Ever had a yearning to go on safari to Africa, well guess what? You can, at the new Savannah Cabins at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. It's a fantastic opportunity to cook up your bbq hamper and check out the animals through binoculars from the comfort of your cabin.
Driving along a red dirt track leading to the brand new Savannah Cabins, the afternoon sun shimmers upon the silver façade. Passing other families unpacking and settling in for the night, the kids couldn't wait to stretch their legs.
The cabins are numbered 1 to 15 assorted into groups of twos and threes. Our home for the night was no.15 looking onto the open Savannah Plain, only a hop skip away from where the zebras and giraffes were nonchalantly grazing. Too excited to sit still, the kids spotted the binoculars and skidded off to see the giraffes up close.
Savannah Cabins accommodation at Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Noses pressed against the fence, you can see the 10 Zoofari Lodges evenly spaced - the glamping option of camping, with four canvas walls, corrugated iron roof draped across with raised timber floors and close access to the Savannah plain separated by a few metres of moat.
With dusk falling, we wander back over undulating mini hills, past the long grass, the kids relishing their freedom, happily picking up sticks and stones and chasing rabbits as fast as their little legs could go.
The cabins blend into the surrounding environment with their slanted roof, unassuming beige fascia and transluccent windows running the length of the building allowing the sunlight to stream through. In addition to the outside is an east facing verandah, complete with metal and wood dining table set with sail cloth draped across the top, providing ample space to admire and soak up the atmosphere.
The cabins are spacious and sleep 6. Our accommodation offers a king-sized bed with ensuite, queen sized bed, overhead fans, airconditioning and a fabulous bathroom with a bath. The bedrooms also have built in wardrobes with mirrors, bedside tables and lamps. With a toddler in tow, it was nice to see that the portacot was set up ready to go in the bedroom.
The living space contains a well thought out galley kitchen with fridge, microwave/oven, dining table and a television wall mounted out of reach of my curious toddler (perfect to keep the kids occupied whilst getting dinner ready) and a comfy sofabed lounge. Providing all the comforts of home plus a mini bar and snacks on offer.
Little touches like the binoculars, lizard stool beside the bath, African zebra stripes and giraffe spot artwork complete the picture. Luxuries of large bath sheets, tick all the boxes for this home away from home accommodation.
Hampers for breakfast, lunch and dinner are available for purchase. Settling into our cabin, our pre-ordered Aussie BBQ dinner hamper was resting on the kitchen counter with the meat in the fridge. At $20 per person (minimum 2 people for ordering), the hamper included sausages, scotch fillet or marinated chicken breast, sliced onions (talk about making life easier), crisp garden salad, potato salad, fresh baked bread rolls and a selection of condiments and sauces, perfect for a no drama and stress free dinner on the first night.
After a long drive, a glass of wine was most welcomed with a delicious bbq scotch fillet steak. I'm not sure if it's being away from the city but I call it a night at 9pm. I couldn't have asked for anything more having had one of the best sleeps I've had in a long while.
As the sun rises, it brings a cacophony of cockatoos grazing on the recently turned ground. It's a sight to see as dozens of dozens cockatoos take flight without warning, screeching to each other welcoming the blue skies and warm sun. With a delicious French toast breakfast and bacon to fuel us for the day, we pack up and make the most of Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo.
Within an hour of discovering the lemurs, spider monkeys and grabbing a few snacks, it's time to hop on the 25 seater bus for the Wild Africa Encounters. With a very excited nearly 4 year old and 2 year old, the tours have an emphasis on seeing the African animals close up and behind the scenes which elevates our experience above the normal visit. As we drive into the African Savannah enjoying a safari - like experience seeing the eland antelopes, zebras and giraffes up close, the expressions on the kid's faces is absolutely priceless.
With lazing animals on the road blocking the route, this meant going around these beautiful black with white striped zebras. The only clue that we are in central western NSW and not Africa is the sight of kangaroos sometimes hopping between these exotic African visitors. First stop is the white rhino station and a talk about their feeding schedule and exciting news that 2 of the females are pregnant. Such fabulous news to hear that the zoo's renowned breeding program and IVF research have had great results for these rhinos that are threatened with extinction.
Our highly knowledgeable guide, provides commentary with fascinating facts and humour especially in regards to the rhino's fondness to pee on the fence posts which requires regular replacements every 10-15 years, you'll have to see the evidence to believe it. Next is the fastest land animal, the cheetah. Such a gracious animal who keeps her eye on her visitors whilst basking in the warm sun. Then onto the black rhinos to finish, with little bit of patience these nimble footed animals are lured over for a feed as we admired these animals from a safe distance.
The emphasis of the zoo is on animal conservation, I learnt plenty of facts about endangered animals, and the information is delivered in a child-friendly way so that even the youngest visitor will come away with a little knowledge, perfectly timed for my child's news day for school.
The range of animals on this 300 hectare out of the 700 hectare site is impressive, with native Aussie and African animals whose every need is met by the staff. Given the size of the site, getting around is facilitated by electric buggies (I even saw one with a car seat attached) or bicycles (with the option of caboose for the kidlets), if you prefer to get out of the car.
After the tour, it was time for a nap for the youngest and making use of the Bushland Picnic Grounds for a good old fashioned sausage sizzle before planning to go on a little walking tour to see the otters, hippo, Sumatran tiger and Siamang ape. We couldn't go past the option to get up-close and personal with kangaroos, echidnas, koalas and emus, an experience that thrilled the kids, as they quickly got into touching numerous creatures.
There are also picnic grounds and a safari park playground with animal sculptures, climbing apparatus and a flying fox. What is amazing about this zoo, is the clever use of lakes, moats and unobtrusive fencing, so it looks like the animals are free to wander while safely contained.
The verdict for this family of four, a weekend with the animals is a special occasion, perfectly timed for my birthday. It won't be a moment too soon before I'm back to enjoy this amazing accommodation again.
Getting up close and personal with the animals at Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo
Pros: Being able to view the Savannah, wide open spaces for the kids to roam, driving in your car, two day admission to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, hampers on offer
Cons: Spending only 1 night. Would have loved to stay for longer.
Getting there: 5 hour drive to Dubbo from Sydney.
Staying there: Savannah Cabins from $279 per cabin not inclusive of Zoo entry. Or $398 for a family of 2 adults and 2 children.
Savannah View Lodges (peak period) $399 a person sharing, under fours $79, five to 15 $179.
Serengeti Lodge (peak period) $359 a person sharing, under fours $79, five to 15 $179.
Billabong Camp: (peak period) $189/adult, $105/child. Family (two adults, two children) $499.
Cot hire available