Waking Up in the Wild at Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Looking for some Dubbo Zoo accommodation that’s also really fun? Head to the Zoofari Lodge, where you spend the night glamping with some of Taronga’s most beloved animals.
I wake up shortly before dawn to the chatter of what sounded like thousands of birds.
Rolling out from under the covers, I push past the netted curtains draped around the queen-sized bed.
Jamming my feet into a pair of slippers and pulling on a complimentary bathrobe, I open the door and step outside.
The sun is yet to make an appearance over the horizon, but my fellow animal companions are already awake.
The giraffes moved slowly and gracefully, crossing the plains in front of me, in search of food.
Eland huddled together, drawing warmth from each other in the crisp, early morning air.
In the far distance, I spy an Ostrich. A shy creature, I am yet to see it come closer than around 200 metres from where we have spent the night.
As I watch, a Kangaroo bounces out from under a distant tree, completely shattering my African illusion.
This is Australia and I am waking up in the wild at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.
Dubbo Zoo Accommodation: Glamping in the “Wild” at Taronga
I personally love to glamp and routinely seek out places whenever I travel.
Glamping ticks a lot of boxes for sustainable travellers. You’re still in nature, the dwellings are usually eco-friendly. They also tend to be a little bit kooky, which is delightful.
When I heard that you could spend the night at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, I leapt at the chance.
Zoos can be a bit hit or miss – they’re either deeply involved in conversation efforts (like Durrell Wildlife Park in Jersey) or… well, their treatment can often not be great.
Taronga fortunately seem to do good work when it comes to conservation, helping sustain many endangered Aussie animals like the cute little Corroboree Frog and one of my favourite birds, the Regent Honeyeater.
I’d recently been to Sydney’s iconic Taronga Zoo – it seemed like a good time (and excuse) to return to its western cousin.
As far as Dubbo zoo accommodation options went, I made the decision to go the whole kit and caboodle and book into one of the Zoofari Cabins, with Animal Views – facing right onto the “African Savannah”.
Here’s how the night and morning played out.
Heading out to Dubbo
We start our little adventure in regional NSW in the regional town of Orange, just under two hours from Dubbo.
I have vague recollections of visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo as a child and wish to return.
The drive from Orange to Dubbo is 155 kilometres, along a questionable back road.
We are entertained along the way, by the presence of various sculptures of “animals on bikes” (enjoy!, the signs accompanying these odd sculptures have said).
The sculptures start at the small town of Cumnock and stretched onto Obley, becoming less and less imaginative along the way, as the enthusiasm for them clearly waned.
We arrive at the Zoo at around lunchtime, grabbing our tickets, maps and keys from the front office.
To access Zoofari, you have to travel through a series of gates that are only accessible with a keycard.
We are instructed to stop and wait for each gate to close after entering, to ensure nothing gets into the area, or escapes.
How we are supposed to stop said animals entering or escaping is beyond me, but them’s the rules!
Taronga’s Zoofari Cabins
We are greeted at the gate by a friendly staff member. She offers us bottles of water (we refuse) and leads us to our lodge.
Oh, it’s as beautiful as I hope. Half cabin, half tent, it’s split into two partitions.
The bathroom is separated by a sliding mirror over the head of the bed and a door.
We are spoilt with the choice of a shower and a bathtub. I resolve to spend a few minutes unwinding in the tub at some point in our trip.
Three quarters of the cabin is divided into the front room, which features a couch that can unfold into a sofa bed, a fridge, a kettle (so I can have my morning cuppa, hooray!) and a glass table, which boasts a trio of green apples and a pair of binoculars.
Dead centre there’s a queen sized bed – a luxury.
The bed is draped with a mosquito net – a practical item that gives the entire room a whimsical look. It’s necessary for this part of the state, which can be swarmed by the annoying little buggers at a moment’s notice.
Best of all, the cabin that we’ve chosen looks out onto a field that is peppered with African animals (no zebra, as we were promised on the website, sadly).
When I step outside the cabin and stare out at the “African Savannah”, a giraffe looks back at me, holding my gaze as it munches slowly through its evening meal.
Eating inside the Zoofari Lodge
After taking a little time to settle in, we head to the mainstay – the Zoofari Lodge, where we’ll eat dinner tonight and breakfast the next morning.
The evening kicks off with the wine tastings from around this particular region (Orange is famous Australia-wide and possibly beyond for its wine) and… why, Africa, of course!
The accompanying snacks are the real treat – all sorts of delicious breads and cheeses, presented with steaming bowls of crocodile and camel.
I’ve tried camel before but am yet to try crocodile. Tastes like fishy chicken.
After the vino and snacks, we sit down for dinner.
It’s a buffet and a decent spread. We choose from salad, goat meat, cous cous, lamb and barramundi (a type of white fish), with delicious damper (an Australian rendition of soda bread) on the side.
The food is served up in bowls along the table, that are passed around, from person to person.
There were two downsides to this scenario.
If you are sat at the end of the table, half the plates end up being cold, or practically empty by the time they reach the end.
The other is that because you’re all sat at the same table, you’re forced to make small talk with everyone else.
Normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I am exhausted.
If we’d been able to sit separately and help ourselves to a buffet of food, I’d have been all the more happier for it.
At least the food is good.
Dessert in particular is delicious. From three choices, I select a cut of warm chocolate cake, with ice cream and berries. Yum, yum, yum.
The Night Time Tour
We gather after dinner for a night time tour of some of the zoo’s most beloved animals.
The tour kicks off with an introduction to ‘Cuddles’, a longtime resident of the zoo (since 1977, in fact) and the only Western African Elephant in Australasia.
What a beautiful creature she is, ambling over towards us in the dark, lured in by the promise of delicious treats.
Cuddles has never been bred and had seen the demise of the other members of her herd (most unsettling for her was the death of her good friend Yum Yum in 2010).
She now spends her days in the company of the zoo’s other “Golden Girls” – Asian Elephants Gigi and Burma, who we are to meet the next morning.
From there, we move onto one of the zoo’s White Rhinos, a species which is severely threatened in the wild, due to poaching.
We get a good look at ‘Lazarus’ the Lion and end with a visit to the resident Hippos.
‘Niall’ is happy to see us and came out for some grub. ‘Happy’, in direct contradiction to his name, simply snorts and disappeared back under the water.
The tour concludes at 930pm. I’m sleepy from the sun, food and wine.
We collapse into bed and I sleep a deep and easy sleep, until the early hours of the morning, when I’m roused from my sleep by the area’s local birds, just in time to watch the sunrise.
Breakfast Time for the Zoo’s Inhabitants
We met at 7am (so early!) for our last activity of the day – feeding the animals breakfast!
First up on the agenda are our neighbours, the giraffes.
We each got to slip a piece of carrot to the two that choose to amble on over.
The giraffes eagerly slurp the carrots out of our hands, which is nice until the keeper Naomi tells us they regularly stick their tongues up their own noses.
Thank goodness for hand sanitiser.
We then pay a visit to an Eastern Bongo – a type of antelope.
As one of the males eagerly eats up our carrots, Naomi notes that there are only 200-odd left in the wild, making them critically endangered.
From there it’s onto an equally endangered creature, thanks to poaching in its home continent of Africa – the Black Rhino.
We met ‘Chikundo’ a male briefly, as he loses interest in us fairly quickly.
Taronga is taking part in an international breeding program for the Rhinos, with the first second-generation calf born at the zoo in 2010.
Last but not least is a close encounter with the zoo’s aforementioned “Golden Girls” – ‘Gigi’, ‘Burma’ and ‘Cuddles’, during their morning baths.
After a rundown on the animals from the keeper’s, Gigi blows us kisses and Cuddles waves goodbye with her trunk. Gorgeous creatures.
AND WE DRIVE PAST THE ELEPHANT ENCLOSURE AND GET A GLIMPSE OF THE NEW BABY ELEPHANT BEFORE HE IS PUT OUT ON DISPLAY WITH THE OTHER ELEPHANTS!
And then it’s over. We gather our bags and with one last look around the Zoofari Lodge, depart.
It isn’t with heavy hearts however, as we still have the rest of Taronga Western Plains Zoo to explore – by bike, nonetheless!
Is Staying at the Zoofari Lodge Worth It?
All in all, you get pretty good value from spending the night at the Zoofari Lodge.
Here are the two options and prices for this Dubbo zoo accommodation.
The Animal View Lodge is $319 per person twin share.
The Bushland View Lodge is $279 per person twin share.
- Two day zoo admission
- Bike hire (or electric safari hire if you select the ‘Premium Package’
- Two behind the scene tours
- African style canapés, banquet dinner and dessert
- Buffet breakfast
- All drinks included, excluding premium range, cocktails and minibar
You can check out availability and prices here.
Dubbo Zoo Accommodation: Other Options
If you don’t want to stay in the Zoofari Lodge or don’t much like glamping, there is a couple of other Dubbo Zoo accommodation options.
The Billabong Camp is a ready-made campground, perfect for families.
You get all bedding, towels and amenities provides. There’s dinner and a continental buffet brekky, tours and animal encounters and you’re granted two day entry to the zoo.
Prices begin at $205 an adult and $570 for a family of four. See more here.
The Savannah Cabins are self-contained cabins, which look out onto grassland.
They sleep up to six people and contain all amenities you’d need, plus free wifi and Foxtel.
Prices start at $299. You can see more here.
Personally, I’d shell out for the Zoofari Cabins. They’re comfy, chic and hey – you can’t beat the views! Plus, you can say you’ve tried glamping at Dubbo Zoo. Street cred to you, my friend.
Are you a fan of glamping? Have you spent the night sleeping in any Dubbo zoo accommodation yourself?
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