travel

Fall asleep next to wild animals at this exotic Aussie zoo lodge

By Sangeeta Kocharekar July 17, 2017
Jamala Lodge

Lions, tigers, and bears – oh, my!

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m addicted to zoo lodge stays. There's something about waking up in close proximity to animals you usually only see once or twice a year. After stays at Taronga's Roar & Snore and Taronga Western Plains' Zoofari, I'd thought I'd seen and experienced it all. But my night at Jamala Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, which opened two years ago, proved me wrong.

Every aspect of the stay was surreal from my room positioned against an aquarium with a large, very Instagrammable blue fish and overlooking a pair of hyenas to the extravagant three-course dinner served next to the lions' glass display. 

The experience kicked off straight after the afternoon check-in with an introduction to the stay and platters of sandwiches and sweet treats, served in the uShaka Lodge lounge room.

JAMALA LODGE

Then, before I even had the chance to properly drool over my room – the only aquarium one, but I'll get to that later – we were off on the first of the two included zoo tours. Walking through a zoo is always a good time, no matter how old you are, but hearing the passionate keeper explain the history behind how each animal arrived at the facility made it all the more special.  

After the tour, we were given a couple hours off, which I wisely used to photograph every corner of my room, the 'Reef Room', while dressed in a fluffy, white bathrobe. You know, as you do when you've just checked into a fancy hotel room and are keen to up your Instagram game. 

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Nothing like a floor-to-ceiling fish tank wall and four-poster canopy bed to create some 'gram wanderlust.

While I certainly thought my room was the best of the bunch, I would soon find out that some of the other rooms were even better – positioned next to tigers, bears, cheetahs, lemurs, and giraffe exhibits for some up-and-close-and-personal experiences. Those in the giraffe rooms even had the opportunity to feed and pet them! 

JAMALA LODGE

JAMALA LODGE

Before long, it was time to get ready for pre-dinner drinks on the terrace. Sadly, I ditched the robe, opting for something a little warmer – did I mention it was one of the coldest weekends Canberra had seen in years? – and headed down. Despite the chill, the champagne, blankets and heat lamps made the outside area cosy and we were treated to another pinch-me moment when the rare white lions, a brother and a sister, we'd seen earlier in the day walked up from their exhibition to a cage metres away from our noses. 

The lions remained near us throughout the night, walking into their heated glass display after their feed to lie near us as we tucked into our delicious dinners inside the 'cave' dining room. The room had a dinner party vibe about it as we all got to know each other at the table. The next couple hours sped by, and before I knew it, it was late and I realised breakfast and the morning tour were only a short while away.

JAMALA LODGE

Like the night before, breakfast was beautifully-presented – part buffet, part a la carte. The second and final tour was a frozen affair (see above coldest winter weekend in years mention). We toured the newest section of the zoo, not yet open to the public, and were given the chance to pet white rhinos. 

Check-out was soon after, and by then, I was exhausted. General zoo entry that day was included, but I opted for a bike ride around Canberra's CBD, a 10-minute drive away. Needless to say, the weekend was adventure-packed and one I won't soon forget.