Stay the night at Werribee Open Range Zoo in Melbourne with kids. If your kids have ever dreamt of sleeping with the wildlife, a Slumber Safari experience at Werribee Open Range Zoo is well worthwhile. From your tented lodge you get a magnificent view over the kangaroos and emus, can listen to the lions roaring and toast marshmallows before collapsing into bed dreaming of your new friends the hippo and the rhino. For a unique form of family friendly accommodation, this is one for the bucket list when you’re next in Melbourne with kids.

What differentiates Werribee Zoo from other zoos is its open range concept which means that the “enclosure” for many of the herbivores is a huge, savannah-like field. In particular this allows the African animals (rhino, giraffe and zebra) to mingle and wander just as they might in the wild. Zoo visitors do not walk around this enclosure but are driven around on safari trains with commentary provided on the animals as you pass, making this much like a shorter version of an actual African safari.

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As part of the Werribee Zoo overnight stay guests get a private train tour with a much more intimate commentary and insight into all the personalities of the individual animals. Most of the safari guides have been with Werribee Zoo for years, so they are able to tell many funny stories about the animals’ antics over time.

The private nature of the tour (versus the general admission safari trains which run on a schedule) means there is the luxury of no time restrictions which means that if the giraffe choose to decide to come right over and interact with the safari train, your guide can opt to stay for as long as you like to allow the animals to do so.

This means that some of the animals come exceptionally close – if you were allowed to touch them you could literally lean out the train to do so.

But probably the most rewarding parts of the Werribee Zoo Slumber Safari experience are the private wild encounters which are only available to Slumber Safari guests. These are different for every Slumber Safari but can include going behind the scenes and right inside the hippo enclosure with the keeper to get to see the beasts out of water (an extremely rare sight at such close proximity).

You may also have the opportunity to feed the hippos too – make sure you get your throwing arm ready for that one.

There’s also a chance to have a close encounter with the (also rare) African white rhino. Getting to touch and pat one of these beautiful beasts is a pretty awesome experience especially as they are just so huge when you see them next to the kids.

You might also get lucky and have a prolonged view of the cheetah who is otherwise rather difficult to spot inside her enclosure or from the safari train. On a good morning you may be just in time to see her keeper bring in some meat for her feed which will get her to come right down close to the glass before she whisks away her breakfast to eat in privacy.

Werribee Open Range Zoo For Kids

It is highly worthwhile dedicating a few extra hours to the zoo outside the Slumber Safari since you get a full day visitor’s entry on either side of your stay. Hop on the (much bigger) general admission Zoo Safari and you spend a bit more time on the African savannah stopping to look at the giraffe, zebra and rhino interacting on the grasslands.

A few hours spent wandering the zoo means you’ll also get a chance to watch some of the animal feeds and shows (look out for the serval cat show which is a locked-out affair – the cat is not on display to the public other than the show) and to really watch the gorilla, monkeys and other creatures at your leisure.

Werribee Open Range Zoo is one of the most child friendly you will visit. As well as a huge playground with picnic facilities at the African Village (complete with barber shop and other cool village buildings), there are plenty of play areas and ways for kids to interact all over the zoo.

For instance, outside the cheetah enclosure you can measure your long jump against the big cat’s.

Outside the monkeys there is a jungle rope climb.

The lions’ enclosure has a safari truck so the kids can play while also taking in their surrounds.

And at the hippos is a large sand play station, a boat the kids can “drive” and a little walk off the beaten track and through the bushland.  

If the weather is too cold (or too hot), there is also a fantastic indoor playroom called Ranger Kids. Don’t miss this. There are dress ups so kids can pretend to be ranger or vets, a veterinary tent with a lion ready for operation and giraffe ready to give birth. (Don’t worry – the lion and giraffe are stuffed toys!)

There is also a huge helicopter to play in, live turtles and other reptiles to see and real rangers on site to show you a snake’s skin or teach you about stumpy tailed lizards.

Finally, make some time for at least a coffee or a snack at the Meerkat Bistro. The café is lined up right next to the meerkat enclosure so you can drink your juice box while look directly at these gorgeous furry friends.

For a zoo experience with a difference, Werribee Open Range Zoo in Melbourne is already quite outstanding. But if you get to stay the night, there is no doubt that this is an experience the kids are not likely to ever forget.

The Practicalities of Staying Overnight at Werribee Open Range Zoo Slumber Safari With Kids

While there is no age restriction on the Slumber Safari, it really is an experience best enjoyed by children who are at least school age. Younger kids may find the intimate close encounters long and boring and struggle to appreciate or stay well behaved throughout them. However, the Slumber Safari encourages guests to use the stay as they see fit so if you are still very keen to go and this means one parent prefers to hang out at the lodge with a younger child while the other takes the older children on the interactive animal experiences, this is certainly allowed.

The Slumber Safari at Werribee Zoo is one night affair. You arrive in the afternoon at camp (a separate, fenced off area), visit the animals out in the zoo, go back to camp for dinner and bed and then have one more outing in the zoo in the morning. Guests are welcome to arrive earlier to visit the zoo under general admission on the first day or otherwise stay back after the Slumber Safari has finished on the second day.

This is a glamping experience which means while you are not quite sleeping in an actual pitched tent, it is a tented canvas structure. If you are a family who have never been camping before this could be a good introduction as the lodges are made of canvas but still have the little luxuries such as electricity, beds and a (separate) bathroom with shower and toilet.

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While there are electric blankets and a heater in the rooms, they are still canvas which means you will hear and feel the wind, rain and whatever temperature the weather is that day. The lodges can sleep up to 5 people so in many cases an entire family can reside in the one lodge.

In the evening, if the weather is right, they also light a fire and provide hot chocolates and marshmallows for the kids. The fire is placed overlooking the savannah to give a really fun camping vibe.

Melbourne is renown for its unpredictable and volatile weather so pack and dress for all occasions. There is no rugged trekking involved but sensible walking shoes are recommended as well as all weather outdoor gear – pack raincoats, warm jackets, and sun protection such as hats and sunscreen as you never know what is going to happen and the weather can change quite a lot overnight.

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While some wine is available, the experience is advertised as bring your own drinks so pack whatever alcohol you are likely to consume with you. Food is served in a rustic buffet style so it is hearty self service. If you have kids who are fussy eaters it is worthwhile packing a few of your own snacks for them – you are allowed to access your car at anytime as it is a short walk from the camp site.

suitcases&strollers stayed at Werribee Open Range Zoo as a guest of Visit Victoria.

Images: suitcases&strollers, Matt Harding, Greg Henderson, Julie Renouf, Werribee Open Range Zoo