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Published December 12th 2015
An overnight adventure out of Africa, just outside Melbourne
One minute we're stuck in an inner-city Melbourne traffic jam, then just 30 minutes later, we are world's away, wandering down a bushland path to our private luxury tent at Werribee Zoo.
My husband, young son and I were thrilled to be spending the night at the zoo, taking backstage tours and getting close to the animals when all other visitors had gone home.
After settling in, we relaxed with a cool drink on our peaceful deck overlooking the zoo's savannah. We spotted emus stalking through the grass and kangaroos grazing.
The peaceful savannah surrounding our deck, world's away from the city
Our guide soon rounded up the few others on the Slumber Safari for our afternoon adventures. Bumping along through the savannah in our safari bus, we were able to admire the animals relaxing at home on the open plains, rather than in an enclosure.
Hippos, zebra, antelope, bison and camels all went about their business while we looked on in awe. Our safari included a one-on-one meeting with a friendly white rhino called Kapamba, and patting his tough, thick hide.
The giraffes look so graceful - except when they run
Walking back to our tent from the safari bus, we were lucky enough to visit the lions' enclosure after the zoo had emptied of its daytime visitors. As they roared in conversation to each other, we could feel the noise vibrating through our own chests.
We returned to our camp for nibbles and bubbly, followed by a hearty buffet dinner. Our guide then took us on an exclusive night-time wander through the zoo, including the chance to handle a snake.
The day's excitement was topped off with marshmallows toasted around a campfire, scones with jam and cream, and a cup of tea. After a tiring day we had no trouble drifting off to sleep (in proper beds), even though we could still hear the distant roar of lions.
The morning saw us visiting the hippos - all girls - as they had their breakfast, and chatting with their keeper who seemed to adore them as much as if they were his own daughters. Who knew these "river horses" were so beautiful up close?
After the Slumber Safari ended, we were free to spend the rest of the day in the zoo. Our family had arranged to take an Offroad Safari. We climbed onto the back of a smaller truck that was able to leave the tracks and get right next to wherever the animals were hanging out in the savannah. It's a personalised tour with plenty of opportunities to take photos of whichever animals interest you the most. There was no-one else on our particular Offroad Safari so we got to pump the guide for all the fascinating info he knew about each animal.
A white rhino after her morning mud bath, which protects her skin
After finishing our wild getaway with a stroll around the zoo and a relaxing picnic on the lawn, it didn't take us long to drive back to the urban jungle of Melbourne city. But the sense of awe and wonder is one that will come back whenever we remember the time we slept in the zoo.
About the accommodation
Each lodge (tent) sleeps families of up to 5 people in real beds, with electric blankets, and has a private bathroom attached. There are only 8 lodges in total so you will need to book in advance. A buffet dinner, breakfast, and tea and coffee are included.