The owner of Canberra’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge and stablemate National Zoo and Aquarium is overjoyed after receiving gold and silver in Australia’s biggest tourism awards.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge took home the top gong for ‘Unique Accommodation’ and the National Zoo and Aquarium followed Adelaide Zoo for ‘Major Tourist Attraction’ in the 2022 Australian Tourism Awards.
The lodge won gold in two categories and the zoo one in the 2022 Canberra Region Tourism Awards, announced in November last year.
Finalists from each state and territory’s gold winners were then put before a panel of industry judges for the Australian Tourism Awards, described as the “industry’s national standard of excellence”.
The winners and finalists for 2022 were named in an event in Sydney on 17 March. It’s the first year since 2018 the Canberra region has won gold.
“Huge congratulations go to the team at Jamala Wildlife Lodge,” Canberra Region Tourism Industry Council CEO Dr Naomi Dale said.
“The Canberra region offers outstanding tourism experiences and so it is wonderful to see that being recognised against some very tough competition. We’ve proven we can achieve amazing things when measuring tourism excellence amongst winners from all states and territories.”
Owner of both award winners, Richard Tindal, says he and the rest of the staff and volunteers are “very pleased”.
“It’s a reflection on the staff and everyone who contributes to it,” he says.
“The experience people get here is pretty unbelievable. They just stay one night – a 22-hour experience – for a combination of luxury and adventure. People are pretty blown away by the impact of it.”
Richard and his wife Maureen bought the zoo in 1998 when it was little more than seven empty hectares of land by the Scrivener Dam and an aquarium that had gone bankrupt for the second time. As a way of paying the bills, they came up with the idea for unique accommodation that let visitors get up close to the animals.
“We weren’t getting any government assistance so we had to do a lot of the funding ourselves,” Richard says.
“The zoo was never built to be money-making. The aim was just to try to make it pay for itself, with a bit left over for possible expansion. But we got to the point where we needed some more income.”
The Jamala Wildlife Lodge features three individually designed five-star accommodation precincts – uShaka Lodge, Giraffe Treehouses and Jungle Bungalows – each with its own wildlife experience.
“We get people as close as we can, and virtually all the rooms have some interaction with an animal, whether that’s the giraffes coming up to your balcony to feed, or lions, cheetahs or bears lying right next to your window.”
Richard says many people come away “changed quite considerably”.
“Sometimes we’re preaching to the converted – and that’s great – but sometimes people there for the adventure and luxury end up with a whole new perspective on conservation of the animal kingdom.”
The Jamala Wildlife Lodge was also a finalist in the ‘Tourism Restaurants & Catering Services’ and ‘Unique Accommodation’ categories.
Richard has floated plans to sell the zoo and attached lodge, on the strict condition any buyer comes to it with the same love and care for the animals. He says he’s yet to meet one that makes the cut.
Several other Canberra finalists include the National Arboretum Canberra in the ‘Tourist Attractions’ category, the Enlighten Festival in ‘Festivals and Events’, the Royal Australian Mint for ‘Cultural Tourism’, the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre in ‘Visitor Information Services’, Dynamic Motivation Mountain Biking in ‘Adventure Tours’, the Tallagandra Hill Winery in ‘Tourism Wineries, Distilleries & Breweries’, Alivio Tourist Park in ‘Caravan & Holiday Parks’, the Little National Hotel in ‘4-4.5 Star Deluxe Accommodation’ and Pialligo Estate for ‘Excellence in Food Tourism’.
Elsewhere in the region, the Mt Hay Retreat in Berry on the South Coast was named a finalist for ‘5 Star Luxury Accomodation’ and Courabyra Wines near the Snowy Mountains in the ‘Tourism Wineries, Distilleries & Breweries’ category.