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A wild, bucket-list sleepover

At Canberra’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge you can share a room with a cheetah, a lion or a bear – and the food’s not bad either.

At the nightly cocktails at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, where you watch the sunset over Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium, the words “bucket list” get used quite a lot. Everyone is milling around drinking champagne and discussing which wild animal they will be bedding down with for the night.

Jamala’s unique proposition is that your room will be located inside a working zoo, with just a (thick) glass partition separating you from a variety of predators – and some cuter options too.

As I have my family in tow, we’re staying at Jamala’s newest wildlife encounter.

In the palatial Wild Encounter Suite with two separate bedrooms and an adjoining bathroom we have Jamala’s newest neighbours: a family of meerkats right outside our door.

The enclosure is home to dad Sergei and his four boys Saka, Sudi, Surabi and Semush. A chance afternoon encounter with a keeper means my two boys, Dash and Raff, get to help feed the meerkats. It’s a messy affair of meal worms and live cockroaches, but my kids love it and start talking about how you become a zoo keeper.

After-hours access

One of the highlights of the stay is when the zoo officially closes but guests get to roam the zoo after hours. At this time the animals are more relaxed and interactive – including the sun bears, who start walking backwards to show off, and a pair of cheeky monkeys who we’ve been warned about. They have made special “trading holes” in their cage to offer you sticks and fruit, but don’t be fooled – if you attempt a trade, they will hold on to your hand and not let go unless said trade includes your mobile phone.

Dinner follows and the kids get taken off for a night tour of the zoo. They return with my phone packed with photos of them holding a wide variety of reptiles, including a python I would baulk at. The food is African-themed, the wine is free-flowing and everyone is swapping tales of their encounters as if we were on the savannahs of Africa. It really is a lot of fun.

Then it’s off to bed. We peek out at the meerkats, but they’ve beaten us to it.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge offers a range of different rooms from shark encounters to staying with the rescued sun bears. Couples are best suited for the big cats and rooms vary in price according to which encounter you receive.

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