Caz and I first visited Taronga Western Plains Zoo, also known as Dubbo Zoo, with our own parents some 30 years ago.
We were long overdue for a return trip to Dubbo Zoo with the kids.
As you may know, we recently changed our itinerary for our road trip around Australia and have headed north via country NSW, so that provided the perfect opportunity to revisit the Westen Plains Zoo.
Normally we find it hard to get up for a zoo. A five month trip in Africa including safaris at some of the top parks like Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Masai Mara in Kenya and Etosha National Park in Namibia will do that to you.
But what got us pumped up about visiting Dubbo Zoo was two things.
Firstly, you can self-drive or cycle within the zoo grounds as a way to see the animals. And secondly, we were staying overnight within the zoo at the Dubbo Zoofari Lodge.
It was going to be like being back on safari in Africa, and Kalyra couldn’t wait to see the giraffes – her favourite animal.
The Taronga Western Plains Zoo Experience in Dubbo
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is located in Dubbo, in central west New South Wales. Dubbo Zoo is home to hundreds of animals from around the world and is known for its 6km circuit that meanders through natural bushland and around large open style exhibits.
I remember feeling thrilled as a child to be so close to these animals who were not trapped behind bars and roaming freely amongst large open spaces.
Taronga also has a sister zoo in Sydney called the Taronga Zoo Sydney!
Check-in for the Dubbo Zoofari Lodge wasn’t until 1.30pm and we had arrived in Dubbo at 11.00am.
Our drive from Orange to Dubbo left us hungry so we headed straight for Dubbo Zoo and grabbed an early lunch at the zoo cafe overlooking the lake and the ring-tailed lemur island.
Tummy’s full, it was then time to experience what Dubbo Zoo is famous for – the self-drive.
We drove the 6km one-way circuit stopping briefly along the way to come face-to-face with wildlife from around the world. They were friendly folk, and happy to pose for photos.
We saw Giraffes
Not a bad introduction in our first hour. The kids were overjoyed, and we were ready for what we could feel was going to be the highlight of our Dubbo Zoo visit.
Staying Overnight at Dubbo Zoofari Lodge
I’m not sure who was more excited about sleeping inside the zoo at the Dubbo Zoofari Lodge, our kids or me.
Once we got settled, the memories of Africa came flooding back.
It was going to be like waking up on a real African Safari in Kruger Park, without the 14-hour flight and $10K+ price tag – we were on a family adventure in NSW.
We had an hour to kill before our private afternoon game drive, and with wildlife roaming out our front door in the open savannah, what else is there to do than grab a cold drink and kick back in my favourite spot, our private deck in the Zoofari Lodge.
And with views like this can you blame me?
Inside our lodge (glamorous tent) was all the comforts any good safari tent needs. Our king-size bed had views straight through the front door and out over the savannah, and the girls enjoyed the big double bath.
Afternoon Game Drive at Dubbo Zoo
One of the benefits of staying at the Dubbo Zoofari Lodge is a behind the scenes experience with the animals.
Included in our package was three private drives with an informative guide, so we jumped on board the minibus with the other guests, and went chasing wildlife.
Kalyra’s wish came true. First viewing – the giraffes.
Other stops included visits and chats about the African Wild Dogs, the Cheetahs, the Meerkats and the Ring-Tailed Lemur.
It was awesome to get up close with the animals and hear expert commentary at each enclosure. Kalyra was full of questions for our guide and it was a great educational experience for our kids.
Before dinner, we enjoyed a cocktail and yummy canapés on the Main House veranda sharing stories of what we’d seen that day. Dinner was then dished up – a smorgasbord of meats, salads, and dessert.
Kalyra had a problem, she couldn’t decide between the chocolate cake or the white chocolate mousse. Hmm, someone’s been living the life!
On the night drive safari, we visited the hippos, the rhinos, the bongo and the African elephant. It was too dark to get any decent photos but again we got up close and personal.
Just as we got back, to add to our Zoofari Lodge moment the clouds rolled in and we had a nice down pour of rain overnight. I love falling asleep to the sound of rain, especially considering where we were; it just added to the wilderness experience.
Waking up on the Savannah
There was no sleeping in the next morning.
Savannah, our two-year-old, was in her home territory and it was time to feed the giraffes their breakfast of carrots.
Kalyra was thrilled about this, not so thrilled about the slobber from the giraffe’s incredibly LONG tongue, but her everlasting smile made this a moment to treasure.
We saw the elephants get a foot scrub and a mouth wash, and learned about the rhinos and the hungry hippos.
Our buffet breakfast was then served which filled us with energy for our next activity, our family adventure of cycling the zoo.
Biking around Western Plains Dubbo Zoo
Normally bike rental at Dubbo Zoo is $15 but you get free bike hire as part of your Dubbo Zoofari Lodge stay and this is a MUST DO regardless if you stay in the lodge or not.
We loved the freedom of cycling around the zoo, not to mention the opportunity for some exercise, and it really added to the fun family adventure experience.
Little Savannah got a nice free ride behind mummy, and of course, we saw more awesome animals.
The highlight of our bike ride was seeing Mumma Cheetah and her cubs in action.
The other big cat the tiger was on the prowl too.
And talking of big, the Galapagos tortoises were a hit with the kids.
But wait, there’s more. On our bike ride, we also met these guys.
And, of course, a few of our Aussie favourites were hopping around.
What a ride. What a couple of days. What a night!
I loved going back to Western Plains Zoo with my kids and sleeping at Dubbo Zoofari Lodge. It’s now favorite zoo experience in Australia and a must do wildlife adventure in NSW.
No, it’s not cheap, but it’s an awful lot cheaper (and quicker) than seeing the real deal in South Africa. Dubbo Zoo makes for a great alternative and they do a lot of things right.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo facts
Location – Dubbo Zoo is a 5-6 hour drive north-west of Sydney.
Dubbo Zoo Prices – Adult: $46.00 Child: $23.00 2 Adults & 2 kids: $117.30
Every ticket to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo is good for two consecutive days so why not stay the night?
Dubbo Zoofari Lodge – Your package includes:
- 2 day admission to the Zoo
- One night accommodation at Zoofari Lodge
- Exclusive behind the scenes tours with a Zoofari Guide
- African style canapés, banquet dinner and dessert
- Buffet breakfast
- Bicycle hire for two days
- 10% discount at the Zoo’s Souvenir Shop
- 10% discount voucher for Bakhita’s Café
- 10% discount on additional Animal Encounters
Dubbo Zoofari Prices: Adult from $309, Child from $49. Get the full price listings and inclusions here.
Website: for all the details visit the official Dubbo Zoo website here.
So if you’re looking for a family wildlife adventure, and don’t yet have the funds or time to visit Africa, why not start with Dubbo Zoo?
Want some more exciting things to do in the Dubbo Region:
- 7 spectacular things to do in Coonabarabran
- 6 captivating things to do in Coonamble and the Pilliga in NSW
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Have you been to Dubbo Zoo? Which animals would you most like to see? Share with us in the comments below!
We visited as guests of Dubbo Zoo and through our Partnership with Destination NSW