If you’re looking for a zoo that makes you feel as if you’re driving (or cycling) on the savannahs of Africa, then look no further than Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo. It’s an experience that the whole family will love and remember.
To make the most of our long-anticipated trip to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, our family arrived early and waited outside the large Jurassic Park-style gates. It was the perfect start. As we drove through the massive gates, we felt like our safari had truly begun.
Only a brief drive from the city of Dubbo, or a five-hour journey from Sydney, Dubbo Western Plains Zoo is like no other. As the zoo sprawls across a massive 300-hectare site, any crowds quickly disperse and everyone meanders along at their own pace – you simply don’t feel like you’re in a zoo.
The first decision you have to make is your preferred method of transport. You can drive your own car, then park and walk around the enclosures. You can BYO bike – we saw plenty of bike racks and visitors riding along the easy route from town – for that full day workout. However, as we were camping and our car could barely fit our three young sons, bringing our own bikes was out of the question, so we decided to hire ours from the zoo. That was until the boys saw the electric carts. Before I could say “riding is so much healthier for us!” my husband had signed up for one and the boys had settled into their favorite seats.
The zoo follows a one-way 6km circuit with plenty of parking, picnic spots and trails to wander along for a close-up of the animals. Although all the animals are enclosed securely, there is a feeling of wide open spaces and freedom. This does not feel like a zoo in the traditional sense, which only adds to the richness of the experience. The circuit winds through bush, up hills, along plains and is as varied as it is extensive. I saw parents gamely trying to keep up with their children as they all raced along on their bikes, and I did see keen walkers who had realised they’d bitten off more than they could chew – this zoo is large in every sense of the word.
The animals didn’t disappoint. With a daily schedule of talks and close-up animal encounters, as well as your own self-guided tour of the zoo, you have ample opportunities to see a wide selection of creatures in as close to their natural habitat as possible. It’s difficult to pinpoint a favorite, but watching a Siamang ape nonchalantly looking out at us while he slowly munched on an apple seemed to tickle our family’s fancy.
The newly redeveloped Savannah Visitor Plaza is the hub of the zoo, offering a comprehensive zoo shop, wide range of food options at Bakhita’s Café and the Safari Park children’s playground, which absorbed my children almost as much as the animals did. Almost.
This zoo aims to please. You can stay all day and then come back and do it all over again with a daily zoo pass, valid for two consecutive days. And with all that’s on offer at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, I’m guessing that there were many like us who lined up at the gates the next day for a repeat visit.
Want to learn more? Check out the website for the Western Plains Zoo.