Dubbo Zoo Wildlife Safari

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Your heart thumps as you see the two cheetahs approach, their spotted pelage blending into the high, dry grasses. They run around to reveal they are the world’s fastest land mammal. When they spot onlookers, the cheetahs slow down and approach. This is a scene in Dubbo Zoo, a fantastic open-plains zoo in New South Wales.

The cheetahs 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 onto a set of rocks to get a better look. The beauty of the beasts silences the crowd. Nothing can be heard other than clicking of camera shutters.

Dubbo Zoo

This thrilling wildlife encounter is almost in the backyard of Sydneysiders.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is 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.

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, your friends won’t believe you captured them at a zoo and not a wildlife reserve somewhere in Africa.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo Zebras
Black white on four legs, these zebras are right at home at Dubbo Zoo.

For more things to do in NSW read:

Things to Do In Dubbo Zoo

1- Sleep With The Animals At Zoofari Lodge

Dubbo Zoo
African style lodges

Dubbo Zoo offers sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Africa staying the luxurious African-style Zoofari lodge.

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.

Accommodation options are:

Animal View Lodges

Animal View Lodges sleep up to four and are perfect for couples or small families. They come with verandahs perfect for animal viewing.

Bushland Lodges

Bushland Lodges sleep up to six people and do now have views of the animals and a short walk to the viewing platform.

Both types are lodges are close to the Guest House, which has a saltwater swimming pool, coffee area and where you can have meals.

2- Visit The Lion Pridelands

Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Lion Pride Lands at Dubbo Zoo.

Dubbo Zoo’s Lion Pride Lands is an African plain where you’ll get excellent views of African lions and good photo opportunities.

There’s a replica African village set up to show the relationship between villagers, domestic livestock and lions.

African lions live in savannah lands throughout Africa and are known as the ‘King of the Jungle’.

You can hear a lion roaring from more than 8km, they can jump as high as 12m and run at speeds of 60 km/hour. Don’t try to outrun a lion!

These big cats have an incredible sense of smell due to the Jacobson’s organ on the roof of their mouths.

You can access the Lion Pride Lands by foot or aboard the Pride Lands Patrol safari truck (costs extra).

3- Attend A Zookeeper Talk

Dubbo Zoo giraffe
A giraffe looking for a munch at Dubbo Zoo.

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 kids and an interesting learning experience.

The zookeepers 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.

Animals you’ll learn about at Dubbo Zoo are cheetahs, tigers, meerkats, Galapagos tortoises (they can live up to 150 years old), Scimitar-horned Oryx.

Some other animals to see at Dubbo Zoo are:

Asian elephants
Taronga Western Plains Zoo elephants
Asian elephants at Dubbo Zoo.

The largest mammal found on land on the Asian continent, Asian elephants roam the forests and grasslands in 13 range countries.

Asian elephants are sociable animals that live in groups of around half a dozen related female elephants led by a matriarch and sometimes join up with larger herds.

They spend 70% of their time eating grass as well as leaves, roots and other plants but their favourite food is sugarcane, bananas and rice.

Black Rhinos
Dubbo Zoo rhino
Baby black rhino at Dubbo Zoo weighing 200 kg

The horns of the black rhino are made of the same proteins found in human hair and nails.

The smaller of the two types of African rhinos, the Black rhinos have a distinguishing upper lip that is hooked compared to the square lip of the white rhino.

Black rhinos use their hooked lip to pull leaves from bushes for food.

The Black rhino population has been decimated during the 20th-century, due to hunting and farming activities encroaching their natural habitats as well as poaching (for their horns).

Although the black rhino population dropped to the brink of extinction – below 2500 animals in 1995 – the population has made a comeback due to conservation efforts.

There are more than 5,600 left in the world today but the species is still critically endangered.

African Lions

African lions live mostly in Africa’s grasslands where they can hunt prey.

They can survive in most habitats, except for tropical rainforests and deserts.

Lions are the only members of the cat family that live in prides consisting of two to 40 lions.

Most larger prides have up to four male lions about a dozen females.

Male lions are fierce creatures that mark their territories, roar to keep out challengers and young males leave to look for other groups to take over as the leader of the pride.

Surprisingly, the female lions are the hunters and they work as a team to bring down zebras, antelopes, wildebeest and other prey.

Sumatran Tigers
Dubbo Zoo sumatran tiger
Sumatran tiger splashing in the water at Dubbo Zoo.

Although there are few tigers left in the wild, one of the most threatened of the tiger species is the Sumatran tiger.

Estimated at 400 left in the wild, Sumatran tigers have thick black stripes and orange coats.

Due to deforestation and poaching, this type of tiger is heading towards extinction despite efforts in tiger conservation.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is helping preserve the habitat of this critically endangered species.

4- Cool Down At The Waterhole

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 ‘The Waterhole’ at the halfway mark of the main circuit is a great spot for a pit stop.

The Waterhole has an outdoor café with views of animals including blackbuck and sheep.

It’s right next to the Meerkat Tortoise habitats and there’s a water play area with water jets and decorated with animal sculptures.

Entry to the Waterhole is included in the zoo entry ticket.

5- Behind The Scenes Hippo Encounter

Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Bird sanctuary.

A behind-the-scenes hippo encounter will bring you face-to-face with one of the most dangerous animals in the wild.

The zoo’s resident hippo is used to meeting humans and going behind-the-scenes with a zookeeper is a fantastic opportunity to learn about these incredible animals.

Hippos love water and can spend most of the day underwater in the rivers and lakes of Africa.

They are fast runners on land and are extremely graceful swimmers able to hold their breath for up to five minutes.

The Hippo Encounter costs $59 a person and children need to be older than 10.

Getting to Dubbo Zoo

Dubbo Zoo
Africa-like bushland at the zoo near Dubbo.

Dubbo is connected with Sydney by rail, road and air. While Rex Airline has a 1-hour flight, a relaxing way to reach Dubbo is by jumping aboard the XPT train service from Sydney Central station to Dubbo. This 6.5-hour rail journey offers passengers fabulous views of the Great Western Plains of NSW.

Dubbo Zoo Opening Hours

Dubbo Zoo is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm. Tickets cost $43.20 (adult), $34.20 (concession) and a Family Pass costs $121.60 for two adults and two children. 

Getting Around Dubbo Zoo

There are multiple ways of meandering along the 6 km circuit 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).

Where To Stay At Dubbo Zoo

There are plenty of motels in the Dubbo city a short drive from the zoo, such as Savannah Cabins (self-contained), Billabong Camp (tents near the Lion Pride Lands and hear the lions roaring) and Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn.

Inside the zoo, Zoofari Lodge is an intimate retreat offering a private and luxurious African safari-style experience.

Dubbo Zoo
Dubbo Zoo
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Sandip Hor
I am a Sydney based international travel writer and photographer. Member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW), Member of the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) and Chairman of Australia, India Travel & Tourism Council (AITTC). To date I have produced over 350 travel features published in elite print and online publications in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Dubai, India and Sri Lanka – Sydney Morning Herald and Sunday Telegraph in Australia, Otago Daily Times in New Zealand Strait Times in Singapore, Toronto Star in Canada, The Statesman in India and Khaleej Times in Dubai are few of them. A key goal of mine is to visit at least 100 countries and see through my own eyes the Seven Wonders of the World. I have already touched my itchy feet on 76 countries in 6 continents and have glimpsed the beauty of 6 Wonders of the World.