Discover Africa at Gold Award-Winning Taronga Western Plains Zoo

By Ellen Francis
As we drive along the dirt track leading to Dubbo’s Zoofari property, I am struck by how similar the the golden dusty hues are to the ‘real’ African savannah. Trees are sparse and widely spaced and grasses in dusty khaki tones wave to us in the breeze. The sky is glazed a perfect blue and the sun shines hot on the ground below. As I’m appreciating the flora, my seven-year-old son yells, “Mum, a giraffe!” I quickly glance to my left and there it is, graceful neck stately extended to casually munch on leaves that seem an easy ten meters from the ground. We then spy the distinctive pedestrian-crossing markings of several zebra, and watch as three or four antelope meander past. All this before we’ve even reached reception.

Approaching the Main House, where guests check in, eat, swim, or enjoy a drink and a game of chess in front of the open fire, the feeling of being on a real safari only increases. Staff are friendly and welcoming, and as they show us to our accommodation I finally realise what the term ‘glamping’ really means.

The 15 ‘tents’ are all named after an African animal and we are staying in ‘Giraffe’ – well named because, just like the regal beast, our accommodation is elegant, rustic and well proportioned. A large deck overlooks the huge savannah area we drove past on arrival. A pair of binoculars, sofa just made for reclining with a wine while game-spotting, and a chess table furnish the deck. Inside the french doors we find a huge king-size bed with overhead netting setting a romantic African-inspired mood, an air conditioner to beat off the dry inland heat, and a bathroom that the Regent Beverley Wilshire would be proud of. It comes complete with huge tub to wash off the savannah dust and a shower that seems so large they could use it to bathe the giraffe I can see through the tent flap. With attention to detail and authenticity like this, it is no wonder Taronga Western Plains Zoo took home the Gold Award for Unique Accommodation at the NSW Tourism Awards held on Nov 27.

The property also received a Gold Award for best Tourist Attraction, and the zoo’s draw cards are perfectly highlighted on the Zoofari’s three after-hours tours that visitors are taken on. Unfortunately, we are so content enjoying the afternoon relaxing on the deck that we accidentally miss the first – the Sunset Safari, but over a friendly, communal and deliciously African-inspired dinner in the Main House later that evening, the other guests regale us with enthusiastic stories of the African Wild Dogs and other beasts they witnessed.

The Zoo Under Spotlight Tour, where guests are able to unravel the after dark animalian mysteries, is possibly the most anticipated and we are determined not to miss that one. At 8pm we board the bus and are whisked off to witness white rhinos up close and hippos yawning large and long.

The following day we have an early-morning tour where we see the animals munching down their breakfast, and then enjoy our own buffet which includes the best muesli I have simply ever tasted, as well as bacon and the other usual suspects. We are then free to explore the zoo ourselves and decide to cycle around on bikes which are included in the Zoofari package, but guests can also drive their own car or hire a cart for an extra cost.

Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoofari is as authentic an African experience as you could possibly get without actually visiting the Continent itself. It definitely is an oasis of calm and understated luxury nestled in the wildness – the perfect place for adults and children alike to combine a relaxing break with an experience never to be forgotten, and well deserving of it’s recent illustrious awards.

For more information;

The Dubbo Visitors Information Centre is located on the corner of Macquarie Street and Newell Highway NSW   www.dubbotourism.com.au or contact +61 2 6801 4450

 To Stay Overnight at Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoofari contact Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo on  +61 2 6881 1488 or visit www.taronga.org.au/taronga-western-plains-zoo