Travelling (driving) all corners of New South Wales has always been a priority and favourite past time of mine. Due to our beloved state's large size, it is sometimes just not feasible to do over five hours of driving over a normal weekend. So when the first long weekend in 2014 came around I gathered my friends to do our first long drive of the year to one of our biggest inland cities - Dubbo.
The plan was simple. Eight of us (university / work mates) would drive to Dubbo in two cars, with two designated drivers in each car to share the driving (fun). We left Sydney at a sleepy 8am and took the scenic road through Bilpin towards Lithgow. Although the hairpin turns on Bells Line of Road to Kurrajong Heights were a challenge to my 2008 Ford Fiesta, the majestic views of the blue haze over the Blue Mountains, as well as passing by the stunning Lake Windamere (named after the beautiful waters in the Lake District in England), made the drive a worthwhile experience by itself. *insert cliché about journeys and destinations*
We arrived at Mudgee at around 11:30am for a lazy lunch at the local pub before driving the second leg of the trip to Dubbo. We took the shortcut through Goolma Road rather than the Golden Highway which offered us around two hours of vast country plains. For a Sydneysider, it always amazes me how the land turns red as we travel inland. After two hours of country tunes (on the limited radio channels we received) and bad travel puns (camping was intense *intents*…), we were at our destination: Taronga Western Plains Zoo (commonly known as Dubbo Zoo)
I believe no visit to Dubbo is complete without a visit to the iconic Zoo. We reached the zoo at 2pm which did not give us much zoo time before its closing at 4pm. To our benefit, the zoo pass is valid for two days. Due to the limited time we had, we stayed in the car and did a drive through the zoo (safari style). Luckily for us, we managed to watch the keepers feed the African wild dogs and snap a few pictures with the meerkats standing right by the window before we left for the day.
We stayed at Quest Apartments in Dubbo for one night which I could not recommend enough. The apartment is in the centre of the city and its design is modern and stylish. It was also very clean with a secure carpark at the back. This was a great choice for our group as we did not wish to pay premium for a pool that we were not going to use anyway. To make the stay even more magical, I also recommend fellow tourists to drive just out of town after sunset for stargazing – without the city lights, the sky was lit up by thousands of stars and the experience was just mesmerising.
My amazing friends bought me a surprise cake for my birthday :)
We woke up at 6am the next morning to do the zoo's Early Morning Walk (commencing at 6:45am). Starting at dawn, when the animals awaken, this leisurely-guided walk experience will take you to see some of the world's exotic and endangered species before the Zoo opens. The cost was just $15 and it was great to catch some behind the scenes action and also to be guided by the knowledgeable zoo volunteer who provided some excellent background information that we would not have known otherwise. In our small tour group we also saw rhinoceros and hippopotamus feeding, which meant that we did not have to fight through other visitors to get a glance during the day; highly recommended.
The tour ended at around 9am. We then chose to tour the zoo by hiring a bike. Other options include driving your own car (as we did the day before) or hiring a cart. We fed the giraffes (although I was interested in the various Animal Encounters, we decided as a group to purchase the tickets only to the Giraffe in Focus experience. Out of all the encounters available, the giraffe one was by far the cheapest (only $5!) and was a great way to interact with these African giants without forking out too much. Advice: buy early or day before – talking with other visitors later the next day suggests that the tickets sold out really quickly and we would not have managed to snatch tickets for the group if we had not bought the day before.) We also watched a tiger climb a pole and had an amazing day cycling around the 300 hectares zoo.
We had lunch at a café called the GrapeVine which the zoo volunteer recommended as "the best coffee in town". We went there for lunch and was very impressed with the food, coffee, ambience and customer service we received. Even though the weather was very hot it was lovely to dine in the back where the shop put up a shade which shielded the heat. The staff also provided interesting trivia about Dubbo. Before we left, we also visited the Dubbo Gaol.
We left Dubbo at 4pm and got home around 9pm. It was a long drive but this short roadtrip was very rewarding – great apartment, stargazing, friends, zoo, cycling - all jammed packed in two days. It was even better to have Monday off work to relax and plan our next trip!