Dubvegas. That’s what locals call Dubbo, where bright lights and the bush merge. Follow this insider's guide to the best ways to experience it.

What to do

Dubbo is a city on the dusty Great Western Plains, renowned for a zoo with landscapes that look as if they’re straight from the African savanna. Yet it’s also a city of gardens and parks, with a river – the Macquarie – running through it.

A good way to explore Dubbo is on two wheels. In this bike-friendly city, your first destination should be the Tracker Riley Cycleway, named after an Aboriginal tracker and police officer, Sergeant Alexander Riley, who was famous for finding bushrangers, murderers and lost children. The path loops around the river, which is a hub for swimming, boating and fishing. 

Macquarie River Trail, Dubbo

Image credit: Destination NSW.

Macquarie River is known as “cod’s country” so if you’re keen, throw in a line (or take a dip) at Sandy Beach, Dubbo’s own version of the seaside. You can also stroll along the riverbank or join the weekly or hire a kayak from the boat ramp at Ollie Robbins Oval and paddle past gum trees and weeping willows, spotting birdlife as you go. While there are some tricky spots, it’s a fairly easy course so you only need basic kayaking experience.

In town, pick up freshly made gourmet wraps from Relish and head to Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden, off Coronation Drive. Make a beeline for the Shoyoen Japanese Garden, a living gift from sister city Minokamo, accessed via an ornamental gate, or sukiyamon, built by Japanese artisans. It's awash with cherry and pine trees, camellias and hydrangeas, among others, which make Shoyoen one of Australia’s most authentic Japanese gardens. 

Western Plain Cultural Centre, Dubbo

Image credit: Destination NSW.

Closer to the CBD is the elegant (and much older) Victoria Park. Wander along its pretty tree-lined pathways and you’ll come across a duck pond, playground, skate park and orchid house. The shiny, modern Western Plains Cultural Centre backs onto the park. The Dubbo Regional Museum, also within the centre, contains artefacts that tell the stories of local people through their possessions and tools of trade. 

Old Dubbo Gaol, Dubbo

Image credit: Destination NSW.

At Old Dubbo Gaol, which closed in 1966, see the cells, prison yard, hospital and hangman’s kit and gallows and catch an interactive performance depicting a prisoner’s attempted escape. Also view the padded cell where the scratch marks of deranged prisoners are still visible. The goal is an eerie place during the day but positively spooky at night. There were at least 35 deaths, including eight hangings, at the goal and four prisoners are known to be buried here. 

Old Bank Restaurant & Bar, Dubbo

If you need a drink afterwards, swing by Macquarie Street’s Old Bank Restaurant & Bar, where the blues and rock scene is lively and there’s a range of 80 craft beers. The cool décor includes the guitars of AC/DC and Buddy Guy, plus posters of music legends.

On the first and third Saturdays of the month, head to Dubbo Farmers Market at Macquarie Lions Park and peruse the stalls of local produce such as fruit and vegetables, poultry and wine. 

Wellington Caves, a 45-minute drive out of town, are an underground adventure kids will love. Take an hour-long guided tour of the Cathedral Cave, which features majestic limestone and crystal formations up to 15 metres tall.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo

And, of course, there’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo, which is well known for its African animals but is also home to creatures from around the world. It has become a Dubbo icon over its 40 years and, while it’s a tourist hotspot, locals also treasure it. To avoid the crowds, go early and catch the sunrise over the city. But nothing beats an overnight stay at the African-style Zoofari Lodge; take a seat on your private verandah and, before you know it, giraffes and zebras will be eyeing you off from just metres away.

Where to eat

  • Off the main drag, on Boundary Road, South Dubbo Tavern is consistently good, offering affordable schnitzels, steaks and pasta.
  • Dahab Café on Brisbane Street is Dubbo’s slice of the Mediterranean. Go for breakfast and try the dukkah eggs or the Eggs Benedict Three Ways comprising three eggs and hollandaise sauce, served on a split English muffin with smoked salmon, bacon, mushroom and avocado. 
  • In town, trendy Church St Cafe & Bar (pictured above) is a popular hangout for locals, who call it “CSC”. Many people dine al fresco, with the café opening onto the Cyril Flood Rotunda. The coffee is great and the menu ranges from brekkie bowls to lunchtime salads. 
  • Sit on the balcony of the Milestone Hotel or explore the cellar where, it’s believed, outlaw Kate Leigh ran a bootlegging operation. If nothing else, go for the chicken breast stuffed with camembert, sun-dried tomatoes and bacon, served with pumpkin and spinach risotto and crunchy sweet-potato chips.
  • Traditional decorative touches give Rose Garden Central Thai Restaurant a terrific ambience, enhanced further by attentive staff and authentic food. The massaman curry melts in your mouth.
  • At One Siam Thai, within Westbury Boutique B&B in Brisbane Street, you can enjoy authentic Thai dishes such as whole fried snapper with chilli paste and lime leaves in the simple yet stylish surroundings of a residence built for a local doctor in 1915.
  • At award-winning One 7 Eight Dining and Cocktail Bar at the Dubbo RSL Club, head chef Robert Leonard offers fine dining with a focus on local produce. 
Church Street Cafe, Dubbo

Where to stay

  • The family-friendly NRMA Dubbo Holiday Park has a pool, a jumping pillow and playground equipment, as well as barbecues and a fire pit. Bring your own camping gear or caravan or stay in one of the cabins. 
  • At Walls Court Bed & Breakfast farmstay, hosts Neil and Nancy Lander will treat you like part of the family and you’ll have your own self-contained country-style quarters. Walls Court is pet-friendly and you can collect eggs and feed the sheep and chooks.
  • Wake to the calls of the wild, thanks to the accommodation packages at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Choose from the super-luxe Zoofari Lodge (pictured above), permanent tents at Billabong Camp or self-contained Savannah Cabins.
  • At Lazy River Estate, just five kilometres out of town, the Boat House Villa features loft bedrooms, a two-person Balinese stone bath, a barbecue and a timber deck with vineyard and Macquarie River views. 

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Zoofari Lodge, Dubbo

SEE ALSO: Take a Walk on the Wild Side at Taronga Western Plains Zoo

This piece was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.

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