Let’s be honest, we’re all inclined to hurry through regional towns and cities on a road trip, expecting just a few colonial buildings, a quirky pub and a dusty museum. Big mistake in Dubbo. Instead of hours, budget days.
The flourishing hub of the Western region has enough attractions to make it the top family holiday destination in NSW, and is the highlight of a quintessential Aussie road trip that leads you from city to outback.
Dubbo’s biggest experience is Taronga Western Plains Zoo, with its fantastic wildlife collection and sprawling bush setting, as close as you’ll get to the real savannah outside Africa. Along the six-kilometre circuit through the open-air zoo you’ll encounter giraffes, zebras with twitching ears and antelope herds. Rhinos, Asian elephants and cheetahs are among the endangered species here and, as the zoo is not-for-profit, your visit helps care for and conserve wildlife.
Tickets are valid for two consecutive days, and you’ll certainly want to return.
For a start, there are various fun ways of getting around – car, electric cart, bicycle or even on foot – with newest attraction The Waterhole conveniently halfway around and offering a café, water-play area for kids and delightful look at the antics of adorable meerkats. You’ll also want to take your time and stop by inclusive Keeper Activities, which include talks and animal feeds.
Additional behind-the-scenes encounters with a keeper are also cause to linger longer and get face-to-face with hippos, or close enough to giraffes to be astonished by their long purple tongues.
For the complete experience, wake up in the wild at the stunning Zoofari Lodge, one of three overnight experiences.
Zoofari features unique tented accommodation, 15 lodges in two styles overlooking either the savannah or nearby bushland, and a central Guest House with lounge, restaurant and outdoor pool.
Waking up to the grumble of lions, squeals of elephants and, if you’re in a lodge with a view, to the sight of giraffes and majestic rhinos as the sun rises over the savannah. Zoofari is both a unique romantic experience for couples, and a thrill for families with kids.
Even better, a Zoofari stay includes dinner, breakfast and two exclusive zoo tours on board a safari truck for an inside look at impressive creatures such as rhinos and lions, and endearing ones such as gibbons and meerkats.
You’ll get close enough to feed giraffes carrots, admire a tiger’s yawn and inhale the earthy smell of rhinos, all while learning more about these creatures from an experienced zoo guide.
Don’t miss the city’s newest attraction, the Royal Flying Doctor Visitor Experience near Dubbo airport.
Find out how aviation, communication and health care have evolved since this Aussie icon was founded in 1928. Clamber through an emergency aircraft, and watch real-time operations unfolding on giant screens.
Dubbo has other diverse offerings, including a rich culture and history. Old Dubbo Gaol gives you a glimpse into the life of nineteenth-century inmates through interactive exhibits.
Take an entertaining night tour for that extra frisson, or an adults-only Beyond the Grave tour strictly for the un-faint of heart.
National Trust property Dundullimal Homestead demonstrates life in 1840s Australia, from kitchen to stables and machinery shed.
Meanwhile state-of-the-art Western Plains Cultural Centre combines art gallery with a museum, with exhibits showcasing everything from life in 1950s classrooms to the latest in regional youth art.
The great outdoors
If the kids have serious energy, head to Dubbo Regional Adventure Playground, with its flying foxes, giant slides and basket swings.
An authentic Japanese strolling garden unfolds its miniature vistas at Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden, while everyone will enjoy a sensory garden that encourages involvement of smell, touch and taste, and has interactive water features.
Is there any outdoors greater than the night sky? Dubbo Observatory has six powerful telescopes run by the fortuitously named astronomer Peter Starr, who gives guided tours of the constellations and helps aspiring astro-photographers take shots of the star-spangled universe.
But wait, there’s more
Dubbo is a launch-pad for an exploration of unique regional towns and national parks such as Warrumbungle, or for the journey onwards into Outback NSW towards Broken Hill. The Newell, Mitchell or Golden Highways all intersect here, tempting you along the road, but this thriving regional town gives you many more reasons to linger longer.
You’ll certainly appreciate its burgeoning café and dining scene, where Dubbo’s regional produce is always a focus on the menu, whether you’re indulging in mod Oz cuisine or dishes from across the world. The city’s coffee culture rivals the big metropolitan centres. Couples will also enjoy Red Earth Estate winery for its interesting grape varietals such as Moscato, Frontignac and, very unusually in Australia, Torrontes.
The family, meanwhile, will enjoy the challenge of Dubbo Escape Room, where you have 60 minutes to solve brain-twisting puzzles in order to get out. And nobody will ever forget a flight in an historic military aircraft with Warrior Warbirds; brace yourself for a loop-the-loop and a mid-air stall. Just part of the excitement of Dubbo, so what are you waiting for? Plan a visit, and create your own great big adventure.
Where to stay
Dubbo offers over 60 varied accommodation options. Here are a few examples.
ZOOFARI LODGE Overnight African safari style experience, inclusive of meals, tours, two-day zoo entry and bike hire. Book an Animal View Lodge and watch the sun rise over the savannah from your lodge deck.
CATTLEMAN’S COUNTRY MOTOR INN Numerous room types to suit couples or families, including serviced apartments.
COUNTRY APARTMENTS Townhouses, cottage and apartments with swimming pool and beautiful garden setting.
SHEARING SHED MOTOR INN Affordable accommodation with barbecue area, saltwater pool and cheerful farming theme.
Zoofari Lodge provides an overnight African safari style experience,