While the safaris of Africa might be off the cards right now, Samantha Rowntree embarks on a close – and ethical – encounter with wildlife on Australian soil at Jamala Wildlife Lodge.
Humbekahli and Skye peer into my treehouse, the pair of gangly giraffes coquettishly fluttering their long lashes. The Molonglo River meanders below, and the dusk sky is aflame with pastel pinks, orange and crimson. I don’t need to close my eyes to imagine I’m on safari in Kenya or Botswana – the scene is unfolding right before me. But I am, in fact, on the outskirts of the Australian capital, ensconced in luxurious digs that celebrate the great wildlife-spotting adventures enjoyed across the savannahs of Africa.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge
My home for the next two nights, Jamala Wildlife Lodge offers an animal encounter unlike any other. Check into bungalows and treehouses for goosebump-inducing wildlife experiences like the one I’ve just had with the giraffes.
The retreat features 18 exclusive accommodations scattered around the National Zoo & Aquarium. Some rooms offer a front-row seat to rare and endangered big cats, others garnering a glimpse into the underwater world.
The puuuurrr-fect Jungle Bungalows are built inside the enclosures of lions, tigers, a cheetah and a pair of Malayan sun bears. Only centimetres of glass separate the prowling and playful beasts from your four-poster bed, sofa and bathtub.
In the main uShaka Lodge, seven suites reveal the daily (and nocturnal) habits of hyena, meerkats, lemurs and tropical fish, the latter gliding around an enormous aquarium. There’s a shark tank in the shared living room – all leather and animal print – and floor-to-ceiling windows affording a view of two cheeky colobus monkeys swinging through tropical gardens.
And then there’s my treehouse, overlooking those two lanky and lovable giraffes. Skye is more of an introvert and shies away from my gentle attempts to woo her. While curious Humbekahli or ‘Hummer’ is renowned for greeting guests with gusto.
From my perch, I offer him a carrot – the gentle giant sways closer and closer, and in the blink of an eye, his long blue tongue has wrapped itself around my hand to steal away the proffered treat.
I could spend hours here, ogling these doe-eyed beauties. But their presence is not forgotten when I retreat inside. The treehouses’ décor and amenities – from the rug and slippers to the artwork and bathroom mosaic – are all inspired by the distinctive spots of my statuesque neighbours. Like the rest of Jamala Wildlife Lodge, my lodging transports me straight to Africa, with artefacts handpicked by owners Richard and Maureen Tindale during their trips to the continent. There are other niceties that evoke the safari experience as well, from the mini-bar stocked with an assortment of wines to enjoy while wildlife watching, to the herd of friendly alpaca and deer that greet me at the front door whenever I come or go.
Following champagne and canapes on the terrace, dinner is a three-course affair in the Rainforest Cave. It is a room with large windows in case the white lions or hyena decide to pay a visit from their dens – which they usually do. The menu here changes with the seasons: when I visit it’s macadamia-crusted snapper with a creamy lemon, dill and caper sauce, and a moreish chocolate semifreddo with ruby glaze for dessert.
While the luxe lodgings and food are reason alone to check-in, every stay at Jamala comes with the additional perk of having the entire park to explore after hours… completely crowd-free.
I take a walk upon arrival to get the lay of the land – all 22 hectares of it – luxuriating in the lack of queues. The silence only broken by the occasional howl of a dingo or whinny of a zebra. The following morning is a more personal experience. I am accompanied by a guide who allows unimaginable access to incredibly well looked after animals, from rhinos and tigers to bears, llamas and emus.
It’s the perfect Out of Africa end to my stay, and one that sets the bar high for my next trip to Kenya.
About Jamala Wildlife Lodge
Located within the grounds of the National Zoo and Aquarium, Jamala boasts three 5-star, African styled accommodation hubs. The lodge is specifically designed to provide guests with an interactive experience with the zoo’s most amazing residents.
Choose to spend the night only meters away from lions, bears, cheetahs and tigers in the Jungle Bungalows. Or relax on the balcony of the Giraffe Treehouse as you marvel at the beauty of your new giant friend. Or why not stay in the uShaka Lodge, immersing yourself in luxurious surrounds whilst enjoying the company of Colobus Monkeys and the inhabitants of the 200,000-litre shark tank.
A stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge also includes 2 exclusive zoo tours to encounter some of the zoo’s rarest and most dangerous inhabitants.
All-inclusive fine dining featuring sunset canapés and drinks, gourmet African styled meal with fellow guests and a freshly prepared breakfast.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge offers travellers and local animal lovers the most unique and luxurious accommodation option Canberra has to offer.
This article originally appeared in volume 39 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.
Lead image: Giraffe Treehouse © Jamala Wildlife Lodge