Anyone with kids, living in Sydney, will be very familiar with Taronga Zoo. It’s been one of our lifesavers some mornings, scratching our heads wondering how to fill the day with two children in desperate need of entertainment. As Zoo Friends members we’re regular visitors as the annual membership lets us visit pretty much whenever we like. Take it from me – it’s an investment well worth making.
So when we began planning our Central NSW Easter Road Trip, exploring Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo was at the top of our list – and if you have a Dubbo trip coming up, it should be at the top of yours, too. It’s fantastic. What’s more, our Zoo Friends membership provides free entry to the Dubbo zoo, so if you’re living in Sydney and thinking of visiting, it’s worth signing up to enjoy the savings.
A trip to the Western Plains Zoo is as close as you’ll get to a safari adventure in NSW, with more than three square kilometres of wild and wonderful bushland to explore and 700 animals to discover. In 1977, after much debate and planning, the site of the zoo, an old army camp used during World War Two, opened to provide breeding facilities suited to the large plains animals, like elephants and antelopes. Run by the Taronga Conservation Society, it’s no surprise it’s now the number one tourist attraction in Dubbo.
As a child I have fond memories of visiting this zoo with my brother and parents. I hoped my hazy recollections of driving around in our bright-orange Passat with the monkeys tapping on the windows would mirror our own children’s experience after their visit.
Our friends, who had already visited, recommended starting our day by doing one of the zoo’s early morning walks at 6.30am (the things we do for our children!). So in the rain, on Easter Sunday, after the kids had scoffed down their chocolate, we ventured into the zoo. In the dark. We were seriously questioning our sanity. But it was totally worthwhile. There’s nothing like catching the behind-the-scenes action and learning about the experience of the volunteers and the workers first-hand. They had so many great stories to share.
So how do you get around this vast parkland? Take your pick from exploring on a bike (your own or a hire job), in your own car through the 6km road circuit, or the highlight for my three-year-old son was to hire a golf cart. It’s a tad on the expensive side ($65 for 3 hours), but well worth the cost given it’s the part of the trip my son will remember most vividly.
Keeper presentations and animal encounters are scheduled throughout the day and the Giraffe’s in Focus encounter is definitely an affordable activity to add to your plan at $5 per person. It was a highlight for us, although slightly intimidating for the kids when the giraffe’s big blue tongue came at them to snatch the carrots from their tiny fingers.
At times, it feels like you’re exploring African reserve, as the open-range zoo is designed for visitors to view the animals in their natural habitats. It’s impeccably clean, with great facilities throughout and plenty to see and do.
At the end of the day (if there’s any energy left in the tank), drop into the Safari Park Playground and the new Safari Jumping Castle with a conveniently located coffee cart for the parents.
An added bonus is that your entry fee covers two days so if you want to head into Dubbo and explore other places like the Old Dubbo Gaol, you can go back the next day and see a bit more of the zoo.
If you’re not a Zoo Friend, grab your tickets online. You can save up to 30% given deals are often offered at the website store.
Somewhere to stay
To take the adventure notch up a click, we would have LOVED to stay at the Zoofari Lodge, which is located within the zoo, but we just couldn’t justify the $900 price tag for a night for a family of four. Let’s hope that the Billabong camping experience currently being built will be more affordable. Otherwise try the Big 4 Holiday Park next door. If, like me, camping’s just not your thing but you still want to be close to the zoo, this Big 4 camp has other “more upmarket” options like cabins to choose from.
Our base for the two nights was the Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn & Serviced Apartments. This place was clean and comfortable, not too far from the zoo and certainly all we needed given how much time we spent not in the room!
With Orange and Mudgee not far from Dubbo, planning a trip to this historical regional town makes for a fantastic family-friendly adventure. Check out my other blogs on Orange and Mudgee to discover more about these great NSW towns.