A road trip to Dubbo is more than a singular means of getting to one of Australia’s greatest zoos – it’s a chance to traverse the Great Dividing Range and experience the natural, cultural and gastronomic delights that lie in and beyond the Blue Mountains.
From sprawling regional centres filled with Indigenous and colonial history to small towns surrounded by fertile wheat, sheep and wine country, this is a journey that shines when you have time to take roads less travelled and glimpse the lives of locals beyond the highway.
Image credit: Destination NSW
Day 1: Sydney to Bathurst
3hr | 200km
As you leave the outer reaches of Sydney’s sprawl and head up a short, steep climb into the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, you’ll find yourself almost instantly shifting into a slower more relaxed gear. Wind through a string of villages on the Great Western Highway and take the turnoff to Leura, a charming, compact shopping town brimming with boutique shopping. Just off the main centre is the National Trust’s Everglades House and Gardens, where you can have a Devonshire tea set in exquisite surrounds.
Continue around Cliff Drive, stopping at Cahills Lookout, before heading to Echo Point, site of the famous Three Sisters – both viewpoints take in the incredible expanse of the aptly named Megalong Valley. (Try to arrive early enough to beat the crowds at Echo Point.) Cruise back through Katoomba and, half an hour down the road, pull into Blackheath for lunch. Try any number of cafes including the always packed Bakehouse on Wentworth for a delicious homemade pie.
While it’s a precipitous drive down the western side of the mountains, take in some of the gorgeous vistas beyond Mount Victoria (especially as you pass over Mitchell’s Bridge, the convict built bridge that is still in use) before you hit the open plains beyond Lithgow.
If you’re on the road in early spring, fields of canola provide a brilliant yellow welcome mat for Bathurst, Australia’s oldest inland city and the place where gold was first discovered in 1823. History buffs have to head to the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, home of the world renowned Somerville Collection of fossils (including a full size T. rex skeleton) and rare gems and minerals.
The NRMA Bathurst Panorama Holiday Park is a fabulous place for families and couples alike to rest up after a long day, with a heated pool with waterslide. You can choose from cosy, gold rush inspired cabins, too. There’s also a camp kitchen for self-caterers.
Day 2: Bathurst to Orange
1hr | 60km
After fuelling up at The Hub cafe, car enthusiasts can take a spin around the famous Mount Panorama course (within the speed limit!) and duck into the National Motor Racing Museum to view winning autos of yesteryear, including Peter Brock’s 1984 Holden Commodore. Then it’s a leisurely hour long drive to Orange, where food and wine takes centre stage.
Swing off the main shopping streets and grab a coffee at Hawkes General Store while browsing the range of eclectic wares in a reworked Federation home. Then pick up a heavenly sandwich, sausage roll or pastry at Racine Bakery, head to the 4.5ha Cook Park and find a spot by the rose garden – just mind the ducks don’t steal your lunch. Afterwards, take your pick of myriad award winning wineries, from Brangayne and Bloodwood to Ross Hill and Printhie, which recently won Best Australian Sparkling.
When evening arrives, treat yourself to an award winning meal at Lolli Redini, sip on the local wines at the Union Bank Bar and Dining or grab a quick casual feed at Percy’s Bar and Kitchen. The Overlander also does some of the best Indian fare in regional Australia.
To truly steep yourself in the wine region, book a luxury Safari tent among the vines of Nashdale Lane. They feature a custom made kitchen, bathroom, four poster bed, dining table and barbecue and have gorgeous views of nearby vineyards. In town, the Central Caleula Motor Lodge is conveniently located with tasteful rooms and in house dining.
Day 3: Orange to Dubbo
4hr | 300km
Rise early for the trip to Dubbo. Head out of Orange towards Canowindra, home of the International Balloon Challenge (you can also try a hot air balloon ride if you’re in town at dawn), popping into the friendly Timber Tales Cottage at Cargo for a rewarding coffee. The drive from Orange to Forbes is a classic Central West route, taking in the fertile slopes and plains punctuated by remnant bush.
When you arrive in Forbes, turn off the main road into the quaint, tightly packed main street. For lunch, head out to the thoroughly surprising Cafe Aglio è Olio in a corner of the Bunnings carpark. Don’t let the location deceive you – they serve cracking coffee as well as fabulous pasta and sandwiches (if you’re lucky enough to be there at night, the woodfired pizza will make you think you’ve arrived in Italy).
The short trip to Parkes is one for astronomy buffs, but first swing into town to stretch the legs along the tree lined Clarinda Street shopping strip. Then it’s a 20km trip out to the CSIRO Parkes Observatory, with the radio telescope made famous in the movie, The Dish. There’s a great exhibition as well as a Scavenger Hunt for the kids.
From here you can go direct to Dubbo on the Newell Highway, but for something a little different, head towards Yeoval, where you can peruse the creative efforts of local artists who have turned found objects into a sculpture trail of over 100 Animals on Bikes (the route starts just outside of Molong).
Next to Dubbo, you’ll find the famous Taronga Western Plains Zoo. The 6km circuit is perfect for cycling around (flat enough for even the most inexperienced riders) and seeing everything from the wild dogs and lions to hippos and meerkats in wide open surrounds. The daily talks are worth getting along to and, even if you miss some exhibits, the tickets are valid for two days so you can always visit in the morning.
But Dubbo is more than just the zoo so leave time at the end of the trip to take in some local history at the Old Dubbo Goal (there are nightly ghost tours), marvel at local art at the Western Plains Cultural Centre or just cool off at the local water park in Elston Park.
At the end of the day, put up your feet at the recently upgraded Dubbo City Holiday Park. Relax in the heated pool, let the kids burn off some energy in the covered playground or get the barbecue going before relaxing into one of the restful cabins or self contained units.