Remember what it was like to be a child exploring new places? Maybe you think that world has been lost, overtaken by the stresses of everyday life, endless busyness and social-media distractions. Dubbo may be just the antidote.
But if you’re looking to give your kids great childhood memories, there are still great big adventures out there.
Hear lions roar. Listen to prison escape stories. Clamber into caves. Watch as airplanes take off on rescue missions. Great holidays are definitely not a thing of the past.
You can certainly have a great family holiday in Dubbo. This flourishing regional city is a destination for everyone to enjoy, with plenty of family-friendly activities, cosmopolitan accommodation choices (with all the creature comforts) and a thriving dining and cafe scene to keep adults happy too.
The biggest attractions? Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Old Dubbo Gaol, Wellington Caves and the Royal Flying Doctor Visitor Experience.
You won’t want to miss any of the ‘big 4’ and, with the multi-ticket Great Big Adventure Pass, you don’t have to.
The pass gives you access to all four attractions in one, easy transaction for a cost-effective and easy way to make the most of your Dubbo family holiday.
So let the kids’ imagination run free, crank up the fun levels, and set off on a holiday to remember.
Where the wild things are
Any zoo is a magnet for children, but Taronga Western Plains Zoo takes it to another level by featuring endangered animals from all over the world in natural settings.
In fact, the zoo is so big that getting around is an entertainment in itself. Choose from driving, cycling or an electric cart for the 5.5-kilometre circuit.
As you tour the open-air zoo, you’ll find yourself eyeballing elephants, fat-bellied zebras, herds of antelope, black rhinos, cheetahs and more.
There are endearing creatures too, such as meerkats and Australian bilbies the kids might only have seen in chocolate form at Easter.
The Great Big Adventure Pass is valid over two days for the zoo, so you can return for a more in-depth look.
The kids will love the Keeper Activities, which include talks and animal feeds at elephant, rhino, lion, tiger, hippo enclosures.
It’s also a great chance to introduce them to not-so-well-known creatures such as spider monkeys and takhi horses.
The zoo isn’t just fun but educational. Even the adults will be fascinated. Who knew elephants ‘listen’ with their feet or that giraffes have purple tongues?
A journey back in time
Dubbo’s history dates back to ancient Indigenous times, and the region is rich in early settler lore.
History comes alive for the kids at Old Dubbo Gaol, a wonderfully restored State Heritage site that provides an eye-opening insight into the awful experience of 19th-century prison life.
With a self-guided tour to follow, the kids won’t feel constrained by a tour guide.
You can explore the exercise yard, infirmary block and cells, the walls of which are scratched with the names and drawings of prisoners; challenge your kids to find the etching of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Look out for an encounter with a condemned man and a ghost.
You can also get a feel for the guards’ life by inspecting the officers’ rooms and clambering up the watchtower for a view over the prison precinct.
During school holidays, there are performances by characters in costume.
Beware the crotchety warden and the pickpocket! The kids will be enthralled with dramatic escape stories.
A land down under
What child doesn’t like a good cave adventure? Surely none, but if you really have to sell it as the day’s excursion, promise your kids crystals, fossils and fossilised bat poo (guano).
Wellington Caves outside Dubbo has plenty more for the wide-eyed as well, including a 300-step trail through the depths, stalactites and stalagmites, and the bones of megafauna that once roamed outside. Tales of three-tonne wombats and seven-metre goannas should surely have them spellbound.
Your Great Big Adventure Pass gives you access to one of two caves or the mine that forms part of this complex.
The centrepiece of the Cathedral Cave tour is a mighty 15-metre limestone-and-crystal rock structure, plus great acoustics that will have your kids whooping.
Gaden Cave is smaller, but glitters with crystals. Meanwhile the Phosphate Mine is where you’ll find the bat guano accumulated over millennia.
The mine is also abundant in 400-million-year-old fossilised creatures embedded in the walls.
If you’re fired up about fossils, then everyone will enjoy the fossil-finding experience in the Discovery Lab afterwards, during which kids get the chance to sift through cave debris on the hunt for crystals and bone fragments.
Off to the rescue
The Royal Flying Doctor Service is one of the world’s most exceptional organisations, not only delivering medical care to one person every two minutes, but doing so over 7.69 million square kilometres of outback.
Find out how at the Royal Flying Doctor Visitor Experience. It starts with the launch of the service in 1928 and shows how its aviation, communication systems and healthcare have evolved since.
Sounds a bit dry? Not at all.
The visitor experience brings the dramas and stories of outback characters and communities to life, and you’ll also see the service’s operations through the eyes of pilots, nurses and doctors.
The family will be agog at the displays, which include both old and newer aircraft.
The kids can watch events unfolding on giant screens that show where planes are in real time.
They can also use augmented reality to get a first-hand experience of a medical treatment room and how it functions and clamber through an emergency aircraft, interact with medical equipment and touchscreens, and feel as if they’re flying on a mercy mission.
They can even try a simulated flight take-off – as long as they make sure the runway is clear of kangaroos first. Brilliant.