TRAVEL

From the zoo­fari to a late night gaol tour – Emma Ryan tries it all.

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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.

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