Taronga Western Plains Zoo is reason enough to head to Dubbo with kids, but there are plenty more. From a gaol that’s no longer a gaol to a beach that’s not really a beach, Dubbo has plenty of activities and attractions to keep kids of all sizes entertained.
Here are a few recommendations from the locals – junior travel reporters from Bound Round.
Dubbo is a 5-hour drive west of Sydney, over the Great Dividing Range in the Macquarie Valley, at the junction of three major outback highways; the Newell, Mitchell and Golden highways.
The Tubbagah People of the Wiradjuri Nation are Dubbo’s traditional owners. Dubbo is thought to be a mispronunciation of the Wiradjuri word Thubbo, meaning head covering.
The first Europeans came to the area in the early 1830s. Dubbo quickly became a major pastoral region with a number of large cattle and sheep stations established in the area throughout the 18th century. As more Europeans came to take the land for farms, the Tubbagah were increasingly confined to the Talbragar Reserve until the 1960s when the government decided it was “unfit for habitation”.
Dubbo’s Indigenous history can be explored at the Western Plains Cultural Centre. It showcases indigenous artworks and the history of the Tubbagah People. At Terramungamine Reserve, families can see examples of Aboriginal grinding grooves used by the Tubbagah People of the Wiradjuri tribe to sharpen tools.
Head to the Old Dubbo Gaol to explore Dubbo’s criminal history. The goal housed prisoners until 1966. It’s now a museum and fully restored to its 18th Century glory. Added animatronics and hologram exhibits bring its stories to life.
Families can walk through the gaol and experience the eerie silence of solitary confinement. View the dreadful living conditions. Witness examples of prison labour, inspect the prisoner records and discover their crimes. You’ll meet the Condemned Man and guides will tell you stories about the Ghost of Dubbo Gaol, the executioner and the gallows.
Another great way to explore Dubbo’s history is on a Heritage Walk. This guided walking tour winds its way through the centre of Dubbo, stopping at many historic buildings. Hear stories of the characters that used to live here such as Flash Kate who ran the casino and went on to become a queen of the Sydney underworld. Or Dubbo Gaol’s most notable escapee, Johnny Dunn who rode with bushrangers Ben Hall and John Gilbert.
Dubbo’s biggest drawcard is, of course, Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Families can walk, ride or drive around Dubbo zoo. One of the best options is to hire a bike. The zoo has bikes for all ages, even baby seats for the real littlies. Have really little ones? Hire a buggy so you can cover greater ground quickly.
Dubbo zoo is home to hundreds of rare and endangered animals including giraffes, rhinos, elephants and big cats. It’s great to see them in these wide open spaces.
Throughout the day there are plenty of keeper talks and animal encounters to watch out for but to get the real safari experience. Stay overnight at Billabong Camp or with a view of the African Savannah at the Savannah Cabins and the luxurious African-inspired Zoofari Lodges.
The Macquarie River provides a wide range of adventurous activities.
Tracker Riley Cycleway and walking trail is a 13km loop along both sides of the river. It’s easy to walk or cycle with kids of all ages.
Riverbank Park is a great area for a family picnic and a stroll along the river. It’s here you will find Sandy Beach, a popular swimming hole. Sandy Beach is not actually sandy. It’s mainly gravel. The shallow entrance to the river is a safe swimming spot for kids of all ages.
To explore the Macquarie river, call into Adventure Watersports and hire a kayak or stand up paddleboard. More adventurous families can also try waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding or tube rides.
Dubbo Aquatic Centre has an Olympic size swimming pool, kids pool and water slides. Elston Park water park is another great place to cool down in summer.
At Flip Out Trampoline Park you can learn how to bounce and flip like a pro. Or simply bounce around madly on wall-to-wall trampolines.
Head to Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden to explore a greener side of the region.
Kids will love Shoyoen, the Japanese Garden. Shoyoen was a gift to the city by Dubbo’s sister city Minokamo, Japan. It was designed by students from the Kamo Agricultural and Forestry High schools. Inside you’ll find cherry trees, camellias and Japanese pine trees as well as dry garden landscapes of rounded stones and raked gravel, a waterfall, streams and a lake stocked with Japanese Koi.
Other gardens here include Oasis Valley which features plants from Australia’s diminishing ‘dry rainforests’. The Sensory Garden is planted with flowers and foliage designed to stimulate all five senses. The Biodiversity Garden displays local plants.