Jamala are obviously unique. This is a once in a lifetime accommodation experience which makes guests feel like they are immersed in nature, and to allows for an intimate interaction with the animals.
In fact, getting as close to the animals as possible, this is probably the best interaction you’ll get anywhere else in the world. Guests have been known to lie on the floor to be face to face to lions and tigers and bears; a fully immersive experience which has been designed to establish a connection that makes people want to do something for the animals once they get home.
There are three choices of accommodation when booking to stay at Jamala – 7 rooms in the Ushaka Lodge, 6 Giraffe Tree Houses, and 5 Jungle Bungalows, each option with their own unique wildlife experience.
The Giraffe Treehouses are set amongst lush surroundings overlooking a private Giraffe enclosure, and with this option you will have the opportunity to feed the resident Giraffe, Hummer, from your balcony. Modern luxury amenities came together with traditional African themed design, and the room features a king bed, bath tub, shower with stunning Giraffe mosaic on the tiled wall, bath robes, optional climate control, fold out sofa bed, complimentary wireless internet, music system with MP3 input, television with complimentary Foxtel and premium amenities like products by Molten Brown. Jamala Wildlife Lodge review
The furnishings and artwork are incredible, with everything once again having been flown from South Africa for authenticity of the interior design. The accommodation is at the high end of luxury and comfort.
Rooms in uShaka Lodge form part of the main building which backs onto the aquarium, and offers guests the choice of varying room sizes and designs. The reef room has a large viewing window which looks straight into the aquarium, and the Lemur room looks directly into the lemur enclosure where you can watch this fascinating troop play!
There are then room options which back into a terrace and tropical garden instead of an animal enclosure, though these guests are then taken into the zoo in the morning for a private meeting with the cheetahs or hyenas.
The Jungle Bungalows are the unique luxurious individual suites which adjoin the animal enclosures and put you within centimeters of a pride of lions, cheetahs, tiger, brown bears or a Malayan sun bear! The lodge notes that guests in these rooms may experience some disruption during the night as the animals move around their enclosures, or if the lions decide to start roaring loudly at 2am which they have been known to do.
Though lying in bed listening to a lion roar is one of the most unique and thrilling experiences that not even those who travel to Africa are guaranteed.
The most important aspect of this experience is that the animals are never made to do anything that they don’t want to do. The main mission of the zoo is conservation, and owner Richard Tindale and his wife Maureen continue to rescue animals from circuses, poachers and the vicious wildlife trade. The biggest focus is on respecting the animals, and the addition of Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a major step to bolster the breeding and conservation programs that are run by the zoo.
Dining at Jamala is a community event, guests joining each other at long tables in a communal eating area just like a traditional African lodge. And while the three course meal with the chef’s selection of local and African inspired dishes is superb, the real highlight of the dinner are the white lions Jake and Mishka who are free to roam – the dinner enclosure is just one of their dens, though each night they generally chose to walk in and watch on as guests eat.
With dinner and drinks as part of an all inclusive package, Moet & Chandon flows freely as you watch hyenas and snow leopards enjoy their own food. Lisa was the dinner attendant who made sure my glass was never empty!
The evening starts with pre-dinner drinks on the outdoor terrace, and then dinner is a two hour experience of mouthwatering treats and delicious African themed food.
What You Pay For
An experience at Jamala is an expensive one, though well worth the splurge if this intimate wildlife setting sounds like an experience for you. Packages start from $899 per night and the rate includes your overnight accommodation, all food and dinner beverages, as well as exclusive tours. No other lodge in the world offers the same kind of immersive experience; the opportunity to have lunch with a giraffe, to pet a white rhino, or to sleep next to the lion enclosure while they roar in their den.
The itinerary for each stay is highly social. Based off the format of a traditional African game lodge, this is an experience where decent amounts of time are spent in a group with other guests. Dinner and breakfast foster a community atmosphere, served at one set time and eaten with other guests, and tours of the zoo are completed in two groups. Though you do have some time of your own to explore as well.
The passion of the staff truly shines through, and the service here is first class. Staff during our stay were friendly, enthusiastic and flexible, always willing to go out of their way to ensure a wonderful time. Your bags are left at reception upon arrival and are already in your rooms upon returning from your zoo tour. Should you wish to have your bags collected upon departure so that you don’t have to walk with them through the zoo, the staff will do this too. They are all incredibly knowledgeable, always wear a smile, and are genuinely pleased to be attending to you.
The zoo itself was never set up to be a profit making enterprise and only receives outside funding from the private owners. As such, funds from Jamala Lodge are funnelled straight back into the breeding programs run by the zoo. The aim is that Jamala will contribute funds that will allow the zoo to continue to grow its contribution to helping protect the future of the animal kingdom.
So if looking for an immersive wildlife experience, a luxury take on a zoo sleepover, and a way to financially contribute to breeding and animal conservation, Jamala Wildlife Lodge is for you. It’s a little slice of Africa in Canberra, Australia. When you book here you’re booking a room with a zoo!