Out of Africa

G Magazine

You don't need to trek to Africa to see the animals of the savannah - they're right here in Victoria.


A lion resting at eh Werribee open Range Zoo, west of Melbourne.

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Close up, rhinos are big. So when our guide at the Werribee Open Range Zoo regales us with a tale of a young male charging one of the open-sided safari vehicles, his horn piercing the metal side, it has the intended effect.

A ripple of excitement passes through the ten or so of us looking out over the savannah, dotted with stocky rhinos and cliques of zebras. Like an Escher drawing, it's hard to tell where one zebra ends and another begins as the stripes on their hides merge together.

A few hundred metres away, the banks of the Werribee River offer a cool retreat from the heat of the day.

If Werribee doesn't sound very African, that's because it isn't. The name is derived from a word meaning 'spine' or 'backbone' in the language of the Wathaurung people - the indigenous inhabitants of the land west of Melbourne.

But as I discovered, an African safari adventure is closer than you think.

For a fraction of the cost and carbon emissions of a trip halfway around the world, you can drive through the savannah, see lions, zebras, monkeys, rhinos, hippos and giraffes up close, camp out in style and wake up to the roar of lions.

The Slumber Safari, which allows you to do all of this, is one of a number of 'sleepover' experiences offered by the Zoo.

Let's be realistic, if your lifelong dream is to visit Africa, this overnight experience is not exactly a substitute.

On the other hand, if you've ever wanted to spend the night within sight and sound (and quite possibly smell) of exotic animals, find out what goes on behind the scenes at a zoo, or mark a special occasion with an unconventional getaway, you're likely to enjoy this.

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