Sleeping overnight at a zoo may have once been something of children’s dreams but Jamala Wildlife Lodge has taken the humble sleep-over to a new level of sophistication. Like many of you, I was keen to know more about the lodge, the accommodation and the accessible features of the experience. Although we were only visiting the National Zoo & Aquarium for the day, we were given access to inspect the lodge accommodation so we could share it with our Have Wheelchair Will Travel audience.
The African inspired luxury suites are set in the heart of the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra and ooze style and comfort. Guests are welcomed into the opulent uShaka Lodge and begin their overnight experience with a mix of animal encounters, gourmet cuisine with Jamala’s five star hospitality ensuring a once in a lifetime experience.
The experiences at Jamala are designed to inspire guests to ensure the survival of the animals in the wild while funding and supporting the zoo’s breeding programs. Jamala Wildlife Lodge offers their guests the opportunity to experience the thrill of close encounters with some of the world’s most dangerous and endangered animals, as well as relaxing in the unique atmosphere of its three individually designed five star accommodation hubs; Giraffe Treehouses, Jungle Bungalows and uShaka Lodge.
ACCESSIBLE LEMUR ROOMS
The Jamala Wildlife Lodge has two accessible Lemur rooms which sleep a maximum of two people.
The Lemur rooms have a step-free entry, a beautiful wide deck and of course your ring-tailed lemur friends are right next door.
This is one place you are welcome to spy on your neighbours with a large window giving you ideal viewing of the lemurs, even from the comfort of bed. The bed is quite high which we hope is illustrated by the photo of BJ in his wheelchair beside it. This may prove an obstacle for transferring from a wheelchair to the bed.
Although the lemurs are the main attraction there’s a definite wow-factor to the rooms with beautiful bespoke African decorations and gorgeous plush furnishings.
Reverse-cycle air conditioning, television and complimentary WI-FI will make your stay comfortable when you are not out exploring the zoo.
The room is equipped with two bathrooms. When the room is being used by a guest with a mobility restriction the accessible bathroom is unlocked and available for use.
The accessible bathroom is spacious and equipped with grab rails throughout, a flip-down shower bench and toilet with back rest.
Lever taps are fitted throughout, there’s a hand-held shower head and a wheelchair accessible sink.
The second bathroom is more compact but also available for guest use.
Large windows provide views over the zoo and the surrounding area.
Although the Lemur Rooms are the only dedicated accessible accommodation there is one of the Jungle Bungalows which has a step-free entrance and may provide enough access for some of our readers.
The animals are free to come and go as they please from the area in front of the bungalow windows but with bedding, food and other enrichment opportunities in the area the animals are keen to explore, though not guaranteed to do so. The question that really needs asking is, who’s watching who?
I would be mesmerized with the opportunity to study the animal’s behaviour and feel it’s an honour to be so close. The bungalows are dotted around the zoo with some bordering the tigers and sun bears however the Lion Bungalow is the only one which is step-free.
The Lion Bungalow can sleep a maximum of 4 guests and while beautifully furnished it is tight for wheelchair circulation space.
Keep in mind if you stay in the bungalow that eagle-eyed zoo visitors can see you at the window. We were green with envy when we later spotted the guests who were staying in this room doing selfies at the window with the lions.
The wire fence is only in place for cleaning and preparing the lion bedding near the windows. Once this is removed it’s just you bathing with the lions.
The bathroom is spacious but keep in mind this is not an accessible room so the shower is enclosed and there are no grab rails. Lever taps are fitted throughout and there’s a hand-held shower. Or family could adapt to this accommodation and comfortably stay in this for the night. It would be our pick for the incredible opportunity of getting up close to the lions.
If you are booking a bungalow ensure you let reservations staff know you need the bungalow with step-free access. There is only one, so book well in advance.
Soon after our visit, my uncle and his wife stayed at Jamala Wildlife Lodge so I was thrilled to see the photos of the experience they had. As you can see from his photos the Tigers were very content to sit up close. My uncle absolutely loved his time and spoke highly of the food, experiences and accommodation. While a stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge is more expensive than your average accommodation stay, my uncle felt it was so unique he received good value for money.
As our readers have varying needs I thought I’d share the Giraffe Treehouse accommodation despite the need to negotiate two sets of small stairs to enter the treehouses. The treehouses can accommodate a maximum of 4 guests (only 3 if all guests are adults).
The Giraffe Treehouses are set amongst lush surroundings allowing guests to overlook and wander freely amongst a friendly herd of animals in a private enclosure. At the end of the afternoon tour, guests have the opportunity to feed one of the zoo’s resident giraffes, ‘Hummer’, from either your balcony or in his enclosure (he decides where, but nearly always from your balcony!).
All Treehouses feature king beds, bath tubs, bath robes, optional climate control, fold out sofa bed, complimentary wireless internet, music system with MP3 input, television with complimentary Foxtel and premium amenities. Additional bedding utilises a double pull out sofa bed.
The detail within each of the accommodation options struck me as being particularly novel and beautiful. I fell in love with this gorgeous giraffe mural in the bathroom of the Giraffe Treehouse.
Guests have the choice of two balconies, one at the front of the treehouse which looks out on to a common area and a private balcony at the back of the treehouse which looks out on to the area surrounding the zoo.
Guests start their evening with pre-dinner drinks on the terrace (weather permitting). Outdoor heaters and nanna rugs are provided to keep you cosy. You may be joined by special guests, which may include white lions or hyenas. Not your average beverage accompaniment!
Dinner is served at large shared tables where you’ll meet your fellow human zoo neighbours. The menu changes regularly and dietary requirements can be considered. Being nosey I took a peek at the menu so I could give you a general idea of the standard of food. And boy did it look good with tasting plates for entrée including zucchini flowers, pork belly, seared scallops, satay prawns all cooked in a very fancy manner. Main meal options included African spiced lamb rack with a pistachio crust, spring onion, mustard mash, broccolini and thyme jus and prosciutto wrapped Ballotine Chicken with leek, mushrooms, mozzarella stuffing, corn puree, asparagus and paprika oil. All of this is accompanied by great wines and at the time of visiting, topped off with deconstructed YuZu Cheesecake, fresh berries, shortbread crumb and dehydrated mandarin or raspberry chocolate fondant, chocolate mousse, candy popcorn and strawberry ice cream. If you’re not a sweet tooth there’s the optional cheese trolley.
All meals and beverages are included in your stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge but be warned you may have someone watching over your shoulder as you chow down on your dinner. I believe the white lions often pay a visit during dinner.
In a move which no doubt makes Jamala popular with many parents visiting, there is the option for children to have their meal while adults have their canapes at 7.15pm and then join a guide for a great tour of the aquarium while their parents enjoy their dinner. Bliss! The children’s meal alternates between chicken nuggets, fish pieces and grilled chicken served with either chips or mashed potato and vegetables.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Due to the safety regulations and the nature of Jamala’s tours, only children 6 years and over are accommodated on standard evenings. The Lodge does have “Family nights” which are held once a month and allow children 4 years and older to stay.
There are restrictions with the Jungle Bungalows. The big cats see the children as prey and can hurt themselves trying to get to the children and will stalk the children in the rooms (scary for all I’m sure). Due to the animal’s reactions, children under 14 years old or under 1.5 metres tall are not able to stay in the Lion or Tiger Bungalows and children under 18 can’t stay in the Cheetah Bungalow. Children 6 years of age and over can stay in the Sun Bear or Brown Bear Bungalows.
For other encounters, children must be over 12 to participate in most of them and over 15 for the Meet a Cheetah encounter.
Mobility scooters can be booked for use at the zoo if it would make your visit more comfortable.
Book early, Jamala Wildlife Lodge is extremely popular and books out well in advance for weekend stays and school holidays.
We had limited time to view the accommodation at Jamala due to eager guests ready to check in. We hope the photos and information we have provided helps you decide if a stay at Jamala would suit your needs but you can read more on the Jamala Wildlife Lodge website here.
NATIONAL ZOO & AQUARIUM CANBERRA’
The National Zoo & Aquarium opened in 1990, starting its life as an aquarium. In 1998 the Tindale family purchased the existing attraction with grand plans. Richard Tindale was a successful local businessman who had a passion for animals. After multiple trips to Africa he was keen to establish a conservation breeding centre for big cats. In 1999 the first significant enclosure was completed to house 3 Brown Bears that had to be re homed after living for years in a private collection. In 2000 construction began on several big cat enclosures to house retired circus lions, leopards and tigers. The zoo has continued to expand over the years and now covers 2.6kms of walking trails and 47 acres of gardens.
We enjoyed visiting the National Zoo & Aquarium while staying in Canberra and it marked our first visit. We’d heard rave reviews so we had high expectations for our day. We followed a well-marked accessible circuit around the zoo finishing up in the new expanded open-range portion of the zoo. We were particularly happy to see the rare White Rhinos and White Lions (the White Lion encounter is wheelchair accessible we are told).
Bernice the Burmese Python made a hit with both the kids as she wrapped herself around AJ with great ease.
The paths leading around the zoo have some steeper inclines but generally we found it okay with BJ’s manual wheelchair.
Companion Card is accepted giving a companion free entry.
Unisex stand-alone accessible bathrooms are available.
The café is accessible with a limited range of food including sandwiches.
Viewing of the enclosures was easy for BJ from his wheelchair.
The White Lion encounter is wheelchair accessible.
You can plan your day and read more about the zoo here.
We’d like to thank the National Zoo & Aquarium for hosting our day’s visit. We were extremely impressed by Jamala Wildlife Lodge and one day I’d love to take AJ back for the full experience. Our party animal BJ might have too much party in him for a zoo stay. I think the animals may just make a noise complaint about their early rising guest!