From the moment we knew that Lookout Lodge was being built at Whipsnade Zoo I had always hoped that one day I’d get the opportunity to take the children for the ultimate overnight adventure. This year we were given this opportunity as a gift from my father and spent one glorious evening up at Whipsnade falling in love with a new side of the zoo that only a few get to see.
We had made our way up to the Zoo early as the prospect of waiting a whole day before we checked in was just too much. We enjoyed some of the Little Creatures festival activities and checked up on some of our favourite animals having their tea before checking in at the Lookout Lodge reception, overlooking the downs.
From the moment our hosts welcomed us with a glass of bubbly for me and apple juice for the children we knew that we were in the most capable of hands. Sam and Tom clearly love every second of their job and along with our Warden for the night, Ian and driver Bob we settled into our lovely little Bear lodge ever so quickly. The Cheetah Keeper and Sealion Keeper were bursting with excitement – obviously some of the imaginary Cheetahs had come too, and some imaginary owls, just in case. (I’m not sure why we needed them ‘just in case’ but clearly we did). I will admit to being slightly excited too!
Admittedly, I do feel
occasionally that Whipsnade is our second home. Actually, I think some of the staff there wonder if we ever leave. There have been long conversations in the car on the way home about where we’d like to live at the zoo, which animals you’d go and visit and where the cosiest place would be on a chilly evening. (the answer being the shop as there are plenty of cuddlies and sweets – obviously).
Our little lodge for the evening was very cosy – big fluffy duvets and comfy beds mixed with the glorious smell that comes from being in a wooden building. We certainly didn’t need the heater that night – we slept with the door open and woke to the sound of yaffeling woodpeckers and other birdsong.
Back to the evening. As the sun shone casting an evening glow over the paddocks, we fed the Bongo, marvelled at the white Rhino then boarded the truck to take us to the Lions and the Meerkats. Animals we’ve seen time and time again, but just that little bit more special when it’s just a small group of you with dedicated guides.
The view from the truck gives a whole new perspective of the zoo – admittedly it wouldn’t have been great fun in the driving rain, but as it was, with the sun beginning to set and the warmth of the evening making everything glow after the rain in the afternoon, it was stunning.
The journey through the Passage through Asia was probably one of the most special parts of the whole experience. Seeing new born fawns tucked into the nettles, slightly older ones feeding from their mothers and the rest of the herds enjoying the evening sun was wonderful. Heading on further, we got our first view of the baby Bactrian Camels and also spotted young Zak the Yak who was born in February and is growing fast. One part of the Lookout Lodge experience that isn’t guaranteed is a trip to see the elephants having their supper. If the temperature drops too low, they are tucked up in their barn for the night and have their supper there. If it’s warm enough, they eat outside – even baby Scott who still hasn’t worked out that if you lie right under your Aunty’s feet, she’ll kick you on the head – and if you throw your dinner over your back it’s very hard to eat it! If all goes well, Scott will not be the baby of the herd for much longer… We enjoyed a hearty, delicious, filling, indulgent and plain scrummy dinner cooked for us at the Wild Bite Cafe. Drinks on hand, lovely staff, great food, the barbeque going outside and looking out over the pelicans and geese is a fine way to spend your evening meal. Then, to get back to our little Lodge for the evening, we were led back, by torchlight through the zoo.
I cannot find the words to say quite how amazing this was. The animals behave differently in the dark, they don’t all just tuck themselves up and go to sleep when the visitors go home…
Watching the lions roar at the moon was just amazing, seeing the wolves prowl around, the cheetahs just watching – quietly alert and the zebras quite literally prancing about was exhilarating and awe-inspiring all at the same time. Avoiding the toads on the footpath and finding tiny toads, no bigger than my little finger nail at the side of the road was, as the children put it, “cool”. Then, back into our little lodge, tucked up for the night ourselves, knowing that the rhinos were one side of us, the reindeer the other and to make sure that we shut the gate behind us to stop the Mara deer and wallabies coming to visit – we slept well.
Up bright and early the following morning we were greeted by the lovely Cat and another Sam – our hosts for the morning. Looking down the road through the mist as the zoo awoke was magical – really. I have never seen my children get dressed so quickly – up and raring to go (and asking Cat for cups of tea and hot chocolate while I loaded the car). Back in the truck to head round for an excellent breakfast (and to note the cheetahs hadn’t moved) and then on to the important jobs of the morning – feeding the animals.
I suspect the memories of feeding the chimps, wild boar and bears will never leave my children. Nor watching the wolverines devouring their dead chicks and mice before play fighting around together (Wolverines look very cute, until you see their teeth…)
We finished our tour at the penguins, leaving the group half an hour to explore the zoo before it opened to the public. For those in our group who hadn’t visited the zoo for over 20 years it must have been absolutely amazing – we enjoyed a cup of tea in the Lookout Lodge reception area watching the view develop over the Downs – gathering ourselves for the rest of our visit.
We stayed until lunchtime – a visit to the Discovery Centre to see the young Saki monkey and catch up with the Yemen Chameleons is pretty much always on our list. With the warmth of the day, the butterflies were very active and we got to see one of the snakes shedding its skin.
The obligatory trip to the bird show followed – the keepers are now asking the Sealion Keeper and Cheetah Keeper for more detail when they shout out their answers – such is our attendance! I will never cease to be amazed by the beautiful birds nor fathom how some people take amazing pictures of them every time – when I need to take so many just to get one good one.
So, there you go – a slightly longer post than usual (and more pictures). Lookout Lodge was the most wonderful experience and a dream come true for us. If we could go again, I would jump at the chance, even in colder weather! Whipsnade really is a place so very close to our hearts, the peace and happiness that come from our visits there is so very precious – to all the team that made our experience at Lookout Lodge so wonderful, thank you all so much.