travel

This Aussie hotel has giraffes legit roaming out front

By Sangeeta Kocharekar February 12, 2017
ZOOFARI LODGE

It's the closest you'll get to an African safari experience Down Under.

To be honest, I'd thought the promotional photo used for Taronga Zoo Western Plains Zoofari Lodge in Dubbo, NSW was a Photoshop job. The photo shows two guests on a glamping tent's verandah watching three giraffes and two zebras meandering out front. Surely, the animals aren't actually out front of the tent – the image is only to illustrate the overnight experience as a whole, I thought.

ZOOFARI LODGE

I was wrong. It was only minutes into the drive down the dirt road from the highway to the Zoofari area of Western Plains Zoo that I realised. The photo, while I later discovered wasn't entirely accurate, was at least partially. Unlike at its sister version at Taronga Zoo, Roar and Snore, wildlife at Zoofari is visible from your tent. While the animals are typically rotated in and out, and zebras and giraffes are never placed in together, what you see in the promo shot is what you get. 

ZOOFARI LODGE

But that's not the only expectation surpassed on my visit. The experience kicked off straight away from the 2pm check-in with the aforementioned drive down a dirt road. Once parked and given the run-down on the stay's itinerary, I was directed to our glamping-style tent, equipped with a very Instagrammable white bathtub, stocked minibar, and, most importantly on the ridiculously hot day I chose to visit, aircon. 

My bags dropped and sufficient obligatory giraffe-selfies taken, the afternoon was spent swimming in the saltwater pool before freshening up for cocktail hour. This was followed by a wine-tasting and a gourmet banquet, all in a beautiful wood-paneled dining and bar area – one of the two rooms in the grounds' Main Room. A passionate chef was brought out to explain every dish of the three-course meal, noting every nod to African cuisine. Authentic, much?

ZOOFARI LODGE

The night culminated in a safari tour as the sun set magnificently over the pseudo-Savannah. I visited Cuddles, the last African elephant left in Australia, a shy bongo (yes, they are real animals that originate from Congo – Google it), a white Rhino, and two hippo siblings who weren't all that keen to show their faces so didn't. Throughout the tour, the guide provided a running stream of random animal facts I filed away to use to impress friends and family next zoo visit.

The morning was an early wake-up for a stunning sunrise and a second safari tour. This time round, I feed a giraffe (committed the rookie error of clearing mobile storage during the prime photo opp and not before – silly, really), and visited a group of tiny, alert meerkats and stuffed animal-looking, dark-eyed lemurs. The tour ended with an up-close elephant encounter. He was being given a bath with one foot at a time in a bucket, and the whole experience was adorable as it sounds.

ZOOFARI LODGE

ZOOFARI LODGE

Eventually, I managed to pull ourselves from the gentle giants – who waved bye with their trunks! – to hop back into the van safari for breakfast. Again in the Main House, served buffet-style, the food was as beautifully presented as the first time around.

And with that, I was left to roam the zoo on our own. Including in the Zoofari package is free bike and a discounted golf cart hire. I opted for the latter, given the scorcher of a day, and spent a couple hours making our way through the one-way path in the extensive zoo, stopping at our favourite animals along the way. Lucky for us, the lion and elephant cubs were out for viewing. 

For more info, head to their site.