Dubbo, a five-hour drive west of Sydney, and the surrounding Great Western Plains region offers up plenty of adventure to keep the whole family happy. Here you’ll find world-famous caves and outback star gazing, fascinating historical towns and thrilling wildlife encounters.
Uncover Dubbo’s fascinating history
In the heart of the Great Western Plains, the historic town of Dubbo has a rich colonial and criminal history. Tour the Old Dubbo Gaol to experience what life was like for the prisoners in the 19th century through its animatronic and holographic displays. The heritage buildings contain an intriguing collection of artifacts and offers a bird’s-eye view from the watchtower. Go on a Night Tour or brave Beyond the Grave, an adults-only tour (ages 16 plus) where you might commune with the spiritual world.
Delve deeper into Dubbo’s incredible history at the state-of-the-art Western Plains Cultural Centre, home to the city’s art gallery and museum. Admire a range of frequently changing exhibitions, or sign the kids up for a school holiday workshop such as sculpture or printmaking.
Get up close with wildlife
Taronga Western Plains Zoo is widely recognised as Australia’s greatest open-range zoo and is home to more than 1,500 animals from around the world. Lions, black rhinoceros, Sumatran tigers, elephants and giraffe roam 300 hectares of wide open space. The best way to explore the 6km circuit around the plains is by bike or cart, and every day there are keeper talks, animal shows and close encounters to choose from, including big cat, meerkat and giraffe experiences.
You can also get up close to Australia’s largest flightless bird at Emu Logic Farm, near Warrumbungle National Park, north of Dubbo. Take a tour and meet some of the 900 emus that live on the farm, then pick up some emu oil, soap, wax or emu eggs to take home. Visit from mid-July to see newly hatched chicks chasing after their parents.
Go on a cave tour
The Wellington Caves are about 8km south of the nearby town of Wellington. Here you can take fascinating cave tours where you’ll observe stalagmites, stalactites, columns, flowstones and coral. There are three main caves to see: Cathedral Cave, Gaden Cave and the Fossil and Phosphate Mine. On the grounds opposite the caves is the stunning Japanese Osawano Gardens, with its manicured gardens, stream and lake. You can stay overnight at Wellington Caves, with camp and caravan sites, park cabins and units available.
Dubbo is full of adventures for the whole family to enjoy.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo
CREDIT: Destination NSW
Family enjoying a giraffe encounter at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo.
Hop on your bike
As the name suggests, the Great Western Plains are mostly flat, which makes the region perfect for exploring on two wheels. Cycling trails run through the centre of Dubbo, along the Tracker Riley Cycleway out to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, beside the Macquarie River or through rolling farmland on the 65km Rawsonville to Minore Loop.
For those who prefer transport of the motorised variety, Trike Adventures in Dubbo offer unique and fun motorcycling tours. You can choose from a range of tours including a 30-minute Dubbo highlights tour, a High Tea Experience or an Outback Pub Adventure.
Sample delicious local produce
Pick up some fresh local produce at the Dubbo Farmers Market, held on the first and third Saturday of every month. There’s great coffee and plenty of breakfast options to tide you over while browsing stalls of fruit, vegetables, bread, meat, olive oil, jam, honey, nuts, wine and more. While in Dubbo, be sure to enjoy an award-winning pie from the Village Bakehouse. Run by fourth-generation bakers, specialities include chunky Angus steak, chilli beef and chicken-and-mushroom pies.
Cool off in and on the water
The vast Lake Burrendong, near the town of Wellington, is the Great Western Plains’ aquatic playground. It’s a popular spot for fishing, boating, water skiing canoeing and swimming. There are camping areas close to the shore or two holiday parks offering cabins and other amenities.
In Dubbo, Adventure Craft Hire provides kayaks and paddle boards to get out on the Macquarie River. Choose from single-seat or double-seat kayaks with paddles, life jackets and dry bags included. The Macquarie River is fairly easy paddling and there are many reserves along the trail where you can stop for a well-earned lunch break.
See the skies
The southern hemisphere’s first and only Dark Sky Park is in the Warrumbungle region of country NSW. Dark Sky Parks are recognised internationally for their outstanding nocturnal environment and clear, dark skies. Camp under the stars in Warrumbungle National Park at various camping grounds and heritage huts to take in incredible views of the galaxy. Alternatively, the Warrumbungle Observatory and the Dubbo Observatory, both offer nightly viewing sessions.
For a different perspective of the skies, take an adventure flight in a historic, preserved ex-military aircraft. Warrior Warbird Adventure Flights, operating out of Dubbo, gives people the opportunity to experience the thrill of flight, taking in spectacular views and the excitement of G-forces of up to four times gravity at the bottom of a loop, to momentary weightlessness at the top of a stall turn.
If your kids think eggs come from a cardboard carton and milk from a plastic bottle, maybe it’s time to get them out of the city and into the country. Here are six great family farm stays across New South Wales.
Ride a horse at Eden Farm Escape, Bilpin
Like your farm stay with a side of luxury — and horses? Look no further than the five plush cabins at Eden Farm Escape, part of the Eden Equine estate in Bilpin, a 90-minute drive northwest of Sydney in the Hawkesbury region. The estate is a working horse farm; its 36 lush green hectares are home to 12 horses and ponies, along with alpacas, donkeys, goats and a flock of chickens that resides in Cluckingham Palace. Kids can collect eggs and feed the animals, and there’s a horse riding option. The farm also has a swimmable dam, a fire pit and a barbecue area, and is dog friendly. The self-contained cabins have polished concrete floors, black kitchens and oversized couches, with equine-themed art the finishing touch.
Meet the menagerie at Ba Mack Farmstay, Windeyer
Mother-and-daughter team Julie and Kate McLeod offer a huge dollop of country hospitality at Ba Mack Farmstay, a half-hour drive south of Mudgee in the state’s Central West, or about four hours northwest of Sydney. The farm is named after Julie’s grandmother, whom the family called Ba, and Saint Mary MacKillop, whose mantra, “Never see a need without doing something about it”, is part of the reason the farm stay was established. Julie believes children need to interact with animals, and she’s provided the perfect spot for them to do it. At Ba Mack, interaction includes feeding a menagerie of lambs, pigs, chickens and more, and learning how to handle, groom and ride horses.
Milk a cow at Dairy Flat Farm Holidays, Dairy Flat
Six generations of the Lever family have lived on this idyllic farm on the Richmond River at Dairy Flat in the far north of NSW, a 40-minute drive northwest of Kyogle, or an 8.5-hour drive north of Sydney. Dairy Flat Farm Holidays has three country-style cottages, which sleep a total of 16, and an expansive five-bedroom homestead. There’s plenty to keep the young folk occupied: feeding the chickens, goats and lambs in the farmyard area, learning how to milk a cow and bucket-feeding the calves afterwards. There’s also a tennis court and saltwater pool.
Ba Mack Farmstay, Windeyer
CREDIT: Ba Mack Farmstay
A young visitor to Ba Mack Farmstay in Windeyer enjoys a horse ride.
Experience outback life at Corynnia Station, Carrathool
There are farm stays and then there are red-dirt-under-your-fingernails outback experiences — which is exactly what Corynnia Station offers families wanting a little more adventure. An hour’s drive west of Griffith in the Riverina region, or a seven-hour drive west of Sydney, this 6,800-hectare property is a working sheep farm as well as a farm stay. Accommodation ranges from a one-bedroom 1930s cottage to a country lodge that sleeps 12. Take the farm tour to see the 19th-century shearing shed and the thousands of merino sheep, explore red-dirt country by bicycle, play boules and tennis, and finish the day star-gazing by the campfire.
Explore with the dogs at Minimbah Farm Cottages, Kangaroo Valley
The green hills of the Kangaroo Valley, a 2.5-hour drive south of Sydney, form the backdrop to Minimbah Farm Cottages. Here, kids can roam the 60 hectares with the owners’ dogs in tow to visit the alpacas that mind the sheep (hay is left out so they can be fed — the animals, not the kids!), collect the eggs from the chook house, watch the ducks swimming, pat the pony and follow the Cow Trail Adventure. There are two rustic-style cottages and the more upmarket and modern Budderoo House, which sleeps up to 16. The kids will love the play fort and the bubbling creek.
Roam the garden at Markdale, Crooked Corner
At the heart of Markdale, a magnificent 2,550-hectare country estate in the hamlet of Crooked Corner, a three-hour drive west of Sydney, is a renowned garden created by the esteemed landscape designer Edna Walling. When your kids ever tire of exploring its pretty paths and stone walls, they can mingle with the farm animals and donkeys, spot wildlife such as wombats, and practise their polo swings on the wooden horse. Choose from the two-bedroom stone cottage (with log fire), the four-bedroom 1850s homestead or the beautifully restored six-bedroom shearers’ quarters, all equally lovely.
Corynnia Station, Carrathool
CREDIT: Corynnia Station
The Corynnia Station farm stay, outside of Griffith in the Riverina region.