Experience Jamala Wildlife Lodge - Canberra’s other ‘animal house’

Whether pining for an African wildlife experience or just seeking a great holiday with the grandchildren, Canberra’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a fantastic option.

Travel editor David McGonigal takes an ‘African safari’ in Australia, gets up close and personal with a friendly giraffe, deer and alpaca - and lives to tell the tale.

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Canberra's Jamala Wildlife Lodge provides is a perfect family holiday or couple's getaway

A friendly giraffe
The giraffe’s name was Hummer and he came close to my face as he chewed his afternoon hay. His giant head and long neck presented a strangely distorted view of an amazing creature. He was less impressed by me and returned to grazing as the sun set over the Molonglo River and Scrivener Dam. As we left our bungalow for pre-dinner drinks I had a curious deer push his nose into my hand while an alpaca cute enough to be a plush toy also came over for some attention.

We were at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, the accommodation side of Canberra Zoo for just one night. While we had seen the much-published image of the bear looking through a glass wall at a woman in the bath, we arrived knowing little more. It’s certainly not a cheap place to stay - prices start a $1000 for a double room - so would the cost be worth it?

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 Canberra Lodge is a great place to relax and explore on foot

Tea and scones with a boa constrictor
While you could just use Jamala purely as accommodation, there are so many more reasons to visit. We arrived at 1.30pm in time for the afternoon tour. Our bags were whisked away while we were shown into the lounge for some pre-tour tea and scones. The impressive room would not have looked out of place at a safari lodge in Africa.

One wall of the room consisted of picture windows looking into a large fish tank in which a tawny nurse shark was circling with a giant grouper and some reef sharks. Then a couple of staff arrived, each weighed down by a boa constrictor. I quickly discovered that snakeskin feels pleasantly cool and soft to the touch.

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You could be sleeping alongside fish when staying at Jamala Wildlife

Our two-hour afternoon tour of the zoo was thorough, but the only behind the scenes action was an opportunity to pat a friendly dingo. The other highlight was seeing the zoo’s rare white lions. We were left with the impression of a well-run zoo where the animals had enough space to move. We finished our tour close to our accommodation, which was one of six Giraffe Treehouses, entering off our very own well-grassed private petting zoo. Our shrubs and trees, on the other hand, weren’t doing so well as they’d been completely defoliated by the combined efforts of alpaca and deer.

The room was a surprise. The best wildlife lodges of South Africa, like Londolozi, charge five star plus prices and provide wonderful accommodation and an experience to match. Our room was beautiful with a strong African motif with the majority of artefacts sourced from Africa and even a giant giraffe mosaic in the shower stall. We walked out onto our balcony as Hummer approached with typically giraffe diffident curiosity.

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 The luxurious rooms offered at the Lodge will take your breath away

Drinking champagne with hyenas
Soon it was time to be driven to dinner. There was a definite chill to the Canberra air as we sipped French champagne and spoke to fellow guests, mainly comparing room experiences. Then some hyenas arrived just beyond the end of the balcony, as if to signal it was time to head downstairs to dinner in the quite luxurious Rainforest Cafe.

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Dining with hyenas and lions is an 'average' day at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge

The seating was set, the company convivial and the well-presented food was good restaurant quality with African-inspired dishes accompanied by good wines. However, it was all overshadowed by our other dinner guests: the white lions sleeping behind glass at one end of the room. Before dessert they were soundly asleep, the female with her paws over the snoring male. When I went to observe the lions more closely I discovered that behind the room’s other window were a group of sleeping hyena. Turns out that hyenas even look cute when they are asleep!

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It's not everyday you wake up beside a tiger

Back in our room, the bed was turned down and the heating turned up and we soon fell asleep with the alarm set for an early start. An alpaca was asleep right outside our door and there were some sounds of the African bush during the night. One feature of African safaris is the early start and it was no different at Jamala. While we had to be driven to and from dinner, there was no restriction about wandering through the empty zoo on the way to breakfast. Indeed, we were late to sit down as we found a snow leopard very close to the path on our exploration. 

"We fed emus and more giraffes, and had the unlikely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pat a rhinoceros. It’s rather like stroking a warm army tank."

Feeding the emus and giraffes after breakfast
After breakfast we were back on tour, but one with a difference. We were split into groups to feed emus and more giraffes and had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pat a rhinoceros. It’s rather like stroking a warm army tank.

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Experience the thrill of feeding animals such as giraffes

All too soon it was time to walk back through the zoo to depart Jamala. In the lounge we ran into Russell Jackson, one of the managers and we gushed about how enriching our short stay had been. He told us that, unlike other resorts where guests never want to change rooms, Jamala has been surprised to find a significant number of guests wish to stay for a couple of nights in different rooms.

“After all,” Russell laughed. “There aren’t many places where you can have a lion or a bear as your sleeping companion one night and a shark the next.”

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Get up close and personal with many of the wildlife animals

If you have a love of animals then Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a dream location. And if you’ve been to Africa and have a hankering to return, Jamala may satiate your needs for a while. It’s a wonderful new addition to Australia’s top end travel offerings and is certainly Canberra’s most distinctive accommodation.

Have you gone on a wildlife safari experience? Is it on your bucket list? Share your experiences below.