If you’ve always wanted to experience an African safari but haven’t been able to fit it into the family budget just yet, I may have found a stop gap solution. A visit to our National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra could just be the trick. Now I’m not talking about your standard day visit. I ‘m suggesting that you spoil yourself and the kids with an overnight stay at the Jamala Wildlife Lodge. Now I’m going to honest right up front and tell you that it’s not a super cheap outing, but what I will say is that it’s definitely worth every cent!

There are varying styles of bungalow lodgings beautifully adorned with touches of Africa, but it’s the special guests that share the space with you that makes it all the more extraordinary.

How about having a lion or a tiger outside your lounge room window? Or a big brown bear watching you soak in the tub? Or as we experienced, feeding a giraffe from your very own balcony? Without doubt a special experience.

Not only do you get top shelf accommodation but your stay is an all-inclusive affair. On arrival, you’ll have the opportunity to head out for a special personal afternoon tour with one of the zoo’s guides. This is a real treat as you not only get to visit many of the zoo’s residents, but you get to hear about the passion that the owner and his family have for the animals, and how dedicated they are to being part of breeding programs and conservation exercises aimed at the greater good for not only the animals but the planet itself! That passion is obviously contagious because every guide and employee that I came across during my visit was awash with it.

After the tour, you can have a little down time or continue to explore on your own. We choose to relax on our balcony and get a real look at Hummer the giraffe as he cruised our backyard snacking away. Seeing him so close for an extended period really allowed us to observe his relaxed behaviour and his unique markings and facial features. It was a truly rare occasion.

As twilight approached we wandered alone through the zoo up to uShaka, the main lodge, for some pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. Chilled Moet and mouthwatering delicacies on the deck was the order of the evening, impressing my wife Sam no end. Then you’re invited into the “Cave” for a dinner that matches it with any five star offering. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere encompasses the room as fellow guests engage you in their tales from the day. Oh, I forget to mention the other guests joining you at dinner.

Jake the white lion and his sister, and two sinister looking but kind of cute hyenas settle into their overnight dens right in front of you. Probably to dream of how they might like to be the ones dining … on us! A surreal moment in my life, I must say.

As morning arrives and you drag yourself out of those delightfully comfortable beds you’ll be greeted by the sounds of the lions acknowledging each other from their respective homes. A sound I have only ever heard before in the wilds of Africa. It’s such a mesmerising sound. A delicious and expansive breakfast is served up back at uShaka followed by another private tour to visit some of the parks rhinos, tigers and wild dogs. You might even get to pat a rhino!! Although I had to settle for one with Sebastian the llama, who sure is one funny looking fella!

If you do have the time there’s a bunch of extra interactive moments you can participate in, and I wasn’t leaving until I did. Besides Max was just too excited.

The Zooventure Tour is an opportunity to be right in amongst the animals on a personally guided tour. Interacting with giraffes, brown bears, otters, cougars and snakes, and you also get to feed some of them too. I guess the highpoint of this quest had to be the white lions. Feeding them by hand, albeit through a tiny hole of an inch-thick glass wall with a pair of tongs, was so cool. You could actually see inside the lion’s mouth. Now that’s something that you’ll remember forever, especially when the dominant male Jake, gave us the signal through the comforting glass wall that my son Max would fit nicely in his belly! I don’t think I’ve seen Max move so quickly before!

Watching your kids experience these moments will bring a massive smile to your dial, that’s for sure.

The highlight of my Zooventure was without doubt ‘Meet the Cheetah’! Being a Leo I do love the big cats, but the cheetah has been a favourite of mine since I was a young fella. To be in the presence of such a fine specimen of the feline family was just fantastic. To stroke the fur, hear the deep purring and look into those big brown eyes that seemed as big as dishes was one of those “I will never forget the time I …” moments in life. Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a unique, and engaging adventure and I highly recommend it. Go on spoil yourself.

Canberra getaway