Lay your head down to sleep as the lions roar, wake up to birds singing and giraffes meandering as a major investment transforms Monarto Safari Park into the largest safari experience outside Africa.

As the sun rises, you emerge from your luxury accommodation to enjoy breakfast on the plains as giraffe and eland wander by. As the sun sets, it’s drinks and canapes on the porch as lions roar in the distance. Welcome to Wild Africa, Australia’s most exciting safari experience located right here in South Australia.

Due for completion by 2022, the project is the result of a $40 million investment by Jayco Australia founder Gerry Ryan, who has joined forces with Zoos SA to build a luxury safari resort at Monarto Safari Park. For the first time ever, visitors to the park will be able to stay on-site to experience the best of the animals, with accommodation options to include high-end eco-glamping tents and a luxury hotel, as well as restaurants, bars, conference and function centres, a day spa, swimming pool and more.

“We believe it’s going to be the biggest safari experience outside Africa,” says Peter Clark, Monarto Safari Park director. “It’s a really exciting project that will give people the chance to see animals more like they would find them in the wild; somewhere you can stay overnight and get a feeling of being really immersed in the animal side of things.”

Visitors can experience the thrill of the call of the wild and the exclusive South Australian experiences on offer. “There will be some real luxury experience offerings for Australian markets and overseas tourists,” says Elaine Bensted, chief executive, Zoos SA. “People could come to Monarto and do the evening safari, then have a lovely dinner, stay overnight and do a morning safari; then they might go out wine tasting or down to the beautiful Coorong or to The Bend Motorsport Park, then come back and have a different experience that evening.

“It will also make a great location for a corporate retreat. What better way to start than with an early morning safari drive, then work hard during the day and go out for an evening safari and listen to the lions: it’s pretty special.”

Also special will be a 3.5ha, open-roof lemur walkthrough exhibit which, hosting around 40 lemurs as well as giant tortoises and other species, will be a journey in itself. “Everything we do at Monarto, we can say it’s the biggest in the world because we have the space,” Bensted says. “Adding more of these types of experiences allows more people to really connect and to hear the story of the animals.”

Construction of the whole project is also good news for the local community, with 72 direct and 151 indirect full-time employees expected to be required over the next two years, as well as an additional 90 staff to run the new facilities. “We will be putting on new staff; there’s also a fairly large component of hospitality workers going to be employed through the accommodation,” Clark says. “We’re looking at atleast 60-70 new staff for that project and the associated tour guides etc. It’s quite a contribution to the local community and the local economy.”

Once completed, visitor numbers to Monarto are expected to increase from the current level of 160,000 per year to 250,000 by 2023. “That might be a little ambitious but we like to set our sights high and we are very rarely disappointed when we do,” Bensted says.

To accommodate this increase in numbers is the construction of a new visitor centre, funded by an $15.8 million grant from state and federal governments and due for completion later this year. “The visitor centre we have now is a lovely facility but it’s 22 years old and we have just grown,” Bensted says. “The architects who have designed the new building really got what we’re about at Zoos SA. A lot of the species we hold at Monarto are from Africa, but we also do a huge amount of work with Australian natives, so there is a real blending of African and Aboriginal cultures and also a blending of humanity with wildlife. We want something that showcases technology, conservation, sustainability and an amazing visitor experience.”

While the quality of the visitor experience is of the highest importance for everyone involved, it’s conservation that lies at the heart of Monarto Safari Park. “We’ve always planned to increase the number of rhinos we keep, especially southern white rhinos – that’s the species suffering the most at the moment through poaching,” Clark says. “They’ve lost 8000 rhinos in the past 10 years in South Africa alone – if it keeps going at those rates, they won’t be here much longer. We have about 55 white rhinos in Australia and New Zealand but we believe if we can get that number to about 120, then that should provide a really good insurance population for 70-100 years, which is very important to us.”

Both Bensted and Clark take pride in the knowledge that this exciting new development is happening in their home state. “I was born in South Australia and think Monarto is a very innovative place,” Clark says. “I think with the plans we have, a lot of people are going to be looking at Monarto and thinking about how this could be done in other areas as well. It’s a trailblazing project: it does rely on us thinking a bit outside the square and trying to incorporate not just building an experience which people will want, but also trying to make sure we look after our animals at the same time.

“To me it’s a win-win: the animals are going to have huge amounts of space. The people are going to be able to see them more in the way they should be seen. I can’t see any downside to this.”

Originally published on the Future Adelaide website: Out of Africa and into Monarto <