We took a road trip recently from Sydney and looped through Mudgee, Dubbo and Orange. I was petrified of the hours and hours in the car but the kids had a terrific time chatting, playing games, watching movies and sleeping. The highlight of the trip was visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo and I’ll tell you why.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is home to more than six hundred animals and is the only zoo in Australia where you can see three species of rhinoceros as well as African elephants.
Overnight accommodation is in a luxury tent at the Zoofari Lodge which is located within the grounds of the zoo and provides magical up-close experiences with some of the wildlife. The tents are located just behind the African savannah so we were able to see and hear giraffe, eland, zebra and buffalo roam freely.
We arrived mid-afternoon and drove around the zoo, getting out to see animals along the way. Check in at the lodge was 3pm so we had time for a quick dip in the saltwater pool before preparing for our first up-close encounter with the African wild dogs. They seemed very ferocious and the staff kept saying that if we fell into the enclosure, there would not even be a bone left. I think this was to scare all the kids but I was pretty scared myself.
We returned to the lodge by 6pm in time for a three-course dinner, with a kids menu, so everyone was happy. After dinner you head out again, this time with torches, for a ninety-minute night tour that for us was the most exciting part of the trip. We saw elephants and wombats dining and visited other animals as well. By far the best bit was watching one of the tigers leap up on his hind legs to gobble raw meat by torchlight. Our guide used a very long set of tongs to feed the tiger and we all huddled and gasped as we watched him feast.
The next morning the behind-the-scenes tour begins at 7am, but let’s face it, anyone with kids is usually up that early anyway. Besides, the tents are in the zoo so the animals are your early wake up call. We went to feed the giraffes bucket loads of carrots for breakfast and we were licked many times by their long blue tongues. We also fed the hippos, rhoinos, lions and the cheetahs. The cheetah was tracking my youngest as we walked away and had there not been a fence between us, I might have been a little alarmed.
After the tour we returned to the main house for a full buffet breakfast before checking out. With Zoofari, you can stay the entire day at the zoo and enjoy the animals. Included in the package is free bike hire, so once checked out, you can explore the public areas of the zoo on bikes.
Zoofari Lodge caters to families with plenty for the children to enjoy including a saltwater swimming pool, library, a dedicated kids menu at the Main House and an educational and entertaining experience with the animals.
My children will be talking about our Zoofari experience for many years and it will be a long time before they experience something similar again.
Dubbo is 415 kilometres west of Sydney, about five-and-a-half hours’ drive (or stop in Mudgee overnight if you have children in the car). From Sydney you can catch a fifty-minute flight with Airlink, Qantaslink or Regional Express. From other locations, Dubbo is ten hours from Brisbane and Melbourne and five hours from Canberra and Newcastle.
An overnight package at Zoofari Lodge includes two days’ zoo admission, three tours, a three-course dinner, breakfast and bicycle hire, from $309 an adult, $165 per child aged over four, or $59 for children under four. Taronga Western Plains Zoo is open daily (including Christmas Day) from 9am to 4pm. For more details see the Zoofari Lodge website.