From the zoofari to a late night gaol tour – Emma Ryan tries it all.
Go wild out west in Dubbo.
CROSSING THE BLUE MOUNTAINS on a Friday, Sydney disappearing in the rear vision mirror and a weekend of adventure laid out ahead, always gives me a little flutter of excitement. As we headed to Dubbo with five hours’ worth of tunes on our playlist, our biggest quandary was whether to go via the equally delightful foodie towns of Orange or Mudgee for lunch.
We rolled into Dubbo in the early afternoon and made a beeline for our accommodation at the town’s undisputed main attraction, the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. The idea of staying on location at Australia’s best open range zoo filled us with excitement, and we were pleased to find our digs, the Savannah Cabins, were modern, light-filled and stylish. With two ensuite bedrooms and openplan living spaces, these are perfect for families or two travelling couples, and the more affordable option at the zoo.
Nearby, the premium Zoofari Lodge offers luxury “glamping” eco-tents overlooking the private African-like savannah exhibition. Guests wake to giraffes feeding out the front, dine on sumptuous African banquets and enjoy dawn and dusk safari bus tours taking them behind the scenes of the zoo to get up close and personal with the animals. This is the full African safari experience just five hours from Sydney, and a truly unique holiday.
But our time with the animals would have to wait until tomorrow. Tonight, we were going into town for a Spanishinspired tapas dinner at the fabulous
Two Doors Tapas and Wine Bar on the main street of town. We shared seafood paella and sticky pork belly with a bottle of tempranillo.
After dinner we headed to the Old
Dubbo Gaol for an after-dark tour of this Victorian-era prison with a dark history. Built in 1847, the maximum security prison was the site of much human suffering and even death at the hands of brutal punitive policy. The tour includes the cell block, exercise yards, infirmary and even solitary confinement – all by torchlight – while hearing prisoners’ tales of woe. There are also daytime tours and kid-friendly theatrical events held at the gaol, a fascinating glimpse into the past.
The next day we were up bright and early for a fabulous breakfast at Press, a hip café serving city-quality coffee and food. It wouldn’t be our last visit, but we made haste back to the zoo for our day of animal encounters.
First stop, the buggy hut. The zoo is laid out across a 6km circuit and guests are invited to drive, cycle or buggy around. For us, there was no question: we had the wind in our hair and smiles on our dials in no time!
Our next stop was the black rhino exhibit where an extremely cute baby grazed alongside his hefty and critically endangered mama. We paid the small additional charge to handfeed a group of graceful giraffes, before moving on to see a family of lions with three cheeky cubs.
Throughout the day the zoo runs free talks and feeding shows, so we had plugged several of those into our schedule. We had a date with the hippos, the elephants, the otters, the African wild dogs and more. We also signed ourselves up for some up close and personal encounters, which included feeding Sumatran tigers and nattering with meerkats. If that all sounds like too much to fit into one day, worry not – entry to the zoo is valid for two consecutive days to ensure the whole family gets plenty of quality time with their choice of magnificent creatures.
As the sun rose on our final day we went back into town for a caffeine hit, a leisurely breakfast and a spot of regional art and a mid-century architecture exhibition at the excellent
Western Plains Cultural Centre. Then it was time to drive home, reflecting on our wonderful Dubbo weekend.
Getting around a Hire a bike or cart to meet the locals at the zoo.
In the wild Zoofari lodges offer a luxury “camp out”.
Up close See, hear and smell the wildlife when you stay at Dubbo’s zoo.
In the drink
A converted wine cellar at the Outback Cellar sleeps seven.
Room and a view The Boathouse Villa looks out over scenic vineyards.
Share a serve
Enjoy Spanish-style cuisine at Two Doors.
Lock up Step back in time at the Dubbo Gaol.