Out of Africa… in Canberra

Ever wondered what an African big game lodge would be like? Deputy Editor Melanie Pike checked in to a little piece of African luxury, right here in our nation’s capital.

Situated on the banks of the Molonglo River, next to Scrivener Dam in Canberra, is the National Zoo & Aquarium, home to the five-star luxury Jamala Wildlife Lodge.

The Zoo is privately owned by the Tindale family. Richard, his wife Maureen and their six adult children — three still work at the zoo — are all animal conservation advocates.

They bought the property in 1998 when it was a simple aquarium. As the surrounding land has become available, they’ve been able to expand it into the sprawling animal sanctuary that it is today, with their latest addition being the Jamala lodge.

Checking in at reception gives you a sense of what you can expect for the rest of your stay. Large wooden gates guarded by a life-sized brass lion slide open on your arrival, like you’re being admitted into an exclusive club.

Entering uShaka Lodge (the main house, top right) to drop off your bags before your first tour is like stepping into another world. Think of the most African thing you can, then double it. Everywhere you look are authentic African artifacts, along with specially commissioned African artworks. It’s OTT and fabulous.

We were taken on a tour of the different room types: uShaka Lodge, Giraffe Treehouses and Jungle Bungalows, all with their own unique animal experiences. The one common theme across all 18 rooms is the opulent luxury you’ll be relaxing in. Four-poster king size beds with luxury linens and mosquito nets add to the “on safari” feel.

Everywhere you go in Jamala, you’ll find a different immersive animal experience. The Tindales have brought the outdoors in — you feel like you’re surrounded by wild animals.

If you’re staying in a Giraffe Treehouse you’ll get to meet Hummer. He pokes his head in to say hi around happy hour so you can hand feed him the carrots the keepers leave for you.

The Jungle Bungalows are U-shaped rooms built into the animal enclosures, so no matter where you’re relaxing — the couch, bed or even in the bath — you can see your chosen animal, and yes, they can see you too! We’re assured the glass is reinforced, so there’s no need to be nervous bathing with a bear, although it will take some getting used to it — the animals are massive when you’re up close and personal.

Your overnight stay includes two guided walking tours. The afternoon tour introduces you to the different animals, while the morning walk has you viewing animals waking up and getting ready for the day.

Also included is a gourmet African dinner party, beginning with pre-dinner drinks on a terrace overlooking the white lion enclosure. They even wander up to dine with you. The lioness has an amazing presence when you’re less than a metre away. You have to really stop yourself from reaching out to touch her… if you want to keep your hand.

Once the sun goes down, all the animals and humans alike ago back to their respective bedrooms for the night. The property falls silent — for a few hours, at least. Then the tawny lions embark on a roaring competition to see who can go the loudest and longest. It’s definitely a case of more roar than snore!