There’s a bear out there – at Jamala Lodge

Jamala Lodge Canberra National Zoo and Aquarium
This privately owned zoo is spread over 10 hectares in Yarralumla at the western end of Lake Burley Griffin. It is a 10 minute drive from Canberra’s CBD. The plush jungle bungalows are slap bang in the middle of the zoo and come with a choice of lions, cheetahs, tigers, brown bears or a Malayan sun bear at your door step.

Back Story
The National Zoo and Aquarium is privately owned by Canberra businessman Richard Tindale and his family. Mr Tindale’s aim is to share the wonders of the animal kingdom with the public and hopes funds from Jamala Lodge will allow the zoo to continue to grow and support its breeding programs. There is a subtle message that everything should be done to ensure these magnificent animals survive in the wild. The accommodation provides a unique opportunity for guests to experience the thrill of close encounters with some of the world’s most dangerous and endangered animals.

This is accommodation like no other – fancy taking a bath with a big brown bear just centimetres from you – there is glass of course.
Three individually designed five-star accommodation hubs are available including six giraffe treehouses, five jungle bungalows and Ushaka Lodge with seven luxurious rooms inside the main lodge, which boasts a shark tank and a private pool and spa.

Rooms and Interiors
My bear bungalow is all about jungle chic with a canopied king bed complete with a mosquito net which reminds me of an African safari lodge. The floor to ceiling windows are perfect for spying on the three bears that saunter up and plonk themselves beside the window. There’s a huge bathroom with a stone tub and twin basins, comfy sofa, complimentary mini-bar with beverages and snacks and lots of great animal books. Carved African bowls and ornaments, leopard skin throws and cushions and photographs add to the African themed decor.
There’s also a TV – but restrict viewing to the bear shenanigans going on outside – they definitely take centre stage.

Our zoo experience starts at 1.30pm at check in where we are welcomed into the main lodge and served refreshments including a glass of Moet and afternoon tea. Pre-dinner drinks are served at 6:30pm at The Cave where we watch keepers feed the nearby hyenas. The keepers say they got their bad reputation from The Lion King and believe they are not nearly as bad as portrayed in the musical.
Dinner is an African feast including dips and antipasto platters with smoked salmon, prosciutto and grilled vegetables followed by a main course of spatchcock and salads including bobotjie, a South African baked spice mince pudding with an egg and milk topping. The final course is malva pudding that is popular in South Africa. Service and dinner is excellent and there’s great attention to detail even down to the zebra-striped crockery. Visitors drop by during the main course – two white lions parade up and down in the den and watch our antics- it’s a matter of who is watching who. Later we head back to our bungalow and are serenaded by the roar of lions- with one eye on those beautiful bears. Up early for breakfast we are again greeted by zoo noises and watch animals being fed on the way to a hearty breakfast in the Cave.

We are also introduced to some smaller zoo residents –  Colin, Colby and Bodie – the black and white Colobus monkeys who live nearby,  Homer, a Queensland Groper and Tawny, a Tawny Nurse Shark, who are at home in the indoor aquarium that is part of the lodge. Two zoo keepers also invite us to pat a small snake, then we split into two groups and are taken on a tour of the zoo.
“This is Flo, a single Cotton Top Tamarind monkey who lives with two marmosets Diego and Domingo and they all get on well most of the time,” zookeeper Jess says.
Later we visit the otters who put on a show as they swim and then huddle together, then stop off to see the lions sunning themselves.
Jess tells us stories about the sun bears, Arataki, named after the New Zealand honey that it loves and Otay who was rescued from a camp. We also drop by to see the meerkats, alpacas, penguins and deer and feed Mu the emu and the two kangaroos that take snacks from us.
Our second zoo tour after breakfast takes us to the new where we meet Winnie the Wombat, ring tailed lemurs and painted dogs. The best experience is kept to last when we pat a rhinoceros as they lumber by. Some guests stay on at the zoo for the day while others return home with special memories of a night in the zoo.

What I loved
How often do you get to take a bath with a big brown bear sitting beside you – well almost.  I loved the close encounters with these animals.
We were mesmerised when one bear sat down and next his mate sauntered up and plonked himself down on the straw beside the window. After a sniff around, a bit of a stretch they were ready for a snooze and not interested in us.
They look like big cuddly teddy bears and I couldn’t take my eyes off them and yes, it’s certainly the closest I have even been to a wild bear.

Contact details
An overnight stay includes zoo tours, dinner, fine wines and breakfast. Check in is at 1.30pm- 2.15pm – check out is 11am.Guests can do extra animal encounters.
For details

By Sue Wallace