On a farm it’s probably choruses of mooing cows or roosters crowing at first light; in the bush it’s more likely to be possums and cockatoos.
But how often do you get to hear an ostrich mimicking the sound of a lion’s roar throughout the night?
Or a lion itself roaring?
Those were the sounds we heard in the dark when we glamped in a luxurious tent on the grounds of Werribee Open Range Zoo during a Slumber Safari last week.
A two-day and one-night experience at the zoo for the four of us may have appeared to come with an extravagant price-tag, but if you break down what was included, the value is impressive.
Check-in wasn’t available until 2pm, but entry to the zoo itself was included for both days either side of our stay, so we arrived earlier to take advantage of that and explore the zoo before our personalised visit began.
When it was time we made our way to the Slumber Safari entrance.
As we approached the dining hut for welcome refreshments, we took in our first view of the safari tents and the stunning view of the zoo’s savannah beyond them, with giraffes doing that awkward, yet somehow graceful, knock-kneed wander they do among the zoo’s resident zebras and eland.
After being gifted a welcome basket full of goodies when we were assigned our tents, we settled in and freshened up before heading out on the first of our two up-close included animal encounters (which vary each safari stay).
The tents were set on sturdy decks, with heavy duty canvas and weatherproof covers, lighting, plenty of ventilation and rustic private bathroom adjacent, with its own window and view out to the savannah from the shower.
And much to the kids’ relief, available WiFi (as sketchy as it was).
I did think it might all make for a pleasant night’s sleep, but with possums jumping from between tents and scurrying under our decks, and bird life that, unlike roosters, didn’t even wait for so much as a sign of light to start squawking, that wasn’t to be.
The kids were highly entertained by the possum activity though, enough to even forget they had network connectivity for a while there.
Our first encounter took overnight guests on our own private safari bus down a path the regular zoo safari buses don’t travel.
We disembarked and came within feet of the rhinos at feeding time.
Warned not to make any loud noises and to turn our phones to silent so as to avoid startling the poor-sighted and easily agitated beasts, I somehow managed to accidentally open TikTok while reholstering my phone in my pocket.
I didn’t even realise the noise was coming from me at first because Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas was playing and I would NEVER willingly play that!
I was as embarrassed as I was shocked to discover it was I who potentially could have caused a rhino rampage.
But also even more embarrassed that anyone there now thought I was a fan of Mariah’s crappy Christmas music.
Anyway, after many interesting rhino facts were imparted on us by their keeper on duty, we headed back to camp, where champagne (for the adults) and soft drink awaited us, alongside the loveliest looking gourmet charcuterie board for each tent.
After the zoo had closed to the public for the day, we headed back in to enjoy the ambience of the antiquated Chirnside Woolshed and explore the Australian animal section of the zoo.
That obviously wasn’t enough for my youngest, who got closer again to the wallabies when he tripped on a bridge and fell over the barrier rope right in with them, creating his own bonus up-close animal encounter (much to the horror of the nervous little creatures themselves, but much to my gratitude it wasn’t the lions we were visiting after hours).
After we determined he was unscathed, it was pretty amusing.
And let’s face it, that will probably be the most recalled memory among my boys from our Slumber Safari for years to come!
Back at camp there was a delicious African-inspired buffet that had been prepared in our absence, with a selection of equally delicious desserts.
As night fell and the possums joined the party, our hosts lit a fire and we were given marshmallows to toast at our leisure.
Guests were asked to keep noise to a minimum after 10pm, but I don’t think the possums got that memo.
At 7.30am the next day, one of our hosts belted the breakfast gong by our tent (which was closest to the dining hut) in what would have been a rude awakening if the birdlife hadn’t already achieved that feat hours earlier.
Breakfast was also a buffet, with a fancy little cook-your-own pancake machine, but also with a chef serving up fresh bacon, eggs and hash browns to our liking.
After packing up our luggage, we boarded another private bus that travelled the staff routes within the zoo, for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the hospital and its koala rehab centre, giraffes having a morning training session and then their release from their sleeping quarters, before we sat peacefully on the stationary bus in the middle of the savannah for a period lengthy enough to attract many curious animals up close.
Our experience came to an end when our bus returned to the station, where we said goodbye to our friendly and helpful host — the saintly patient woman who hadn’t told my kid off for being a clown in the wallaby enclosure, nor glanced sideways at me when Mariah had gatecrashed the rhino encounter.
As with many things, a host can be the difference between a good experience and a great experience.
And lucky for us, being THAT family this time, we landed a good one.
What: Werribee Zoo Slumber Safari
Cost: $380-$425/adults; $195/child. Zoos Victoria members get 10 per cent off.
Duration: One night (each lodge can accommodate up to five guests).
Inclusions: Two days’ entry to zoo, accommodation in safari lodge with private bathroom, guide, welcome basket, refreshments, afternoon tea, dinner, breakfast, up-close animal encounters and unique zoo experiences, 15 per cent discount in souvenir shop, on-site secure parking, sunscreen, insect repellent and marshmallows.
Tips on what to take: Torch, binoculars, comfortable walking shoes — and earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones if you want to block out the late-night possum activity and early-rising bird sounds!