Going on safari in Africa has always been on my bucket list, and sadly that’s where it remains. However I did just do the next best thing: Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra.
Jamala is newly created luxury accommodation at the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, Australia. Although the zoo has been there for ages (30+ years) I’d never heard of it. But late last year I saw a promotional image that piqued my interest …
Being an animal lover, and someone who would really like to have a bath with a giant bear, I investigated further.
I had an *ahem* significant birthday this year and when I was thinking about how to celebrate, Jamala seemed the perfect thing to do.
It’s an all-inclusive experience that starts at 1.30pm when you arrive at the lodge and are greeted by the chap who whisks your luggage away to your room, then it’s into the lodge for a very informal check-in (signing your life away in case an animal eats you), afternoon tea and lounging about pretending you’re in Africa, which is quite easy to do because it looks as though you are. The lodge is magnificent with double height ceilings, African artefacts, built-in circular aquarium, and windows to a trio of highly entertaining Colobus monkeys.
Before long two keepers arrive; one with a python and the other with a small alligator, both of which you can pat, and then it’s off on the first tour.
Our guide showed us around the zoo for around an hour and a half, and while it wasn’t anything you couldn’t do as an ordinary zoo visitor we had the benefit of her knowledge, and the snacks she brought with her to entice the animals closer. Highlights were seeing the giraffe up close and seeing lemurs and meerkats for the first time in the flesh.
We were then escorted to our rooms. I’d booked one of the five Jungle Bungalows which all have glass walls to a different animal enclosure: sun bears, brown bears, tigers, lions and cheetahs. I requested one of the cat rooms and was about to wet my pantaloni when I found out we had the cheetah room!
Once you unlock the door, they’re right there looking at you! It’s quite an incredible experience seeing them for the first time. The owners have cleverly placed under floor heating and straw right next to the windows to entice the animals right where you want them. Our two cheetahs were snuggled up together a few centimetres away from us, on the other side of a glass wall.
The room is gorgeous and also has an African theme. Of course I played with everything and had a long bubble bath while the cheetahs snoozed beside me.
The only downside is the enclosure itself, which looks a bit like you’re in prison.
After a couple of hours in the room it’s time for pre-dinner drinks. Guests meet at one of the bus stops and are driven back to the lodge where you walk through the aquarium down to a (man-made) cave where drinks are served, and you can watch the hyenas catch their dinner from the balcony just outside.
A set-menu dinner is served at three long communal tables, and we were fortunate enough to be allocated the two best seats in the house; ring-side seats for the two lions and two hyenas who lounge about behind glass while you eat.
When I booked I wasn’t too keen on the idea of communal dining, especially since it was my birthday. However we had a lovely couple next to us who were very entertaining and we had a great night. The food was delicious, and five courses long with free-flowing drinks all evening.
When we returned to our bungalow the cheetahs were exactly where we left them. They were so beautiful, but to be honest it’s mostly an ‘us looking at them’ experience as they don’t really interact with you, or take much notice of you. I tried really hard to get them to do something (I even danced) but frankly they weren’t that interested in us. We did see them take a sprint at a small child looking at them through a window on the other side of their enclosure, which was pretty entertaining, and in the morning they wrestled a bit and licked each others’ faces.
The brown bear next door sounded much more entertaining, so if you’re looking for interaction that’s what I’d request.
The next day we had a light breakfast followed by a second tour, billed as ‘behind the scenes’. Here we saw an area of the zoo that’s still being built (they have big plans for expansion) and saw painted dogs, zebras, a type of antelope whose name I can’t remember (we also fed them carrots through a fence) and best of all we patted a rhino! Most of their hide is tough as you’d expect, but their ears are really quite soft and they seem to like being patted there.
For more information visit their website
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Until next time, safe travels,
The Travelling Pantaloni