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Zoo sleepovers

Bedtime becomes a lot more exciting when you’re bunking with the residents of your favourite zoo, as Louise Wedgwood discovers.

Werribee Open Range Zoo, Melbourne

Just half an hour from Melbourne’s CBD, our family fell asleep listening to the distant roar of lions on a Slumber Safari, one of the wild experiences offered by Werribee Open Range Zoo. Overlooking the savannah from our luxury tent’s verandah, our three-year-old son excitedly pointed out emus and kangaroos grazing on our doorstep... but the most exciting wildlife encounters were still to come. We joined our fellow glampers for an afternoon bus tour of the African animals roaming the huge plains: gangly giraffes, cumbersome rhinos, hairy bison, graceful antelope and striking zebras. We were lucky enough to meet one of the white rhinos, Kapamba, and were enchanted by the feel of his thick, coarse skin. A glass of bubbly and nibbles before an African-inspired buffet dinner followed the meet and greet. For the kids, toasting marshmallows on the campfire was the perfect finale to a busy day. Unsurprisingly, we slept soundly in our beds that night, ready to commence the backstage tour of enclosures the next morning. Two days of zoo entry is included in your slumber experience so we took the Family Offroad Safari after watching hippopotamuses eat their breakfast. There’s a free safari for all visitors, but the beauty of the off-road tour is you can leave the tracks and get close enough to touch the animals (almost). We left with stunning photos, vibrant memories and a lingering sense of awe.

Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne

After the daytime visitors leave, discover the peace of this inner-city zoo at night. From September to May you can drift off to sleep with the sounds of the animals surrounding your tent in the former Elephant House (tents, mattresses and meals included). On the after-dark tour, you and the kids (ages five years and over) can all find something to marvel at. Guides carry infrared lights that let you catch a glimpse of the elusive animals who only come out to party at night without disturbing them. When day breaks, another guided walk includes up-close encounters like hand-feeding the giraffes, before you are free to explore the zoo at your own pace.

Mansfield Zoo, Mansfield

Mansfield Zoo is the home of a wild sleepover experience with the tamest of prices, and kids of all ages are welcome to join the party. Your sleepover includes two days’ entry and access to 12 hectares of this picturesque sanctuary, housing a large collection of exotic and native animals. You can feed many of them yourself as you wander the grounds at your leisure, but some meal times are best left to the staff. Watch the zoo’s unusual white lions (as well as their familiar tawny-coloured pals) enjoying a meal on weekends and school holidays. Bring your own tent, barbecue dinner and brekky to combine the simplicity of camping with the excitement of sleeping among wildlife.


Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

From the deck of your own safari-style lodge behind the African Savannah, admire the giraffe, zebra and antelope nibbling on your front lawn. Rates include two days of zoo admission, although it’s always a challenge to squeeze everything in, with tigers, hippos and meerkats, as well as a black rhino and her son born in April 2015, demanding the kids’ attention. Your ‘Zoofari’ also takes you on two privileged tours to appreciate the wildlife from behind the scenes. In the evening recharge your batteries at the Guest House, where you can relax in the bar, library or lounge area before the African-inspired dinner, while little cubs take a dip in the saltwater pool. Children of any age can join in the excitement and babies under 12 months stay free.

Taronga Zoo, Sydney

When the sun sets and darkness settles over Taronga Zoo, journey into its heart where giants of the animal world are stirring in their sleep. Your lavish campsite overlooks Sydney Harbour, ensuring you feel very much like the King of the Jungle during your stay. After a buffet dinner, the panoramic views continue as you are taken on a night-time safari before settling in for the night. Throughout the experience (that continues with two private encounters in the morning) you’ll become friends with families and creatures alike, with memorable moments ranging from handfeeding a family of giraffes to being entertained by Mitchy, a boisterous Californian seal. You can treat your family to this unusual sleepover on Wednesday through to Sunday evenings throughout the year, or any night during NSW school holidays. Kids need to be at least five.

Roar and snore taronga


Adelaide Zoo, Adelaide

Imagine a setting that’s wild and unique, where lions roar and the calls of cheeky gibbons punctuate the atmosphere. This is what dinner under the stars in the spectacular surrounds of Adelaide Zoo sounds like. You’ll take a night safari, feed the meerkats their breakfast, and enjoy a behind-the-scenes panda experience during your stay, with a three-course barbecue dinner and breakfast provided. When you bunk down, there’s no need to worry about the zoo’s cheeky monkeys or cuddly joeys hopping into bed with you (BYO sleeping bag and pillow) with the two-person tents set high up on the rooftop garden overlooking the zoo. Kids need to be at least six years old before you can treat them to this experience.


Underwater World SEA LIFE Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast

Why not make like the Little Mermaid and explore the depths at Underwater World SEA LIFE Mooloolaba? Some animals live in places that we can usually only dream of, but on the Sunshine Coast you can find out what it’s like to sleep under the sea when you spend a night in the aquarium. Before bed, you and the family are taken on a special twilight tour. Equipped with headlamps, you get to see what mysterious marine life gets up to at night when everyone else has gone home. In the ocean walkthrough you can admire bright corals, graceful rays and majestic sharks and, as part of the sleepover, the resident seals will put on a show just for you. Sleeping mats are provided, just bring your own sleeping bag, pillow and sense of underwater adventure!

underwater world mooloolaba


Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra

Where else can you bathe in view of a bear, feed a giraffe from your balcony, or watch the sharks from your lounge chair? Here you’ll find three types of unique accommodation. In the uShaka Lodge (kids six years and over, except for monthly family nights for ages four and up), a shark tank extends from one side of the shared living area to the other. In the Giraffe Treehouses, it’s as if you’re wandering freely among the friendly herd while in the Jungle Bungalows, a lion, tiger, bear or cheetah may be your companion for the night. A threecourse dinner party is included with the ‘animal in residence’ as one of your companions and there are two special tours for guests, where you could meet rhinos, dingoes, monkeys, otters, zebras, bears and more.


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