Is It Worth Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo (Dubbo Zoo)?

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Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is one of the most famous zoos in Australia, known for its open-range exhibits that not only allow you to get up close and personal with a diverse range of animals, but also allows animals to roam freely without feeling caged.

As animal lovers, and parents of children who love animals, we are always conscious of whether or not a zoo will be a worthwhile activitity.

two Giraffe looking at camera

Normally, we find it hard to get up for a trip to the zoo. After spending five months in Africa, including safaris at some of the top game parks and reserves like Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Masai Mara in Kenya and Etosha National Park in Namibia, it’s hard to get excited about seeing animals in an enclosure.

But what got us pumped up about visiting Dubbo Zoo was two things; one, you can self-drive or cycle within the zoo grounds, and secondly, we were staying overnight within the zoo compounds at the Dubbo Zoofari Lodge.

Was it worth it? In this guide, we’ll share all about our experience visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo and whether or not it’s worth visiting…

The Taronga Western Plains Zoo Experience in Dubbo

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is located in Dubbo, a small town in central west New South Wales.

Dubbo Zoo is one of the top things to do in Dubbo, and for good reason.

It’s 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, which offers a similar experience!

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.

people eating food at a table outside

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.

The animals were friendly folk, and happy to pose for photos. Here are some of the animals we saw…

Animals at Western Plains Dubbo Zoo

Giraffe  head

The first animals we encountered were giraffes. They have a total of 21 giraffes at Dubbo Zoo, which are split between two herds, or towers as they’re collectively known in the animal kingdom.

We also saw rhinos. Dubbo Zoo is home to a herd of Black Rhinos, as well as the Southern White Rhinoceros, which are endangered in the wild and almost threatened to extinction.

The zoo has a successful breeding program of rhinos and prides itself on its conservation efforts to helping protect endangered species, which is one of the reasons we like Dubbo Zoo so much.

If you time your visit right, it’s not uncommon to see babies trotting around.

The latest baby rhino at Dubbo Zoo was born in June 2023.

mother and baby rhino

Another common animal from Africa are ostriches, to which Dubbo has several. They look much bigger up close than they do on wildlife documentaries.

two Ostriches in a field

There is also a herd of Asian Elephants at Dubbo Zoo. Just like rhinos, Dubbo Zoo has a successful elephant breeding program and you may see some baby elephants running around too!

Elephants  in a grassy enclosure

They also have fifteen zebras, split into three groups. They welcomed the arrival of a baby zebra in May 2022.

Zebra in field

Finally, we saw a herd of eland, which is a large, antelope species from the large African savannah in East and Southern Africa.

Eland - Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

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.

Our Stay at Dubbo Zoofari Lodge

canvas cabins at 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.

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?

people sitting on chairs outside
A glass of wine on a table with safari views

Inside our lodge (a glamorous tent) was all the comforts any good savannah 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.

From the outside, the self-contained lodge looked kind of basic, like a huge canvas tent on a platform.

From the moment you step in, you will find luxury at every turn.

bed with curtains around it
a bed with curtains around it

From the polished wooden flooring to the walk in shower to the spacious verandah.

The only downside to staying at the Dubbo Zoolodge was that you had to leave it.

woman sitting in a chair in front of a tent
bathtub in a bathroom

When you stay at a 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

Afternoon Game Drive at Dubbo Zoo

Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

Ring Tailed Lemur - Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

One of the benefits of staying at the Dubbo Zoofari Lodge is the behind the scenes experience you get with the animals.

Included in our package was three private drives with an informative guide.

After we put our bags down, we jumped on board the minibus with the other guests, and went chasing wildlife.

Kalyra’s wish came true. First viewing – the giraffes.

A giraffe

Other stops included visits and chats about the African Wild Dogs, the Cheetahs, the Meerkats and the Ring-Tailed Lemur.

It’s incredibly rare to see wild dogs in the wild in Africa, so we were thrilled to be able to see them happily roaming around inside the park.

African Wild Dog - Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

Cheetah - Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

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.

family looing over fence at animals

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!

woman and child sitting at a table eating food
food on a plate

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.

A group of people looking at giraffes

A person feeding a giraffe at a zoo

We saw the elephants get a foot scrub and a mouth wash, and learned about how the keepers are caring for the rhinos and the hungry hippos.

A close up of an animals foot

A rhinoceros

a hippo eating food

After the keeper talks, our buffet breakfast was then served, which filled us with energy for our next activity – cycling the zoo.

Biking Around Western Plains Dubbo Zoo

Normally bike rental at Dubbo Zoo is $17 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.

A little girl riding on the back of a bicycle
people riding bikes

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.

cheetahs standing in the grass

Cheetahs - Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

We also cycled over to see some other big cats. The lions and the sumatran tiger were also on the prowl, too.

Tiger - Dubbo Zoo, NSW, Australia

And talking of big, the Galapagos tortoises were a hit with the kids.

A turtle

A close up of a turtle

But wait, there’s more. On our bike ride, we also met bison, koalas, addax, and Przewalski’s Horse.

a large animal in a zoo
animals lying in the grass
horses in a grass field
Koala in a tree

And, of course, a few of our Aussie favourite kangaroos were hopping around.

kangaroos in a grass field

So, Is Dubbo Zoo Worth It?

What a ride, what a couple of days, and most importantly, what a night!

Staying at Dubbo Zoo is definitely worth it, especially if you have animal loving children.

Our kids loved the chance to feed giraffes, the opportunity to see animals grazing from the verandah of your own safari lodge, and a chance to go on game drives as though you’re in on an African safari.

This is certainly a unique experience and not one you can have often in Australia.

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.

Every ticket to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo is good for two consecutive days, so why not stay the night?

Dubbo Zoo is a 5-6 hour drive north-west of Sydney. You can get the full price listings and inclusions of general admission and Dubbo Zoo Experiences 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?

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The Western Plains Zoo offers an experience similar to an AFrican safari with their Dubbo Zoofari lodge and experience. Click to read more

Have you been to Dubbo Zoo? Which animals would you most like to see? Share with us in the comments below!

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