Taronga Western Plains Zoo is the sister zoo of Sydney's Taronga Zoo and is located in Dubbo in the Hunter Valley. At three square kilometres in size, it's quite a lot bigger than the harbourside Taronga Zoo and offers a completely different experience which draws around 200,000 visitors every year.
One of the biggest contrasts between the zoos is how you get around. Walking is a bit unrealistic at the Western Plains Zoo (where the circuit is six kilometres long) and you need to choose between driving and riding a bike (you can hire one at the zoo or bring your own). On my visit, I chose the bike, and didn't find it too tiring at all.
Because of its size, the Western Plains Zoo is also able to provide the animals with relatively large enclosures and there's a real sense of openness in many sections. The fences separating spectators from the animals are also often located in ditches, so you hardly feel separated from the animals at all.
Many animals enjoy big enclosures
Of course, being a regional zoo, there aren't as many animals to see here as there are in city zoos. But there's still many of the big ones everyone wants to catch, like the giraffes, big cats, monkeys and elephants (it's the only zoo in Australia where you can see an African Elephant), as well as the walk-through area of Australian animals.
The ring-tailed lemurs
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is even home to rare animals like the Przewalski's Horse.
The Przewalski's Horse
There are quite a few Daily Keeper Presentations to see and these are worth working into a visit. I saw both the Tiger and African Elephant Talks and enjoyed both. However, I particularly recommend the latter, where you get to see one of the elephant put through all sorts of tasks that are necessary for its care.
Getting his feet cleaned
While most people who visit Dubbo probably visit for the zoo, there are other attractions to be enjoyed in the Hunter Valley. If you're driving from Sydney, taking the route along the Golden Highway will allow you to pass through the area's wine region, while the shorter route through the Blue Mountains means you can stop at some beautifully scenic spots and take a look at both the Jenolan and Wellington Caves along the way.
Getting to Dubbo takes about five to six hours and after travelling so far, you'll need somewhere to stay, which may as well be at the zoo itself. Whether you camp at Billabong Camp or stay at the luxurious Zoofari Lodge, the experience will make your trip all the more memorable and both options include behind the scenes animal encounters.
Where: Obley Road, Dubbo
When: Every day, 9.00am to 4.00pm
Cost: Adults: $46.00, Children: $23.00 (Entry is for two days)
Phone: 61 2 6881 1400