Animals and Nature

Kids love a trip to the zoo and exploring a national park. One of the best zoos in the world is the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo and a scenic drive north is one of Australia’s most iconic wildernesses, the Warrumbungle National Park, shaped spectacularly by ancient volcanic eruptions.

The open-range zoo is home to hundreds of animals from the around the world, including Lazarus, Maya and six other lions. In the new African lion precinct Lion Pride Lands, you can get up close to the lions safely behind special glass windows and take memorable family pictures with the big cats.

Children viewing lions up close through glass windows, Taronga Western Plains Zoo

There are safari tours in a truck inside the lions’ enclosed kingdom, which is part of an international effort to protect the endangered species. You can also explore the zoo in a car or hire an electric cart or bicycles to visit the animals, including giraffes, rhinos, ring-tailed lemurs and spider monkeys.

Zoo tickets are valid for two days in a row. Set aside several more days or longer to see the natural wonders too, from the Warrumbungles to Wellington’s limestone caves, or kayaking on the majestic Macquarie River or in the bird-rich Macquarie Marshes, a wetlands sanctuary west of Coonamble.

The iconic Breadknife volcanic rock formation, Warrumbungle National Park

The striking volcanic remnants in the Warrumbungle National Park are ‘unrivalled anywhere else in Australia,’ according to a national heritage report. Pop into the Warrumbungle Visitor Centre for tips on bushwalking and camping in Australia’s first Dark Sky Park, a stunning stargazing destination.

Free of artificial light, the night sky twinkles with billions of stars. Australia’s largest optical telescope is at the Siding Spring Observatory, just inside the park near Coonabarabran. In the Exploratory centre at Siding Spring you’ll discover more about the Universe and the observatory’s research.

Group inspecting fossilised megafauna bones in Wellington Caves, Wellington NSW

For a journey deep into the past, the world-famous Wellington Caves are southeast of Dubbo. There are guided tours of the limestone caves, where megafauna fossils from the Pleistocene epoch were uncovered in 1830 – the discovery fascinated Charles Darwin and influenced his evolutionary ideas.

Wellington is great too for bushwalking and mountain biking in the Mount Arthur Reserve. Or wander on tranquil trails through rare and endangered native plants in the Burrendong Botanic Garden and Arboretum by Lake Burrendong, a popular spot for family picnics and water sports.

Another delightful picnic area is the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden, which has four beautifully distinctive gardens. Nearby is the zoo and the Dubbo Observatory, where you can gaze through telescopes at stars and planets. An astronomer will guide you through the galaxies far, far away.

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