At the nation’s only authentic wildife lodge, it’s hard to determine who gets treated better: the guests – or the animals.
Our money has the animals slightly ahead, but that’s how it works at Canberra’s Jamala Lodge which has just celebrated its eighth birthday – and 100,000th visitor.
Jamala was created by Canberra’s Tindale family, who run the adjacent Canberra Zoo and Aquarium on the near 20-hectare site. It’s not only a unique tourist location, but part of a wider, global picture providing animal welfare and preservation.
It has been designed as an African-style safari lodge complete with 18 rooms and suites, many connected to the resident animals from lions and tigers to giraffe, meerkats, hyenas, cheetah, capuchin monkeys and even sharks in a five-metre ocean aquarium.
Jamala general manager Amanda Mead’s passion for the lodge began about six years ago when she and her partner stayed there to mark a special occasion.
“The first time I came here I just wanted to stay,” she said. “And a bit later I ended up getting a job here.
“When guests book in they often ask which is the best room … and I always say what animal do you like the most?
“The big cats are very popular with our guests but so are the meerkats.”
Amanda said although there was a wide variety of animals on site, they all shared one similarity. They’re all spoiled.
“They live in a luxurious environment, with the food, the toys … but that’s what we’re all about here. We know many people stay here as a special event, so a big part of Jamala is to funnel part of the money back to the animals and to their conservation.”
Amanda said Jamala, which had vets on site, took in many rescue animals which would have nowhere else to go if not for the Weston Creek site.
“That was always what the Tindale family wanted to do when they bought the zoo,” she said, adding that one of their aims was for guests to leave Jamala with a better understanding of the animals they had been gifted to get up close and personal with during their stay.
“I mean where else could you have dinner in front of a huge tank watching sharks swim around, or being watched by meerkats?”
It has also become a favourite “dream” location for the Starlight and Make-a-Wish foundations.
“There’s something about being near animals that has a real healing quality,” she said.
“Last year we had children from the Starlight Foundation and their families in nine of our rooms – it made for wonderful memories. Not just for the children but for their families as well.”
It is certainly a success story for all involved, to say nothing of the wider picture of Canberra tourism.
The lodge and zoo have a staff of about 200, from vets to maintenance workers, and a strong team of about 150 volunteers who help with guests and animals.
The lodge also boasts an occupancy rate of about 84 per cent. Guests predominantly come from the ACT and NSW but numbers from areas further afield are growing since COVID.
Winning the 2022 Australian tourism award for most unique accommodation and for the best tourism restaurant in Canberra also helped.
“We survey each visitor regarding the reason they visited Canberra and over the eight years, more than 85 per cent have said their trip was specifically to visit Jamala Wildlife Lodge,” Amanda said.
“Many of these visitors stayed in Canberra longer than their Jamala experience, or returned later to further explore Canberra. A lot of other tourism facilities such as accommodation centres, attractions and restaurants benefitted from their visit to Canberra. The financial input to the city has been enormous.
“We also get a lot of Canberrans staying at Jamala because it gives them the opportunity to experience a slice of Africa in their own backyard.”
To mark the birthday, Jamala is offering birthday specials to visitors. See the website for details.