My heart starts pumping as I see the two cheetahs approaching us; their spotted pelage blending easily into the high, dry grasses. They run around to reveal they are the world’s fastest land mammal. When they spot us, the onlookers, the cheetahs slow down and approach us.
They have slender bodies, deep chests, small rounded head with black tear-like streaks on the face.
What’s thrilling is they are only meters away. They climb up to a set of rocks to get a better look at us. The beauty of the beasts silences the crowd. Nothing can be heard other than clicking of camera shutters.
You must be thinking I’m on a wildlife safari at the Serengeti or Maasai Mara in Africa. Not really!
Western Plains Zoo
I am actually experiencing this thrilling wildlife encounter almost in my backyard – at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, located in the central region of NSW, about six hours north-west of Sydney .
Annually around 1.7 million visitors venture through this 300ha oasis of woodland and irrigated grassland.
It offers sights, sounds, smells and even tastes of Africa if staying inside the complex at the luxurious African-style lodge Zoofari.
Opened in 1977, this open-plan zoo, which is first of its kind in Australia, today houses several hundreds of animals with no cages, metal bars or concrete slabs.
Clever use of lakes, moats and unobtrusive fencing separates exhibits from the viewers, creating the impression of being almost face to face with animals as if you’re in a wildlife reserve.
Meet the animals
Photo opportunities are excellent. Seeing some of the images, particularly of the lion clan having quality family time, elephants playing, giraffes aiming for food high in the tress, rhinos, zebras, buffaloes and elands grazing, hippos resting and a Sumatran tiger cooling off in the water, my friends can’t believe I captured them at a zoo and not a wildlife reserve.
This zoo provides much more than animal displays. It is also an education base, a research hub and a world renowned wildlife conservation and preservation centre for species from throughout the world.
There are ticketed opportunities to feed some of the animals, like the giraffes and the tigers. This is very popular for families with kids.
An interesting part of the zoo exploration is the learning experience. The zoo keepers provide information about the animals, their habits, behaviours, diet, mating, gestation periods and many more facts and figures.
This is usually done during pre-set feeding times in a simple and child-friendly way so that even the youngest visitor returns home with some knowledge about wildlife.
And don’t forget, the zoo is a great venue to relax and enjoy with family and friends. There are many spots to stop, rest in the sun or under shady trees and have a picnic lunch.
In the main plaza there’s a cafe for takeaway or a sit down meal, and a popular kiosk at the halfway mark of the main circuit.
Sandip Hor was a guest of Tourism Australia.
Dubbo is well connected with Sydney by rail, road and air. While Rex Airline has daily 1 hour 10m flights, a relaxing way to reach Dubbo is by jumping aboard the XPT train service from Sydney Central station. This 6.5 hour rail journey offers passengers a great vista of Great Western Plains of NSW.
Zoo Opening Hours & Tickets – Open daily from 9.00am – 4.00pm. Family Pass costs $131.40 ($116.80 online) and allows two consecutive days’ admission.
Getting Around: There are multiple ways of meandering along the 6 km circuit the inside the arena. The energetic prefer to walk or ride bikes (bring your own alternatively bikes for hiring available), while other options are to drive your own car (can book locally one from Avis Car Rental if arriving by air or rail) or move on an electric driven cart ($69 per three hour hire)
Accommodation: There are plenty of motels in the Dubbo city from where the zoo is only a short drive away. Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn is a good choice. Inside the zoo, Zoofari Lodge is an intimate retreat offerings a private and luxurious African safari style experience.
Wollongong is another beautiful destination in NSW. Check out the Sea Cliff Bridge and other amazing attractions.
Planning a road trip? Put the Kiama blowhole on your list.
What else is there in NSW? Explore Port Stephens and Nelsons Bay for a seaside holiday.