Jamala Wildlife Lodge review, Canberra National Zoo & Aquarium: Australia's first luxury zoo hotel

Our rating

4 out of 5

THE LOCATION

Jamala Wildlife Lodge is housed in the privately owned National Zoo & Aquarium overlooking the Molonglo River in Canberra. It's just up the road from The Lodge where some might say a different type of wild animal roams. Guests at Jamala will share their surrounds with the giraffes, lions, bears, primates, tigers and more in among the 2.8 hectares  of land.

THE SPACE

The 18 different suites are housed within African-like savannah enclosures, with the main uShaka Lodge built around the aquarium. There's an infinity pool and spa as well as an outdoor terrace where you can watch the monkeys watching you at uShaka Lodge. The jungle bungalows are built inside the spacious habitats of the lions, bears and cheetahs. There are also six giraffe treehouses with balconies overlooking a reserve with an outlook to the Molonglo River.

THE KIT

The main uShaka Lodge has seven suites, the pick being the master suite which has private access to the shark tank allowing guests to experience hand feeding. Only a reinforced glass window separates you from the wildlife if staying in jungle bungalows. You can expect to see the animals at very close range as heated pads lure the animals to the den-like decks by the windows. The giraffe treehouses have a petting zoo full of alpacas in the frontyard. Here, resident giraffe, Hummer, can be handfed from each balcony when he is feeling confident (on the night I stayed, he was hiding).

COMFORT 

Rooms are modelled on an African lodge with a generous array of animal print accessories, mosaics and artworks imported from the continent. In the jungle bungalows the comfortable canopied king-size bed has an outlook perfect for surveying the animal enclosure. The free minibar includes Moet and if you are staying in uShaka Lodge you can help yourself to what can only be described as a maxibar, a giant fridge in the communal kitchen area.

The after-dinner hike back to the bungalows and treehouses down dirt pathways and steps is unlit and can be a little precarious, it's best to opt to be chauffeured in a golf cart.

FOOD

Guests are greeted with a drink and afternoon tea on arrival. At sundown, the group reconvenes on the deck of the main lodge and over a glass of champagne, watch as white lions, snow leopards and hyenas drop by. Dinner is in what's known as "The Cave", where either the hyenas or the lions look on from their comfortable-looking windowed den. Guests sit at communal long tables and sample South African dishes such as the spiced minced meat dish bobotie and also Malva pudding. A good range of wines is available. Breakfast is continental style with pastries, cereals, fruits and tea and coffee.

STEPPING OUT 

For any zoo stay the primary objective is immersion, and there is little time to veer from the tight itinerary. Guests are taken on two safari experiences with zookeepers, one in the afternoon, and one after an early breakfast. On these tours you'll get to pat dingoes, stroke snakes and learn about the zoo's breeding programmes. The morning tour is a highlight with backstage access to the top paddock where you can meet African hunting dogs, cheetahs, ring-tailed lemurs, and touch the surprisingly soft rhinos.

For a full Canberra weekend experience, stay one night at Jamala Wildlife Lodge and another in one of Canberra's newer hotels such as Hotel Hotel or the East Hotel.

THE VERDICT

This all-inclusive overnight safari experience combines all the comforts you'd expect from a five-star resort (free Wi-Fi, robes, Molton Brown amenities) with a one-of-a-kind (in this country) immersive experience. Owners Richard and Maureen Tindale's passion for Africa is evident from design to cuisine. Don't expect much sleep if you are staying in the lion enclosure, it's an around-the-clock immersive experience, more roar than snore, but that's what makes it so special.

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ESSENTIALS

It costs from  $800 a night in a double room and includes afternoon tea, a three-course dinner, drinks, overnight accommodation, breakfast, an afternoon and early morning zoo tour to feed the animals. Children staying must be six years or older. See jamalawildlifelodge.com.au           

The writer was a guest of Jamala Wildlife Lodge.