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© Destination NSW

Discover why Dubbo is perfect for families

From off-grid trailblazing to thrilling animal encounters, Kate Powell discovers there’s more to Dubbo than meets the eye.

In the sheep-strewn plains of central New South Wales lies Dubbo, about five hours by car from the bustling hub of Sydney. A road trip it may be, but one well worth the effort, as there are dozens of great attractions and activities waiting to be discovered. For adventurous families in particular, this unique city and its surrounds will have you grabbing your paddles, gearing up and donning helmets and riding boots ready for action. So strap in, adventurers, because we’re taking you on a totally wild ride.

© Destination NSW

The must-dos

Dubbo is, of course, most famous for the legendary Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Taronga is home to over 4,000 animals from more than 350 species, including six adorable cheetah cubs who are now on exhibit, having moved from the behind-the-scenes breeding complex in October. Sure, your run-of-the-mill zoo walk-through will be an enjoyable adventure, but for die-hard animal lovers, a dive beneath the surface delivers heaps of bigger thrills. Kids will never forget an exclusive up-close encounter with the meerkats, big cats or giraffes, or other behind-the-scenes experiences. Make a night of it with a stay at Taronga’s Billabong Camp or Zoofari Lodge, where the kids can kick back in a luxurious tent overlooking the giraffedotted savannah. Plan in advance, though, as bookings are essential.

Another bucket-list Dubbo experience is The Old Dubbo Gaol, where history hunters can discover the colonial and criminal roots of this vibrant city, once just a small country settlement. Chill seekers might want to sign up for a special night tour, which is family-friendly and available throughout the NSW school holidays, on long weekends and for groups. Little historians can become a 19th-century prisoner for the evening, learning lots of cool history with an immersive theatrical twist.

© Destination NSW

Time to explore

Once you’ve knocked off the must-dos, it’s time to explore Dubbo’s hidden gems. Leave the city limits behind for an outing on the beautiful Macquarie, one of the state’s largest inland rivers. Adventure Craft Hire offers kayaks and stand-up paddleboards along with all the safety gear you need, so families can choose their preferred mode of discovery and set whatever pace they please.

Along the river, young explorers can discover ancient rock carvings created by the Tubbagah people at the Terramungamine Rock Grooves, a site of tremendous significance for some of Australia’s oldest cultures. These rocks were not only an important meeting place but were also once used by the Wiradjuri tribe, who have resided in this region for more than 40,000 years, to shape tools and spears.

"Set up camp for the night under a sky of diamond-studded black velvet."

Continue your kids’ lessons in Australian history at the Western Plains Cultural Centre’s Dendroglyph, an intricately carved tree traditionally used to mark the graves of important Indigenous men.

Or discover the quaint countryside with the Western Plains Riding Centre, where every member of the family can hop on a horse, as all experience levels are catered for. Trail rides are suitable for kids aged eight years and older and are a great way to explore some of the region’s natural beauty. Then it’s time to reach for the stars at Dubbo Observatory, where aspiring astronomers will be thrilled to discover the secrets of the night sky through its telescopes. Expert-led tours are available, with guides who can point out the specific planets, star clusters and galaxies you find.

© Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo

Great Plains indeed

Take your expeditions a little further afield and you’ll find that there’s lots to discover beyond the city of Dubbo, too. Avid fishing families should be sure to make time for the journey to Lake Burrendong, close to the town of Wellington. It’s the go-to spot for all things water including boating, canoeing and swimming, and its kids’ club runs school holiday programs will get your littlies out in the great outdoors, enjoying nature and making lots of new friends.

Continue the digital detox with a trip to the three peaks of Mount Arthur Reserve, where you’ll find several great bushwalking trails with spectacular views of lush valleys and the Macquarie River. In the Warrumbungle region, you’ll find the Southern Hemisphere’s first and only Dark Sky Park. Set up camp for the night under a sky of diamond-studded black velvet and take the time to reconnect, perhaps over a family picnic.

Once you’ve taken in your fill of beautiful Australian flora, head on to its unique fauna with a trip to the Emu Logic Farm. Here, kids can meet our country’s flightless birds up close; time your visit from mid-July to catch newly hatched chicks discovering their long legs for the first time! Did you know that emus are the second largest bird on the planet?

This article originally appeared in volume 58 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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