Accommodation where you can sleep with the animals at the Canberra zoo. The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra may be small but the addition of a safari style lodge where guests can sleep with tigers and bears practically in their rooms makes it an essential place to visit when you go to Canberra with kids. Jamala Wildlife Lodge gives their accommodation guests behind-the-scenes access to their animals in a way that is interactive, educational and so much fun for kids. Guests get to feed giraffes, eat dinner with lions and walk the grounds after the zoo is closed. If your kids are animal lovers, staying a night in the hotel inside Canberra zoo is a must.
A stay at Jamala is exotic, luxurious and special. Guests arrive via a separate entrance and, from then on, although you will walk around the zoo during its opening hours to the general public, most of the time the experience feels completely separate and different to a typical zoo visit.
The highlight of a stay at Jamala is, of course, sleeping with the animals. There are multiple accommodation types to choose from. Guests who stay at the main uShaka Lodge have a range of different room types that look on to lemurs or live above the shark tank. Those in the uShaka Lodge also share the common lounge and dining areas that the other guests use on arrival and have the best access to the pool and sun lounges next to the Colobus monkeys.
If you prefer something more private and away from other guests, there are the Jungle Bungalows which are large suites with views overlooking sun bears, cheetah, brown bears or even a tiger. If the animals choose to come close, the effect is that they are right in the room with you and the kids will only be separated from these magnificent beasts by a sheet of (enforced) glass.
Alternatively there are the six Giraffe Treehouses to choose from. These rooms open out on to the giraffe enclosure where you get to feed and interact with Hummer the giraffe from your own private balcony. If the gentle giant doesn’t happen to be hanging around your room, out the front the Treehouses share a common courtyard where deer and alpacas roam that the kids can pet.
While the experience of just sleeping with the animals at Canberra Zoo would be well worth a visit to Jamala Wildlife Lodge with kids, the entire stay is scheduled to keep guests interested and expose them to as many of the animals as possible. Upon arrival there is afternoon tea along with a chance to stroke reptiles such as giant snakes and lizards.
Afterwards there are two private tours (one on the first afternoon and then another the following morning) around the zoo and you will get to hear the many personal stories of the animals such as the meerkats, otters, lemurs and zebra. While The National Zoo and Aquarium is quite small by world zoo standards, these tours really make a visit something special and memorable. Guests have the opportunity to do things members of the public do not such as access closed off areas, touch a white rhino or see the keepers giving the animals their daily stimulation activities. There are plenty of chances to ask questions and learn more about the animals around you.
Kids who stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge get an additional parent-free tour around the Canberra zoo at nighttime which they will particularly love. Dinner is a semi formal three course affair. The kids are served their food during the adults’ starters and, when they’re all done, a zoo keeper will come and take the children away to meet the other reptiles, animals and fish while you finish your dinner kid free.
It’s these little thoughtful touches that ensure a trip to Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra is special rather than tacky. All the meals are restaurant standard (even during dinner, the animal show continues as the white lion siblings are coaxed into the meal area), there is free flow wine and Champagne (Moet anyone?) and the lodge will contact you ahead of time so you can preorder the kids’ food so that it is ready as soon as they sit down.
Similarly, there is a scheduled relaxation time in the afternoon once the Canberra zoo is closed to the public where you can choose to either stay with the animals in your room, swim in the pool or otherwise explore the grounds while they are people free and the animals are getting ready for bed. Walking around while the zoo is closed is a worthwhile experience (especially in the morning) as you will get to see the animals behaving in different ways to how they usually do when they are on display.
The Practicalities of Sleeping With the Animals at Jamala Wildlife Lodge Canberra
While Jamala is accommodation that is inside the Canberra Zoo, this doesn’t mean that the animals are tame. In other words, there is no guarantee that the animals will come anywhere near you. Despite this, the lodge will do its utmost to attempt to encourage a close interaction. Food and stimulation toys are placed close to the accommodations to tempt the beasts to come right up to the guests so you can capture the best holiday photos.
If you want to provide a conducive environment to attract the animals, it’s important to keep the kids quiet and your movements and noise level should be adjusted accordingly. For instance, camera flashes or children running around the room are unlikely to attract a tiger or bear to hang around.
Some of the rooms in the uShaka Lodge do not have direct views on to any animals. Instead, guests in these rooms get a private wildlife encounter with an animal to ensure they also have a memorable stay.
Depending on the room, there are some age limitations. The rooms for the big cats, in particular, usually have an age restriction that only allows kids 12 and over.
The rest of the lodge is only open for kids to stay when they are aged 6 and over. There are some family weekends at Jamala Wildlife Lodge scheduled throughout the year for kids that are a little younger. Check with the lodge for details.
While afternoon tea (mainly fruit and sweet baked goods), dinner (large 3 courses) and breakfast is provided, there is no other food available during your stay at Jamala. There is a small mini bar in the room with the usual snacks but there is no room service and nowhere to purchase food outside these times (as the Canberra zoo shop is closed overnight). It’s a good idea to pack some additional small snacks for the kids (particularly for the afternoon) if you think they are likely to get peckish and definitely eat lunch before you arrive.
For guest safety, once the zoo is closed to the public and night falls, no one is allowed to walk unaccompanied around the grounds. Staff will drive you back to your room or lodge and thereafter you are not allowed to leave again until morning. Be sure to unpack everything you need from the car and bring it with you when you first check in as you will not have access to the car again until after your visit is finished.
The tours are conducted in all forms of weather so you will need to pack accordingly. If it is sunny, you will need hats, sunscreen and sunglasses.
Similarly, if it is raining, you will need appropriate rain jackets and shoes. There is plenty of walking involved so sensible walking shoes are recommended. Keep in mind that the morning tour leaves early (8am) when it can be cold, especially in the winter, so pack jumpers and sweaters too.
The length of your stay at Jamala with kids really depends on just how much the children love animals. In a one night stay you will cover most of the zoo, particularly if you take the opportunity to stay for the rest of the day after you have checked out of the accommodation. However, guests who choose to sleep two nights at the Canberra zoo do get an additional private tour and more relaxation time.
suitcases&strollers stayed as a guest at Jamala Wildlife Lodge; Images: suitcases&strollers, Jamala Wildlife Lodge